Ritual Environment

On the importance of kooky behavior

I like having books at my desk when I work. This helps me feel engaged in my work, even if I don’t often read them. The insecure part of me feels like I’m larping as an academic. Is the Encyclopedia of Philosophy my favorite series? No, but it’s a cue to think deeply. For others, it would be a hideous monolith corrupting their minimalist workstation. Or a complete waste of space for a sticky note junkie.

My out-of-order, out-of-date encylopedias

I’ve often heard it said that manipulating our environment is what makes humans, human. A lot of the time we do this in practical ways. Building dams, creating spears, domesticating plants, etc. But other times it looks (and is) completely kooky. Things like feng shui, what time you have your first glass of water, collectibles, interior design, photos of your family, or a favorite pen don’t have a physical influence on productivity. They’re kinda just individual aesthetic preferences.

Somehow, though, these immaterial things have a big impact on how we feel, which affects how we work. 

“The point of self-ceremonialization is to close a sensory-cues feedback loop to manage your psyche. Think of it as setting up mirrors all around yourself, not out of vanity, but to reinforce a way of being.”

- The Art of Gig, Volume I

Your ritual environment is a wrapper surrounding your daily actions, which determine who you are. It is a mix of things (art, furniture, trinkets, etc.) and routines (schedules, sequences, movement, etc.) that might not be universally important, but affect you enough to matter. 

Most people neglect their ritual environments. Which I respect, because that’s usually a sign of practicality and a focus on doing. The potential downside is missing out on things like, from my experience, reducing stress pretty drastically. A good ritual environment serves as sort of a decontamination chamber, resetting you to a factory-grade state of psychological hygiene. When one task or action goes badly, your environment refreshes your sense of why you’re doing what you’re doing.

Generated with Dall-E

Some people overinvest in their ritual environments, but I rarely see this. Maybe it’s common among trust fund babies who have no hard external commitments and get consumed by a 7-hour morning routine. Once set up, your ritual environment shouldn’t require too much maintenance. An occasional tidying, refresh, or tweak will keep it alive and useful.

If life is a videogame, your ritual environment is your soundtrack.

I’ve found that the two easiest places/times to start playing with this idea are your workstation and your commute. Modifying a workstation is easy, as it's a physical space, and high return since you spend several hours a day there. Ceremonializing your commute with a playlist, meditation soundtrack on the metro, an especially tidy car, or choosing an aerobic form of transportation is also a simple place to start. 

Kookiness might be inefficient, but it’s a more thorough approach to life and work.

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