Why Rituals Work

We all feel anxious and uncertain at times in a host of different situations and circumstances. Occasions such as going for an interview for a new job, speaking in front of an audience, going on a first date or having an important sporting event coming up you are events that you are very likely to spend time preparing for. When you face things that cause anxiety, engaging in prepatory activities can be comforting, giving you a sense of being back in control and ready for what is coming up.

However there are a lot of less logical behaviours that people engage in these situations; these can take on a surprising array of shapes and forms. Anything from having ‘lucky’ items of clothing to actions performed in a fixed, repeated sequence. These symbolic behaviours (rituals) are universal; found across culture and time. You may not be as crazy as you think you are.

People engage in rituals with the intention of successfully attaining a wide set of desired outcomes, from reducing their anxiety to boosting their confidence, alleviating their grief to performing well in a competition – or even making it rain. These rituals may be more rational and logical than they appear, because even simple rituals can be extremely effective; why?

Despite any causal connection between the intention, the ritual and the outcome, performing rituals to produce a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true. This seemingly also still works with those who say that they don’t believe in ritual.

One of the factors involved in this is the power of the mind. If you keep thinking the same way, if you keep using the same strategies, you will keep getting the same results. Using ritual can change your cognition. Most of us will have seen a child role play with a costume of their favourite superhero; they can instantly go from a quiet, shy child to being a kick-ass, strong and powerful personality. In their mind they become the persona of the character of the costume. We also have the adult versions of this; the smart business suit, the sports gear or other outfits depending upon which persona we wish to show to the rest of the world.