According to the Global Challenges Foundation – a foundation that works with researchers to explore threats to humanity -, the next 50 years will set the pace for humanity’s survival in the next 10,000 years.
Climate change, mass migrations, artificial intelligence, political instability, deforestation. The list can go on and on.
The challenges ahead of humanity are greater than ever, and it’s easy to feel small and powerless.
What can we do?
What can I do?
When I caught myself in these thoughts, I always go back to this sentence from “Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler“, a beautiful book by Paul Lindley.
“While a toddler’s world might be geographically tiny, it is mentally limitless; conversely, when we grow up, we have the potential freedom to explore everything around us, but will often limit ourselves to the same narrow range of places, people and experiences.”
From toddlers, we can learn to be creative with what we have. But there is something more than that. They face every challenge with an open mind because they haven’t been conditioned yet. When we want to find a solution to a problem we approach it with the same mindset that creates that challenge in the first place. Our mindset comes with us, and it limits us our possibilities.
I believe that I can do something about the significant challenges we face as humanity.
But it all starts by expanding my awareness.
“The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do.” by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (a 19 years old activist)
This morning when I wrote the date in my journal’s entry, I suddenly realised that one-third of this year is gone.
Time is a tricky thing. One hour can feel endless while months just flow away in the blink of an eye. Probably this is why I always add too many goals to my daily plan.
“Men historically have tended to overestimate achievements in the short run and to underestimate what can be achieved in the long run.”
This statement was said by Alfred Mayo, an aerospace consultant for the NASA, in a 1969 interview to a newspaper for an article about humanity’s future activities in space.
I have this tendency. When I sit down to plan the months ahead, I try to squeeze in as much as I can. It makes me feel productive to look at a plan packed with clear goals and tasks.
Until one morning I realise that one-third of the year is gone, a good chunk of that plan is untouched or forgotten while a lot of unplanned things had happened and some unexpected results have been achieved.
Does this mean that planning is useless?
Not at all.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
Planning is vital to define your direction and, most of all, to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. To choose what you will need to get where you want; people, skills, tools, structures and so on.
And some times, it is a good idea to stop to check your journey against your plan. Are you getting closer to your goal? Do you need to adjust something? Maybe you need to review the destination. What have you learned so far that you can use to move forward?
The International Workers’ Day seems a good opportunity for a journey’s review.
“If you’re part of the system you want to change, you’re part of the problem.” — Dave Gray
Gray is mainly talking about organisations, but I believe it can also be applied to your life.
When the system you want to change is your life, personal or professional, you’re not only part of it, you are it.
So, it’s even harder to see the solution because we are fully wrapped in the problem.
Many of my coaching clients begin their journey saying that what they need is clarity. The feel that they need a change, but they are unable to see what that change is and where they want to go.
Most of the time, once they can see the problem, the solution emerges naturally.
To be able to see the problem, you need to step out of it and find a new perspective. One that allows you to see your situation from the outside.
Working with a coach is like having someone holding an honest mirror before you so you can look at yourself from different angles.
If you can’t get a coach right now, then you can try to walk out of your bubble.
Take a walk in nature.
Change your scenario, disconnect from your network for some time.
Not to find the answers, but to tune in to yourself.
When you go back to your life, you will have new eyes.
“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” — Marcel Proust
Sometimes I catch myself stuck in the “outcome” mindset.
The typical sign is the feeling that I’m pushing hard, but I’m going nowhere.
It is like trying to walk while keeping the gaze locked on the destination. As a result, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me and where I put my feet. I begin stumbling even on small obstacles, and I lose the joy of walking. It’s all about getting there.
Ironically, I’m not getting where I want.
It looks like my destination moves with me.
In those moments, frustration kicks in.
In the past, I’ve quit some projects due to this attitude.
Over the years I’ve learned that when I catch myself in that place, I have to shift my focus. I must redirect my gaze from the final outcome to my next step. Once the direction is set, I focus only on the next thing to do.
Even better. I design a new habit. Something I can do every day knowing that if I am consistent, it will take where I want to go.
Lately, I’ve been feeling that sense of frustration with some of the projects I’m working on. Today’s card reminded me that I need to stop thinking about the outcome and focus on “how do I show up every day“.
“Hence, in order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.” – Herbert Simon, 1983, Reason in Human Affairs
Every decision, even the one that we perceive as very rational, is an emotional decision. Neurologists have discovered that people with damages to the emotional centres of the brain that impaired their emotions and feelings, lose the ability to make decisions and act even if they can list many reasons to do it.
Logic can help us find the reasons to act, but it’s our emotions that compel us to take action.
“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” – Antonio Damasio
Emotions and feelings transform what we experience into things we want to cultivate or avoid in the future. Anytime we perceive a cue, emotions tell us what the action or decision that will make us feel good is.
“You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.” — James Clear
I often got trapped in endless thinking trying to understand what the right decision is. I created spreadsheets, tables and complicated systems. All in the hope of making a rational choice. And it helps. Don’t get me wrong, the reasoning is essential in decision making. But it’s only when I take care of my emotions that I really move forward.
Abraham Wald was a Hungarian mathematician who lived in the first half of the last century. His main field was statistical analysis but, being a Jew, he never really had the chance to fully apply his skills in Austria, where he graduated, due to Nazis invasion. In 1938 Wald escaped to the states where he was invited to work at the Columbia University. Thanks to his skills he became a member of the Statistical Research Group (SRG). The SRG was a group of scientists and mathematicians dedicated to solving various wartime problems.
Wald was involved in a famous story that is widely used to explain the Survivor Bias. I read this story many times, but only yesterday I learned his name.
These are the words of W. Allen Wallis, another member of the SRG; “The military was inclined to provide protection for those parts that on returning planes showed the most hits. Wald assumed, on good evidence, that hits in combat were uniformly distributed over the planes. It follows that hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to be found on returning planes than hits on the less vulnerable parts, since planes receiving hits on the more vulnerable parts were less likely to return to provide data. From these premises, he devised methods for estimating vulnerability of various parts.”
This story explains perfectly the Survivor Bias. Because we have plenty of information on the survivors from a challenge while we have no info about all the others that didn’t survive (the planes that didn’t come back), we tend to model our behaviours only on the winner (survivors) missing valuable information.
I wrote about Wald this morning because, in the period where superheroes bring billions of people to the cinema, I love the story of a hero whose superpowers are very human: numbers, logic and intuition.
The second reason is that the tale as it is usually told doesn’t give full justice to the scientific work behind it.
“I agree with Schopenhauer that one of the most powerful motives that attract people to science and art is the longing to escape from everyday life.” — A. Einstein
I’d be curious to understand how “everyday life” was for Schopenhauer or Einstein. But I can relate to their point. We all go through many moments and situations that we don’t like. When it looks like things are conjuring against us and the only thing we’d like to do is to escape from our present reality.
We may decide to escape backwards or hide from reality, losing ourselves in mindless entertainment or using substances to disconnect from reality. Unfortunately, this route only brings temporary pleasure as it doesn’t really change anything.
As Schopenhauer and Einstein suggested, we can choose to escape forward by creating a new reality through art and science, learning and growing. The good news for me is that we don’t need to do what Einstein or Schopenhauer did to change reality.
We just need to focus on our own craft because when we change, our reality change.
“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin
At a conference about sustainable development, climate change and human rights that I attended a few weeks ago, one idea was shared in different forms by many speakers.
One said that “all wars start in our head“, another that “borders exist only in the human mind” and someone else said, “without peace at the individual level there can’t be peace in the world“.
It all starts within you.
Every change, every transformation.
The world that you want begins within you.
This unique superpower exists within you.
I’m writing this as a note to myself too.
Sometimes I got heated thinking and debating about things I’d like to change in the world, in my community, in others.
And I forget about the one thing I can always do; I can change myself.
It was almost the end of the day when we finally cross the Chilean border. The sun’s light was already fading from white to gold.
We thought, like with the previous borders that we crossed, that the Argentinian checkpoint was a few minutes away, just behind the turn.
We were wrong.
We drove for a good 15 minutes that looked like an eternity before we found the first sign of the border to enter Argentina.
Fifteen minutes in no man’s land.
It’s a powerful feeling to know that you are in space between spaces.
In our lives, every space is owned by someone, or it is dedicated to something. The threshold between spaces is so thin that you can’t really stand on it and take a pause.
We exit something to enter something else.
We finish something only to immediately start something new.
But that day, we’ve been in no country for a while.
A space that doesn’t exist and yet it is so real.
And now I realise that it was also the sunset; that space in-between the day and the night.
There is magic in no man’s land.
Next time that you are crossing a threshold take a pause and breathe in the energy of the space in-between.
I wrote a very thoughtful piece about health, performance, goals and systems. I included two brilliant quotes from the book I’m reading. And then, when I got almost at the end of my 15 minutes writing slot, I realised that it didn’t feel authentic at all.
Yep, a good exercise, some cool words but my soul was not there.
So, I threw everything away.
Now I have only a few minutes to finish my daily apple.
And I may not be able to write anything significant.
Years ago I was visiting a vineyard in the North of Italy. The owner told me that the year before, he had to throw away all the wine made from a particular type of grape. It was not good enough. He could have sold it, but that would be shortsighted. He wanted to be a great winemaker not to sell a lot of wine.
I’m far from being as courageous as that man, but I’m doing this daily practice not to increase the number of posts but to become better at writing. To do that my words must feel authentic to me.
Ah, and in the end, I have also found a fitting quote.
“Having lower standards for something is bad for your soul.” — Ed Catmull