When it comes to rituals, tennis ace Nadal’s is perhaps the most popular among all. He does not wear his headband before getting into the court. His socks are always under 15 centimeters with the sponsors logo on both feet aligned and parallel to the ground. His water bottles, chilled and warm are placed in front of his chair with the water bottle labels facing the baseline of the side he is playing. That is not all. Before he serves, he touches the ground behind him with the tip of his foot, picks up his shorts, wipes his nose and tucks his hair first behind the left and then the right ear.

Basketball superstar Michael Jordan wears his North Carolina shorts underneath his Chicago Bulls shorts in every single game.

John Henderson of the not-so-popular Jacksonville Jaguars asks his assistant team trainer to open hand slap him as hard as he can before the game begins. This supposedly gets him charged.

And then there is ex-cricket umpire David Shepherd who used to jump up in the air and land on his left foot first and gracefully bringing down the right whenever the team batting reaches nelson and multiples of it (111, 222 and so on). This was done as he believed that the score would bring bad luck to batsmen. Another ritual of his was to tie a matchstick on his finger if he was officiating a match on Friday the 13th, indicative of touching wood the entire to bring in good luck.

There are millions of such rituals followed not only by sportsmen but people from other professions exercise as well. Many intellectuals play it rough by framing them as superstitions, but is there more to the rituals than superstition?

Francesca Gino and Michael Norton, behavioral scientists and professors at Harvard Business School believe that rituals bring in confidence to achieve what they are set up to do. In case of anxiety, say before delivering a concert, performing rituals will shoo away the anxiety and help performers overcome fear and be in control.

When the situation is that of grief, like loss of a loved one, rituals help alleviating the pain. In a particular experiment carried out, test subjects were exposed to moments of mild grief over a period of time – like losing a lottery. Among the people who lost, the ones who performed grieving rituals came out stronger and didn’t feel too bummed about losing out. The non-rituals were extremely upset and their anger and grief was in control of them. The deduction from this experiment is straight and easy. Rituals helped those in grief overcome it and console themselves to getting on with the rest of their lives.

In another experiment conducted in the twentieth century, a group of people were asked to fish in shark infested waters and another group in calmer waters. Those who had to fear the sharks, performed rituals such as invoking magical powers to keep the killer sharks at bay while the calmer ones did nothing. The experimenter, Bronislaw Malinowski concluded that people tend to perform rituals when they are faced with uncertainty and the outcome is out of their hands.

Rituals have a number of good effects for individuals to move into a new phase of life and to alleviate pain. It helps people to get ahead and leave the uncertainties of life out of their minds. It helps them concentrate on things that are within their grasps and overcome any of their shortcomings that will hinder their progress.

Not all rituals can be thrown into a basket of positives. There are other rituals that are followed for the heck of it – not performed in faith but rather through imposition. Such rituals where heads of sons are tonsured when the father dies in a Hindu family and parroting bless you after every sneeze are no more than superstitions which have crept in as practices from generations through the forefathers, without adding any benefit to individuals.

To generalize, the rituals followed by people by their own faith are the ones that has a meaning attached to it – although to the third person, it may seem to be a superstition of sorts. But, the real culprits are the rituals that are heaped on people, are the ones to be wary of. Although superstitions may not have a negative connotation in life, but they definitely don’t have a positive side either.

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