As a coach, I meet with my clients every one or two weeks. We talk together about the awe-inspiring difference they want to make to the world, and I ask them questions to bring forth their best ideas. My clients also have access to me as they need it. They’ve got an emergency hotline they can call me any time that stuff comes up. Sometimes I also meet with people more intensively, for a one-to-one retreat, where we get together and work on their project without any interruption, just the two of us, for a week.
But with all of that said, there is nothing more important, nothing more central, nothing more powerful in coaching, than the client’s commitment to regular daily practice.
I am 60 years old now. I have been investigating these things for a long time. I have sat with incredibly charismatic teachers. I have done some of the most intense, weird shit on the planet to change my state of consciousness. But when it comes down to it, nothing actually makes the long term difference as much as daily regular practice. In this article, I want to talk a little bit about practice and some of the things I have learned.
You may have read my book, Radical Brilliance, which came out a few months ago. The book focuses on what it is that causes people to have new and original ideas that are in tune with the force of evolution. Of course, you can have new and original ideas that are just perverse, random or weird, or you can also be in service to evolution in a way that is imitative. I specialize in new, revolutionary, original ideas that are obviously evolutionary.
What is it that caused Albert Einstein to recognize the general theory of relativity, which moved things forward for everybody? What is it that caused Steve Jobs to reimagine what a phone is, and change the game for everybody? What is it that caused Barbara Marx Hubbard to recognize the idea of co-creation and to bring it into the common language?
There are human beings who are able to tap into a current, a source of creative energy that is absolutely non-imitative. That is what my focus is on. The book recognizes four different currents which are necessary for that to happen. They are like four phases of a clock.
When we talk about practice, any practice you can think of belongs in one of these four quadrants. There are practices which serve creative flow. These are the practices which allow you to have better ideas in a more effortless way, that are more original. This is 12 to 3 on the clock diagram.
There are practices which support you to be accountable, to do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, to show up, to be on time, to keep your word. Those are 3 to 6 practices on the clock.
There are practices that help you release trauma, to feel your pain, to learn from your mistakes, to move from judgment to forgiveness, but at the same time without glossing over the important integration and maturing that is needed. Those kind of practices, which move you through your personal stuff, belong in the 6-to-9 phase.
Finally, there are what we could call spiritual practices which belong in the 9-to-12 quadrant. These are the practices that bring us into spaciousness and freedom and that transcend the personal altogether.
To have a life of really good practice, we need to make sure that all of these quadrants are attended to. In actuality, almost everybody I have met ends up skipping over one or more of these quadrants. Then the price we pay is our brilliance.
Let me give you a few tips about what really works for practice.
1) You are probably not the best person to choose your practice. We get addicted to certain phases of the cycle, and we develop judgment, or distaste, for other phases. Then we want to be right about how we practice, but it is chosen from that imbalance and so deepens it.
For example, somebody who is shy, solitary and shuns the world is going to favor meditation as a practice, but that choice is going to deepen their addiction. Somebody who is very rigid, productive, and focused on accomplishment, is going to choose maintaining a to-do list practice, getting more things done, but that is going to deepen their addiction. Somebody who is overly concerned with personal processing and childhood wounds is going to favor some sort of trauma release, but that also may deepen their addiction. So, we are most often not the best people to select our own practices.
The best way to select a practice is either with a peer group, who agree on the right practices with you, or with a coach who has little or no personal agenda about what is right or wrong, but is there to serve your highest needs.
2) Commit to a few simple practices, and decide exactly what you are going to do, how long you are going to do it for, and when you are going to do it. Then stick to it in a disciplined way for a couple of weeks. There is an important reason for this. It is important to select practices when you are at your clearest, or when you are in the company of people who are clear, so the practices are chosen in great clarity and when you can see that this is the best thing for you. Then, when you are executing these practices, it needs to be free of any bias of how you feel, or whether you feel like it or not.
A good example would be going to the gym. I have determined over many, many years that if I go to the gym regularly, and build muscle, I feel better, I feel healthier physically and psychologically. Very rarely do I feel like going to the gym in this exact moment. If I went to the gym just based on how I feel moment to moment, I would never go. I go to the gym because, at the beginning of the week, I committed to going three times.
Now, a lot of people object to that, but that is how, in my experience, we end up doing what is right, instead of what feels good in the moment.
3) The chances of executing practice goes way higher when you have accountability. According to Jonathan Robinson, an expert in this field, it has been determined through research that if you commit to doing practices on your own, and nobody knows whether you are doing them or not, that you have about a 23% chance that you are doing what you said you would do. If you have an accountability partner who you report to every day, your chances go up to over 80%. So it is a really good idea, once you decide what practices you are going to do each day, to send a little email at the end of the day acknowledging whether you did them or not.
4) Do not give yourself too much of a range. Some people say, “I’m going to exercise every day,” but that gives too much wiggle room. Better to say, “On Monday, I’m going to run. On Tuesday, I’m going to swim. On Wednesday …” If you say specifically what you are going to do each day, and then do it, it means that, once again, you are taking your practice action from predefined commitment, rather than from any whim or feeling state in the moment.
5) Don’t over-commit. If you have not been meditating regularly, it is better to commit to 10 minutes of meditation, and then go longer if you feel like it, than to commit to an hour, and find that you failed. This is a very simple principle about practice, that a little bit of success gives you the foundation for more success tomorrow. A little bit of failure makes it more likely to fail tomorrow. Set practice goals that are a little bit of a stretch, but not too much, and then, having succeeded once, you are more likely to succeed tomorrow.
6) Best Practices. Finally, people ask me, “if you had to just do a few, what are the best practices to do?” I would say, overall, the most helpful practice is sitting still, doing nothing. If you can have a time when you sit still wearing a blindfold and just observe your breath, observe your thoughts, the benefit of that is immeasurable. You don’t have to call it meditation, if that sounds too much of a big deal. Just call it sitting still.
As you sit for extended periods, (half an hour is ideal), you are going to identify less with the content of thought and emotion, and you get better and better at observing them. The better you get at observing, the less identified you feel with content and therefore the more you relax into being identified with consciousness itself. Pretty soon, you discover that being identified with consciousness itself means being identified as awareness, means being identified as love itself, beings identified with humor, presence and space. You let go of rigid point of views, you become more of a presence, and less of a dogmatist.
The second most useful practice I know is anything that causes energy to flow. Personally, I like Chi Kung. Dancing to music is just as good. Anything that causes energy to flow through your whole body is a great secondary practice.
If you want a third practice, it would be moments of creative expression that are uninhibited by internal editing. Automatic writing, walking fast with a voice recorder, doing an interview with a friend, anything which causes thoughts to flow freely is a great practice every day.
I would love to hear your thoughts and comments about this. Let me know what practices you like. Did I miss out something important? Let me know if you have any questions.