Rituals are checklists "alive." I am a huge believer in them. As a teacher, I began each class with a short prayer - Lord, the sea is so large and our boats are so small.Amen!
Then I would clap my hands and we would go. Students have done amazing imitations of me and they are always based on this little ritual I used to kick off class.
The ritual is, in a sense, the checklist in action...
Rituals also inform you it's time to get going. A coach one asked me when I started preparing for a track meet. I thought backwards from the throw and realized that it was when I took Sugar-Free Orange-Flavored Metamucil in the few days leading up to any competition. For me, tasting that tangy orange powder begins the process of preparing me for competition. Much like you start a meal with prayer not only to thank God, but also to let everyone know it is time to eat!
I have so many rituals - like smiling before I throw - that I think I might overwhelm myself with all of them. Except they work! Why not write everything in a ritual? Because it can be so much information that you get lost in the details and lose the mission or the goal. I smile before I throw, but that's not on my checklist. Sometimes, a ritual is just that - something we do when we do it.
I won a poetry contest years ago with a poem about tossing a handful of dirt on my mother's grave. I just stood there for a moment, then reached over and tossed a handful of dirt. Father Daniel Derry and my cousin, Bill Spillane, both told me, "We didn't know how Irish you were." I had no idea why I did it, it was totally spontaneous and all I can think, still to this day, is it was something I saw others do. That's where rituals live when down best: They sit deep inside you and well up from that place when you need calming and control.
(From Dan John's latest book - INTERVENTION)I wrote about this topic in Dan John's newsletter a while back - the need for a routine. A routine (ritual) helps you focus and be in-synch. Having can be very crucial to consistent performance, but it should be flexible. If it crosses the line into superstition, it will be an unbending prescriptive pattern that, if broken, raises anxiety - exactly the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.