I was at the gym tonight training when I took the above photo. Immediately a few of the guys started hollering “selfie!” and the like, and one of the older guys came over chuckling, and asked why I was taking pictures of myself. I told him I was writing an article on rituals, and he looked at me curiously before asking what a picture had to do with it. I said to him, “don’t you notice I always wear the exact same outfit, down to my socks, on my heavy squat day? Do you think that’s random or some kind of accident?” The dawn of realisation washed across his face and he smiled that knowing smile of recognition.
The first thing that happens on heavy squat day is I get changed before I leave the office – I don’t wait until I get to the gym. I wear the exact same outfit each time – a retina burning orange singlet with a picture of Gohan going super Saiyan on it, my black shorts, my knee pads, my best fitting pair of socks and my bright red weightlifting shoes. There is a reason for each piece of clothing – the bright orange singlet lights the fire in my brain. I don’t want to wear some pale, calming pastel on my torso when I’m squatting, I want something that is bright and jarring. The picture of a super Saiyan is for inspiration. The compression shorts keep everything tight. The black shorts are the perfect fit for squatting, with no bunching or anything. The knee pads keep my knees warm and lubricated. When I drive to the gym, I have the heat on in my car, motivational speeches blaring through my earphones. At the exact same spot on the way, I start to down my large can of energy drink and visualise what I’ll be doing. By the time I pull into the gym car park, the caffeine and sugar is kicking in, and I’m almost tingling with anticipation. I get out of the car, take my glasses off and put on my black baseball cap, and the transformation is complete. That black cap going on, it’s like in Iron Man when he is fully suited up, and his mask snaps shut – you know it’s on.
See, other people might go to the gym and do squats or “legs day” – when I go in on heavy squat day, I’m going to war. The above, that’s me putting on my armour, and getting in the mindset of battle because I’m going to have enough weight on my shoulders to crush 99% of the world’s population. When I walk into the gym there is no doubt, no retreat, no surrender. Look at the photos on my home page, there are a couple of me squatting at my first powerlifting comp. Look at my face in particular, the expression on it – total determination, completely in the zone. That, my friends, is the power of ritual.
The above is an example of a ritual, and how you can use the power of a ritual for success. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool, and when you train it correctly it can do great things for you. To give you an example, a few weeks ago, I was feeling really tired and unmotivated during one of my training sessions, so after my warmup I threw down a large can of energy drink. Because I would normally only do that on heavy squat day, it was like throwing a switch in my brain. I was instantly awake, alert, and massively psyched up, despite the fact caffeine doesn’t kick in for half an hour. My brain was so used to a big can of energy drink being used for a specific purpose, that when I used it at a different time, I got the same results without even seeking it – I was really just after a little pick me up.
Now, let’s apply the power of ritual to other pursuits. Let’s say you’re a university student – you always get to lectures late, you haven’t done the recommended reading and you have other things on your mind. The result? You don’t learn a whole hell of a lot. The opposite of that is, you arrive to the lecture early having already done the recommended reading, you’ve had your coffee and are in your seat thinking about the lecture before it starts. Your mind is alert and ready for what you are about to learn. Obviously you get much better result at the end of the lecture, because without even realising it, you have harnessed the power of a ritual. This is the same when you go to work in the morning – you get into the office at a certain time, you have your coffee, say good morning to everyone and when you sit down you think “ok, let’s get to it”. Even that is a ritual.
Those two examples – they are mundane, regular examples of rituals that just happen. What you want to do is hack the ritual. You want to start introducing stimuli of your choice that tells your brain it’s time to do what you want it to do. You can use music, food, drink, some kind of mantra you tell yourself, it can be absolutely anything. Start to do it consciously at first – when you put on that piece of clothing, when you walk in that door, when you listen to that piece of music, say something like “yeah, it’s on”. Deliberately force your brain to make that association. After a while it will do it on its own and you reap the rewards.
Speak to any world class sports person, and I guarantee that they have some form of ritual they go through before their event. I remember one Olympic gold medallist judo player from Japan whose name escapes me, his ritual was similar to a samurai going into battle. He would make sure everything about him was perfectly done – clothes, hair, smell, fingernails and so on, as if he was going to die on the battlefield and wanted to leave a perfect corpse.
Use this to your advantage. A great example of developing a ritual for success is a job interview. Don’t just do the question preparation, treat the entire day leading up to the interview as a ritual. As you suit up, don’t just go through the motions, snap your collar when you put it on. Flick your arms forward when you put on your jacket. Give your neck a crack from side to side. When you get out of your car, visualise it as though it’s a slow motion shot of some slick gangster in a movie. On the surface, it all seems so superficial and stupid. Your mind, however, doesn’t see it that way. When you make a ritual where you start acting confident and talking confident, all of a sudden you are confident.
That’s all it takes really. Go ahead and experiment with it – you’ll be blown away by how powerful it is.