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Ritual involves a repeated pattern that is related to a certain event. There is a prescribed pattern, that occurs in a certain order.  Sometimes – but not necessarily always – there can be a religious theme associated with the ritual. Frequently the pattern celebrates an event or occasion.

Ritual can become automized, focusing on the habituation of certain behaviour. There is familiarity associated with the event which occurs repeatedly. The regularity and repetition of the prescribed pattern of behaviour means that not much thought is required. Cognitive load - or effortful thinking - is eradicated if ritual is involved. It is no longer necessary to think through every action and decide what should happen because the habit of ritual removes the need to consider what action should follow. A prescribed pattern automatically determines what will occur next.

Consider rituals that make a difference every day. The ritual associated with getting up, breakfasting and getting ready for the day ahead. Ritual, associated with a prescribed pattern of behaviour automizes and makes the process easier. By doing the same thing each time, fewer decisions must be made and the task is made much easier.

Of course, there are various occasions that have a certain pattern, with each occasion amplified because of the ritual associated with it. The stress of exams might be reduced if there is a prescribed pattern of behaviour that precedes each event and if prescibed behaviour determined what occurred during the exam. Allowing sufficient time at the beginning and end of an exam might ritualize what a student does to allocate time for each question at the beginning of an exam and allocates time to review or revise the answers provided. This prescibed pattern allocates sufficient time for all tasks and ensures answers are checked prior to the conclusion of the exam.

Professional athletes may undertake ritualized preparations (including stretches) prior to participating in a competitive game. Some ritualized behaviour might include superstition which logic suggests has no purpose but might bring about a personal feeling of calm, thus enhancing performance. By establishing rituals associated with important events, it is possible to reduce the decision-making requirement  and increase the maount of cognitive 'band-width' that is available to perform at one's best and maximise individual performance. There are many occasions when established rituals are helpful. There are many other occasions when new rituals or prescribed patterns of behaviour could be established to enhance performance.

​Whether these are social, family, personal and/or academic events, there can be significant benefits associated with creating rituals that are meaningful, functional and untimately, beneficial. 

​© Michele Juratowitch 

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Last reviewed 04 November 2022
Last updated 04 November 2022