Push or Pull

How’s your willpower?

Is it healthy and mighty?

If it is, I’m very happy for you.

Mine has always been weak.

I was the kind of kid whose parents are told by teachers that “he is smart, but he doesn’t work hard enough”.

I still remember the guilt for not having enough will to do more, to do better.

Add to this that my father was a strong-will man. When he wanted something, he always made it happen.

I was not like him.

First of all, because I never knew what I wanted with enough clarity. And second, because even when I thought I knew what I wanted, I lacked the willpower to do the work to get it.

I was lazy, and I felt weak and wrong.

Though, results were telling a different story.

Growing up, my results at school were above average, sometimes even excellent. As soon as I graduated, I found a good job that started a successful career by all measures.

I’m delighted with the life I had.

Delighted but not as much proud.

Because of my lack of willpower, I always thought I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

It wasn’t my doing. I was just a lazy lucky guy.

A few weeks ago I decided it was time to dig deep into this with my coach.

We took a look back at all my previous successes. Analysing the reasons that made me succeed I realised that there were always some external elements determining my results; a supporting team or partner, the right location, an accountability structure and so on.

So, apparently, I was right; I was not the master behind my achievements.

I have to thank the circumstances.

Then one of those revealing questions emerged; “Who or what created those external elements?”

That was indeed an AHA moment.

Because it was me.

I choose to work in that company, with that team. I decided to move to that place. I created that space in my house. I developed that accountability structure.

It was my doing. So maybe I did more than I thought.

Here’s what I’ve learned from this inquiry into my lack of willpower.

Push vs Pull

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

I know people who push through things to get what they want. Their commitment, resilience and grit are admirable. No matter the obstacles they find on their path, they keep pushing.

And the more they push, the more they are energised and motivated. It is as if their willpower is fueled by the resistance they encounter. My father was one of them.

I am not like that.

My willpower runs out as soon as I start whatever I want. So, when I try to push myself into doing something, most of the time I fail. And, believe me, I can be very good at finding excuses and procrastinate.

In the past, I used to push myself even when the results were not coming. I thought it was the only way to do something and own the achievement. But that attitude led only to failure, shame and guilt.

No, pushing doesn’t fuel my willpower.

I am a pull type of person.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

I am like water.

You can try to push the water towards something, but most likely it won’t work. In particular, if the direction is upward.

Instead, if you create an empty space before the water, it will flow into it, naturally.

I need to be in an environment that pulls me in the direction of what I want to achieve.

I need to be pulled into the results. Like water.

Master the Environment.

“The addict only needs to change one thing… their whole damn life.” — Ben Hill, PhD

To make it very simple, you can think of your environment as the sum of everything existing outside of your head. The physical space in which you live and work, the people and relationships, the tools you use, the clothes you wear, the car you drive, the routines you have, everything outside your mind contributes to your environment.

If you also are a pull type of person, the first step is to accept that the environment is more powerful than your willpower. Like water, you will always adapt to the situations you are living and working in.

The key is to transform this apparent weakness in strength.

If your environment controls you, then use your willpower only to steer the environment in your favour. Then you can save your willpower for other tasks and let the environment pull you towards your goals.

I know, the amount of things you can control or influence in your life, is limited. But the good news is that most of the time, you don’t have to do much. Just some little tweaks to turn your environment in your favour.

Last week I experienced the power of a small change in my environment.

Lately, I found myself wasting too much time on youtube. It’s like an addiction, a single video to relax my mind easily slip into a series of meaningless videos that eat big chunks of my time and undermine my focus.

The problem is that the computer is my primary working tool. I cannot just stay away from youtube.

The solution was simpler than I thought.

One day I went to work in my usual café, and when I got there, I realised that I had forgotten my earplugs.

Without them, I couldn’t watch any video in a public space without disturbing all the clients. So, no youtube that day and I ended up writing for three hours without distractions.

If you are a pull type of person, you should learn to master your environment.

And the great thing about shaping the environment is that you need to do it only once. At the very beginning, when your willpower is still strong enough. And then let the environment you just shaped pull you towards your goal.

If you are struggling to push through the things you want to do, you may be a pull type of person. So, stop pushing so hard for a moment and check your environment.

Are the people around you supporting your goal? Is your space helping you to focus or is it a source of distractions? Do you have an accountability partner or structure?

The key to a better you may be just around you.

This is not the end, this is just the beginning.

“What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.” ― Henry D. Thoreau

As the people close to me know very well, I am not very good at celebrating my achievements.

I’ve always been like that.

Maybe I’m just restless.

When I arrive somewhere, my mind immediately starts to think about the next destination. The moment I have completed something, I am already projecting myself towards what comes next.

Not a big issue, I know. But it’s annoying.

In particular, because rewards are effective ways to motivate ourselves to achieve a goal. Because I don’t find rewards and celebrations particularly attractive, I can’t play this card to drive me to take action.

Luckily for me, my coaches helped me in exploring this topic, understanding what drives me and defining alternative ways to pull myself into action. As Thoreau beautifully says in the opening quote, my growth and transformation are my sources of motivation.

Though, this feeling of missing out is still present.

The story of this post is an excellent example of my complicated relationship with celebrations.

On the 31st of July, I completed my Coach Training and I got my Certification from ICA.

It’s the result of thirteen months of study, work and sacrifices.

I thought the occasion deserved a celebration and a post of its own.

9 days later, I couldn’t remember how many times I had written, deleted and rewritten it. I couldn’t understand what I really wanted to share.

The why behind these words.

Do I want to celebrate the achievement? Do I want to let the world know what I’ve been doing for the past year? Is it just a way to rub my ego? Is it a way to legitimate the sacrifices that I (and my partner and my family) have been through over the past year?

With this questions running through my head, I kept rewriting.

What’s wrong with celebrating an achievement? Why is it so complicated for me to write about it?

The answer revealed itself today. And as it often happens, it came out of the blue when I wasn’t looking for it.

This morning a lovely friend sent me a picture of a sunrise.

And I thought about my love for the dawn.

That fleeting moment of transition when the night is not entirely gone and the day is just a promise.

I remembered how much I love to stay in the in-between space. How much I love airports and stations.

I remembered my fascination when I read about the Bardo, the liminal state between death and rebirth.

The answer was there all along, but I couldn’t see it.

I don’t enjoy celebrations because they are only about the end.

What gives me pleasure is the liminal moment between the end of a journey and the beginning of the next one.

That’s why I crave a new beginning. So I can savour the feeling of breathing between the old and the new.
And the awareness that those moments are ephemeral makes them even more rewarding.

Finally, I found the why for this post.

It’s not the celebration of my achievement. It is me sharing the pleasure of being in this liminal space.

My journey as a student coming to an end and a new adventure unfolding in front of me.

Direction; unknown.

Post scriptum.

“if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

One of the rituals I do every morning is to welcome the new day expressing gratitude. And it is with gratitude that I want to embrace this new adventure before me.

I wouldn’t get so far in this journey, as a person and as a coach, without the support of an extraordinary team of people.

The fantastic ICA teachers and students from everywhere in the world, the unique energy of the Italian chapter, my gorgeous peer-clients and my precious peer-coaches, my supporting friends, my loving family, my late father and his lifelong example of integrity, Sujith and the extraordinary people of Being At Full Potential. Rossella whose relentless guidance, energy, optimism and trust is a constant inspiration for me. Lorena who believes in me more than I do and inspires me every day to be the best version of myself.

This is not the end, this is just the beginning.

Can we learn to make better decisions?

Maybe it’s because I have quite an experience in making bad decisions. Or perhaps I was just fascinated by the job title; Chief Decision Officer. Whatever the case, among the many articles that crowded my social streams, this onegot my attention.

Each day we make countless decisions.

Some of them are conscious such as what you want to eat, with whom you want to talk, where do you want for dinner and so on.

Most of them are unconscious, or so automatic that it’s hard to call them choices; like braking when you’re approaching a cross.

Most of the time, they have no visible consequences, a few times they may be life or death choices.

Conscious or unconscious, being able to make choices is a vital function of a human being.

Now you can understand my curiosity when I read that Google defined a new discipline to help humans make decisions.

To achieve that, Google combined data science with psychology, neuroscience, economics, and managerial science to enable individual humans, groups of humans, and machines to make wise decisions.

Fascinating.

Though, two questions arise in my head after I finished the article.

What is better?

The goal of the “chief decision officer” is to help people to make better decisions, but what makes one choice better than another? Is it the direct outcome? Or how it makes me feel? Or something else?

Take the example of choosing a hotel for a holiday. I may pick a hotel that is entirely bad (for my taste) but in which I meet the love of my life. Would you say that I made the wrong decision?

So, If you are asking yourself; “Am I making the right decision?” let me answer by sharing with you this little old Indian story.

Once upon the time, there was an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbours came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically.

“Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbours exclaimed.

“Maybe,” replied the old man.

The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbours again came to offer their sympathy for his misfortune.

“Maybe,” answered the farmer.

The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbours congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Before asking yourself how to make better decisions, you should probably find clarity about what better means to you.

Better and wiser are subjective terms, while we are talking about an objective decision process. And this distinction leads me to the second point.

Can it be engineered?

From the article, it seems that better decisions are the result of an engineered process.

Something we can study, model and improve.

But what about intuition?

What would you do if the Decision Intelligence Process tells you to choose something while your guts tell you something different?

Who would you listen to?

Dave Gray wrote that “Reason does not get people to act. Emotion is what causes people to act”.

If we follow a well-engineered process, is there the risk of making a wiser decision on which we won’t act because we are not emotionally attached?

Chief Awareness Officer

I believe that science can highly contribute to our ability to make decisions.

But as I see it, the opportunity is not in making better, wiser decisions through a refined process. Instead, it’s more in helping people to rise in awareness.

From a higher level of consciousness, they will be able to see possibilities beyond data, to detach from the outcomes, to make choices that align their physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual layers and, to lean into the unknown allowing the decision to emerge.

So, what about a new job title; the Chief Awareness Officer?

You can’t blow out a fire

“You can blow out a candle
But you can’t blow out a fire
Once the flames begin to catch
The wind will blow it higher”
— from Biko by Peter Gabriel

Through the course of our lives, we occasionally experience moments that light up a candle in our hearts.

It can be a journey, a retreat, a book, a random encounter, a moment with friends, a walk in nature, a concert, a speech, a workshop or something else.

Once that candle is lit, its flame allows us to see the extraordinary beauty that we hold inside.

Sometimes we share that moment with others, and the combined light from all the candles gives us an opportunity to see more.

More of our beauty and more of others’ beauty.

To lit a candle we need at least three elements.

First of all, we need the candle, obviously.
As human beings, the candle is our potential to shine.
A potential that, like a candle, won’t shed any light if we don’t light it up.

Then we need a spark to kindle the flame.
Sparks are everywhere around us, and they can take any form; people, places, words, images, silence, animals, elements of nature, objects.
Anything can become the spark we need in order to light our candle.

Then, there is the final element.
A vital one that is often overlooked.

Space.

Like all living beings, a flame needs to breathe.
We can’t lit a candle without oxygen.
To ignite the flame, we must create the space for the wick to burn.

It is amazing what happens when we create and hold a safe space for others.
They open up, surrendering to the space, and they kindle the candles within allowing their inner light to radiate.

When the space is created and nurtured by a sacred circle of people, the light becomes brighter.
It makes everyone shine.

And it is in that moment when we allow ourselves to shine that our fears show up.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” — Marianne Williamson

The flame of a candle is feeble.
A small breeze can kill it and bring us back to darkness.

So, we want to protect it.

Protect it from our limiting beliefs, the naysayers, the struggle of our daily lives, the small difficulties we encounter every day. We start worrying that someone may want to blow out our candle, for fear of the greatness they may discover if they lit their own.

To protect our burning candle, we hide it inside.

Someplace where nobody and nothing can blow it out and take that light from us.

Until, without air and space that same flame we want to protect, slowly dies.

But here is the good news.

You may blow out a candle. But you can’t blow out a fire.

Once the flames have started then the wind will only blow it, higher and higher.

Before a fire nobody can hide, they will all feel the warm power of liberating their inner light.

Anytime someone or something light up a candle in our heart, instead of thinking about how to protect it, we should ask ourselves a much more powerful question.

How can I use my candle’s flame to start a fire?

Photo by Joris Voeten on Unsplash

When Innovation hides in the small things

A lesson about innovation by a pirate who never existed

One of my favourites childhood heroes was Sandokan, the Tiger of Malaysia, a fictional pirate created by the Italian writer Emilio Salgari in 1883. The character became very popular at the end of the seventies thanks to two TV miniseries on the national TV. I cherish those evenings with my father in the early eighties, watching together Sandokan’s adventures in exotic islands.

In particular, there is a scene in the movie that I can’t forget. It’s part of the of the second series titled “The Tiger Is Still Alive: Sandokan to the Rescue”.

At the end of the first series, Sandokan was forced to flee from his island, Mompracem, after being defeated and having his wife killed. In the second series Jamilah, a young rebel fighting to free Mompracem travels to India to convince Sandokan to get out of his solitary exile and help the rebels in their fight for freedom. When she finally convinces him, they begin a perilous journey back to Mompracem.

When they are almost at their destination, they pass near a small village. One of the villagers runs desperate towards them and begs for their help. The sultan’s soldiers are robbing them of their harvest, beating and killing everyone who tries to resist.

Sandokan wants to help them while Jamilah is impatient to join the rebels to fight against the tyrant.

The dialogue between them is short but incredibly powerful. I still remember every word of it [the translation from Italian is mine].

[Jamilah]: Sandokan, at this time in every part of the world, soldiers are taking the harvest away from peasants. And even you can do nothing about it.

[Sandokan]: “I know, but I am here, now. And maybe I can do something; I believe that by avoiding the small and close things we end up never achieving those that are big and far.”

We all love big audacious goals and moonshot thinking.

On Youtube there are plenty of videos inviting you to think bigger, to have a high impact.

And it’s great to think big.

To aim high.

As long as it doesn’t make us blind to what’s close to us, and it doesn’t become an excuse to avoid taking action.

Quite a paradox. The shiny light of a big goal may stop us from seeing the small, sometimes tedious, things that compound to achieve that same big goal we are aiming for.

The risk is to achieve neither the big nor the small results.

This is particularly true when we talk about innovation.

Experts favour notable examples, the ones with a substantial transformative impact when they explain how individuals and organisations can become more innovative.

The reason is evident, those examples are the most visible, they are usually well known, and they work well in motivating everyone to aim high.

On the other side though, someone may feel excluded from the game of innovation.

What’s the point in playing at all if I can’t change the world?

As both Tarde and Schumpeter wrote decades ago, innovation is defined by the novelty criteria, not by the size of it.

Just take a look at the origin of the word innovation“mid-15c., “restoration, renewal,” from Late Latin innovationem (nominative innovatio), noun of action from past participle stem of innovare “to change; to renew”. Meaning “a novel change, experimental variation, new thing introduced in an established arrangement” is from 1540s.”

No mention of the size of the change in the original meaning.

But also in a recent, and one of my favourites, definition of innovation by Scott Anthony, “Innovation is something different that has impact”, there are no references to the size of the impact.

What emerges from these definitions, is that a minor innovation is just as important (or maybe even more) as a radical innovation.

Innovation can manifest at the most modest of levels. It can be even unnoticeable when it appears, though the impact may be huge in the long terms.

So, what happened?

Why are we so focused on the big innovations that we overlook the small ones?

Gabriel Tarde gave us the answer over 100 years ago, in his “Les lois sociales”. He explained that we speak too much “of great men when in fact we should be speaking of great ideas, which often come from very small men, or even of small ideas, of the tiny innovations each of us contributes to the common enterprise”.

We love innovation heroes.

Those individuals and organisations that spectacularly change the world.

But what about your world?

Your life?

You?

Do you think you can do nothing and wait for some great innovators to make your world better?

What I learned from Sandokan is never to underestimate the power of a small act.

Innovation is a mindset.

There are infinite opportunities to innovate everywhere around you. They may be tiny, hard to see. But they can start a ripple effect that will innovate your world.

If you’re not ready to innovate the small things close to you, you may never create the big and far impact that you dream about.

 

Originally published on medium.