39. Rituals: The Secret Sauce to Satisfaction

Performing a ritual has been proven to suppress the anxiety response in the brain. Rituals also calm the mind, help us transition from one task to the next, bond people together and provide structure to otherwise chaotic days.


In this episode of Crina and Kirsten Get to Work, our hosts turn their attention to the importance of rituals – the secret sauce to satisfaction.

The world can be a crazy and chaotic place – and that is certainly true now with COVID and protests and politics and working from home (or not working at all), working outside of your home (back to COVID) plus all of the things that “normal” life presents.  Rituals can keep us grounded and connected.

Dr. Nick Hobson is a neuroscientist from the University of Toronto and founder of The Behaviorist, a behavioral and brain science consultancy, describes a ritual as:

  1. a ritual script – a “predefined sequence characterized by rigidity, formality and repetition.” 
  2. meaningful  – it must be “embedded in a larger system of symbolism and meaning.” 
  3. some irrationality associated with it, or “lack instrumental purpose.”

But don’t get stuck on the definition – focus on whether there is meaning in the repetitive action.

While we can have rituals that are just our own, rituals often involve other people.  Dr. Cristine H. Legare, associate professor of psychology at The University of Texas at Austin says, “[m]ost rituals are done in groups as collective practices. And there is always group buy-in. The amazing thing is that, unlike habits or routines, they have been shown in social psychology to improve everything—from making your food tastier to making you more motivated.”.

And here are some more benefits from rituals – rituals can regulate 

  1. emotions, 
  2. performance goal states, and
  3. social connection to others.

Rituals help us regulate strong emotions – think about a funeral.  They impose order in the chaos that is sometimes life – think renewing wedding vows.  Rituals can also be more everyday – think a family eating pizza and cozying up on a couch to watch a movie every Friday night to wind down from the week and reconnect.  

But our hosts are talking about WORK – so what about rituals at work??!!

Work rituals can express values and build connection and have been found to increase satisfaction and productivity.  Rituals at work should be as inclusive as possible to ensure everyone can take part. Key questions to ask: is this something that everyone can feel comfortable participating in? What is the impact on overall company culture? What happens if someone wants to opt-out?

Here are some ideas for workplace rituals:

When a new employee joins, how do you welcome and connect the new person:

Lunch out

At one company, each employee leaves something from their desk and the new employee has to find the owner and the story behind the object

DropBox, a company who values delight, dends each new employee the ingredients to make and decorate cupcakes

When an employee leaves, how do you send them off:

At AirBNB, the entire office forms a human tunnel of well-wishers for the departing employee to run through

How do you create connection during COVID:

A weekly Zoom meeting with an interesting question for everyone to answer – and no work topics

Send boxes of snacks and drinks for a Zoom happy hour

Whatever you do, it should be engaging, meaningful and regular – the data says it will make your workplace more productive and satisfying!

And interesting reading:

How Rituals at Work Boost Team Performance (An Investigative Report)| The Beautiful Blog

Using purposeful workplace rituals to build better teams – Bracket