Wanting a better life – whatever better means to you?
Wondering how you could be happier or more effective?
Want to be a more conscious leader?
If any of those are remotely enticing here’s a simple and profound exercise. This exercise is so important I’ve included it in Part 1 of my book, Soft Skills HARD RESULTS, about knowing yourself.
Spring is a time of renewal, emergence, and new growth. What better time to have new growth for yourself as a leader and person.
The Activity to Learn
Personal and Professional Identity Narrative
This activity can be done in one sitting or easily over time as it fits into your schedule and it’s the latter I recommend. PPIN stands for a Personal and Professional Identity Narrative. Jack Wood, International Institute for Management Development (IMD) Professor and Jungian Analyst, uses this exercise with MBAs and Executives for some of their greatest learning from their programs (a bold claim considering they are paying tens of thousands of euros). The PPIN is your life story – where you have come from, where you are right now and the general trajectory of where you are headed or where you think you might be headed. He says, “if you take the PPIN seriously, the process of reflecting and writing about your life – the sources of your identity and the objectives that you embrace – can help you better understand the deeper currents and patterns in your life and their continued influence”1.
2 Simple Steps for the PPIN Activity
Step 1 involves writing about the significant events in your life. Just start. This is just a collection of small stories, like chapters or simply paragraphs. You’ll want to cover your childhood (not just the facts but also your sense of what it was like growing up), school experiences, work and career (it’s not a CV/resumé though), relationships (parental, romantic, friends), what have been the highlights, the low points, the regrets (of what you’ve done or haven’t done), the times of greatest learning and when things have felt effortless. Don’t worry about whether it makes sense, is well written or in a logical format. This is only for you to read and analyse. Include examples, rich descriptions (not PowerPoint or bullet points) and your feelings and emotional reactions to the events and people.
I did the first draft of my PPIN in a week and ended up with over 10 typed pages, single spaced. Remember, I like to write and am a good typist, so I don’t want to intimidate you. A couple of months later, it was more than 20 pages. Jack Wood suggests 5–10 pages for the first draft and 10–15 pages for the complete narrative. If done exhaustively it can take a while, so at worst, it’s a legacy for your children (although it might be too revealing if done with no fear of it being seen). I’d encourage you to do more than what makes you comfortable; it’s at the edges of our comfort zones where we learn the most and feel energized.
Step 2 is the analysis of what you’ve written. The informative part happens during the reflection. This might be while you are writing it or once it’s written; when the patterns and themes in your life emerge (or appear once you observe your story on paper at a distance). What have you noticed about what you’ve created in your life? What’s been easy? What’s been hard? What has impacted you from one situation to another situation? What did you conclude about yourself or the way life works from the various events in your life? Where does it point you to in terms of further personal development? What patterns are influencing you?
Last year I took an introductory course on Transactional Analysis (TA). TA is a psychoanalytic theory used in various ways, such as in therapy or coaching. Its basis is that many of the ways we think, feel and behave today are established very early in life and therefore reflect aspects of parent, child and adult. Some of these are very helpful and some are quite reactionary. The PPIN exercise will help you determine some of these helpful and less helpful tendencies potentially.
For example, the PPIN exercise helped me understand why I adjusted so quickly when I moved from Canada to Switzerland; as a kid I had moved to a new city every five years due to my father’s career. Prior to the first move my parents asked an education specialist for advice on moving young children. He told my parents to move my brother and me a month or two before the end of the school year as that would allow us to make friends in the new place before being let off school for the summer. That way we’d know other kids in the neighbourhood with whom to play. This meant that at the new school I was put into established classes with groups of children who had been together for months and, as the newbie, I was required to integrate. I remembered one situation in Grade 3 (so I was about 9 years old) where I was escorted into the classroom by a school secretary after the kids had already started their day. The room was a mixed group of both Grade 3s and 4s and I was stood at the front of the class and asked to introduce myself. I did this on more than one occasion. Hence when I arrived in Switzerland, I just threw myself in, introducing myself to strangers. The PPIN helped me recognise this pattern; understand that aspect of myself and become more conscious of using the skill when it served me (such as when I moved to England on my own and starting my coaching career).
Dynamic Learning About Yourself Now
Write a few paragraphs or pages about your current situation now – your thoughts, your feelings, what bothers you, what pleases you, what have you observed in others or society and what’s your reaction to that? How was it for you last year compared to now? Write about your experience of your current reality. This is called free-flow writing, just writing what comes up for you in your mind, heart and gut; follow the flow without censoring or critiquing.
Reflect on what you’ve written:
- What reactions and behaviours are you having now that you recognize in your historical stories? What is the continuing pattern?
- What situations or perspectives from your past are hindering you now?
- What situations or tendencies from your previous stories could you leverage to help you in current times?
I said at the beginning this was a simple exercise. It is, just write your life story in chunks over time and reflect on the patterns and learning. I didn’t say it would be easy. Contact me here for a complimentary session to understand more about your learnings from this exercise or for any avoidance you feel about doing such as exercise.
1 Wood, Jack Denfeld. ‘The Personal and Professional Identity Narrative (PPIN).’ Print.