I’m all about rituals. I simply don’t think it is possible to be successful at anything, particularly martial arts, without them. In the old days, I used to go into the gym, throw on my boxing gloves, climb into the ring, and spar. On some days, I would have good performances and, on other days, not so good. What often confused me was the fact that these good and bad performances were against the same opponents. Now, unless my opponent miraculously improved his boxing game overnight, something else had to be going on.
Aside from my inner story throwing me off or trying a technique that was way out of my depth, it was clear that my performance was directly linked to how focused my mind was on that particular day. I quickly realized that it was simply not possible to transition from my day outside the gym to immediately becoming hyper focused and jumping into an incredibly stressful experience like someone throwing punches at your face or trying to choke you out.
Our minds are naturally unfocused. I bet right now, as you’re reading this, you’re thinking about other things, too. These days, most of us can’t stay focused on one thing long enough to see it through. Like right now, I bet the TV is on in the background, or you’re checking your phone. The fact that our attention and focus are all over the place makes it even more difficult to achieve success. Every single high-achieving, highly successful person, no matter whether in the ring or in a corporate career, will tell you that success requires laser-like focus.
It is important to set an intention for each day. That’s all well and good, but when you wake up, the kids are screaming, the phone is ringing off the hook, and your wife is moaning at you for not cutting the lawn. Well, before you know it, your attention is elsewhere, and you can quickly forget all about the intentions you set for the day. Having a ritual, then, is a shortcut to ensuring that you stay on track and feel focused, inspired, and energized so that you can achieve your intention.
A ritual is something you create that’s intentional. It’s what you do, without question, each time you know you have to perform. In terms of intention-setting, performance is in the action steps. Any time you take action, you’re performing, whether for yourself or others, and it takes a decisive mindset to achieve. Once I learned that just showing up at the gym and throwing on my gloves to spar was a bad idea, I began to create a pre-sparring ritual. On my way to the gym, I would listen to a specific music playlist that I created and only ever listened to before sparring. My choice of music was focused on lyrics that amped me up and prepared body for action. (Just ask the guys who roll or spar with me every week, they dread Eminem, but they are even more afraid of Elvis.)
Once I arrived at the gym, I wrapped my hands in the same sequence every time, starting with the left and then moving on to the right. Even putting on my gloves became a ritual. First the left, then the right. Next, my mouthguard went in, followed by a quick warm up and three deep exhales. And then: boom! I was in the ring, focused and ready to go. This ritual was so successful, like magic even, that I started creating rituals for every important thing in my life. I have a ritual before I go on stage to coach, a ritual before I’m interviewed, and the list goes on. You get the point.
Rituals are like full body, mental and physical, inner warm-ups for the fight ahead. Just like you would never exercise or spar without warming up your body, you should never go into a performance, like speaking to people who matter, a business meeting, a presentation etc, without doing some inner warm-ups. Rituals get your head in the game. They focus your mind on what’s about to happen. Much like a pre-workout warm-up for your body, rituals ensure that you don’t injure your mind.
The fact that most people’s minds are all over the place all the time means that it’s really hard for them to just switch on and become focused. We all know that we do our best work and achieve the most gains when we’re focused. But because it’s so tough to lock into focus, entering into something you know is important without an inner warm up can be disastrous. If you typically second guess yourself in the situation you’re about to face, or your thinking mind usually goes crazy with past or future thoughts, expect things to be even worse if you don’t set your mind for success before you start. This is why a ritual is so essential. It’s about setting your mind for success before you’re called upon to perform.
I know from my own experience that if I set an intention or intentions for the following day and then pop out of bed in the morning, trying to make them all happen right way, things often don’t turn out well. But if I start my day with a success ritual, a ritual I crafted to help me focus for the day on achieving and doing my best, then accomplishing the intentions I’ve set for myself becomes far more manageable. Sometimes, when my day isn’t going well, I take 5 minutes out to do what I call a ‘reset ritual.’ Yup, I have one of those too.
I learned the value of a reset ritual from my sparring experiences. If you know anything about boxing or mixed martial arts, or if you’ve ever had to spar a few rounds, you know there are breaks between the rounds. And those one minute breaks can feel like a lifetime. It’s not uncommon for a person to overthink what just happened during the previous round. As they begin to think about what happened, they may get down on themselves and frustrated with their performance. Not only does this take their focus away from the present moment, it also ensures that they will go into the next round thinking about all the wrong stuff and likely second guess themselves. I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me, so I decided to do something about it. I created a reset ritual, or between round routine, that allowed me to let go of everything that happened during the previous round, enabling me to become centered and stay present while avoiding steering into thoughts of what might happen in the next round. It’s like having voodoo magic over your opponent. Harnessing this approach can completely derail your opponent. Perhaps he performed really well in the first round and thinks you’ll likely come into the second round feeling slightly defeated, only to find that you’re not. You are there, baby, and 100% ready to go. Boooooooom!
This approach can be applied throughout your life, not just in the boxing ring. Let’s say you’re in a tough meeting, things didn’t go so well, and there’s a break before you have to go back in. Instead of stuffing yourself with pastries or horrible cheap coffee, find a quiet place and walk yourself through your reset ritual. When you have to give your next presentation, don’t go in cold. Make sure you do your pre-presentation ritual. Your ritual can include whatever you like, as long as:
•It’s designed specifically to get you feeling pumped for the experience •you’re about to have.
•It’s novel. Don’t be boring. Create an experience that will tell your whole being that it’s time to kick ass. Rituals can include music, clothing, food, videos, etc. Feel free to combine them however you like.
•It’s used only for that specific experience you’re preparing for. Don’t use the same ritual for every important event. Doing this trivializes the ritual and dilutes its impact.