The most simplistic things can often have the most profound impact on how we live our lives.
A point in case is the practice of routines. This simple strategy of building repetition has been instilled in our lives since our parents first made us make our beds every day before leaving for school. Little did we know, that extra 3 minutes would become the foundation for why many of us studied a certain way in college or do the same thing every day when we get to the office. (To be honest, it’s all was keeps me honest to my #ChaseRuns fundraising campaign. A consistent routine has me on day 226 of this post of running for the kids!)
That ends up having a direct impact on how we lead. Just look at the Harvard Business Review research that defends the concept of sustaining a habit or routine even in a culture where we are driven to be “disruptors”, both professionally and personally.
For me, writing has become part of that routine to define myself as a better leader and grow as an individual. Here are five reasons why:
Reflection is powerful – As profound as we all might like to think we are, it can challenging to understand a moment in time when we are surrounded by charged emotions. Those emotions may be our own or those of others in the room. They may be filled with great joy and enthusiasm or a deep sorrow and pain. Regardless, these emotions can put blinders on our perspective and do not allow us to fully reflect. Writing down our raw thoughts, analysis and concerns allow us to re-interpret them in a calmer environment down the road. As leaders, we need to have the maturity to understand that we often can not fully understand a situation in the moment. This reflection allows us to make more strategic decisions that serve not only the immediate business needs but also the legacy of leadership in our culture.
It’s hard…really hard…even though it shouldn’t be – Why is it so hard to write a few quick paragraphs or even bullet point some sentences around what we are thinking? We fire away those same thoughts to a friend in a quick Snapchat or text message without a second thought. However, when it comes to writing them down for us to actually re-read ourselves there is a hesitation. There are also a number of easy barriers we can put up in order to justify not finding the time or desire to write for reflection. Some common ones?
- Time – We are already so crunched for time, who really can find time to then write about how pressed for time they are?
- Social stigma (especially for guys) – Girls write their problems down. Guys drink them down. OK, so it may not be that simple but consider these scenarios, especially my 20-something friends: A. Go drink by the pool with friends, B. Go out for the night, or C. Find a quiet environment and write down the things that drive you. My money is on the fact that most of my friends are grabbing a bottle of vino (or for some, a 30 pack of Natty Light) and not looking back.
- No ROI – So, let’s say you find the time and you get over the social stigma. Where is the value for you in taking all this precious time to write? If you don’t clearly see a return on your investment (or a path to one), what is the point?
The most successful mentors in my life taught me – This may be one of the most important items on the list. As one of those 20-somethings mentioned above, I by no stretch of the imagination think I have some “secret sauce” or special insight bestowed upon me about writing for reflection that should make you put stock in what I say. What I will attest to though is that the reason I believe so strongly in building writing into my routine is that I observed it from some of the most successful mentors in my life. That success comes in many different forms, whether it be professionally or personally, but they shared this commonality.
Crista, for example, opened my eyes to the process of setting both short and long-term goals. Not just setting them but going a step further…writing them down, committing to them, and then going back and reflecting on them.
Another example is Nancy, who gave me a hand-crafted notebook before I took one of the biggest leaps of my career and encouraged me to start writing it all down: the things that worried me at night, the things I was proud of, mad about, all of it. To this day when I get ready to make a significant leadership decision I find that notebook and look for similar situations I can reflect on.
Be intentional – So few things are truly done intentionally anymore. As a society, much of we do is passive in nature. Writing for reflection is one thing you can own and be intentional about. It allows you to control how you grow as both an individual and a leader.
I took an afternoon a few weeks back to reflect on what I had written so far this year. One of the things that came from that was a need to narrow my focus. I used it as an opportunity to be a leader in my personal life and set priorities Sticking with the theme of being intentional I then wrote that new focus down and hung it on the wall. It serves as a driving focus in each decision I make now and I ask myself “does this move me closer or farther away from pillars”?
Wrapping it all up, you will always be able to find more ways to say “no” than to actually invest the time in writing for reflection. However, for those of you that take the leap to make that investment in yourself and be intentional, I hope you find it to be a rewarding process.