Personal Operating System

Building on my post yesterday about deliberate practice, I’ve been using a technique over the past year to practice certain behaviors, which is called a “personal operating system”. I learned of this technique from Maria Andersen last year, and she later wrote it up as a blog post.

The idea is to come up with a set of precepts I want to guide my life, and reflect on them on a daily basis. I have mine posted on the bathroom mirror for consideration as I brush my teeth; in the morning, I load them into my brain before starting my day, and in the evening, I reflect on how I did in living up to those precepts that day.

I also extended Maria’s idea to include a journaling component, where I go through each precept each week and write down how I demonstrated that precept that past week, and what opportunities I missed to live up to that precept. The journaling has proved remarkably useful in three ways:

  • Letting me celebrate small achievements and small steps forward
  • Reflecting on why I missed opportunities to live my precepts that week
  • Tracking my progress over time so I can see how my outlook is changing

I’ve been doing this for almost a year now, and it’s really cool to feel how these precepts have infiltrated my brain. I can feel them speaking to me when I’m facing a decision, and those little voices bias me towards the decision that is in line with my precepts. For instance, one of my precepts is “If something scares you, try it”. In my first coaching class this spring, we were practicing coaching each other, and the guy I was paired with gave me a choice of coaching him on a career dilemma or an issue with his marriage. I was about to say the career dilemma, because I know nothing about marriage and was uncomfortable with that choice, but then I heard the precept echo in my head, and chose “marriage”. I’m not sure I did a good job, but I learned more than I would have in working with him on the career question where I felt more comfortable.

Picking good precepts is the key to making this work. The trick is to pick ones that are a desired behavior, but not part of your current habits. This is how I think it ties into deliberate practice – the personal operating system allows me to deliberately practice behaviors that are a reach for me. And doing this sort of deliberate practice over the past year has begun to slowly alter my outlook and behavior, which is a little weird but neat to observe by looking back over my journal. Seeing the progress, even in small increments, is very satisfying.

For those that are curious, this is my current set of precepts:

  • You are enough!
  • Be generous to myself and others.
  • Look for surprise. Be curious.
  • Be thankful and appreciative.
  • If something scares you, try it.
  • Failure resume – how have I failed this week, and what have i learned?
  • Be mindful, be present now, just this.
  • Ask for help.
  • Make time for reading.

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