Rituals (Issue 867)

In which we are reminded that rituals help put us on purpose and push up performance.

The Orleans Firebirds play their home games on Eldredge Field next to a Middle School in Orleans, Massachusetts. They’re a baseball team, one of 10 teams in the Cape Cod Baseball League, a summer college baseball league that consistently feeds players to Major League Baseball. Particularly under the lights at night, when Cape darkness or fog surround the field by the sixth or seventh inning, I am gently and safely swaddled, isolated from the day-to-day back home.

Through winter and spring months, I look forward to a Firebirds game in late June or early July. That’s when summer starts for me.

Games start at 7:00. At some point, mid-afternoon, I walk for an hour or a bit more on Nauset Beach. At about 6:15, I drive Beach Road to the Sundae School for a small dish of chocolate ice cream. Then, I cross Beach Road to Nauset Farms, a grocery and wine store with a deli, where I purchase two sandwiches – ‘roast beef on whole wheat’ and ‘tuna salad on a sub roll’ with tomatoes, pickles, and onions. I then continue down Beach Road, heading back to the town center and the field.

I like to arrive by around 6:45 pm and find a spot on the first base side, roughly between the Firebirds’ dugout and first base. Some years, I sit on the grass terraces that stretch down the first base line. Some years, I stand at the top of the hill, behind the terraces.

I eat the roast beef sandwich, more or less, by the time someone sings the Star-Spangled Banner. I save the tuna salad until, maybe, the 4th or 5th inning. By the sixth or seventh inning, whether I’ve been sitting or standing, I like to stand at the top of the terraces and start a conversation about the game with one of other guys standing there.

We watch and talk about the game, our kids, summer on the Cape, and their history with baseball until the end of the game at which point we disperse into the darkness. I like to head to bed at that point. And, it’s best if the Firebirds win.

That’s the drill. Chocolate ice cream, roast beef and tuna, first base side, first pitch to last, by early July.

OK, it’s a highly prescribed tic, a ritual developed over many years, and it’s my favorite way to signal to myself, “It’s summer, shift gears, lighten up!”, enjoy a bit of our much-too-brief New England summers.

In their May, 2013 Scientific American article, “Why Rituals Work,” authors Francesca Gino and Michael Norton wrote, “Despite the absence of a direct causal connection between the ritual and the desired outcome, performing rituals with the intention of producing a certain result appears to be sufficient for that result to come true.”

Whether it’s starting summer, or stepping into a batter’s box, or starting a block of calls or emails to prospects or clients, “…superstitious rituals enhanced people’s confidence in their abilities, motivated greater effort – and improved subsequent performance.”

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