I thought I might be able to summarise the essence of our first retreat in one blog post, but I’m not even going to try. Instead, I shall simply begin with this entry, in the hope that the rest will emerge in a manner in keeping with the title of this post. It uses an example from our weekend which made us smile and laugh throughout. It shows how one simple comment can open up into a world of information and learning for all involved; and how returning to the lessons can reinforce a simple yet powerful habit without any effort at all.
Early on in the first evening, reporting on the progress she had made in one specific area of her life, one participant did something, with which all English people are familiar. She played down her achievement. It was polite and subtle, almost self-deprecating, but nevertheless persuasive.
Reading from her homework – an exercise in observation and written reflection – she explained how well she had been doing over the last 12 weeks. Then she qualified her progress by saying that it was ‘just slow and steady’. I stopped the process immediately and focused on those four words. What follows are the learning points and insights from our discussion, and the implications for every one of us of the words we use:
- The word ‘just’ demeans or negates the actual results. It’s easily done and for most people it goes unnoticed (or unchallenged) but the effect is to undermine the achievement.
- In the same way, prefixing the description with ‘just’ will influence – whether consciously or unconsciously – how we view ourselves.
- At a deeper level, the word points to an underlying belief which, unseen and unchallenged, is free to affect us in subtle yet significant ways.
- That belief is: ‘The achievement is not good enough’.
- Then, of course, it’s only a short step to the core belief: ‘I’m not good enough’.
- However, remove the word ‘just’ and the description instantly becomes more powerful, as if released from the confinement of those four letters.
- Equally, the power we create when we do that simultaneously boosts how we feel about ourselves.
Those points emerged effortlessly from the examination of one word. Then, as we moved onto the three other words, we were able to see that:
- Far from being insufficient, ‘slow and steady’ is precisely the right way to make progress.
- ‘Slow and steady’ imparts a feeling of longevity. There is a solidity to it. It may lack the excitement of rapid progress, but that’s okay (especially given that there are likely to be pockets of rapid development anyway within the long-term process).
- If the change (improvement) is slow and steady, it is more likely to be permanent. At the very least it will be more stable; less easily rocked by setbacks or interruptions to the routine.
- ‘Slow and steady’ requires more discipline than other, shorter-term approaches. It also requires patience. It is, therefore, a chance to practice those qualities regularly, harnessing them in a way which means they can be applied to other areas of life.
- Finally, it’s easier (and safer, if we’re talking about exercise) to do 30 minutes every day than push yourself for two hours twice a week. Never underestimate the merit and potency of incremental steps.
Four words, one challenge, and a group discussion were all it took to create an increased awareness of self, language, and behaviour. And although this example was perhaps the most memorable of the weekend, with the loudest echo, the entire retreat was the exactly same.