Ritual scaffolding

I’m on holiday and under no obligation. Because of this I’ve found it easy to switch between activities. I’ll do some writing in the morning, then have breakfast and swim before doing some more writing. I’ll read for a bit, then take a walk, then read some more. I’ll do nothing all morning then in the afternoon work on the structure of a novel. Contrast this with my patterns of activity when I’m at home. Short-form and longform writing is something I only ever do in the morning. I never chop up activities up into small chunks. I’ll do one block of reading, one block of editing and one training session.

Because writing is a Major Activity, because movement is an Important Thing, because updating the Archipelago and doing my “Review, Plan, Reflect” exercise is a Weekly Process, I am much less flexible. On holiday, the usual rituals and routines I’ve developed and fall back upon are defunct. I’m in a different place, existing at a different tempo, surrounded by different people. What works there don’t work here. At home, rituals and routines enclose my core activities, lending them an aspect of sacredness and meaning.

What does this tell me? First, that ritualisation and routinisation, whilst enhancing performance, also hinders fluidity. Similarly, less ritual and routine around activities may make high performance harder, but it has tremendous benefits to flexibility. So perhaps a sensible strategy is as follows. In the early stages—I’m thinking the first few years—create great scaffolds of ritual and routine. Then, once a certain level of competence and consistency has been achieved, once you know what it feels like to produce good work at a good rate, begin to remove the scaffolding.

Think of how we build structures. The scaffolding is a temporary apparatus that allows us to build straight and true and have safe access to a structure whilst it is still under construction. But once the building is stable and in its final stages, the scaffolding is taken away. It no longer serves an aesthetic or practical function. Ritual and routine is like that. An aide to building, rather than a permanent part of the structure itself.