Prune out what holds you back
Updated: Nov 23
The pandemic restrictions seem to have made my clients more reflective. Periods of introspection have filled the gaps formerly occupied by spontaneous face-to-face conversations in the workplace. You can use that time wisely, to think like a gardener and identify pruning you can do now, to promote healthy, vigorous growth in the spring.
Prune out what holds you backOver time every one of us acquires assumptions, beliefs and habits that shape our behaviour. In the main, we do so without realising it. That's not a bad thing. Evolution has designed us to run on autopilot as much as possible, freeing our conscious minds to deal with potentially threatening changes in our environment.
For example, when you sit down in a car, you probably put on a seatbelt, without much conscious thought. It's a habit grounded in the belief that you will be safer if you wear a seatbelt. Underlying that belief is the assumption that the seatbelt will stop your head from hitting the windscreen if the car is in a collision. Most people believe it's a positive habit to have.
However, we also acquire assumptions, beliefs and habits that us you back in some way. We extrapolate a handful of experiences into a general truth. In childhood, for example, we come to believe that we are good or bad at mathematics, sport or art. These classic examples often persist throughout our lives.
Positive beliefs can make us confident and brave. Negative beliefs often stop us from even attempting something. I'll talk more about this topic in Chapter 10, Ensure Good Health when I discuss a Growth Mindset versus a Fixed Mindset. But you don't have to wait until then to get pruning.
You'll probably be more aware of the assumptions, beliefs and habits that originated in childhood, because of their lifelong impact. But we continue to acquire new assumptions, beliefs and habits in adulthood. So, from time to time, it pays to stop and prune out those that are self-limiting. Here's a simple exercise to help you do that.
Close your eyes and imagine yourself twelve months ago. What can you see, hear and feel? Now contrast that with now and ask yourself three questions:
How have my assumptions about the world changed?
What beliefs have I acquired or thrown away?
What habits have I gained or lost?
For each question, write down a list of answers.
Now consider each item, ask yourself whether it has a positive or negative impact on your life? If it's an assumption, ask yourself, "am I sure?" and "how can I test it?" If it's a belief, dig out the underlying assumptions and test them.
Some of those assumptions and beliefs will probably be about your capabilities and qualities. If that's the case, then seek feedback from people you trust, to check whether your assumptions and beliefs are correct. We are rarely able to see ourselves as others see us!
If it's a habit that you want to prune out, identify what triggers it. Commit to re-purpose that trigger to do something else instead. It sounds ridiculously simple, but it works. Initially, you'll often miss the trigger and fall into the old habit. But when you realise later that you've missed the trigger, don't criticise yourself. The moments of awareness, after the fact, will gradually programme your unconscious mind to adopt a different pattern.
Want to learn how to approach change like a gardener? Check out my forthcoming book.