Guest Post by John Michel
A central component of any change process – be it personal or organizational – is the concept of practice. But what is practice and why is it so important?
Practice is simply the act of doing something, whether that something is as complicated as swinging a golf club or as simple as washing our clothes. We call it practice when the act becomes a repeated behavior. Of course, practice is always happening. It is continuously shaping us and opening us up to new ways of being by calcifying the way we think, act, and feel. There are two central ways to understand practice as it relates to how we grow and change: default practices and intentional practice.
Default practices are the deeply rooted behaviors that we do automatically, consistently, and unconsciously in response to any given situation. These are our learned behaviors and reactions that are inherited through our life experiences and which help us fit into our surroundings. However, because our default practices have often been shaped out of difficult experiences when we had limited means of dealing with and processing them, these practices often don’t align with our present-day values, and/or with what we most care about. This is what helps explain how we can find ourselves acting and reacting in ways that make us more difficult for others to trust, less effective in our work, or more limited in our approaches to dealing with change. Where once our established practices were essential survival strategies, they may now be problematic as they’ve become unconscious behaviors we may feel powerless to change.
The good news is we don’t have to stay stuck. We can begin to purposefully practice behaviors that align with our values, to become leaders and people more willing to lead life by different rules.
How? Transform more of your default practices into intentional practices.
Intentional Practices are those actions we choose to pursue in order to change the way we show up in the world. When we begin to “practice on purpose,” that is, ask ourselves such questions as: “What matters most to me?” “What do I care about? And “What am I committed to?” and then step out to transform the answers to these questions into tangible action, we are well on our way to overcoming mediocrity and embracing excellence in how we routinely interact with those in our surroundings. Keep in mind that talk is cheap…it’s our walk that compels others to join us in leading the change we want to see occur around us.
And I can prove it…
In fact, it is a well-established fact that in the United States, the primary way we seek to bring about change in our homes, workplaces, worship spaces and communities is to first provide people with new knowledge in the hope it will changes their attitude and ultimately, the behaviors they choose to put into practice. But, this rarely works. After all, we know it’s bad for us to drink too much, overeat, smoke, or not wear our seatbelts when driving. But the truth of the matter is, knowledge of these facts alone will not result in our changing our behavior. Merely wanting to garner the positive benefits of refraining from these activities will do nothing for us. In the words of C.S. Lewis, the truth of the matter is, “very often the only way we get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you already had it.” A reminder we become what we routinely choose to do.
Remember, practice lays bare all of our resistances to change. It is like a backdrop, a canvas against which all of our anxieties, fears, anger, and denial are vividly painted for us to see (if we choose to see them). Practice makes perfect not because it guarantees we will always act as we would like to, but rather, because it changes our minds, hearts, and ultimately, our lives...one intentional practice at a time.
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “A man is a method, a progressive arrangement; a selecting principle, gathering his like unto him wherever he goes.” In other words, if we consistently spend time interrupting old habits and living the new pattern we seek to put into place, we will be better positioned to make the most of our opportunities to build value into our surroundings, each and every day in a multitude of ways.
John E. Michel is the author of, Mediocre Me: How Saying No to the Status Quo will Propel You from Ordinary to Extraordinary. He is a widely recognized expert in culture, strategy & individual and organizational change. An accomplished unconventional leader and proven status quo buster, he has successfully led several multi-billion dollar transformation efforts and his award-winning work has been featured in a wide variety of articles and journals, including the Harvard Business Review. John enjoys helping people learn to walk differently in the world so they can become the best version of themselves possible and is happily married to the most patient person on the planet. Together, they are blessed with two amazing sons.
You are encouraged to learn more about John at his website, www.MedicoreMe.com