By DeEtta Jones
For months, I’ve been wrestling with my productivity levels. I haven’t felt inspired, haven’t been able to get as much actually done as I need or want to, and I know I have within me. It’s not for lack of ideas swirling around between my ears; if anything, the internal noise has likely been the culprit! Lately, I have been ingesting all the noise of the world in big gulps. Swinging hard this way and that, but not landing anywhere. Exhausting my energy fighting against a demon of my own making. The calm and knowing that I’ve held for years was lost. I needed to get back to the foundation upon which my teachers taught me and with which I built DeEtta Jones and Associates (DJA). I needed to recommit to my disciplined practice.At DJA, disciplined practice is the commitment to act consistently over time, in ways that lead to the achievement of self-determined goals. They are typically small acts repeated consistently rather than grand acts that occur episodically. The benefits of disciplined practice include wisdom – beyond mere knowledge, capacity expansion – beyond mere skill-building, and transformation – beyond mere change.
Consistently practiced actions appear in two categories: 1) outwardly passive and internally rigorous, and 2) outwardly active, that reinforces internal alignment.
This is the work of the mind, heart, and spirit. It is rooted in personal values and driven by intention to experience a harmonious inner state, where a person is living to one’s self-determined full potential. It includes mental, intellectual, psychological, and spiritual endeavors, such as exploring one’s thoughts and feelings, considering the degree to which current patterns of behavior are effective, and making choices about new ways of being in relationship to self and others.
Rigor in this context is the effort required to unearth and move through the negative thoughts, biases, and insecurity that often block breakthrough thinking and certainly performance and impact. As we age, we accumulate experiences and interpret those experiences in ways that may limit future growth. Without regular reflection, interrogation, and adjustment, our internal patterns result in a constant state of inner struggle, significantly diminishing our access to resources that promote expansive perspective, creativity, and growth.
Example of Ladonna’s outwardly passive and internally rigorous practice in action.
Within minutes of waking, Ladonna spends 20 minutes in meditation and then repeats this practice again at 6 pm, providing two solid anchor points in the day. Instead of using time between meetings to make calls and check emails, she spends 5-10 minutes in a quiet state of mindfulness and gratitude. Particularly during stressful times, she finds her mind rushing quickly to judge a person or experience, or she feels under-resourced, narrowing her field so significantly that she often is left with only a choice between two bad options. When these experiences occur, Ladonna’s disciplined practice is to quiet the mind’s chatter and reframe her current situation and options from a place of scarcity and fear to that of expansive possibilities. As her cortisol levels approach normal range, Ladonna begins to feel less burdened and threatened, more open, curious, and optimistic. From this healthier place, Ladonna revisits her ideas and options for exercising personal agency.
This is the doing of our commitments, actually taking the steps we have identified as not-optional, every day, and on and on. Importantly, disciplined practice is not rote repetition. Instead, we are mindful in our use of word choices and tone, actively display empathy for others, and use behaviors that reinforce our values–for ourselves and others–all the while with the humility of a perpetual learner.
There is an overlapping relationship between who we think we are and how others see us. Who we think we are is basically self-reflection: our values, beliefs, lived experiences, relationships, identities, skills, limitations, aspirations, and desires. Often people’s self-reflection is unevenly focused. On one hand, a person may overemphasize their positive attributes without honestly confronting the negative, undeveloped or underdeveloped attributes. On the flip side, a person may overemphasize negative attributes in ways that fail to internalize and then leverage strengths, limit the courage needed to take risks, and experience the associated growth in competence and confidence.
Example of Ladonna’s outward activity that reinforces internal alignment.
Ladonna is a senior leader who has great conviction about prioritizing equity, diversity and inclusion in her organization and industry. She is forthcoming about her values and aspirations for the organization but avoids antagonizing people who do not share or fully understand her views. When dissension occurs, Ladonna invites dialogue and models genuine listening to other points of view; and is also comfortable sharing her own, not held back by concern about allowing herself to be vulnerable. When difficult decisions need to be made, Ladonna does not allow appearances to be a guiding factor. Instead, she returns to her inner conviction, which she has carefully developed over time, and that she has regularly interrogated against her own values, new insights, and knowledge. She is willing to, and often does, make unpopular choices, speak truth to power, and advocate for others, regardless of whether or not she ever receives credit or recognition.
The aforementioned characteristics are not listed, so you can identify which is most like you or pick one to develop. They are a connected set of practices that balance one’s internal work with the external behavior. The magic is in finding the flow between them. Use this simple framework to help you recognize, reset, and refill your own bucket.
We live in an often noise-filled world, spilling over professional portfolios and factions and fiefdoms within and across organizations and industries that are perpetuated based on one’s willingness to immediately, loudly, and publicly swing at any seeming opponent. It’s unsustainable. It’s also unhealthy for us as people and for our organizations’ health. Intervention is needed and will include an identified suite of practices that allow for personal and organizational breakthroughs. Disciplined practice is part of that suite.
Learn more about upcoming programs at DJA that can help you get past burnout and recommit to your disciplined practice.