Tag Archives: Rituals

How to Boost Your Performance through Rituals with James Lipton

How do you prepare yourself for a new activity? I didn’t put too much thought into this until I was at a conference a few years ago. I can’t remember the topic but I distinctly recall standing at a urinal when a guy walked into the bathroom and shouted at the mirror, “You are Lizard King! You can do anything!” He then left as quickly as he had appeared.

Ten minutes later I was shocked as the “Lizard King” was introduced as the keynote speaker. After the presentation, I asked him about his display. He wasn’t embarrassed, although he claimed that he didn’t see anyone in the bathroom. The keynote stated that it’s simply his pre-speech ritual. “It must psych you up?” I asked. “It use to,” he responded, “now it’s just something I do to center myself before I stand in front of a crowd.”

Similarly, in a recent interview, Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton discussed his pre-show rituals. It begins with the hours of meticulous research Lipton conducts on the person being interviewed. This can take months and Lipton prefers to do it by himself. He then transcribes his notes onto his trademark blue index cards and marks them up with post-it tabs and highlighters before they are neatly stacked in a 10-inch pile on his desk while taping the show.

My nightmare, somebody steals my cards.—James Lipton

Rituals like Lipton and the Lizard King are more than simply superstition or habit; they have been shown to have a positive affect on performance. In a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Alison Woods Brooks found that many top-level performers use rituals to help them prepare. These rituals significantly reduce anxiety and produce a higher quality work product. By mitigating the distracting, disruptive indicators associated with anxiety through pre-performance routines, Brooks concluded, “although some may dismiss rituals as irrational, those who enact rituals may well outperform the skeptics who forgo them.”

The lesson here is that we need a consistent ritual that precedes our stress-inducing events. You can go big (like screaming into a public bathroom mirror) or more subtle. Drink a glass of room temperature water. Read a poem or inspirational quote. Click your heals three times. Whatever you can do to center yourself and jumpstart that inner “on” switch. I’m sure Lipton would even be okay if you used index cards, although maybe you can find a color other than blue.

Saturday Night Life on the Importance of Rituals

snl logoThis weekend, Saturday Night Life celebrates its 40th anniversary. If you’ve studied comedy, four decades of success is unprecedented. Most shows lose their excitement, their edge. Somehow, with an ever-changing cast, evolving social and political environments, and the competitive landscape of sketch television programming, SNL has remained on the forefront of pop culture since it began. One way it’s done this is through rituals.

The importance of rituals cannot be understated. Whether we recognize it or not, the human race is programmed to perform rituals. We seek habits, routines, and customs. When they don’t exist, we create them. With SNL as our guide, here are three ways rituals can benefit your workplace.

Standardizing

Chaotic workplaces typically lack rituals; happenstance is the general rule-of-law. For those advocating this type of culture, they will say that bedlam is a creativity stimulus. In truth, most creativity is the result of an organized mind able to focus on a task. And rituals shape this orderliness.

Especially in its early years, SNL was known for some pretty wild behavior. Yet there was a structure to the madness – the schedule. To create a weekly, live, topical 90 minute program, SNL has maintained the same ritualistic schedule since 1975. Monday’s are the pitch meeting. Tuesday is writing into the wee hours of the night. On Wednesday, they do round-table read-through of the sketches. Thursday is rewriting. Rehearsals on Friday. Live rehearsal on Saturdays at 8:00pm. Executive Producer Lorne Michaels then reviews and tweaks the lineup and determines the final sketches for the 11:30pm airing. There is then a post-show party ending when the sun is rising over New York City. Sleep on Sunday and start up again on Monday.

Maintaining this consistent schedule frees up SNL’s writers and actors to focus solely on creating a great show versus wasting time on the more logistical aspects. You need to provide the same uniformity to your team. It may not be quite as structured, but speculating about the weekly agenda, wandering around looking for meetings, and wondering how and by whom decisions will be made is a time killer, a productivity killer, and a creativity killer. It distracts from the important work at hand and makes you, the leader, appear disorganized.

Forecasting

Rituals provide an analytical understanding of cause and effect. When anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski lived among inhabitants on a remote island in the South Pacific Ocean, he observed that the villagers performed rituals to invoke magical powers for their safety and protection before fishing in the shark-infested waters. However, when they fished in the safer waters of the lagoon, no rituals were performed. Malinowski established that people are more likely to turn to rituals when they face uncertain situations that are beyond their control…like when sharks are present.

At work and in our lives, when we understand why one action follows another, we are better able to predict reliable outcomes. This provides a culture of emotional stability and comfort. Employees are more engaged because they understand the process and we can show a clear path to achieving goals.

Creating Value

dana carvey bushThe simple act of performing a ritual makes it more enjoyable. I have been a steady viewer of SNL ever since I saw Dana Carvey doing his George H.W. Bush impression. 25 years later, I have my rituals for watching the show. The opening sketch is a current event, guest star performs the opening monologue, get a snack during the musical act, intently watch Weekend Update, and wait for the last sketch which tends to be subversive and bizarrely entertaining.

Research shows that rituals can increase our perception of value.  In the workplace, when we perform rituals as part of our job, we are likely to find the job more rewarding. This is also true for consumers. In one study, those who performed a ritual when eating chocolate found it to be more flavorful and were willing to pay nearly twice as much for it. If chocolate sounds too gratifying, the experiment also worked with carrots. The conclusion was that:

personal involvement is the real driver of these effects. In other words, rituals help people to feel more deeply involved in their consumption experience, which in turn heightens its perceived value.

As leaders, we can create these rituals for our teams and customers. By wrapping your processes and procedures into a ritual, you are creating value where it did not previously exist.

Our days are made up of rituals. Once you accept this, you can find the patterns that affect you and your team. No ritual is set in stone so once you identity them, you can adjust and improve the flow of work, ideas, and communication for your team. Maximize the power of rituals to enhance your culture, promote recognition, and build engagement.

Pretending rituals don’t exist wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture. With 40 years experience, SNL has developed rituals that form the impetus to get work done. Hone yours and you might get the opportunity to celebrate your 40 year anniversary, too.