There is a deli in my office building that has several Scott Mutter prints. Earlier this summer while I was eating lunch and writing in my journal I had a visceral experience of feeling the water at my feet and the tug of the current. What is so poignant about Mutter’s image is that I believe we are all in an identity crisis: a crisis between nature and technology, a crisis between capitalism and collaboration, a crisis between big data and intuition, and finally a crisis between influencer seduction and our own solo voice.
Poet E. E. Cummings says it beautifully:
"To be nobody but myself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me somebody else-means to fight the hardest battle any human can fight, and never stop fighting."
In the midst of so many tugs of war, abstract thinking, critical thinking, and introspection have never been more important muscles to strengthen. A lot of money is being spent to have you feel emotions and buy things that have nothing to do with who you are at your core. In addition, as social creatures we are deeply impacted by our fear of being judged or experiencing shame. Every choice you make, every word you use, every “like” or “RT” becomes a node on a grid telling a data story about who you are and what you care about. It is more important than ever that you know the story and claim it as your own.
Introspection is the sword you have to fight this battle. You must, by design, get to know yourself under the shell of saving face. There are many ways to practice and explore self-knowledge. The practice that has offered me the most personal insight has been keeping a journal. I have been keeping a journal since I was eight years old - so it is a well worn habit. There are three exercises I give my clients to help them build introspection and begin the discipline of journal writing.
1. FIRST PRACTICE: “PLUS + / DELTA Δ”
The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” invites you to write once a week a situation that you are proud of where you describe the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. In this exercise you also write once a week a situation that you wished for a do-over. Thus, the delta Δ - which is the symbol for change. You follow the same formula of describing the situation (context), the task at hand (what you were required to do), the actions you took (choices you made), and the result. In addition, you describe what you wished would have happened and any choices that you could have made as an alternative to create a different outcome. The premise here is that we are better and learning if we have a chance to celebrate and anchor what is working and why and also build in the capacity for scenario planning of alternative outcomes. Just because we have an experience, doesn’t mean we will learn from it. The discipline of “Plus + / Delta Δ” makes the learning explicit and accessible and scalable for future preparation.
2. SECOND PRACTICE: “RECALIBRATION”
“Recalibration” is a writing exercise that I suggest to individuals and companies when they are going through significant changes, feeling lost, or feeling overwhelmed. Like arrows in a quiver, these questions can provide wonderful guidance on how to sequence events and how to establish priorities:
Where have you been?
What have you learned?
Where are you going?
What is required?
As you can imagine, these questions can be answered on a page or may extend into a two day working strategy session within a company.
For those of you who need more structure I offer this guidance:
Where have you been? ( 7 observations about past landscape)
What have you learned? (10 bullet points lessons/scars and what you hope to remember going forward)
Where are you going? (7 observations about current/future landscape)
What is required? (3 mental muscles you need to strengthen, 2 skills you must acquire, 3 resources you must engage)
3. THIRD PRACTICE: “SHADOW DANCING”
“Shadow Dancing” is a discipline that requires a six week commitment to create 30 minutes a day of writing. The theory behind “Shadow Dancing” is that we each have very strong internal critics and we judge ourselves. Often what insights we may need or truths we may want to discover about ourselves may be deep, deep within our psyche. By creating a disciplined practice of writing over a long period of time- new thoughts, insights, perspectives may come to the surface.
In my post Individuation of Ideas, I suggest that having insight isn’t so much about being intelligent as it is about being present. Even if you don’t know what to say and write - create the space and time anyway. Write “I am bored or have nothing to say" again and again. Just preserve the time and write. Perhaps in the disciplined presence a great idea will have the stillness required to land.
In this era of information overload and complexity - the one thing that will stay constant is who you are at your core, what you value, and your own discernment. Please take time by design to strengthen your own voice so that you can hear the wisdom of your intuition, anchor and reinforce learning from the past, and support your personal resolve against the seduction of the macro.