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Boundless Leadership: Stop stress with powerful rituals

Habits build routines and routines drive results. There’s been a lot of effort to make these habits automatic and mindless. Ironically, it has not helped with the deep stress that comes from trying to do more in less time.

Artem Bali (Unsplash)

I’m writing this in a cafe in Sydney, 8:35am. A steady stream of grey suited professionals, fluoro clad construction workers, and headphone locked blank faced customers wait for their particular caffeinated kickstart.

They are barely present, bored and unsmiling. They grab their hot drink and shuffle off in to the concrete jungle, making room for one another silently, without acknowledgment. The air of resignation hangs heavy.

The morning coffee is a deeply held cultural process in Australia. It amazes me how much of a grip the frothed milk frenzy has on the psyche of its citizens!

It’s become a deeply entrenched habit.

Habits are all the rage these days. We are all looking for faster, easier, better ways to do more with less friction. Habits are flagged as the ultimate solution to effortlessness, to becoming boundless. We are trying to hack our habits and beat our own self sabotage. There are some amazing books on the subject, from the ubiquitous Stephen Covey original, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, through to the more recent insightful Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit.

The books aim to make success automatic, by developing patterns of behaviour that move from habits to routines that generates results. Habits, routines, results and PRESTO! Success.

But why do we want to be more on auto-pilot? So we see less? Taste less? Experience less? So we lose ourselves in worry? So we numb ourselves to daily reality so we can harry and hurry our way to some future state where the habits are no longer needed, because we eventually arrive at that elusive destination?

What if we spun the focus? What if we immerse ourselves in each choice instead of blindly surging through it, defaulting to automated anchors?

What if we brought the power of awareness to our daily practice?

I remember reading the book Shogun by James Clavell. In it he writes of a Japanese noble, trying to woo back his estranged wife, completes a tea ceremony for her. The ceremony is conducted with simple, exquisite attention. Each movement and motion made with care and love. She weeps at the beauty of his efforts, the moments saturated in love, the dedication to each gesture.

I love this idea: the dedication of attention to daily practice. The tea ceremony is a special ritual steeped in meaning.

And what if we brought that kind of dedication and awareness to each of our daily moments? A glass of water upon waking becomes a moment to cleanse and rejoice in life. A shower becomes a ritual of purification where thoughts and body are washed clean ready for the gift of a new day. The morning coffee becomes a communion with fellow human beings, a savouring of fleshy pleasures. The opening of the laptop becomes a magical opening to a world of possibilities and connection.

There is no room for stress when we are exquisitely focused on the meaning and glory of our present moment.

Instead of habits, attention.

Instead of routines, rituals.

Instead of results, revelations.

What do you think? Where can you bring the magic of rituals to your daily life and work? What difference would that make to your experience of the day?

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Zoë is on a mission to encourage big thinkers with big hearts to make a big difference. She is passionate about showing leaders how to challenge limitations so they can live and lead with boundless energy, confidence, and conviction. With over 30 years experience developing leaders, she has published three books: Composure: How Centered Leaders Make the Biggest Impact, Moments: Leadership when it matters most, and Loyalty: Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and create lifelong advocates. These are available here.

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