Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Managing activity transitions through use of rituals

Last night I went to a fantastic seminar for parents of children with  behavioural challenges. The speaker was very engaging and gave us a lot  of great information and techniques we can try out to help diffuse challenges as they arise.

Disclaimer: I'm not a behavioural psychologist. This is just my understanding based on the aforementioned seminar and my own observations.

I'm not going to write about all of the topics covered as there were many and I couldn't do them justice. I'm just going to focus on something which struck a chord with me and some behavioural observations I've made in the work place. That is how people manage their own transitions between day to day activities.

So what do I mean by that?

Children, especially those with special needs, can get very anxious when transitioning from one activity to the next. This can be as simple as coming home from school or coming inside from playing in the garden. These transitions happen many times a day and unmanaged can increase anxiety levels with each one. This can manifest itself behaviourally in numerous ways including, but not limited to, melting down, wanting have an argument or violence.

The speaker relayed an interesting example from his own life. He noticed that his son, who is neurotypical, would always pick an argument after he stopped playing on the Xbox. This would only happen for about 15 minutes then he'd be fine. After recognising this they worked out a transition strategy.

One of the suggested way of handling this is by having a ritual between transitions. This helps reduce the anxiety and helps prevent behavioural issues. This should be quiet, perhaps with some food, so to reduce any unneeded stimulation.

So how does this apply to us adults in the workplace?

As adults we have generally figured out ways to manage our transitions between activities without even knowing it.  How many of you have a ritual when you get in the office, but before you start working? When I get in to the office the first thing I do is get a coffee, then I read a few blog posts. After about 15 minutes I can get down to some real work.

I'm suggesting that adults may not manage these transitions as well as assumed under certain circumstances.

I've noticed that my own anxiety levels increase when I go rapidly from one different activity to the next. For example, going from a video conference straight into coding, or leaving the office immediately while in the middle of an intense task.

Going forward I'll be looking for ways to manage these transactions through the use of ritual as to lower my stress levels. I'm also studying my own working patterns to see how I currently handle them.

I'd love to hear others thoughts and experiences.


  1. What an interesting idea, I'm going to start paying attention to that too.

    People have lots of transition ceremonies in daily life, right? For example, some people like to sit down with a glass of wine to mark the transition from the work day to the evening at home.

    Definitely an area worth more thought and study. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for commenting Lisa. You're exactly right, people have transition ceremonies throughout daily life but might not recognize that they are doing them.

    I'd love to hear about what rituals you come across and any transitions that cause you stress.