Positive Masculinity Contributor - Mac Scotty McGregor
Founder of Positive Masculinity, Author, Former US Karate Team Champion, Martial Arts Hall of Fame Inductee, Speaker, Coach
The human mind is a powerful tool and one of our greatest assets is our ability to create rituals. Evidence shows that rituals are used all over the world to prepare for performances or life events and have profound physiological effects. In this scientific context, rituals have been described as, “predefined sequences of actions characterized by rigidity and repetition” (Norton et. al.). The rehearsed structure of rituals has helped me and others take on our most challenging moments with more control and less anxiety.
Performers of all types use rituals before putting themselves on the line; Serena Williams bounces the tennis ball exactly five times before every first serve and two times before every second serve. She also wears the same pair of socks for an entire tournament. Tiger Woods only plays tournaments in red golf shirts because he believes this is his lucky color. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones ensures each guitarist has a shepherd's pie before each performance. And, John Legend eats half of a rotisserie chicken before each show.
As a professional athlete, I had rituals. I listened to the Rocky soundtrack before martial arts competitions and this gave me a reassuring sense of control when I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Even now as a public speaker, I have a deep breathing routine, do vocal warm-ups, and drink a hot beverage before addressing an audience. These rituals make me feel calm, more centered, and ready for anything.
The use of rituals goes beyond professional athletes and musicians. Casper Tur Kuile, a ministry innovation fellow at Harvard Divinity School, author of the book, The Power of Ritual, and co-founder of the Sacred Design Lab, has a funny practice. Tur Kuile watches the movie You've Got Mail any time he is in an emotionally challenging place. This movie spoke to him when he was in puberty. As a boy who felt lost and misunderstood at the time, this movie made him feel seen, understood, and not alone, so he makes it a practice of returning to these feelings when he needs comfort. In his own words, Tur Kuile says, "one of the best things about these practices is that they can help us change the state of being that we are in at the moment in time." Rituals don't need to be saved for climbing to the top of a mountain or performing at the Grammys. Everyone can use practices to help themselves remain calm and centered in moments of stress and anxiety.
It’s not just individuals that can have rituals, groups can find connection in routines. My team and I had pre-competition rituals including our warm-ups and certain things we chanted together. When we performed these rituals together, it created a bond between us and united us in a common goal. These feelings are not unique to my team. Johannes Karl, a researcher at Victoria University of Wellington, suggests that "after participating in group rituals, many individuals report greater connection to others, in some cases even when just observing a ritual.” Rituals can be powerful for us as individuals and as family members, friends, or teammates.
So, how can we harness all of this research to make a positive impact in our daily lives? Start small and try to create a daily ritual for yourself. In his book, Tur Kuile provides three guiding principles that can help you create a ritual:
Intention - focus on the purpose of the ritual.
Attention - be present and focus your mind on the practice.
Repetition - perform the pattern regularly.
Taking the time to develop rituals can help everyone; we can all use their positive effects to help us live out our values. They also give us a sense of predictability and control in otherwise unpredictable situations, calming our anxiety. But knowing the research behind rituals and their physiological effects isn’t enough – in my experience, you need to believe that a ritual has power in order to see its effects. When you perform your rituals, be present and intentional. While you might not feel their impacts immediately, overtime these practices may grow into powerful tools that will serve you for years to come.
Johnson, Karan. “The Surprising Power of Daily Rituals.” BBC Future, 14 Sept. 2021, www.bbc.com/future/article/20210914-how-rituals-help-us-to-deal-with-uncertainty-and-stress#:%7E:text=But%20rituals%20go%20further%20than,anxiety%22%2C%20according%20to%20scientists.
Kuile, Ter Casper. The Power of Ritual: Turning Everyday Activities into Soulful Practices. HarperOne, 2020.
Norton, M., et al. “Enacting Rituals to Improve Self-Control.” JOURNAL OF PERSONALITY AND SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY, 2018, www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/download.aspx?name=Enacting%20Rituals%20to%20Improve%20Self-Control.pdf.
Obias, Rudie. “The Pre-Show Rituals of 11 Famous Musicians.” Mental Floss, 24 Jan. 2016, www.mentalfloss.com/article/74238/pre-show-rituals-11-famous-musicians.
Sportscasting. “Serena Williams’ Strange Superstitions May Reveal a Foot Fixation.” Sportscasting | Pure Sports, 2 May 2020, www.sportscasting.com/serena-williams-strange-superstitions-may-reveal-a-foot-fixation.
Tstevens. “Playoff Beards | 10 Most Interesting, Superstitious Rituals of Professional Athletes | Men's Journal.” Men’s Journal, www.mensjournal.com/sports/10-most-interesting-superstitious-rituals-of-professional-athletes/playoff-beards. Accessed 24 Aug. 2022.