The late Steve Jobs would bathe his feet in the toilet water of the Apple restrooms to destress, according to his authorized biography by Walter Isaacson.
Nintendo director Shigeru Miyamoto keeps himself sharp by carrying a measuring tape and challenging himself to correctly guess the length of different objects.
And Tesla tycoon Elon Musk plans his entire day in five-minute intervals.
Such behavior is not dissimilar to athletes mentally preparing themselves before events.
Tennis legendRafael Nadal strategically places his water bottles with their labels facing the end of the court he’s playing from, explaining: “It’s a way of placing myself in a match, ordering my surroundings to match the order I seek in my head.”
I spoke to four entrepreneurs about their coping mechanisms and a psychologist to find out if such rituals really work in the pursuit of productivity, motivation or a less stressful work life.
Celebrate wins early
Say I’m trying to close the deal of a keynote speech next month. I will go buy an outfit to wear because I already have decided that I’m going to close this deal. I will get my hair and nails done and research travel arrangements. When I do close a deal, I feel like I’m on top of the world. I spoke it into existence and now it exists. To succeed as a startup founder, you have to want it really bad. You have to do whatever it takes to hit those goals.”
Take to the skies
Gaby Alves, co-founder ofTampon Tribe, flies a plane on days when work seems particularly stressful.
You have to make logical, strategic and accurate decisions under pressure. You simply can't blink while flying, training or learning commercial techniques because it is life-threatening if you make a mistake. You have to be super cool under pressure, trust 100% in your decisions, and implement them immediately. You also have the lives of others in your hands, so there is no room for error. For me, this is just like running a business, as mistakes can be costly, so it's perfect for learning to trust your instincts and being confident with what you know.”
Alves added: “When you learn how to surpass fear and failure, you grow. I believe this is replicated when learning how to fly, and when you're working as an entrepreneur and in business; it is such a relief - relaxing, rewarding with an outcome of exhilaration and pure contentment.”
Heather Andersen, founder ofNew York Pilates, always works at floor level because it “grounds her”.
I’m not a total hippy but sitting in a chair for long periods of time can be tied to chronic back pain, low energy, and higher blood pressure. Sitting on the floor or squatting has many health benefits like better digestion and healthier blood circulation, which is going to make you feel better and function more efficiently. And on top of the physical perks, the mental effects are huge.”
Play retro video games
Having tried lunchtime jogs around Copenhagen, Mads Hallas Bjerg, CEO of Denmark-based art and antiques appraisal siteMearto, finds challenging his colleagues to regular video gaming tournaments – specificallyCommand & Conquer: Red Alert – works best for him.
Just 20 minutes of video gaming and the office is hyped with energy. It is super fun and works better for me than any meditation app when it comes to reducing my stress levels and increased my energy.You are totally zoomed in and no worries or negative thoughts can emerge in such an intense game. Afterwards, I feel energized, positive and it increases my focus and speed for the next several hours.”
But does it work?
I asked Sharon Peake, chartered occupational psychologist, business coach and founder ofShape Talent to explain how these rituals might help us, mentally, to perform better.
The power in the ritual is less about the ritual itself and more about creating the environment that enables the person to perform. For some people performance comes from a calm, relaxed state, for others it might be a focused state, and for others it may be a highly excited state.It is seductive to attribute the success of well known, successful individuals to their strange rituals – think Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg’s strategy of wearing the same outfit each day, in order to reduce time. However, this is where our cognitive biases reveal themselves, as we erroneously attribute their success to these rituals, not taking into account the many other personality and behavioral aspects associated with their success.”
Peake added: “Some rituals have been proven to be helpful, particularly when it comes to stress reduction. Exercise, relaxation and breathing techniques, mindfulness, meditation and reflecting on the positive learnings from a negative situation can all ease stress by reducing cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone.”