According to one article on Psychology Today, “The brain’s chief job is the following: to draw predictions about the future and to orient behavior in line with those predictions. The brain does so by gathering as much information as possible and then using the data as inputs into the predictor system.”
However, our brains aren’t clairvoyant, and there’s no way to predict EVERYTHING that could possibly happen. This means that there will always be a certain amount of uncertainty, which triggers the feelings of anxiety in our brains. The things we can predict make us feel happy, safe; the things we CAN’T predict make us nervous, anxious, and threatened.
Rituals are our brain’s way of combatting these negative feelings. Rituals are the behavior our brains can predict, which make us feel safe and happy. If our brain knows we ALWAYS turn right at the next stoplight, it can focus on trying to predict what happens later in our day. As the article says, “Rituals are an effective shield that protect us from the onslaught of uncertain events.”
Rituals are all about repetition of behavior. We make the same turn, eat the same foods, follow the same schedule, and rely on the same conversation openers because that repetition evokes the sense that we are in control of our unpredictable environments. That “scripted sequence” is a way of tricking our brains into believing there is a certain amount of stability, orderliness, and personal control in a world of uncertainty.
Ritualized behavior also helps us to feel comfortable in times of uncertainty. We may not have control over one aspect of our lives, so we cling to rituals and habits in order to counteract that lack of control. Even little rituals—like brushing your teeth before washing your face or adjusting your mirrors before pulling out of your driveway—are a “compensatory mechanism” that help to restore a sense of control.
Basically, habits and rituals are good. They give you something to hang onto when the natural chaos of life threatens to overwhelm you. The familiar, comfortable, and routine can help to reduce the anxiety in your life.
However, be wary of anything that becomes too important, rituals or habits that become all-consuming. When you can’t function outside of your rituals, that’s when they become unhealthy and stifling. Rituals can be a safe haven in times of turmoil, but you can’t live your life afraid of the uncertainty outside your little bubble.