Defining personal agility
When I sat down to do some research on the topic of personal agility, I quickly discovered that there’s little consensus on what it actually is. Some authors identity strongly with the root “agile,” and look for lessons within the Agile software development realm, which is fun (especially because I’m a software guy), but it seems rather limited. Other authors discuss ways to become more agile but do so without really explaining what that means. So, I have decided to explain the concept as I see it and in a way that has worked for me.
It may be a good starting point to discuss what a lack of personal agility looks like. I have seen a surprising lack of personal agility in my professional life. In particular, I have worked with many people who identify as data analysts and anything that they might do in a professional context that is a departure from data analysis is viewed as an affront to their professional identity. This is just one example that I have experienced, but of course it could be anything, professional or otherwise. Generally, identities like these are unhelpful for personal growth.
For example, we can observe the difference in paradigm between these two statements: “I am a manager,” and “I bring out the best in people and build better processes.” The two statements could both describe a manager but the second one is more purpose-driven and is, in my view, a demonstration of personal agility. You could “bring out the best in people” in thousands of ways. And a person who legitimately cares about bringing out the best in people would have a leg up on most managers out there, don’t you think?
When I was younger, I played the saxophone. During my junior high school years, I took lessons from a local saxophone professor who would frequently tell people “I’m not a saxophonist. I’m a musician who happens to play this wonderful instrument called the saxophone.” This is an incredibly agile attitude and has stuck with me all these years due to its simplicity and ability to transfer to many aspects of my life.
You see, titles and status aren’t nearly as powerful as purpose. When you identify with a purpose, your Why, you will gain access to the depths of your personal agility.
Practices for Developing Personal Agility
Well now that we have an idea of what Personal Agility is and have briefly described some reasons why Personal Agility is worth pursuing, I’ll lay out some things you can work on to build this quality within yourself.
Get in touch with your purpose
Hopefully we’ve touched on this one enough already. I think a lot of people start doing things and then at some point later, they’re trying to figure out why they’re doing those things! It would be much wiser and much more effective for you to get serious about your values and purpose and THEN create action plans. What is it that makes you tick? What is it that compels you to take action?
Learn new things
Learn new things INTENTIONALLY and directly apply them in your life INTENTIONALLY. The process of learning requires a couple of things that are super beneficial for developing personal agility. First, you’ll have to admit that you don’t know something, which will put you in the proper mental state to stay fluid in your thoughts and feelings; a healthy dose of humility is a great thing! Second, always learning new things ensures that at least some part of you is continually growing. Maybe this translates to an increase in professional value or maybe your learning is for personal satisfaction. In either case, learning new things with intention moves you toward your best self.
De-clutter your mind
You may wish to tidy up your mind from time to time the same way you tidy up your living space. Are there any outdated mental processes hanging around? Excess thinking about trivial matters? Harmful rumination about something you said that was less than perfect, or how someone didn’t respond to your text message right away? Give your mind a break. Invest in yourself (and your personal agility) by meditating, exercising, dancing to your favorite jam, praying, doing deep breathing exercises, or whatever it is that you enjoy, that relaxes you, and helps your mind to get rid of unnecessary activity.
This one follows closely with the discussion in the last article on developing a growth mindset. If you sense that you lack agility in a particular area, give yourself the opportunity to test out your less-than-agile beliefs. Maybe you identify so strongly with something that limits your potential because you lack data to make the case that you actually could do or be something else. If you don’t think you can dance, maybe you should just spontaneously take a dance class. Whatever it is, find the courage to get out of your comfort zone and do the things that scare you. We are hardwired to experience fear, but what many people don’t realize is that on the other side of fear, that’s where growth happens.