Many of us have an area or two (or 10) in life that presents a challenge. Some of these challenges seem overwhelming: Overcoming addiction, digging out of a financial hole, losing a loved one. Some challenges present us with positive opportunities to grow: Learning a language, starting a blog, completing a 5K. Here are 4 steps you can apply to the challenges you face. Use them to leverage your life for learning, fellowship, fun, and growth.
Step 1. Choose a Specific Area of Growth that is Measurable and Commit to It
This first step can sometimes be the most daunting. Becoming a better person sounds like a great idea, but it’s not truly measurable and it’s certainly not specific. Committing to improving your posture, learning how to make vegan pancakes, zeroing out a low-balance credit card, or writing your first one act play are all specific and can be measured. Look around your life for one small thing with a dividend. If your back is often sore, there is a likely payoff in learning how to properly sit and stand. If you want to move toward a plant-based diet, learning to make one killer recipe could be the start of something big. You might choose a credit card with a low balance and see if you can put an extra $10-$20 a month toward paying it down. And knowing a one-act play can run anywhere from 10-90 pages gives you a pretty good measuring tool.
Step 2. Gather a Support Person or Two
Being accountable to your brain for accomplishing a task means you are accountable to no one. And unless you have some super human lone ranger power (hint: You don’t) success is unlikely. Distractions and other people’s projects will inevitably get in the way. Ask someone to be your accountability holder. Choose wisely. Make this a person someone who will honor your commitment. I have had accountability holders who turned into nannies. You can avoid this by making sure your person understands your commitment. Reminding someone of a commitment is not nagging, even though you will sometimes feel like claiming it is. Be coachable and see your support person as your biggest fan.
Step 3. Make a Plan with Visual Aids
With your support person decide how to measure your success. Will better posture allow you to sit comfortably for longer periods of time? How much longer? Will you try three different recipes or just practice one several times? By when will you get the card paid off? Will you freeze it in a cup of water while you pay it down? How many pages or minutes will you commit to writing every day. Your support person can help you hash out the details of this plan and ask the questions you may blithely skip. After your commitment session, make some notes that can become visible reminders of your commitment. I have a sign on my desk that reads, “Shut up and Write!” It’s not subtle, but subtle doesn’t always get the message across.
Step 4. Follow Through
With the help of your team, visual aids, and commitment, take steps toward your success as often as possible. If it’s every hour as it might be with your posture, set a timer on your phone to act as a reminder. If it’s every few days as it might be for cooking or writing, set the day in your calendar. If it’s once a month for something like your credit card payment, include weekly savings in the plan so you get to the end of the month with enough to pay the card down. And enjoy the process. Give yourself a pat on the back for all the little successes. If you only focus on the end game, you miss the fun of learning along the way.
I know a lot of people in the performing arts who prefer the excitement of the rehearsal process over the performance. Your journey toward mastering anything in life is where you discover who you are. And, by the way, you are awesome. If all does not go as planned, forgive yourself. Do not spend time beating up on you. It’s a wasted opportunity! When we fail, we have a chance to learn, regroup, repair, and restart toward the goal with more knowledge than before. Once you build up a roster of small successes, you’ll want to move to bigger projects.