Have you seen those articles titled something like “This habit changed my life” or “5 habits to transform yourself” and so on?
Well, this is not one of them. I am not going to tell you what to do but how to choose what to prioritise in your personal development so that you find your practice that will change your life, one practice at a time.
In one of my previous posts, I reflected the importance of intentional building of artful practices, because they allow us to innovate, grow and improve continuously. I argued that practices are needed because in the complex emergent world we live in we need to learn all the time and to adapt our behavior to the environment.
When I say a practice, I mean a complex behavior applied in different contexts and situations which is developed over time through intentional learning and experience. For example, having conversations is a practice that all humans develop – we learn to use words and gestures, phrases that make sense and are appropriate in different contexts etc. A practice that not all people develop (intentionally) is having meaningful conversations, that is, conversations where we have a shared purpose and intention for having the conversation and where we have clear outcome that we would like to have from that conversation. Usually, a coaching conversation is an example of a meaningful conversation.
Practices help us learn, adapt and innovate. Practices are the active process of transforming our lives.
When I make new year resolutions I often go with the first thing that comes to mind, often something related to what society or media tells us to be – slimmer, more productive, more organized. This is great but unlikely to stick or to really transform my life because it is not necessarily something that I really truly want to change in my life. So, what are the alternatives?
Sometimes, our own value system drives the choice – to live healthier life, to be more sustainable, to be kind or caring. Other times, it is something that was provoked by our intuition or experience – to be a better friend, lover, father, dancer etc. Very often, we chose a change related to our career and success – get that promotion, make the biggest sale, run a marathon, start a business etc.
The trouble with the way we treat habits and resolutions is that we try to put them in a frame and measure them, the same way we measure outputs in factory production for example, or revenues in our companies. However, focusing on measurable factors helps us have more clarity on whether or not we make progress in some aspect but also encourages us to ignore completely other aspects of what we do.
When you commit to a practice, the focus goes on making progress rather than measuring the results.
Committing to a practice doesn’t have to be difficult choice, it can be very simple or obvious one but once you make it, you have to be ready to engage with it. Developing a new practice takes time and capacity of your mind and energy so there is hardly any space for working on more than one new practice at a time.
What is important about the new practices you choose is that you believe that they can bring significant value to your personal or professional life and wellbeing. Here’s how to determine that.
1. Reflect on the most important aspects of your life
What do you tend to focus your attention on? What do you prioritize often? What are the things that energise you the most or give you feeling of true freedom, accomplishment, pride, joy?
Make a list of all the things that are of the greatest importance in your life. Even, write them down randomly on a white piece of paper. Use colours, drawings and different sizes of the words. Give yourself 10-15 min and write everything that comes to mind. Don’t stop writing or drawing until time is up.
2. Take a break, then narrow down
Make some tea, go for a walk, even sleep on it. Now, look at the list and consider – what stands out the most? What really attracts you right now? What is the area in your life that you would like to strengthen or improve? What is missing? Which of these things is making you feel strong, powerful, energized, and confident?
If there is not a single area in your life that stands out asking for your attention, then choose two or three. Which of them could you strengthen in a way that will improve the wellbeing in the other areas too? This is where you need to develop a new practice first.
3. Discover what will support you, energize you and open new opportunities for you.
You might already know what you want to do, or you might need to do some research. For example, if you decide that you want to improve your happiness, you might discover that a mindfulness practice could help, as well as an artistic one, gratitude practice, or relationship building.
Take your time to try different things out and see what feels right and what look for resources and arguments that show that certain practice helps improve this aspect of your well being (e.g. mindfulness has been shown by research to improve happiness).
Do your homework in finding a practice that really makes you feel enthusiastic about practicing it. For example, if you decide that you want to improve your leadership skills, you might want to develop innovation design practice, authentic leadership practice, team management practice, nonviolent communication practice, coaching practice, hosting meaningful conversations practice.
Perhaps all of those and many more will be helpful and useful, however which one you choose depends on what you need and what comes natural to you and what you currently need the most. No matter what research says, the ultimate goal is to try out and see what works for YOU.
4. Commit to it!
Schedule time to work on your practice. Research resources to learn about it and events where you can learn and practice with others. The commitment starts with investing something in it – buy a book, reserve a seat in a seminar, subscribe to a club. Whatever gets you started right away! How to move forward from here, I’ll explain in a next post.