I sip my lemongrass tea and watch with divine curiosity. Like hundreds of thousands of her fellow island people, the elderly Balinese woman places a series of daily morning offerings (known as "Canang Sari") at strategic places around the home. The tropical scent of frangipani and incense wafts throughout the indoor/outdoor living room surrounded by verdant rice paddy fields. Even though no one other than me is watching, she bows with respect each time she places the palm leaf-based offering on the ground. These daily devotional gifts are a way of life in Bali and part of their Hindu/animist belief system dedicated to pleasing the gods and warding off demons with this ritual.
Whether we're conscious of it or not, our work and personal lives are made up of daily rituals including when we eat our meals, how we shower or groom or how we approach our daily descent into the digital world of email communication. Our habits comfort us, much like the Balinese feel reassured by their morning offerings. But have you ever taken an inventory of your daily rituals and how they're serving you? And, have you ever imagined what daily rituals could make you a better leader or a happier person?
About a decade ago, I experimented with a daily offering at the worst of times for my company. As CEO, I could see that the dot-com bust was taking a huge toll on the psycho-hygiene of our hotel company. Knowing that creating a culture of recognition was one means of developing a ripple of positivity in an organization, I made it a practice of giving a minimum of two heartfelt expressions of recognition to two different people in the company each weekday. My rule was that it had to be unexpected by the recipient, it had to be specific in terms of what I was thanking them for, it needed to have a level of detail that was more like a paragraph than a sentence and -- if possible -- it needed to be done in person. I tried this for a month and found that like a stone falling into a pond, the reverberating effect of people feeling significant by being caught doing something right helped change the mood and morale around the offices. My daily offering was the American workplace equivalent of a Balinese gift to the gods.
The Balinese could teach us a few things about how to create the conditions for a happy culture. One of my favorite "emotional equations" is the one about happiness which is defined by "wanting what we have" divided by "having what we want." The numerator of this equation is all about practicing gratitude, finding the time to really want we have rather than take it for granted. A daily offering is one means of doing that. The denominator -- having what we want -- is the act of pursuing gratification. When we jump on that never-ending treadmill of aspiring to have what we want in life, it can create a momentary adrenaline high but it also can distract us from all that we already have in our lives. Some dictionaries define "pursuit" as "to chase with hostility." At work, do we chase happiness with an edge of hostility? I saw some of that at the mall this holiday season.
We can either be conscious or unconscious about our personal daily rituals as well as our organizational rituals. I just finished reading a groundbreaking book by Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer called The Progress Principle. Based upon giving a large sampling of employees in seven diverse companies a daily journal along with precise instructions about how to review their work experiences of the day, the authors were able to create an authoritative study of the inner emotional life of American workers. And they were able to show that the most fruitful means of managing or leading a work group is to give them a meaningful sense that they were making progress and had the resources and encouragement to feel like they were living up to their potential. It's a very instructive read that I highly recommend. But one of the most interesting lessons of their study was just how much the employees got out of their daily ritual of reflecting on their work day. Here's a quote from one manager who was disappointed that the daily journal study was ending: "I am sorry this is coming to an end. It forced me to sit back and reflect on the day's happenings. This daily ritual was very helpful in making me more aware of how I should be motivating and interacting with the team."
Starting tomorrow, what offering, ritual, or habit are you going to start practicing that is going to serve you in your personal or work life?