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Creating Rituals

Ritualize practice. Will and discipline are wildly overrated. As the researcher Roy Baumeister has found, none of us have very much of it. The best way to insure you’ll take on difficult tasks is to ritualize them–build specific, inviolable times at which you do them, so that over time you do them without having to squander energy thinking about them.

A post Tony Schwartz at FastCompany.com circled around the idea of determination and creating excellence within yourself.  Schwartz asserted that excelling at a skill isn’t something that we are simply born with, but instead put the weight of research behind the adage “practice makes perfect.”

His list entitled the “Six Keys to Being Excellent at Anything” are:

  1. Pursue what you love.
  2. Do the hardest work first.
  3. Practice intensely.
  4. Seek expert feedback, in intermittent doses.
  5. Take regular renewal breaks.
  6. Ritualized practice

Schwartz provides some explanation and support for each of the points in his post that are worth reading, and while some or all of it may appear as common sense its helpful to find it written out like this.

Out of all the points listed the last one is the one I thought about the most.  I know that once you get in the habit of something it becomes easier to do, in the sense that it becomes easier to motivate yourself to do it.  For me that is getting in the habit of regular visits to the gym, daily visits in fact.  Once I start going everyday it becomes a habit, and I don’t even think about it.  I just go.  Personally this becomes a cycle, one I have fallen out of a few times.

Schwartz writes in another post on the HBR Blog Network, called The Skill That Matters Most, about building our self control as a skill.  Developing that skill is one way that we can increase our determination, giving us the willpower to do or stop doing the things we know we should or shouldn’t.  Once we build a ritual, or a routine, around something it makes it easier for us to will ourselves to do it by making it easier to maintain our determination.

Ironically part of how we build this skill is by creating a healthy lifestyle, like visiting the gym, because getting to that stage requires energy.  It is easier to will ourselves to do something when we are at peak levels because all of this determination and self control depletes our energy reserves.  Maintaining our energy reserves obviously has an impact on our ability to contribute, but it also impacts our ability to will ourselves to do things.

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