The Ritual of Performance

I recently finished the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey.  In the book he describes the rituals of a variety of people including authors, scientists, artists and other notables.  I sought the book out as part of my 2014 planning.  2013 was a tremendous year of change and growth from me on both the personal and professional fronts.  This year is to be an hyper-productive year.  While 2013 was exploratory and divergent, 2014 is to be action oriented and focused.  Consistent with my hacking mentality I was seeking tricks and tips for amplifying my approach to getting things done.

The Tug of War

One of the things that many people struggle with is the perceived restrictions inherent in ritual.  The thought of doing the same thing over and over again is often seen as monotonous and dreary.  It can be, in fact, seen as the antithesis of the creative lifestyle or the artists way.  The repetition feels like drudgery and work.  This is how I saw ritual for much of my life.  I have been consulting and working independently for almost 20 years and in that time I have built a personal myth that the variety and novelty of my days is a strong contributor to the value I am able to create.  Then I learned more about how the brain works and my myth fell apart.

Cognitive Stamina

I have been a user (sporadically as you may have guessed based on my personal mythology) of an app called Lift.  It is a tool for creating personal habits.  Last year the memo explaining the science behind the Lift’s approach was released as part of an article published on Medium (you can read the article here).  It starts with the following explanation,

“People have a daily cognitive stamina that represents their ability to do any intellectual work.

Every decision, big or small, every moment of mental focus, and every act of comprehension is part of your day’s cognitive stamina. Let’s call that your cognitive budget.

When your stamina is drained, you revert to your lazy self, choosing actions which are habitual, familiar and routine. Your stamina recharges completely overnight (and gets a partial refill after every meal).”

Early last year I had already started to explore the power of simple living.  When I moved to New Orleans I chose not to bring a closet full of clothes but instead to focus on a daily uniform (jeans and a black or grey t-shirt).  One less decision to make in the morning, one less debit to my cognitive account.  As I read the stories of the various great minds that had found ritual to helpful it was clear that they were simply focusing their cognitive stamina on their work. I wanted to do that too.

Scarcity Drives Better Decisions

I have always believed that running a cash poor company forces you to make the tougher decisions that lead to better ROI.  When you can only fund one project you choose the great one not the 2 or 3 good ones.  Twitter has forced us, with its 140 character limit, to choose our words ever more carefully.  An entrepreneur’s most scarce resource is not money, as many believe, but rather time.  Understanding this forces decisions to made that raise the anticipated return requirements on all activities.  So too does the understanding that is you can only make 10 highest quality decisions a day.  Do you really want to “spend” one on your outfit?

Embracing Ritual

I no longer see ritual as a limiter.  My personal myth is an artifact of past thinking no longer relevant.  I am working hard to find and maintain the rituals that allow me to do as Flaubert ascribes.  I want to learn, write and share more.  That is where I want my cognitive budget to be spent.  What I am having for lunch or creating a new plan for each new day no longer interests me as it did.  Variety may be “the spice of life” but I have decided to get my variety in the same way, every day.
Flaubert Quote


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