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Personal Development As a Strategy

Man playing chess
Good strategies protect you several moves ahead

The old saying goes that if you fail to plan then you plan to fail. I have created a personal shrine and also an accountability journal. If you haven’t read about those yet, go back and give them a browse. The problem I’m left with is that shrines are meant to be dedicated to something and to be accountable I have to be accountable to something. The next missing piece is a clear goal and a plan for myself. Broadly, the goal is to settle on a strong and confident sense of identity for my own personal development. That isn’t necessarily clear, however. Personal development is like fitness, it really depends on what you’re trying to fit into. Having something to actually do will certainly help.

I have a love/hate relationship with goals. I love them because I’m very good at laying them out and they are the only way I know to attain measurable, achievable success. On the other hand, I also ascribe to the idea that we spend too much time future thinking and not enough time being present and healthily spontaneous. For that reason, I like to remind myself of archery. There’s so much presence in drawing of the string, but so much aiming and visualization at the target. Both of those only come from practice and effort, but simply the effort of doing those things consistently. And once you are ready, you simply let go and trust that you set the shot up to get your arrow where you intended.

Setting Up For Success

I’m going to keep in perspective that my number one goal is to capture and reinforce a sense of my identity that I can “be” consistently. For this, I’m going to use some level of habituation to accomplish this. Habituation, in this context, I will describe as conditioning myself to hold my attitude in a specific state of virtues. For example with the virtue of kindness, a habituated person might seek opportunities to practice kindness to both make the act of kindness natural and to keep the drive to be kind remaining active. Habituation isn’t to create a habit; it’s to condition oneself into actively (not passively) sustaining is disposition. Why is this an important distinction? Habits imply a plateau and even risk fading. Deliberate action meanwhile can continue to improve over time.

There are a number of things I can do to best prepare my identity through habituated conditioning. What I most prefer through my own experience is to create an environment that reinforces the behaviors and experiences you want to have. In a previous post, I described creating a personal shrine. I briefly mentioned treating the space it’s in as a temple. Well, that’s exactly what I’m thinking of this environment as. A temple for myself.

Everything is prone to decay, so the environment itself must be maintained constantly. The benefit, though, is that because engaging with the environment also reinforces your world view, you are doing all the work you need to do on yourself indirectly. This is extremely powerful because working on your mind and behaviors directly is like maintaining an engine while you’re on the highway. You’ve already gotten in your own way. So the goal I will layout is to give and maintain an environment for myself to reinforce what I want and create a strategy to do so.

Outlining a Strategy

I generally create high-level strategies using the same system every time. I’ve used it for business plans, personal projects, family activities, and client consultations. It’s a five-part framework that covers all of the aspects of a project I need to consider and understand to ask informed questions. The five sections that define it are the purpose, the plan, the package, the parts, and the presentation. Each of these addresses a single dimension of a strategy as a compartment so as to keep it easy to think about and discuss. They interconnect but also stand alone in their own way, which makes it fairly easy to make adjustments. I’ll provide a template in this post down below in case you want to follow along.

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1. Purpose

As I’ve already stated, the number one goal is creating and reinforcing a sense of cohesive identity. I will do this through designing and maintaining an environment that suits to culture my chosen qualities. I should make it clear at some point that the aspects of this environment are not all physical. Some will be social, others are conceptual. So I can clearly say that the purpose of this strategy is to “set up a series of structures with which I will engage constantly so as to positively influence my self-image, internal narrative, my experience of life, and behaviors.”

2. Plan

Next, I want to develop a very high-level plan. It will be about 7 or so steps. Too detailed and I will be forced into making too many assumptions. I’ll figure those things out later in another post. I also don’t want it to be too vague or loosey-goosey. It needs to be something that can be measurably followed. Each step will be outlined like a SMART goal so that it’s easy to track, but because this is all an experiment I will give myself lots of wiggle room for time. In short, I am going to make a kind of 3-dimensional vision board out of my space.

  1. List activities I will do to advance my goals (at least journaling)
  2. Choose a space to curate (preferably my shrine space)
  3. Remove any objects that distract from what I’m visualizing
  4. Clear space for easy comfortable entry and movement to so my activities
  5. Create motivating reward conditions to associate with the space and accomplished activities
  6. Find accomplices that support me (this can include my heroes)

3. Package

If the purpose is why and the plan is how then the packages is the what. The package describes what this really looks like. In the end, I am the product here so I need to answer each of these from a very personal perspective. I need to describe what I want myself and my life to look like. Luckily I did that all here. Now I’m using my process to separate each of these into a particular facet of itself.

  1. Problem: I felt a loss of personal identity, cohesive narrative, and purpose. I knew I wasn’t fully satisfied with myself and some failures I experienced so wanted to create a more potent version of myself.
  2. Product: The personal experience of being a Warrior Poet on a quest, living a meaningful and challenging life of discipline, friendliness, and courage.
  3. Price: This is a difficult one, both to figure out and to admit to. I need to change my relationship with shame and self-worth.
  4. Pitch: When I am doing product development I mean this as a market pitch. Today, I’m going to use it as a convincing affirmation, visualization, or mantra. It will be “I am wise and bold enough to move courageously forward”
  5. Point: This is the key value around which I’m doing everything. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that understanding is my core value. Understanding, being understood, and facilitating understanding in others. This is truly and exercise in truly understanding myself and expressing that understanding through life.

4. Parts

This is a list of all of the things I will need to accomplish my goal. Each one categorized by a specific domain. It will be its own goal to gather and organize these items. In practice, these will likely come as our first goal, but we needed to understand the reality of what I’m doing before I could honestly know what all it would take to complete this.

  1. Places: I will need a place to place my shrine and to keep my notebook near my shrine. I will also want a writing surface. For the sake of my good discipline behaviors, I will need a place to meditate and to exercise.
  2. Pieces: besides the shrine, my journal, and a pen to write in the journal, I will also need and offering jar for missed journal days.
  3. Prizes: These are the rewards and motivations that fuel emotional involvement. I’m am progress based when it comes to motivation, so tracking alone will keep me invested.
  4. Pipelines: this pertains to all the pathways from which things move from one place to another. Doors, windows, roads, etc.
  5. People: I still need to identify my role model oh, that is my heroic inspiration. Besides that, I would like a coach to help me maintain my discipline, and an accountability partner, that is a friend who acts as a complement to the personality by trying to culture.
  6. Processes: I will need to augment and maintain several processes in my day as part of my personal narrative. Chief among these will be my writing schedule.

5. Presentation

Finally, this is the component that describes how, where, and when we want to complete this strategy. I will arbitrarily target completing this in 1 month (at the time of writing this, that means the start of June 2019). This gives me enough time to do something meaningful and is also short enough to not drag on forever. My area will be in my own den (an appropriate place for me to stage my “temple” space”).

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Follow-Through

So this lays out everything I need and I need to know to get started. Now all that’s left is to get started. Now that I have all the key points for our strategy written out, I actually work from the bottom up to accomplish it. I start with the presentation to make sure it’s clear and reasonable, which means a little research. After that, I’ll gather all of the parts together. I’m going to constantly re-affirm that the package is being worked towards as I execute each part of the plan with the purpose in mind.

The important thing is that just the act of working on this goal reinforces the identity, actions, and habits I am trying to encourage. To keep up with this I have a few other tricks I’m going to borrow from my consulting practice. I’ll get into that in my next post, but they will involve some key questions and ways to trim the fat on excess activities and objects. Meanwhile, if you’re following along try to create your own goal strategy for your own personal development and habituation.

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