I have committed to leading a class today, and have prepared for it thoroughly. Yes, in terms of content, but even more in terms of emotional supports.

I’ve got my tea, my water, my soup and snacks for myself and my assistant.  I’ve got what I’ll wear laid out and ready to don, all the papers, handouts and paraphernalia lined up to go to the car.

I’ve got my pear cut and ready to eat (my idea of a breakfast), my vitamins ready to take, my coffee beside me. My plan is to pack the car at 9:30 and leave at 10 so that I’m there in plenty of time.  If I was especially anxious, I’d also add one or two affirmations around why I was doing what I was doing.

All my plans, good luck charms, affirmations and actions in place, I relax.

Ridiculous isn’t it?  I know it and yet I still do it – it somehow helps me stay calm when things go haywire.

Ritual is a powerful tool many of us use to allay our anxieties and fears, and can be found in every part of the world.  They are activities that are symbolic for the person doing them, and can seem reasonable or far-fetched.  Even if they may seem to defy reason, all ritual activities are, in fact, rational. Recent research  shows that rituals can be highly effective in alleviating grief and reducing anxiety. Rituals work even with people who claim they don’t believe in them.  It turns out that rituals have a causal impact on our thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

For instance, subjects given a “lucky golf ball” instead of an ordinary one performed better; subjects who “overheard” the researcher say he’d keep his fingers crossed for them also performed better. These findings are consistent with other research in this field of study.  In other words, “performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true”.

Why do rituals work?  According to a recent Harvard study, they work because they hold a higher meaning for us. That is, we develop a series of activities, long or short, that give meaning to what we are about to do – such as writing our worries on paper, then burning the paper; or laying out everything neatly in preparation for a presentation; or repeating affirmations relevant to a fearful event.

What rituals do you have in place to help you through hard times?  If you don’t have them, here are some suggestions in creating your own rituals:

  • Actions that calm you down. Write down the activities that you know calm you down. It may be having backups, or drinking a calming tea, or connecting to a higher purpose.  Some sports pros take along a certain number of extra golf balls, for instance.
  • Metaphors for what you want as the outcome.  Lucky charms are metaphors for good luck; burning the things you don’t want is a metaphor for removing these obstacles from your life. Determine what you want to happen, and create a routine that stands for that outcome.
  • Affirmations. Affirmations remind us why we do what we do, and who we are in doing it. They are most powerful. These could be as simple as the Nike “Just do it!” or as elaborate as a poem from Rumi. The critical thing is that they move you and remind you of your underlying meaning and purpose.
Ritual and imagination
 Quote of the Week
When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?
― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog


At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  As a registered psychotherapist and stress coach, I offer individual one-on-one consultations. For more information, visit my websitewww.thejoyofliving.co/programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co

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