I recently came across an old HBR blog post by Peter Bregman called "The Value of Ritual in your Workday”. Peter shared how moved he was by a scene in The Last Samurai (a scene he didn't remember seeing the first time he watched that movie).  The scene was of a samurai drinking tea.

Peter went on to share how he realized that while the samurai's strength was demonstrated through his acrobatics and the beautifully choreographed fight scenes the source of the samurai's power was a tea ritual and many other rituals like it. 

He talked about how "Rituals are about paying attention. They're about stopping for a moment and noticing what you're about to do, what you've just done, or both.  They're about making the most of a particular moment. And that's something we could use a lot more of in the business world." Peter went on to say, "Each time we pause, notice, and offer respect for an activity, it reminds us to appreciate and focus on what we're about to do. And by elevating each activity, we'll take it more seriously.  We'll get more pleasure from it. The people with whom we work will feel more respected.  And we'll feel more self respect. Which means we'll work better with each other. And produce better results."

I completely agreed with all of what he was sharing. As I read it, I thought to myself - "YES...rituals are important, they are a source of power, I practice them regularly in my daily life, I use them with the leaders I support and the programs I facilitate, etc. etc. etc."

Then the month of December hit and the hustle of the holidays unfolded and I got a humbling reality check on the difference between my beliefs and my actions.  

I began paying attention to:  

  • How I started each day over the last month  Ummmm….Checking texts, responding to email, and browsing Amazon for Christmas gifts
  • How had I started every meeting I had lead over the last month?  Checking in with each person to acknowledge who and what they are bringing to the conversation…Not bad
  • How had I began every meal I ate?  Weeeelllll....Eating it while doing emails or 3 other things at the same time

In what felt like a skinny minute, I had gone from practicing to professing. Thank goodness for a little reality check. On December 21st, I reconnected with a few of my own rituals to help me get connected to me and the source of my strength. It has been two weeks and I am happy to report that I am back to starting my day with: a question ("What am I grateful for?) before my feet hit the ground, 5 minutes of silence to just listen, and a couple of minutes loving on our pups. 

While the old email frenzy that was taking up the first 30 minutes of my day was well choreographed and beautifully executed it was definitely a demonstration of my strength rather than its source. 

I encourage you to take a look at the rituals in your work, leadership, and life - How do you begin every day? How do you begin every meeting you lead?  How do you begin every meal you eat? Pay attention to wether you are focused on the source of your strength or a demonstration of it. It may surprise you like it did me!