We often know what matters to us in life but find it challenging to act towards it. Whether it is being physically healthy, being fully present for our loved ones, or working towards crafting your dream career, converting our intentions to deliberate actions is not easy.
I engaged with a tool to address this and wanted to share my learning. While we did it both in an individual and organisational context, I will focus on the former. I am sharing my reflections as a participant, not an expert. You can reach out to Shashi from our team if you want to explore this for your team or read the references to learn more.
The process requires you to reflect on these four big questions, recognising the daily choices that take you towards what or who matters to you. I will explain with my example.
Who & what matters to me?
There is no one right type of answer. You can write about tangible (e.g. people, milestones) or intangible things (e.g. dreams, values), as long as they matter to you. You can write more than one thing and more than one type of thing.
I wrote, "spending quality time with my daughter is important to me", among other things.
What inner stuff shows up to get in the way of who & what is important to me?
The process requires us to notice, accept and notice our thoughts and feelings. We can't do much to run away from them, hence this invitation.
Many thoughts arose in me:
Will I miss out on important and exciting things at work?
Will I lose out on a sense of connection with friends or family?
What about my health and wellbeing?
Will I fall behind my peers without children?
There were also feelings at play - predominantly, fear of missing out on life learnings and opportunities!
What do I tend to do when this inner stuff shows up?
While I can't shift what goes on in my inner world, I can recognise my behaviours and their effects, gradually stepping away from the unhelpful ones.
As I think about some of the inner stuff, I tend to:
Overcommit to work, sometimes indulging in it when it is not even necessary (writing this blog post is a classic example), and feel a loss of energy
Multitask, and feel a sense of disconnection with everything, not just my daughter
Check my email or messages whenever I can, creating an illusion of not missing out
Check my LinkedIn feed to keep up with what peers are up to, feeling worse about myself and aggravating my fears
These are just some of the many things I identified. As you may have observed, it is good to not just reflect on the visible behaviours but their short term and long term effects of these behaviours.
None of these behaviours takes me towards spending quality time with my daughter. At the same time, neither do they necessarily advance my career, connection or wellbeing.
What can I do to move towards what matters to me?
Here were some that I put down:
Go for a daily walk with my daughter and partner and go for one outing in nature every fortnight with them
Engage with her in every stretch break, even if it is for a minute, with my complete attention
Complete work by 7:00 PM except on the day of planned learning spaces or community meets
Set up a focus mode on all the distracting apps - email, messaging and LinkedIn - so that: 1) I am forced to reflect on whether I need to use them now and 2) I don't stretch my time on them (the tool automatically closes the app every 5 minutes)
Start every day with a list of essential things to do at work and stick to just them
Even seemingly minor behaviours you choose matter in helping you make progress.
Personally, the process has helped me with the following:
Make my inner stuff visible and seek intentional support by making it visible to others
Recognise the decisions I was not making and the prices I was paying for that choice
Identify small steps that reduce the shame or guilt of not acting on what matters
Not agonise over deep-rooted old habits, but take action that helps me move away from them
The process eventually helps you embrace psychological flexibility - holding your thoughts and emotions a bit more lightly and acting on longer-term values and goals rather than short term impulses, thoughts and feelings. As you make these questions a part of your daily process, you can break away from cycles of stuckness in your life and pave the way for a life that feels meaningful and purposeful to you.
Dr Kevin Polk is the creator of the matrix. I have used his tool in this post. You can learn more about the tool here. This tool is often embedded in an overarching process that fosters prosocial behaviour when used with teams.