One Apple A Day #689 – the halo effect

I don’t know you, but I’m terrible at managing more things at the same time. There are plenty of articles, books and videos explaining why multitasking is not a good idea. Many research and studies have proved that our brain is not wired for multitasking and that switching context is a costly task for our cognitive mind. 

That’s why many productivity experts suggest creating bubbles of focus, in which your attention goes to a single task while you keep all distraction outside. There are many strategies to create a bubble of concentration. Some put all the devices in “flight mode”, others go into a virtual cave. Some close themselves in minimalist rooms, and others just put their headphones on to cut the world out.

Personally, I use a combination of all of those. Unfortunately, creating a bubble of focus is not enough for me. It is as if anything I put my attention on long enough, leaves a halo in my mind. So, when I try to switch to something else, no matter how tight and protected my bubble of focus is, thoughts from previous tasks keep lingering in my mind.

This “halo” creates a big challenge for me. Silencing inner distractions is a lot more complicated than protecting my focus from the external ones. As a result, it takes me ages to find my rhythm when I start a new activity.

This “halo effect” or “tail effect” or whatever we want to call it, is a recent discovery. Looking back at my most productive days, I can see two strategies worth trying.

  1. Don’t fight it. If I can’t remove a thought from my mind, then fighting against it, won’t make it disappear. I have to deal with it. Understand what I need to do to get it out of my system, and do it. If something is not fully finished, I can’t move to something else, no matter how tight my bubbles are.
  2. Group similar things. Jumping between different types of activities is the most costly type of switch. I can’t easily alternate meetings and writing time in the same morning. So, I need to set big chunks of time aside for similar activities.

I’ll let you know if it works.

P.S. I just discovered that the “Halo effect” is a cognitive bias and has nothing to do with what I wrote in this post. Ouch.

One Apple A Day #688 – Inclinations

I’m surrounded by people who have a burning passion for something. Some knew who they wanted to become since they were kids. Some live their jobs as a mission and are never tired. Others have transformed a hobby into the core of their happiness and are willing to do crazy things for it. 

To witness how much their passions infuses their lives with meaning is awesome and inspiring.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been like this. I never had such a burning craving for something. I always found pleasure in doing many different things, but none of them was “the” thing.

This lack of a “driving passion” has been a burden for many years. I felt I was missing out on something. But the worst thing is that it makes it harder to make choices on how to move forward. When you don’t have a single force pulling you in one direction, options multiply, and you become engulfed in the paradox of choice.

Then one day, I can’t remember in which book, I read about the idea of “inclinations”. Each one of us has the potential to do everything at extraordinary levels, but we also have inclinations. You can think of them as the things that come more natural to do.

In my mind, I picture it as if I’m standing in the centre of a flat surface. Around me, an infinite number of paths leading in every direction. Some of those paths are flat, others go upward, and others have a downward inclination. Walking downward makes it easier to keep up with the practice and effort required to move on that path, so the possibilities to become good at it increase. Plus, you may gain momentum, and what started as an inclination can become a fulfilling passion.

If you can’t find your passion, think about all the things you are doing, or you did in the past. What came more natural for you? Maybe that’s an inclination worth exploring to see if you can gain momentum.

One Apple A Day #687 – moving in the mist

One of the hallmarks of growing up in the NorthEast of Italy is the fog. I mean the real thick one that eats up everything around you and all you can see is a grey wall.

I remember one episode in particular. I was in my early twenties. My driving license was still fresh, so I would miss an opportunity to exploit the freedom of having a car. That Saturday evening I went out with my cousin. There was a light mist when we left, nothing that could stop us.

When we decided it was to go home, however, things were completely different. The fog was becoming thicker and thicker. At some point, we reach a small countryside road. One of those narrow road that can barely fit two cars at the same time, with a steep slope on the side and no white lines on the surface.

My cousin had to step out of the car, walk before me, and show me the boundaries of the road. And he had to do it for at least a kilometre. That night it took us ages to get home. But there was no cellphone, and we knew our parents would be worried. So, we kept moving, even if we couldn’t see anything.

Many times in my life, I experienced moments where everything was foggy within and around me. I couldn’t see my way forward, so I froze. I waited to have more visibility, to have more clarity before doing anything, and that cost me a few missed opportunities. I’ve learned that sometimes, I have to move forward even if I can’t see clearly where I am going. And in that case, it’s useful to have someone you trust walking with you and showing you the edges of the road.

By the way, do you know there are 51 different names for the fog?

One Apple A Day #686 – am I productive?

“Productivity describes various measures of the efficiency of production. Often, a productivity measure is expressed as the ratio of an aggregate output to a single input or an aggregate input used in a production process, i.e. output per unit of input, typically over a specific period of time.” from Wikipedia.

I confess; I’ve always struggled with productivity. This word is the source of many bad days and a fair share of disappointment. There are days in which I get to the end of them, and I struggle to recollect where the time went. Those for sure are not productive days. Yet, often they are the source of some good ideas or learnings.

Days in which I do a lot of things but the one I wanted to do. So, I’m not sure if I should consider them productive days or not.

Days in which I don’t do much, but what I do feels so meaningful and rewarding.

So, every now and then, when I fill unproductive, I find myself asking questions such as “How do I measure my productivity? Do I need to measure it at all? What does it mean to be productive for me?

According to Wikipedia, production is a process of combining various material and immaterial inputs to make something which has value and contributes to the utility of individuals.

So, my understanding is that production is about impact. Still, how do I measure productivity?

Yes, this is how this post ends. Without any answers because I have none. Indeed, if I measure my productivity based on the number of answers I produce over a day, the figures are quite poor. 

Should I measure the questions I make?

If you have suggestions, or even better, some healthy questions, I’m all ears.

One Apple A Day #685 – the creative rhythm

I was sitting here, trying to find something to write about, an idea around which I could create a good post.
As you can imagine, no idea was coming forward.
And then I realised that I was falling trap of the outcome; I wanted so much to create something good that I forgot the whole purpose of this practice; becoming an author.

This morning I picked a Be The Change card, my first after a few weeks. The card says “dare to let go of control”. When we start a creative process, as this small writing practice of mine, the desire to control the outcome can get in the way. It narrows our sight, and we become blind to all the opportunities that surround us. And while I write this, I’m aware that this kind of laser focus on something, is also a powerful skill. It’s the secret of many great performers.
We need both approaches, the divergent one that opens us to the omens of the universe. And the convergent one that cuts out all distractions so we can hit the target. It’s very much like breathing; we need both inhaling and exhaling.

The secret then is to find the right creative rhythm. As our body does with breathing.
Feeling when it’s time to sense and listen, and when it’s time to focus and act.

One Apple A Day #684 – keep doing it

Today is one of my “blank days”. 

Some days I wake up, and I can feel that something is forming in my mind; the seed of a new daily apple. 

But then there are days where everything is blank in my mind. 

My energy is low at all levels; physical, mental and emotional.

Anytime it happens, I ask myself the same question.

What’s the point of writing if I have nothing to say?

Then I remember myself that this is, above all, a writing practice. It’s a morning ritual that helps me find my centre and my balance. Someone goes out for a run, someone takes a shower, someones what the news. I write. It’s a stretching exercise for the mind. 

The challenge is to share whatever comes up in these fifteen minutes of wandering between fragmented thoughts and sentences.

Sharing the outcome of my practice is part of the practice itself. 

It’s priming my mind to deliver.

And it also reminds me that every day it’s a new opportunity to do my best, to share my gifts with the world. If today the output it’s not the top, I know tomorrow I’ll have a new opportunity to do better. To be better.

One Apple A Day #683 – you need a map

“The point of planning isn’t to know exactly what to do. The point of planning is to delude yourself into thinking you know what you’re doing just long enough for you to actually get off your ass and do something.” — from a tweet by Mark Manson

In my experience, we are not scared of change. Most people don’t mind change, actually. What we are scared is the uncertainty that often comes with change. Not knowing what is waiting for us on the other side of change can be frightening. The human brain is a prediction machine, always assessing what’s going on around us to predict what will happen next. So, we don’t mind change. On the contrary, we may even welcome it. As long as we know where we are going. 

For most of us, probable is better than possible.

Unfortunately, when we are trapped in this prediction game, we are unable to take the leaps forward that can really transform our lives and create abundance. 

One of our strength, the ability to predict the future, becomes a limiting factor.

Yet, there is a way in which we can leverage our predictive mind so we can embrace change, even disruptive ones. We can plan or map out the way forward, enough to find the confidence to take the first step. You see, having a map is not a guarantee that we will get where we want. In the same way, having a plan doesn’t mean you’ll get what you want. But they both trick our mind into knowing what’s happening. Having a map, plan or strategy can silence fear for a while so we can find the confidence to begin.

One Apple A Day #682 – the wise cat

In the last few years, we moved many times. Different homes, cities and sometimes countries. Our beloved cat has always moved with us. Anytime we moved into a new place, he has to change all his habits and learn to move within a different environment. He had no choice. 

The other day I was observing him moving around while I was going through my morning routine. It’s impressive to watch how it looks like he has always been here, not just for a few months.

Looking back at the process he goes through any time we move into a new place, something that for him means disrupting his whole environment, I notice a few recurring phases.

  1. Accept. Felix has no words on the choice to move into a new place. He usually complains when we help him into the transporting bag, but once we are at the destination, that’s it. No more complaining, he just accepts his new reality.
  2. Assess. The first days he goes around assessing the new reality. He explores the room, discovers hiding places and advantage points of observation. He quickly becomes fully aware of where he is and how he can get the best out of the new environment.
  3. Adapt. Then he changes his habits to the new environment. He makes the new place his own place. He fully embraces his new reality so he can focus on the things that make him feel good.

He looks definitely happy, so I feel I can learn something from wise Felix.

One Apple A Day #681 – so small, so important

I’m staring at the mess on my desk, wondering when it did happen.
It was all tidy and organised a few days ago.
I remember removing all the clutter, throwing away old bills, placing everything where it is supposed to be.
And now I can barely find the book I’m reading.
How did it happen?
I know it’s all my doing even if it would be easier to blame someone else. Maybe the cat, walking over my desk during the night throwing things around.
But it’s me.
I clearly remember how happy I was when I tidied up my work corner. The pleasure of sitting at my neat desk made me feel professional, and it spark order also in my mind.
And now this.
As much I’d like to say it happened overnight, it didn’t. Today’s mess is the result of many small, almost insignificant actions.
The first days after I clear up my working corner, I’m able to take care of the space and preserve the tidiness. Then, one day I do a small thing like leaving a pen out of place. It is so tiny that it goes almost unnoticed. Yet, it breaks the spell and, one little action after the other, I wake up one day and find the mess.
I think that the lesson here is that it’s easy to pay attention to the big things in life, but too often it’s the little ones that we barely notice that make the mess.

One Apple A Day #680 – turn on the love

When the room is dark, I usually turn on the light so I can see. 

Such an obvious thing to do.

I would say it’s common sense.

Unfortunately, as Steven Covey said; “what is common sense is not always common practice.

Yesterday, I was exploring fears with a group of inspiring people.

And I realised that when it comes to fear, more often than not, I try to push through the darkness instead of turning on the light.

I put all my focus on the fear I want to overcome, trying to get stronger and better. Like when I wake up before dawn and, to avoid disturbing my partner, I try to get out in a pitch-black room only to hit something in the darkness and wake her up. 

If pushing through darkness may have a sense when I’m sneaking out very early, I feel it doesn’t when it comes to fear.

It’s like the target fixation effect I know very well being a motorcyclist. Not only we go in the direction of our gave, but what we put our attention on, expands. I’ve learned it through experience. If I’m riding and I see a pothole on the road, I must move my gaze on the way around it as soon as possible. Because if I keep staring at it, I’m going to hit it.

If it’s dark, turn on the light.

In the case of fear, the light is love. 

Yesterday, I put my fears aside, and I shifted my focus on how I can bring more love into what I do. So I can cast my fears away.