Monday, February 8, 2010

The sustaining power of rituals

Earlier I wrote about interval training for the brain, an idea developed by Loehr and Schwartz in The Power of Full Engagement. Today’s topic also comes from their book.

Rituals, as the authors define them, are routines that are more or less automatic and relatively effortless; we feel worse if we don’t do them. Some examples of rituals are brushing your teeth, taking a shower, kissing your spouse goodbye in the morning, calling your parents on the weekend.

The sustaining power of rituals, Loehr and Schwartz claim, “comes from the fact that they conserve energy.” The authors quote A. N. Whitehead, who wrote in 1911: “We should not cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of operations which we can perform without thinking about them.” (p. 169)

“Since will and discipline,” the authors continue, “are far more limited and precious resources than most of us realize, they must be called upon very selectively. Because even small acts of self-control use up this limited reservoir, consciously using this energy for one activity means it will be less available for the next one. The sobering truth is that we have the capacity for very few conscious acts of self-control in a day.”

If the authors are correct, discretionary traders face a daily uphill battle that they can win only by ritualizing as much of their routine as possible.

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