I am asked a lot about how to manage our increasingly rushed and complex lives. Today I wanted to address that. How to simply your life, you ask? Start with a strategy session.
Having worked in an academic research institution, I am very well acquainted with the complexity of - well - everything.
When you turn an analytical eye to your own life (usually in the moments you are trying to fall asleep) it can get complicated, quickly. You ponder ways to improve, grow, learn. You ponder the demands on your time. You feel overwhelmed, and then you shut down.
Something my clients have consistently reported over the years is that if they try to undertake a goal setting session and evaluation of their lives, they wind up overwhelmed and back at the starting point. That is, sensing that they need to expand some areas, constrict others, and address the true priorities they have with boundary setting and commitments.
When we repeat the same patterns and overwhelm stops us from moving forward, a strategy session is the best way to move forward. For some, a strategy session looks at their professional lives, for others it looks at their personal life. Regardless of the area of life, these sessions reduce the complex to surprisingly simple and clients begin to move forward with a plan.
You know what is one of the most common things that launches clients into overwhelm and shut down? The addiction to learning. As a life long learner, please don’t misread this. I believe strongly in perpetual learning. I do want to caution you, however, that it is easier to keep learning than to start embodying.
What if we google that one extra thing we needed to learn about?
What if we took that one extra online course on how to improve our lives?
What if we read that one extra book on leadership?
….We avoid embodying the lessons.
Intelligence is the accumulation of knowledge.
We are very, very good at that part.
Wisdom is applying that knowledge toward effective change and elevation in our lives and work.
To break out of information accumulation and overwhelm, we must finally implement a strategy and back it up with an action plan (tactics.)
The great strategist Sun Tzu said
"Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat."
Tzu was a Chinese military strategist in an ancient time and place, but his words are timeless and many of his quotes are relevant today. I thought of Tzu today during a coaching session with a scholar, as we held a strategy session around his academic goal of Ph.D completion, which was rapidly becoming complex, convoluted and overwhelming.
With markers and a large sheet of paper (low tech is often the best tech!) we took the hour to shift all of his goals and priorities onto a concept map.
The simple act of writing our stream of consciousness onto a large sheet of paper or a whiteboard can liberate us from overwhelm.
Once we had everything on a poster board we were able to identify things that were moving him toward completion, and others that were distracting him by taking up finite mental resources and time.
We were able to identify things that were complementing and enhancing his progression and explored ways to infuse those into both his personal and professional (academic) life.
On a grand strategy level, we also had to make sure his Ph.D vision was aligned with his values, strengths, interests and priorities. He had never taken an hour to really sit down and think about the multiple ways in which his Ph.D reinforced and strengthened the things he held dear in other areas of his life.
(This in itself is one of the most motivational things you can do mid-way through a Ph.D when you are beginning to question your sanity.)
I find many of my clients have only mulled goals about in their heads. As a coach, I am able to help them gain clarity as we examine each element on that poster board. I am watching for narrative, body language, emotions and expression as a client discusses each thing they have mapped out on that board.
If a client is trying to determine whether a project they are working on is truly aligned to their goals and values, I can offer them the gift of observation - body language does not lie. I listen for cues and hints at the deeper truth underneath their stated goals. I dig deeper.
Have you taken the time out of your schedule and carved some mental space to map out your life on a sheet of paper?
This type of hour is not just for olympic athletes planning their quads, or academics planning their Ph.Ds - anyone can benefit from this valuable activity.
As Sun Tzu said you cannot have strategy without tactics. Let’s discuss what happens when we’ve had a chance to lay out a client’s personal and professional life on the table.
I often explain that other half of the session - the tactical part - is moving from ideation to execution.
There's a saying that everything is created twice: Once in the mind and once in reality, and I couldn't agree more. As we shift into action and execution, that vision we have clarified in the strategy session will become VERY real. When the strategy has been laid out on a sheet of paper, it isn’t simply an idea any more. It’s a fast moving target that requires action now.
If you wish to enact change in your life, you must be comfortable thinking and operating in both the strategic and tactical domains.
Strategy involves the creativity to explore new opportunities and the vision to step outside of our selves to examine new possibilities.
Tactics involves behavioural and mindset shifts, ownership and action to bring about this strategic vision.
These coaching sessions are an incredibly valuable use of time and a favourite when I am engaged with a client over a period of time. They are necessary if we want to move them forward in their lives.
It is an art and a science. We capture our present realities. We come to agreement on the desired future. We develop the courage to live life intentionally and commit to action.
After all, life can happen to us, or it can happen for us.
These are some of my absolute favourite hours spent as a life coach and professional development coach.