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How Good Habits Become Destructive Ruts

How to develop rituals that serve you, not the other way around.

(This article originally appeared in my column at Inc.)

Brilliant performers in any field often have rituals or practices that they fall back on to help them perform consistently at their peak. When you are charged with doing complex work every day, rituals can bring order to your world and help you focus more effectively. If you want to deliver a result consistently, you must systemize it, and that’s precisely what a ritual does.

However, the danger of rituals is that they can remain in your schedule long after they have stopped serving their original purpose. Worse, they can begin to work against your ability to be effective.

While I believe that high-performing people and teams must have strong rituals in their life to support their goals, I also know that these rituals must be examined on a regular basis to ensure that they aren’t becoming fossilized ruts. Here are a few suggestions for shaking up your rituals before they stall your progress.

Examine Your Daily Rituals For Ruts

Many people have daily behaviors they engage in without thinking, whether that’s the time they get out of bed, a quick stop for coffee in the morning, a discipline of reading/studying, or the check-ins they do with their co-workers. Consider how you’re currently engaging in these rituals, and how you might be able to able them to make them more effective today.

Additionally, consider how you begin and end each day. Don’t just rush out of bed, swallow some breakfast, and speed off to work. Do you have daily rituals that help you focus on your priorities, think about opportunities, and evaluate your progress? If not, think about how you might be able to incorporate them. If you already have these rituals in place, consider whether they are truly effective, or if there’s a way you can tweak them to make them work better for you.

Prune Ineffective Meetings

Most of your recurring meetings probably started with a clear purpose, and an agenda that everyone could get behind. However, over time it’s easy for these recurring meetings to remain on the calendar long after they’re no longer necessary. Look at all of the meetings you are accountable for, and prune relentlessly. Every unnecessary meeting represents focus, assets, time, and energy stolen from the organization.

For meetings that need to stay on the calendar, consider your approach and agenda. Has the meeting grown stale? Is it too rote? How might you be able to change the meeting so that it is more stimulating and gets better results?

Meet only when you have to, meet for a specific purpose, and stop meeting when you no longer need to.

Shake Up Your Wells Of Inspiration

Are you looking for inspiration in the same old places? It might be time to push yourself into new, and even uncomfortable areas in order to spark new ideas and insights. Challenge yourself to the read books or articles of people you disagree with. Engage in new experiences that make you uncomfortable. Listen to podcasts that stretch your perspective. Adopt a discipline of taking a daily walk and listening to an audiobook. Regardless of your method, don’t let the stimuli you allow into your mind to grow stale.

Rituals are critical, but they can also grow stale. Take some time to evaluate them on a monthly or quarterly basis to ensure that they are still accomplishing their intended purpose. Don’t let your rituals become ruts.

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Last modified: December 1, 2022

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