Incorporating the Power of Rituals into Your Programs

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

This time of year traditions take center stage. We revisit certain foods, activities and practices that come ’round only in December. But traditions and rituals impact our lives more than we sometimes think.

Maybe you and your family take the same vacation every year. Or you order pizza every Friday night. Perhaps you repeat the same phrases of affection at certain times every day.

As leaders of camps and schools, you are experts at making the most of traditions and rituals. Your organizations perform rituals every day that they’re in session. One camp I know gathers around the flagpole every morning to hold hands over their hearts and say a prayer as the American flag is raised. Then they repeat the ritual in the evening as the flag is lowered.

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Why rituals matter

Director of Camp Stomping Ground Jack Schott says, “Rituals matter. They help us place a memory in time, focus attention on our values, and establish our culture.” He describes one of the nightly rituals at his camp.1

“We invite everyone at camp to form a circle, cross their right arms over their left, and touch the finger of the people next to them. Next, we will say, “It’s good to be together,” three times and twist out of the circle. Sometimes we scream, sometimes we whisper, sometimes we mix it up, but every night before bed we take a moment to remind ourselves how lucky we are to be together.”

When you make time for rituals and traditions, here are a few things that can happen:

  1. You connect with something bigger than you.2
  2. You experience a greater sense of enjoyment.3
  3. You prepare mentally and emotionally for the transition at hand—whether you’re starting the day or ending it, working or playing, eating or sleeping.4

Here are some ways you could leverage those good vibes to benefit your camp, class or school. First, let’s start with you.

Incorporate the power of rituals into your workday

Parts of every workday are more enjoyable or intuitive than others—the things that feel like a more natural fit with your personality. Research shows that rituals can increase the value of an experience. “In other words, if employees perform rituals as part of their jobs, they are likely to find their jobs more rewarding,” according to Harvard Business Review.

In a separate HBR article, the author emphasizes the value of the ritual in this great description of a samurai fighter drinking tea in the movie The Last Samurai:

“Sitting at a low table, he moved deliberately, singularly focused on his tea. He contemplated it. Then poured it. Then sipped it, tasted it, and, finally, swallowed it. 

“This, I realized, was the source of the samurai’s strength. 

“His acrobatics were impressive, but they were merely a demonstration of his strength. The source was this tea ritual and many other rituals like it. His power as a warrior came from his patience, precision, attention to subtlety, concentration, and his reverence for the moment.” 

At what points in your workday do you need healthy doses of increased focus, greater enjoyment, or more resolve to take a task from start to finish?

Consider adding a ritual to your routine. This can give you space to mentally prepare for the work at hand with a greater sense of intention and gratitude.

Now let’s talk about your participants …

Find a way to ritualize registration

One friend I know signed up for Disney cruises three years in a row simply because a repeat offer was made every year at the end of her current trip. The timing was perfect for the vendor: She and her family were relaxed and coming to the end of a fun week Disney-cruising with friends. Dangled in front of them was the offer—with a discount, mind you, which was available only if they booked the trip for next year before the end of the current trip. But besides the discount, signing up for another year on the spot removed the hassles of setting a date, finding a venue, and even scheduling with friends since their vacay besties also were there to sign up at the same time!

Though there’s more at play here than the ritual, the venue definitely capitalized on the opportunity. Is there a way for you to recreate opportunities like this one at times of year when you’re trying to capture new registrations?

Video + ritual could be a power-packed duo

You’ve heard about the power of video. When you can’t recruit kids or connect with them personally, video is a helpful substitute. Consider posting a video on social media that highlights some of your organization’s beloved rituals. Helping your students make a virtual connection to these meaningful moments could help foster community throughout the year, boost registrations at critical times, or simply stir happy memories when kids need to feel good about themselves and their lives.

One pioneer researcher in the benefits of nostalgia once said, “Nostalgia made me feel that my life had roots and continuity. It made me feel good about myself and my relationships. It provided a texture to my life and gave me strength to move forward.”5

Who knows how long your camp or school rituals will serve your students? Perhaps forever.


1Camp Stomping Ground blog: It’s Good to be Together

2Psychology Today: 5 Ways Rituals Help Guide You Through Transitions

3Harvard Business Review: New Research: Rituals Make Us Value Things More

4Harvard Business Review: The Value of Ritual in Your Workday

5The New York Times: What is Nostalgia Good For? Quite a Bit, Research Shows