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Are rituals necessary to work with intention?

Updated: Aug 22, 2019

Are rituals more rational than they appear? It seems so.

No matter what your faith is, or how sceptical you are about rituals, rituals have an impact on your life. I am a busy author, speaker and consultant. I teach leaders. I pride myself on being logical, rational and professional.

I recently attended the funeral of a close relative. No one in attendance was the slightest bit religious. The funeral with highly secular - no religious readings, no hymns, no church or chapel. Despite the apparent lack of ritual, ritual played an extremely important part in the proceedings.

In my book latest ‘Intention Matters’ I define an intention as ‘a deep sincere desire underpinned by a belief that it is possible’.

Intentions are catalysts that makes things happen.

Conscious or unconscious intentions play an essential role in our everyday lives. Books published on manifestation and the law of attraction in my view are really talking about focused intention. The books suggest that you ‘ask the universe, and it will deliver’ or ‘tap into the universal energy’, or that your intention creates an energy force.

In comparison to Intention Matters, other books on the subject seem full of rituals. Attending the funeral got me thinking about rituals. I was struck by the power of rituals to help us to focus and intensify our intentions.

Rituals form a core element of birthday celebrations, weddings and funerals. We have Christmas rituals, drinking rituals, and working rituals.

Those who practice magic perform rituals to focus their intention to make something happen. Those who work as energy healers use symbols and rituals to send healing energy to others. Sporting events often start with the ritual of playing or singing the national anthem, ending with ritual handshakes.

After the funeral, we scattered ashes, planted a tree, and each of us laid a rose on the ground around the tree. Why were these rituals important? Whatever our spiritual beliefs, rituals deepen our experience of life and events. Rituals help us feel a sense of comfort and control over our lives. Setting aside any preconceptions you may have, academics now think that rituals may be more rational than they appear.

Researchers Mike Norton and Francesca Gino discovered that people who undertake rituals following a death reported a higher feeling of control and felt less grief regarding their loss. Simple rituals can be extremely effective. Rituals performed after experiencing losses alleviate grief. Rituals performed before high-pressure tasks – like public speaking or job interviews reduce anxiety and increase people’s confidence. Intriguingly, even those who claim not to believe that rituals work still benefit from them. Rituals have a tangible impact on thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, leading to improved outcomes. Rituals help us to focus and intensify our intentions.

Are rituals an essential part of working with intention? No. Can they help us to work more successfully with intentions? Absolutely!

There is no one ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to work with intention. My book - Intention Matters focuses on the neuroscience of intention – how the mind tasks the brain, how cognitive processes guide us to take actions that make our intentions into real world events. My role is to help people to understand and find accessible ways to work with intention, and get the life they want. My work presents a science informed approach to intention, but I recognise that many people need a little magic or ritual to help them focus and intensify the process.

Using or not using rituals is a personal choice, but if researchers are right, the use of rituals could have a tangible impact on your resilience and ability to create the life you want. Certainly worth a thought.


  • Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Loved Ones, Lovers, and Lotteries Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino (2013)

  • Keep Your Fingers Crossed!: How Superstition Improves Performance. Lysann Damisch, Barbara Stoberock, Thomas Mussweiler (2010)

  • The Effect of Removing Superstitious Behavior and Introducing a Pre-Performance Routine on Basketball Free-Throw Performance. David J. Foster , Daniel A. Weigand & Dean Baines (2006)

  • Rituals enhance consumption. Vohs KD, Wang Y, Gino F, Norton MI (2013)

  • The Power of Rituals in Life, Death, and Business HBS working paper 2013 by Carmen Nobel

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