A Field Guide to Life – Transformative Practice

by Brad on January 8, 2013

This installment of A Field Guide to Life begins the section on personal practices, regular exercises to help you make dramatic shifts in what’s possible for you. It challenges you to develop your own personal experience of new ideas.


Practice – Tools for Transformation

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.”    – Seneca

The promise of any program of self-development lies not in the words themselves, but in the personal felt experience of the words. And more often than not, it seems, we skip over the “exercises” portion of these programs, thereby missing the felt experience altogether. Why do we do this? I see two reasons:

  • we live under an unconscious, yet false, belief that knowledge alone will change us. This might have been true for passing a test in school, but not for personal transformation.
  • we’ve been acculturated to expect instant results and gratification from any investment or effort we make. This might be true for eating dessert, but again, not for personal transformation.

River StonesSo, in the interest of making your work of personal transformation produce results, and in the interest of having my work create the impact I want it to have, I identify the secret ingredient that’s been missing in all these limited-value explorations: practice. This blog series offers a new slant on the topic.

At one level, all of life can be viewed as practice. Everything you do is “practicing something.” If you’re not practicing something new, you’re practicing something old. If you see, think, speak and act the same way you did yesterday, you’re practicing being the kind of person you were yesterday. Seen this way, your life has been an amazing success; you’ve become an expert at being the person you’ve practiced so hard to become! You haven’t experienced change because you’ve been practicing being the same.

You can’t learn to ski by reading books on skiing. You learn to ski by putting on skis and going down the mountain. You do this in steps, falling and getting up, over and over. It’s the personal felt experience of skiing that teaches you how to ski. Practice cements the learning.

Because your experience of life is a function of how you believe, see, think and speak, you transform your life by changing how you believe, see, think and speak. Using today’s thinking, you may conclude that you can do this simply by “making yourself change” how you think. But here’s the sticky part of the problem. To use your old ways of thinking as a tool to create new ways of thinking is, as a former coach of mine pointed out, “like trying to wash off paint with paint.”

You might begin a process of change, however, by considering this: your thinking today is really an incessant stream of unconscious, autopilot stories you tell yourself about how life is supposed to work. Because the process is unconscious, you don’t know you’re doing it, you don’t know you’re listening to what you hear, and you can’t possibly see that the stories were made up by someone else, in a time and place far, far away. 

The path forward is to interrupt that incessant unconscious flow, then use the space provided by the interruption to figure out what’s going on in your head. This is not grade school science. The way you interrupt unconscious thinking is with conscious practice. The practice itself is a practice of noticing your thinking. Although the idea of this may seem awkward, you might think of it as stepping out of the role of star in your life’s movie and becoming the audience … at the same time. To notice your thinking is new territory for most people, hence the need for a new approach.

This series of blog posts is about life-transforming practices. It demonstrates the value of purposeful practice, and offers specific exercises you can adopt, starting right now, as everyday companions on your journey. They have the potential to dramatically shift how you experience your world. Among the results you can expect are a sense of freedom, greater personal authenticity, peace, meaning, balance and resilience. Not a bad promise for a few new exercises. That said, they’re deceptively simplesimple in the sense a six-year-old can do them, deceptive in the sense that everything you’ve learned since you were six will tell you to ignore them. As habitual creatures, we don’t like being disturbed. Disturbance takes us outside our comfort zone, while our unconscious beliefs are there to maintain that comfort zone, not expand it. By learning to see disturbances as inconvenience instead of possibility, you’ve artfully kept life pretty much the same for a very long time. For these reasons, most people find it difficult to sustain practices such as these on their own, so they miss some of the value. The more advanced practices ask for new ways of thinking and speaking, ways you may find difficult to integrate by yourself. Many people work with a coach or a guide to help them. I’m available to offer that support and guidance should you want to accelerate your journey. If you choose to go it alone, your calm persistence will pay off.

As with all my writing, I look forward to sharing these perspectives with you, and hope you will share with me experiences from your own journey. Let’s set out for new territory and explore together.

Listed here are the major themes for the suggested practices that you’ll find in future articles: 

Life as Practice

The Practice of Silence

The Practice of Simplicity

Practices for Self-Care

Practices for Self-Knowledge

Practices for Personal Responsibility

Practices for Creating an Exceptional Future

Toward a New Way of Being


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If you’re joining this blog thread (e-book – A Field Guide to Life) somewhere after the beginning, click here to see the series of posts, so you can return to the first article and read them in sequence. Also, if you prefer to see the entire book at once, rather than in free, weekly blog installments, you may purchase the book for $20 here, as a pdf-format download.


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