What's your story? Gaining insight from your past.
Everyone has a unique story that explains how they have come to be where they are in life at this moment. Taking time to examine aspects of your life story can provide an insight that you can use to advance new possibilities and deal more effectively with challenges.
When did you last pause to ponder your life story? The chances are that you have been too busy handling the present challenges to consider what has led you to this point. Dealing with immediate priorities is understandable; however, there may be lessons from past experiences that, when brought to mind, can help you make better decisions now.
You might find that the past unduly influences you because you have not consciously examined how these experiences affect you in the present. This influence may be for good or ill. For example, if you had a poor reaction to a work proposal, you may feel anxious about the next pitch because your brain recalls the previous disappointment. Unchecked, this can become ingrained as a habit of avoidance, leading to underperformance and limiting your opportunities.
Everyone has a unique story that explains how they have come to be where they are in life at this moment. Taking time to examine aspects of your life story can provide an insight that you can use to advance new possibilities and deal more effectively with challenges. It is an enabling approach that allows you to be more resourceful in planning a better future. It can work well as a team-building exercise too.
Here's how to do it:
You will need a few Sharpie pens in various colours, several packs of different colour Post-it notes, and a pad of flip chart paper for this exercise. Set aside an hour when you can work uninterrupted. You can do this alone, with a partner or in a group.
Begin by establishing a specific timeframe to represent the past, present and future. (For example, the last 12 months and the coming 12 months). Draw this timeline on a sheet of paper. You can examine different timelines from your life in subsequent exercises to further enrich this process.
Next, think of 3 or more key highlights looking back at the past and the present moment. For example, these might be difficulties that you overcame, challenges successfully met, outstanding presentations that went well or maybe new business opportunities and so on.
Write these significant highlights on a Post-it note and stick it on the appropriate part of the timeline.
Now step back. Take the first key highlight and think about what led to that particular moment of success? Write down the details using descriptive words on different coloured Post-it notes. Place these next to the relevant highlight.
Next, consider the environment and context in which this activity took place. What did you see, hear, feel, say and notice at the time? Capture your keywords on Post-it notes and add this to the highlight.
Pause and review what you have written. Then think about the strengths, skills, resources that you used at the time (and the team used). Reflect on the benefits, positive feedback and accolades that you (and the team) received. Notice any feelings that arise as you do this. Capture your insights on Post-it notes. Add this to the highlight.
Repeat this process with the other key highlights.
Now, consider if there were any events or issues during this time period that you found draining or derailed you somehow. Mark these on your timeline. Scrutinise them with the mind of a researcher. What were the circumstances? Where were the tipping points, and what caused these? Are any trends revealed such as lack of planning or insufficient self-care? Note these on Post-it notes and add to your timeline.
Step back and review your work taking in the highlights and low points. Examining what didn't work well will enable you to look for patterns, themes and habits that you can mitigate or avoid in the future. Similarly, focusing on the patterns, themes and habits that led to past success will enable you to replicate this going forward.
Make a plan and start with just one small thing to bring about, and take it from there. Then consider the action you (and your team) will undertake as a result in three areas:
1. What might you keep doing that has served you well and is essential to you now and for the future?
2. What might you stop doing because it no longer serves you or is unhelpful for other reasons?
3. What might you start doing differently to enhance your wellbeing, boost personal growth and improve your professional satisfaction?
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So, throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbour, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover. - Mark Twain, writer, publisher and lecturer.
Many have a great story in certain times of their lives in which they feel pride, enjoy success and experience happiness. It is easy to let these memories slide when life becomes tough as the bad experiences can cloud the good. This exercise taps into the resourcefulness that comes from deep learning about what enables successful outcomes. The insights gained allow you to do more of what works well on purpose, thus enabling you to build resilience and plan for a brighter future.
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