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From the book Daily Rituals, by Mason Currey, we learn about the daily routine of - arguably - the most important composer who ever existed:
Beethoven rose at dawn and wasted little time getting down to work. His breakfast was coffee, which he prepared himself with great care—he determined that there should be sixty beans per cup, and he often counted them out one by one for a precise dose.
Then he sat at his desk and worked until 2:00 or 3:00, taking the occasional break to walk outdoors, which aided his creativity.
Actually having the patience to count sixty three beans seems unusual, but it didn't compare to his bathing habits:
If he did not dress to go out during the morning working hours, he would stand in great déshabillé at his washstand and pour large pitchers of water over his hands, bellowing up and down the scale or sometimes humming loudly to himself. Then he would stride around his room with rolling or staring eyes, jot something down, then resume his pouring of water and loud singing.
You might be reminded of the quote, "genius is one step away from insanity." Like, is it really necessary to go to such lengths just to get some work done?
Yet Alex Hormozi, a successful businessman and entrepreneur whose advice I've followed faithfully, says the opposite.
He states that rituals are a waste of time. His argument is that they're a form of procrastination, and that you should just eliminate them and get to work.
And as much as I look up to him, I completely disagree.
I mean, if that were true then Lebron James would never chalk up his hands before every game. Religious people would stop praying. Every superstition in the world would disappear.
You see, rituals serve a function.
Now, in Hormozi's field of work this function might have no purpose. But for me, a daily ritual has been fundamental for my productivity.
And if you're not convinced, pick up a copy of Currey's book. It's hard to argue with 278 pages of proof.
So in part 1 of this 2-part series, we'll cover:
In part 2, we'll continue this line of thinking with routines.
First of all, what exactly is a ritual? Though your definition might be different, here's mine: a single action, or set of actions (physical or mental) you repeat on a regular basis to prepare your mind for a certain activity.
This idea is closely related to an anchor. One example is Pavlov's Dog:
The bell was an anchor for the dog while a ritual is an anchor for your mind.
You'll also notice that the definition is broad. And since it's so broad almost anything can be a ritual. For example, something as simple as clipping your fingernails can be a ritual.
Like a warrior sharpening their blade for battle (okay, that might be a stretch). It's not so much the act itself, but the intention behind it.
Now, let's take a look at the benefits, or functions, of rituals - all of which have an impact on your productivity.
Junction, Junction, What's Your Function?
The first benefit is control. Your ritual can be something you can do at any time of the day and any place.
What makes control so important? Because it's related to your happiness.
Lack of control is what makes people miserable. Everyone has stories about jobs they've hated or teachers who made their life a living hell.
And besides that, life can be unpredictable. On chaotic, stressful days, a ritual becomes your ally.
A good ritual also gets your mind into a certain headspace.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in sports. One of my favorite pre-game football huddles was Drew Brees doing his best imitation of Leonidas from the movie 300 - THIS ... IS ... NEW ORLEANS!!!.
Every team has a pre-game ritual, every battle chief has a warcry.
Now, if your ritual is more elaborate you can create momentum.
You're able to "stack" them one after the other, with each part leading directly to the next one.
This is the science behind checklists: every item you check off leaves you feeling satisfied, invigorated.
But in this case, it's like a checklist for motivation - very useful for days when you can barely get out of bed.
You also achieve a process-oriented mindset.
This is because the whole point isn't about achieving a certain result or outcome.
Rituals are a form of active meditation.
There's no endgame or result - it's about practicing awareness. The more present you are during your ritual(s) the more you'll benefit from the calmness you feel.
And a calm mind is a productive (stress-free) mind.
Lastly, daily rituals are a form of discipline.
Over a long period of time, it actually feels weirder when you skip. And for me at least, I've been able to use my rituals as a starting point to maintain discipline in other areas of my life.
How to Be Productive: The Blueprint
So here's what I do.
I have 2 rituals - one for the morning and one before I begin teaching. I use my morning ritual to signal the beginning of my morning work session and a second afternoon ritual to wind down and prepare for piano lessons.
The first thing I do look at my memento mori coin.
Memento mori is a Latin saying that translates to "remember you have to die."
It's a reminder of mortality and to not waste my time on trivial matters.
Next, I journal.
What I write about might be different every day. Sometimes I'm just "emptying the tank" so to speak - if I have a lot going on in my life, I just lay it all out.
Other times I might be more purposeful, such as planning the day ahead or writing about things that are going well ... or aren't going so well.
Afterwards, I get to work.
After about an hour or so, and when I feel my concentration waning, I head back to the kitchen for the best ritual of the day ... COFFEE.
And I prefer the physical act of hand-pouring 2 cups of coffee (for me and my wife). The physical act is enjoyable and it helps me slow down.
It's like I mentioned earlier - active meditation.
Then ... more work.
After a few more hours, I wrap up my work session and then it's time for my next ritual I head back upstairs to stretch and wind down. While I'm stretching, I use my inside voice to repeat my 3 daily mantras:
I finish up with a meditation session and off I go to teach.
Now for some practical advice..
Help, I Need a Ritual
First, do NOT use my rituals as a model. It's something that took me a decade of trial and- error to develop.
When I first began, I started small - while trying out many different things - and I suggest you do the same.
Secondly, whatever you choose make sure that they will be things you look forward to doing.
And third, make sure they're process-oriented, meaning there's no specific outcome you're hoping to achieve.
Just take enjoy the action itself.
Also, make your ritual something you do first in the morning. By doing this, you prioritize its importance and also start your day off the right way.
And don't be rigid, you don't want it to feel like the end of the world if you're not able to complete everything on your list every single time. In fact, plan for bad days to happen.
There's been many a time I've had to shorten my ritual or even skip some parts altogether. Tell yourself it's okay if this happens - a bad day in the gym is still a day in the gym.
You not only keep the "chain" going but you prove to yourself that you're the type of person who follows their daily ritual without fail.
Now, there may come a point when you stop enjoying your rituals. This usually means 1 of 2 things:
If you're bored, then change things up. You can try new rituals or change the order of the one you have.
If you're not present, you probably need to release some stress or practice awareness (meditation). Sometimes it's as simple as stopping for a few minutes and taking really slow, deep breaths.
Lastly, you might want to incorporate a nighttime ritual. Cal Newport calls this a shutdown ritual. The benefit is it signals your brain to begin getting ready for bed.
An example is stopping all work-related tasks at a specific time and unwinding with some light reading or entertainment.
As someone with sleep issues, this has been an IMPORTANT step.
The First Cut Is The Deepest
Twyla Therp, in her book The Creative Habit, says:
The ritual is not the stretching and weight training I put my body through each morning at the gym; the ritual is the cab. The moment I tell the driver where to go I have completed the ritual.
James Clear (Atomic Habits) calls this a decisive point. He defines it as the crucial moment before you make a decision or take a specific action.
One small action can compound over time, resulting in huge payoffs. And the opposite is true as well - one small, bad decision can create a thousand headaches.
Your ritual becomes the entry point to a productive day.
With practice, you begin to understand that everything is connected. One simple action starts an entire web of processes.
And that process can lead to a great month, year, or even decade.
So the next time you finish an important project or achieve a substantial goal, remember that the starting point was your ritual.
Lastly, you won't have great results all the time. You can't always control how your day will go, but you can at least start it the right way with a good ritual.
Hope to see you back here for next time when we discuss routines.
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