Developing a personal ritual could be the tool that sets you on the path to a new, healthier you.
That’s the message behind Leesburg author Mark Powell’s new book, “Clutch: How Rituals Elevate Performance and Happiness.” The River Creek resident traces his fascination with rituals back to his college days, when work by renowned sociologist Emile Durkheim struck him.
“Durkheim discovered that the higher the level of ritual in a person’s life, the higher the level of internal strength,” Powell recalls. “And I thought, well that’s kind of a big statement. What on earth does that mean?”
He has spent the decades since focused on exactly that. Powell said he became enamored with studying the impact of rituals on corporate life, groups, and particularly families. On the latter point, his research and personal attention to family rituals underscored a point often recited—the importance of family dinners. But, Powell discovered, a family dinner ritual goes beyond just strengthening the ties of the family bond. Having a family dinner at least four nights a week has been shown to result in better grades for students and less chances of drug abuse.
Powell’s research also focused on developing personal rituals. His own personal ritual the past three years has been turning all his research into his book, spending a couple of hours writing every morning.
“Until I found the ritual the writing didn’t happen,” he said. And the ritual was not just the practice of setting time aside every morning before his “day job” at Morgan Stanley in Leesburg—it was everything from the time, the setting, and everything in between.
Powell makes a strong distinction between rituals and things that are just part of one’s routine.
“The real science to the word ritual has two big components: they have some kind of physical and some kind of psychological component. Something you move and something that moves you,” he said.
The book describes an algorithm for personal rituals of a routine plus a ceremony.
“Every night if you open a bottle of wine, get out two glasses and pour the wine, that’s a routine. But if before drinking you raise up the glasses and clink them that’s a ceremony. The clinking is done for symbolic reasons, a moment of celebration. You put the ceremony together with the routine and then you have a ritual,” he said.
“Rituals are like little gifts to ourselves in the midst of the busy world. They’re little moments who remind us who we are and what we are about,” he said.
And these rituals have been shown to be tremendous stress relievers and can have a positive impact on overall health. The last third of Powell’s book focuses on exercise and eating as it relates to rituals.
“There’s no such thing as eating habits,” he adds. “If you want to change your eating habit you need to create new rituals.”
“Clutch”is available for purchase via e-book and paperback on Amazon, as well as through Powell’s personal website, drmarkpowell.com. Beginning in February, Powell will be prominently featured on the Psychology Todaywebsite, as its ritual expert and blogger.