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January 20, 2021

Conscious Leadership is Like Pickleball

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I play pickleball. To be more truthful, I’m passionate about pickleball. I learned the game two years ago, and along with golf, it’s the sport I’m most devoted to. 

This summer I bought a pickleball machine. I did this because I believe that no one gets really good at pickleball by playing pickleball. You develop as a player by practicing, drilling, and by doing lots and lots of reps. I bought the machine because it allows me to do hundreds of reps in the same time period I could do a few dozen playing a game of pickleball. 

This isn’t to say that playing games isn’t important. It is. In fact, it’s the thing. But you don’t get better at the thing just by doing the thing. 

In this way, conscious leadership is just like pickleball. How we live and lead is the game. It’s the thing. Yet you don’t become masterful at living and leading just by living and leading. Just like in pickleball, you need to do your reps. You need to commit to repeatable, predictable practice. 

Most people don’t get this. They read a book or listen to a podcast or attend a workshop, get some great information, and then return to living life in the hopes that they’ll (magically) implement what they learned.

In January of 2019 I went to a four-day pickleball camp. I learned lots from some of the best players in the game. We drilled and drilled and drilled. I came home and started playing; I was better, but I plateaued quickly. This is just like going to a meditation retreat, a couples workshop, or a class on conscious leadership. For a while you'll see improvement, but then you’ll plateau. In reality, if you don’t practice and do lots of reps you’ll probably start to regress to who and where you were before the retreat or workshop. 

Most of you know this about meditation. If you read a book on meditation, take a class, or go to a retreat you can be inspired, and even get a taste of the transformational benefits of meditation. But if you come home and don’t practice, there will be little lasting value. It’s why meditation apps like Waking Up, Headspace, and Calm are so popular. They are the pickleball machine of meditation. 

But real mastery isn’t achieved by just doing formal practice sessions, it comes from lots of little reps. This is why great teachers of meditation like Sam Harris and Loch Kelly talk about punctuating our days with many little “lookings” or “glimpses.” It’s why Sam Harris encourages people to take a moment to LOOK every time you reach for a door knob or stand up from your chair. Lots of reps throughout the day. 

It’s the same with The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership. Reps are key. Reading the book and attending a workshop are rarely enough to create lasting change. 

For example, let’s say that you resonate with Commitment #7, which speaks to the value of living a life of appreciation vs resentment. It makes sense to you. You want to be an appreciator and not an entitled resenter. Just making that decision won’t produce lasting change. You need practice. You need reps. You need an appreciation pickleball machine.

What this could look like is to make an agreement with yourself that you’re going to develop appreciation for the next three months. 

Here is what your training regime could look like: 

1. Do a daily appreciation practice by using 30 days of appreciation. We have one for work colleagues, partners and children

2. Use an appreciation journal every evening before bed. Write down 5 things you genuinely appreciate from the day. 

3. Before each meal, take a breath, pause and find something from your day that you appreciate (person, thing or situation).

If you did all three of these for three months, your relationship to appreciation would change. You’d be different. 

But it’s not just enough to develop new skills, habits and patterns; it also helps to identify old limiting beliefs and behaviors. Appreciation is the antidote to entitlement and resentment

You could expand your practice and include identifying places in your life where you are still entitled and often resentful. Entitlement means that I believe the world should be the way I believe the world should be, and I get upset when the world isn’t the way I believe the world should be. I believe that my child should talk respectfully to me (I’m entitled to that) and when she doesn't I get upset (actually resentful, though most people don’t like that word). I believe my manager should give me constructive developmental feedback (entitlement) and when they don’t I get angry (resentful). 

Reps for resentment would be to keep a resentment journal where you make a daily entry of anything that day that you got upset/angry about. Anything you got upset about is pointing to something you feel entitled to. List your entitlements from that day:

  • I’m entitled to a good night's sleep.
  • I’m entitled to a few quiet moments alone in the morning before I’m interrupted by my kids, partner, or teammates and clients. 
  • I’m entitled to a delicious cup of coffee. I know because if it’s not made just the way I like it I get upset. 
  • I’m entitled to have my teammates keep their agreements with me and do what they say they’ll do. 
  • I’m entitled to my internet working.
  • I’m entitled to my partner wanting to have sex with me when I want to have sex.
  • I’m entitled to eat what I want and have the body I want to have. 

The practice of seeing and writing down our entitlements/resentments begins to create more self-awareness and positive pressure to create a lasting shift. 

For each of The 15 Commitments you can create practices and reps that create real and lasting change. Change that permeates and influences your life and your leadership. 

One last thing: I like to do drills with my machine by myself. It’s one of the reasons I got it. I’m not dependent on others wanting to meet and practice. Yet drilling with others is even better. It brings a level of commitment and learning that isn’t always available if I practice alone. Gather a small group of fellow practitioners who want to develop mastery of conscious living. Ask them to do the same daily practices you’ll be doing. Check in with one another to report your reps and share your learnings.



Mastering the Commitments

Use this handout as you build your practice of Conscious Leadership. 

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