I love the way that some Eastern religions and ancient arts speak of developing a new habit as “practice”. Whether it’s learning to meditate, stay calm in a crazy world or to be present in the moment, these are something we practice, rather than “do”. I imagine this is because we never reach perfection and a practice allows us to make mistakes and forgive them.
And so it is with leadership. We work toward perfection but never quite reach it. The best way to develop new leadership behaviors and to move ahead is to practice it until it becomes a habit. Great athletes and musicians practice and train – why not great leaders?
Today is the ideal time to begin a new practice. How will you begin?
I am a long time meditator who can attest to its value. Wendy Palmer, author of a book called “The Intuitive Body: Discovering the Wisdom of Conscious Embodiment” calls on the Japanese martial art called Aikido to use intuition to embody new qualities in a brief meditation-like practice:
- Find a quiet place without interruptions. Sit quietly and breathe deeply, paying the most attention to the exhale of your breath, focusing it outward from about 2 inches below your belly button into the ground.
- Concentrate and experience the energy field around you. Is it uneven? Perhaps it is uneven – with more field in front of you, less behind? The very act of asking this question will center your field.
- Shift your attention to the sensation of gravity on your body. Inquire about the weight of gravity on different parts of your body (arms, legs, fingers, head, etc.). Be creative: what other sensations can imagine that you feel (Red blood cells moving? Macrophages gobbling the toxic stuff? Mitochondria powering your cells?).
- Now ask yourself, “What new quality do I want to embody?” Perhaps it’s learning to let go of knowing, to ask instead of tell, or to learn to listen better. If we take “listening better” as the example, you might ask yourself, “I wonder what it would be like if I were a better listener?” and visualize what that would look like. Notice that the question that’s chosen is not about what you want to stop doing. This is because there is more energy in phrasing it as something you want to start doing.
Practice this brief meditation three times a day, at regular intervals to become more grounded and centered, as well as to begin to consider a positive quality you would like to embody. (Many people find tying a practice to an existing ritual – such as before or after mealtime – makes it easier to remember to do).
Eventually, you will get to go beyond imagining to “doing”, when it is right for you. You’ll need to continue practicing until the behavior or quality you’ve chosen becomes a habit. Since you may have developed a habit you want to change, it will take time and patience to replace it with the habit you want. Forgive yourself for not being perfect at the quality you’ve chosen, but celebrate your progress instead!