Most of us think of a ritual as something serious and complicated you do for a special occasion--think of the hoopla surrounding getting married, for example--but science disagrees. Research shows that small, simple (and thoroughly nonreligious) rituals can have profound positive effects on our state of mind.

One such study found that when participants drew their feelings about a loss on a piece of paper before sprinkling it with salt and tearing it up, they felt better than a control group who didn't perform this odd ritual. Another study had people write negative thoughts down and then throw them away, again demonstrating that though it's total irrational, these actions help people feel better.

All of which is fascinating, but not exactly the sort of thing you can probably imagine easily slotting into your day. (How would your co-workers react if you started sprinkling salt on pieces of paper at your desk?) Are there any actionable ideas out there for helpful, small rituals you might actually want to incorporate into your day?

Indeed there are. Barking Up the Wrong Tree recently offered a long, useful post that not only recaps the surprising science of rituals, but also helpfully suggests a few types of entirely doable rituals just about anyone could benefit from incorporating into his or her day. They include:

1. A savoring ritual

"Make the good times better by having something you do to focus on the good things. Share good news with a partner or have a regular mealtime with your family," suggests the post, which offers a long list of interesting research showing that taking a moment to focus on the things we enjoy, makes us enjoy them even more. (Did you know wine has been proven to taste better after a toast?)

So, for example, if you're a coffee lover, design yourself a little ritual for when you prepare your beloved brew, the perfect way, in your favorite cup, and you'll squeeze more joy out of one of life's small pleasures.

2. A starting ritual

Turns out, rituals are also an effective way to beat procrastination. The post offers an explanation from Charles Duhigg, the author of The Power of Habit: "One way to use habits to fight procrastination is to develop a habitualized response to starting. When people talk about procrastination, what they're usually actually talking about is the first step. In general, if people can habitualize that first step, it makes it a lot easier ... For instance, I'm going to set a timer for five minutes. I'm going to surf the Web for five minutes. As soon as the timer goes off, I'm going to do x. Whatever x is, for the first step."

3. A luck ritual

Luck may seem random, but science shows there's lots you can do to make yourself luckier. Apparently, a luck ritual is one way. No, carrying that rabbit's foot won't intercede with the spirits on your behalf, but it will change your frame of mind, making you more confident, and that can make you more likely to be successful.

Harvard professor and author Francesca Gino looked at how this plays out in sports as part of her research. "Some of the pregame routines that some of the players have are kind of funny. What we studied in this project was whether these rituals are really of beneficial effect in terms of bringing you confidence and potentially impacting your performance positively. That is actually what we found," she is quoted as saying in the post. So don't be embarrassed by that good luck ritual you have to psyche yourself up before a big challenge. It's probably doing you good.

Published on: Nov 9, 2015