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Why the lost art of ritual is hampering your business success

Imagine turning everyday tasks into moments of fulfilment and joy, where each action is imbued with meaning and purpose – this is the transformative power of rituals.


An illustration of a team of office workers celebrating reaching a milestone.
Colleagues mark the achievement of a business goal with the ritual of cake and coffee.

The hidden power of rituals in business

Every morning at the hospital, I would arrive early, well before anyone else. And, every morning started the same way: turning the kettle on and sitting in solitude with a cup of hot black coffee. This act was more than just a routine or a habit, it was in fact a ritual.


This daily ritual grounded me and settled my mind before I began my rounds with patients. I became intrigued at how this simple act of starting my day with coffee was paramount to how smoothly the rest of my day would unfold. Interestingly, if for any reason, I missed this morning ritual or it was interrupted, it seemed to throw off the rhythm of my entire day. This made me realise that many of the everyday actions we perform may in fact be powerful rituals in disguise and that perhaps rituals are under-utilised in a business context to the detriment of organisations. Let’s dig deeper to understand why. 


Rituals in a corporate context: What are the benefits?

Rituals are a set of actions that are performed with specific intent, they have meaning and purpose. The intention of my morning coffee ritual was to provide me with grounding and inner peace before a busy day, the ritual itself was more meaningful to me, rather than the end result. Relative to a business setting we can begin to see how that morning ritual was beneficial to my job performance. For many, rituals in a business context may seem unnecessary and a waste of time, however, this is far from true, as both formal and informal rituals can in fact:


  • Provide structure and meaning: by creating a framework and predictability for daily operations.

  • Enhance employee well-being: through stress reduction, regulating the nervous system and managing emotions.

  • Cultivate team cohesion: to strengthen relationships, celebrate achievements and mark milestones. Think about the ritual of sharing cake when it’s someone’s birthday and the joy that brings to a team.

  • Promote organisational success: rituals enhance creativity, improve communication, support change management, and contribute to overall productivity and effectiveness.

  • Navigate challenges: businesses can use rituals to help teams face disappointments, cope with losses, and accept mistakes. 


Routine, habit and ritual: What’s the difference?

Often used interchangeably, routine, habit and ritual are not the same and understanding the differences can help you leverage the benefits of rituals more effectively in your workplace:

Routine: the focus is on getting the task or action done.

Habit: an automatic, unconscious behaviour developed over time.

Ritual: an intentional action that has symbolic meaning, offering deeper significance beyond the act of just doing.


Rituals stand out for their ability to imbibe work with meaning, purpose, reflection and alignment with personal values. Further, rituals provide us with emotional fulfilment and they require us to be present in the moment, which enhances focus, this can lead to greater engagement and success when applied in the workplace (Harvard Business School, 2022).


Why you should replace routines and habits with rituals

Research shows that rituals are more effective than routines and habits for achieving long-term success. Unlike routines, which rely on negative reinforcement to avoid failure, such as for example, performing exercise regularly to prevent health issues or studying diligently to avoid failing exams, rituals create a positive feedback loop by providing an inherent sense of joy in completing the act itself. 


“…people tend to perform better on a range of tasks when engaging in an arbitrary ritual beforehand, but only when the actions are labeled as ritual. The researchers found evidence that participants’ improved performance was explained by a reduction in self-reported anxiety (Brooks et al., 2016).” 

 

Physiological and emotional responses to ritual: Boosts business success

When we engage in familiar rituals, our bodies experience several beneficial responses, including the release of feel-good endorphins, promoting calm and relaxation, which can elevate our mood and overall sense of well-being. Rituals enhance focus, reduce anxiety, and boost performance through emotional and physiological engagement (Berridge & Kringelbach, 2015). Additionally, engaging in familiar rituals can decrease our heart rate and lower cortisol levels, effectively reducing stress and anxiety. 


The familiarity and repetition of rituals also create a sense of comfort and security, helping us feel more grounded and at ease. Further, rituals enhance emotional stability and mental well-being by creating patterns that provide us with a sense of predictability and comfort. 


The meaning and purpose imbibed in ritual helps us stay grounded during tough times – think of the effect that my morning coffee ritual had  – and helps us better manage our emotions so that we are more likely to respond to daily stressors with consideration and remain in a state of equilibrium, rather than becoming emotionally dysregulated. 


These bodily responses contribute to a more peaceful and centred state of mind, helping us feel open, clear, and more effective, and efficient, at work. Understanding these effects allows us to consciously use rituals to our advantage in business, benefiting both our organisation and aiding our interactions with clients and stakeholders alike.


Focus on the process: Why your team struggles to achieve goals

Achieving goals is important for business success however doing so can be challenging particularly when your team is focused solely on the end result. Rituals shift the focus from outcome and goal oriented, to finding the intrinsic joy in the act itself (Skinner, 1938; Seligman, 2011).


Joy in the process: Rituals emphasise the pleasure of the actions themselves, this helps your employees find fulfilment in the daily grind rather than mindlessly pumping out actions to get the end result.


Intrinsic motivation: By fostering a connection to the process, rituals reduce the pressure of failure and encourage perseverance.


Enhanced engagement: Rituals create a positive environment that motivates teams through challenges and fosters creative thinking and personal growth.


Positive reinforcement: Rituals By shifting focus from the fear of failure to the joy of the process, rituals can help your team stay motivated, inspired and more likely to create innovative solutions.


Sound therapy: Enhancing rituals for greater impact

Sound therapy, which involves the use of specific sounds from overtone emitting instruments, can significantly amplify the effectiveness of rituals. When incorporated into rituals, sound therapy helps deepen focus, elevate mood states, and foster a sense of transcendence. Instruments like singing bowls, drums, or chimes induce relaxation, reduce stress, and influence brainwave patterns to enhance rituals. 


By integrating sound into rituals, It acts as a catalyst, helping participants achieve states of heightened awareness. It amplifies the symbolic nature and intention of ritual, and rituals are transformed into more profound and engaging experiences, aligning with the ritual’s intent to promote emotional well-being, personal transformation, and a greater sense of harmony. This combination of auditory stimulation and ritual practice not only deepens participants' connection to the ritual but also maximises its positive impact on mental, emotional, and spiritual health.


Workplace rituals you can implement immediately

To be fair, any, and all workplace actions could very well be re-envisioned into a ritual. The reason being, in order for something to be considered a ritual, all that is essentially required is for the action to be named as such. For example, at the start of a meeting, having a 30 second silence and ending the meeting in the same way marks this as a ritual, rather than a routine. Lunch hour could be marked by a moment of pause and drinking a glass of water to recognise that half way through the working day has been reached. Rituals need not be complex or all-consuming, in fact the most powerful rituals may very well be the simplest.


Rituals as a pathway to success

Incorporating rituals into your workplace can offer profound benefits. Rituals provide structure, meaning, and emotional support, all of which contribute to greater personal and organisational success. By understanding and leveraging the power of rituals, you can foster a more cohesive, motivated, and successful work environment.


 

This article is authored by Nicole Sultana, who holds a Post Graduate Degree in Spiritual Care, a Post Graduate Certificate in Business (Marketing), and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Sports Science/Human Movement. In addition, she is a Certified Therapeutic Sound Practitioner and a Death Doula. Nicole is the founder of Sound Consciousness, a company that offers wellbeing strategies and therapeutic sound practices to help individuals achieve peak performance in their professional lives, relationships, and personal aspirations.


If you found this article interesting, please leave a comment below and share it with others who might find it beneficial. Sharing our experiences helps us all learn, grow, and heal together. We welcome lively discussions, as they contribute to our multifaceted humanity. Let's remember to approach discussions with respect and kindness at heart.

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