Pre-Performance Rituals


If you’ve watched just about any sport, you’re certainly familiar with athlete’s and their love of rituals.

But, it turns out that even arbitrary or even silly rituals can have a meaningful impact on your performance and reduce anxiety. The important thing is not necessarily what you do, but what you call it.

A Ritual By Any Other Name

This study comes from, of course, the BulletproofMusician blog, where Noa covered studies done by Brooks et al., 2016. This team of researchers was trying to find if a collection of arbitrary rituals could either reduce anxiety or enhance performance.

The specifics of the study are equal parts amusing and surprising, with the ritual given to half the participants having no relation to the task being performed.

The interesting parts (read Noa’s summary here) are that:

  1. Despite the randomness of a particular ritual, it is generally effective as long as you…
  2. Make sure that you’re calling the ritual a “ritual”.

For whatever reason, framing the same behaviors as either “a ritual” or “a few random acts” has a distinct difference in how they affect your physical and mental state before and during a performance.

If you want to take a look at the actual study you can find the abstract and purchase the full study here.

It doesn’t appear that there is a definite reason that it works this way, but the results speak for themselves.

While I don’t necessarily have actions that I think of like a pre-performance ritual, there are definitely things I do before a performance (or rehearsal) that help to ease nerves and increase focus on the task at hand.

Instead of resisting the label, I think I’ll start to embrace the power of the ritual!

Long tones, harmonic series, fire dance, 3 deep breaths, then walk on stage.

About Colin Dorman

Colin is a freelance horn player and teacher, as well as a fan of tech of all sorts, aviation, and increasingly complex flight simulators. He also enjoys beer, bourbon and fitness - but not at the same time. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, as well as right here at ColinDorman.com!