Last Sunday night after putting the kids to bed I switched on Mo Farah’s recent BBC documentary – Race Of His Life.
It came as little surprise to witness the effort and dedication an eventual triple (and counting) gold medal Olympian has spent since his early teenage years.
But as well as his natural passion for long-distance running and the blood, sweat and tears involved with relentless training, what perked my interest most was Farah’s talk about his own pre-race rituals.
Before every big race, for instance, he shaves his head. On film we see him going through the ritual prior to the Glasgow Indoor Grand Prix. When asked, he says it makes him feel light, smooth and relaxed – all traits that he is looking to take forward into the imminent race itself. ‘I’ve been doing the same thing for the past ten years,’ Farah explains, ‘And sticking to it.’
It’s a prime example of a person using a ritual process to manage their emotional state before a big performance. Some may pass it off as simple superstition but to perform consistently at a high level, and to the best of our ability, we need to be in control of the way we feel.
Staying in the best possible mindset day after day means recognising what makes us feel positive and inspired, and forming a routine around that. Ultimately, a strong routine results in better physical condition and ability to make quick decisions, particularly when tested.
Preparation is everything
Whether you’re Mo Farah about to run the 10,000m in Rio, or a web developer about to tackle a brand new website redesign, it’s clear that people who are mentally prepared for the task at hand find it easier to reach their potential.
And when it comes to results, the difference in quality between somebody that is tired, frustrated or angry and somebody that is happy, motivated and curious can be astounding over the course of months and years.
So instead of forcing ourselves to do something when we’re not feeling quite up to it, we should be thinking about how to get ourselves in a positive mental state. I know from experience that this approach produces better results in the long term.
Managing your state – ‘The Daily Ritual’
The most effective way to manage your state from moment to moment is to maintain a Daily Ritual.
As humans we naturally link certain actions and processes with success. Even the other way around, a good starting point is to take a previous success and breakdown the actions that we took to get there.
Often, it’s the little things that keep us feeling happy and confident enough to continually condition ourselves to behave and perform at the highest level possible throughout the day.
My core ritual
Technology plays a big part in my Daily Ritual, from the moment I wake up.
After a quick shower and shave, I always plan the day ahead using Google Calendar first thing in a morning while I’m fresh – this helps me to visualise how the day will pan out and anticipate key events ahead of time.
Why do I do this? It helps to get me in a state where I feel organised and prepared for a successful day. While I do have a long-term vision for success, my short-term guiding principle is to ‘win each day’. It helps me to picture every day as a building block that will enable me to achieve my longer term goals.
I also set a silent reminder on my Fitbit three times per day (late morning, late afternoon and evening).
When the reminder goes off, I ask myself four core questions to help me manage my state:
- How do I feel?
- What am I focussing on to make me feel this way?
- What does this mean?
- What should I do about it?
I find that these questions are the best way to help me understand how I’m feeling moment-to-moment. I always have them handy in a text doc or scrap of paper as it’s easier to analyse when written down rather than holding all the information in my head.
In addition to a lunch break, I also take at least two microbreaks per day. Performing low-cognitive tasks such as a quick walk around the block, or doodling in a colouring-in book really helps me reset my mental state. The Headspace app is also a great way to get yourself in a more relaxed state, particularly on the train home.
On return to the house I always review my day in the evening and write down what I did well and any lessons learnt.
My Daily Ritual has proved to be invaluable because of course there are plenty of days when I don’t ‘win’. These bad days are inevitable but I firmly believe that every setback, mistake and difficult situation presents us with an opportunity to learn.
And there really is no end to the range of actions and sequences that can be included in a daily ritual, so long as it makes us feel confident and prepared to tackle challenges head on. If you have any personal rituals, big or small, that help you to de-stress, relax and prepare, drop me a comment as I’d love to hear about them.