One Apple A Day #419 – Thriving in complexity

The world has become a complicated place to live and work.
Business experts call it the VUCA world.

“Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.”

Hasn’t it always been like that? I mean, with our knowledge we can look back to a few centuries ago and say that life was much easier. But how was living for the people at that time? With their knowledge and understanding of the world?
My point is that, no matter how far we expand our knowledge and understanding, our boundaries extend with us. And the universe outside, the space of the not known, will always look volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The other evening, I was talking to a small crowd about leadership, and this question emerged.

If the world will always be complex and uncertain, how do we thrive in this complexity?

Immediately another question popped up in my mind.

Who do we know that thrive in complexity and uncertainty?

I smiled because the answer looked so obvious at that moment.
Children. To them, this world made of and by adults must look so volatile, complex, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. With their short and unstable feet, their small hands, their limited language everything must seem so complicated.

Yet, they thrive.

What can we learn from a growing toddler?

One Apple A Day #418 – From WHY to WHO

What if your ultimate purpose is to fully realise and express who you are?

The quest for purpose or “why” is becoming more and more relevant for both individual and organisations. I witnessed groups dedicating long brainstorming to define their purpose, their cause. I have friends who felt lost because they don’t have a higher cause or a reason to which they can dedicate their lives.

We are constantly reminded about great leaders with a compelling vision and a clear purpose that fits in a t-shirt or an Instagram post.
You probably feel that you too should have a higher cause and are investing time and resources to find your “why”.

I hear you. I’ve been there.

The quest for purpose is a tricky one. It can quickly transform into feel-good research. Without even noticing, you shift from “what is my purpose?” to “what is a purpose that would make me feel one of the good ones?”.

Nothing wrong in being one of the good ones but if your purpose is not aligned with who you are, it won’t bring in your life the bliss you’re looking for.

So, what if you decide that your purpose is just to fully become who you are meant to be? The quest then becomes “who am I?”. A personal one. One that is not about feeling good but being real.

And in this quest for your “Who”, you may also find your “why”.

One Apple A Day #417 – Identity and Behaviours

This post is inspired by this short and fascinating article.

In the last months, I’ve been searching a lot about goals vs habits, and behaviours vs identity.
I started this quest because I struggle with goals. I tried many strategies, methodologies, tools without cracking the code of this limit.

Until I started focusing on habits instead of goals. Creating patterns is definitely more in tune with how I operate, and it helped me improve in many aspects of my life. Still, sticking to some habits has been and still is harder than others.

The next shift in my quest was realising that only when my habits are in synch with who I am, I can be more consistent and create significant results.

These are my learnings so far.

Your identity informs your behaviours.

The starting point is the WHO, not the WHAT or the HOW. Once you have clarity about who you are (“I am a writer”), then you can design your goals or habits (depending on what works better with you) as a way to become more of who you are (“I am a writer because I write every day”).

Unfortunately, at least for me, this is not enough to really create an impact in my life.

Your behaviours shape or reinforce your identity.

To know what to do is not the same as doing what you know. Once you have clarity about who you are and you have designed your goals or habits, you need to infuse discipline in your practice.
That means creating the structure that will support your newly designed behaviours. Over time these identity-based behaviours will shape and reinforce your identity, that in turn will infuse more energy in your behaviours creating a positive growing loop.

One Apple A Day #416 – Purpose, Connection

There is something no one can give me or teach me.
My purpose.
Yes, there a lot of beautiful visions out there I could embrace.
There are charismatic people I could follow.

But my purpose is something unique.
Something I need to feel before I know it.
It’s not easy, not for me at least.

My rational mind wants to find a logic in my purpose, a connection to reality so I can transform it into actions.
And my emotional mind seeks gratification and a sense of belonging in that same purpose. So, I keep exploring connections with other people purposes.

All this effort can get in the way.
It can clog my life with doing.
Seeking connections with reality and others, I weaken the relationship with myself.

So, I have to pause and take a deep breath.
Only when I am in connection with myself, I can feel my purpose.

One Apple A Day #415: The paradox of empowerment

To empower means to give (someone) the authority or power to do something. Or, more broadly, to make (someone) stronger and more confident, especially in controlling their life and claiming their rights.

Being able to empower others is often listed among the pillars of an effective leader.

When we empower someone we are giving the same power we have. An empowered person gains control over her work or life.
In organisations, empowering everyone is a crucial ingredient to create a democratic and flat organisation. One in which, everyone raises to the same level creating co-leadership.

Though, there is a fascinating paradox in empowerment.

When we, as leaders, are empowering others, somehow we are elevating ourselves one layer above them. They may have now the power to do something, but we are the ones who gave them the power. So, we are still above them, and they have less power than we have.
Isn’t that through the empowerment of others we are in reality reinforcing our own power?

What would change if instead of empowering others we create the space in which they can awaken their inner power by themselves?

One Apple A Day #414

Have you ever heard of a product called VantaBlack?
It’s a paint developed in the United Kingdom, and it is one of the darkest substances known. It can absorb up to 99.6% of the light.
If you search for it on youtube, you’ll find a video in which the creators show a mask painted with this material.
If you look at the object from the front, you just see a flat black surface, like a hole in the space. The mask has no shape, no depth, no form. Only when the camera moves to the side, you can see that the object is not flat.
This is because our eyes use lights and shadows to understand the shape of things.

That video reminds me of the importance of having different perspectives. Sometimes, we get stuck into one view, and we become blind to the richness of what we are looking at.
People, situations, problems.
To be able to perceive their depth and their substance, we need to embrace different perspectives.
We can shift the lights or move to a new point of view.
Only seeking multiple perspectives, we can see the wholeness in everything and everyone.

One Apple A Day #413

Energy flows where attention goes.

You probably read this quote in many books and articles.
If you ever rode a motorbike, you undoubtedly experienced how the bike follows your gaze. If you look at the obstacle, you will hit it.
If you watch a professional motorsport race, you will notice how the riders and drivers are always looking where they want to go and not where they are going.

So, where are you putting your attention?

More and more I see on social media people complaining against obscure big enemies or crying about big humanity problems about which there is nothing they can do.
As a result, their energy goes consumed by rage or wasted in words without actions.

What would happen if every person put all the attention in something maybe smaller but doable? That energy would create an impact, albeit small, that will make a difference.
And you know, even the biggest ocean is made of drops of water.

One Apple A Day #412

This is fascinating.
I picked a BeTheChange card this morning.
One that says “Being Creative by BEING who you are”.
This card is an invitation to explore my bigger me.
It challenges me to think about when I’m most of who I am.

I started writing about the quest for who we are.
But words weren’t flowing.
I wrote and rewrote each sentence.

Until I realised that I wasn’t me.
Sometimes, the search for something can take us away for that same thing that we are looking for.
Like in this case.
In my desire to find the real me I was walking away from it.
My bigger who is not in the answer.
It lives and expresses itself in the question.

Change often, live longer

A few weeks ago, I was in the same room with my mother and my grandmother. Unfortunately, both widows.

I joked around the fact that in my family there are a few widows but no widowers. It looks like women in my family are better equipped for the senior years. And being a male this is not a promising statistic.

Out of curiosity, I checked the national statistics to understand if this is a phenomenon circumscribed to my family. Apparently, It is not. In Italy, the number of widows aged between 55 and 75 is almost five times bigger than the number of widowers.

Yep, one widower every five widows. If you are a married Italian man, I’m sorry mate, but numbers are all in favour of your wife

Women live longer. That’s a fact. I’m not an expert on the topic, and I’m sure Google is full of researches and studies providing reasonable explanations.

However, on the flight back home I didn’t have an internet connection, but I had a lot of time to think. I reviewed the lives of the widows in my family, and I noticed a recurring pattern.

In the course of their lives, they all had to change often.

Take my mum, a woman born in the mid-fifties. When she got married to my father, she was working in a factory. Then she had me, so she started working from home while taking care of her son. Later my sister arrived, we moved to a new house, she became a full-time housewife, she supported us through different schools, a third child came and so on. While we were growing, she had to keep growing with us. In the space of one life, she had to continuously change and adapt to the evolving circumstances of our family.

While she was going through all these changes, my father had been doing the same job day in and day out. Yes, he had to go through the same events, but his life didn’t change much when we arrived or when we move to a new house. He just kept going on with the same work, the same hobbies. Sure, being an entrepreneur, his work was more fickle than many others. Still, he didn’t have to adapt to the changing circumstances as much as my mum had to.

All the women in my family had to learn early in their life to be flexible, to adapt to the circumstances and to not be scared by changes.

At the same time, their men were bastions of stability.

They didn’t have to change much.

Then, their body got older, and they couldn’t do what they used to do anymore. Or they retired. Whatever the reason, at one point they had to change.

And often, while going through that change, they passed away.

I don’t want to come through as judgemental. These men were remarkable husbands and fathers. The grew up in villages that were recovering from an awful tragedy like the Second World War. Everything these men longed for was to create stability for their families. On top of that, a lot of them went from being farmers to become factory workers. Instead of dealing with the changeability of nature, they had to fit into the routine of a tedious job.

While their wives were continually changing and adapting, they were trapped in that same stability they had built. And when circumstances changed too much, they weren’t ready to adapt.

Even worst, they were probably too tired to try.

Everything changes and nothing stands still. — Heraclitus

According to biologists, large parts of our body cells are replaced by new ones every few days. Our red blood cells are completely replaced every four months. Some say that our all body is renewed every seven years.

If there is a constant in nature, that is change.

We are designed to relentlessly transform. So, to stay the same, we must exert a force against the natural flow of life.

A life spent resisting changes creates a constant subtle tension. One that we may not notice on an average day but that, on the long distance, will take a toll on us.

When inevitable changes come our way, we have no energy left neither to resist nor to adapt.

Just to make things clear, I have no data to back up my theories and no evidence except for personal experience. But, observing this pattern in my family made me think. It also gave me a new perspective to look at some events in my life.

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them-that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like. — Lao Tzu

I grew up fearing changes and new things.

For the first three decades of my life, I have avoided new experiences as much as I could. I kept eating the same stuff, listening to the same music, going out with the same people.

I was boringly predictable. And you know what? Family and friends loved me for that. I was a fixed point in their lives. At least this is what I thought at that time.

My ex-wife loved that side of me too. I was undoubtedly an immutable partner.

Too much with hindsight. During our years together, while she kept growing and changing, I kept being the same twenty-year-old-guy she had fallen in love with. Those different approaches to life created a growing distance between us.

When that distance became unbearable, a significant change was necessary. Unfortunately, I was stuck in my stability. I didn’t have the energy to change or to resist, and we fell apart.

It was painful. And liberating.

With nothing left to hold together, I found the strength to surrender to change and embrace the transformation.

In the years after, with the help of beautiful friends and masters, I found new stability within constant changes. One that is helping me live in harmony with the universe and the people I love.

In closing, I can’t prove my theory with sound statistics. Though, I believe that being able to transform and change is vital and can make us live longer and better.

So, I don’t know about you, but I’ll keep changing often.

Just in case.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

My (not so) secret formula to create freedom

Discipline has played a crucial part in my childhood education. I’m talking about the kind of discipline that relies on punishment and guilt to educate people to follow the rules and codes of behaviour. Indeed, it was driven by love, but still, that was the idea of upbringing when I was a kid, in the seventies and eighties.

Nonetheless, I was a rebel and a dreamer. I have always sought freedom, since when I was a youngster wandering in the woods fighting my imaginary dragons. I was a rebel inside, and a rule-abiding kid on the outside.

No surprises that growing up I’ve always perceived discipline as a cage. I wanted to follow my intuition, to be creative without limits. How was it possible if I had to respect rules and form? Like when I aspired to become a rockstar. I wanted to be a songwriter, to write my songs and perform my guitar on a stage. I couldn’t understand why I had to repeat the same boring exercises day after day. Deluded, I gave up.

I was looking for freedom, not discipline.

So, I repeated the same pattern on any other project that required discipline. It didn’t help that the ones who loved me kept telling me how smart and creative I was. It just fed my ego and my belief that I didn’t need discipline. My talents were the unique source of my achievements.

With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.” F. Nietzsche

The first breakthrough came when I attended a riding class on a closed circuit. As I wrote previously, a circuit is by definition a closed loop. During the day of the course, I repeated the same sequence of turns and movements for hours, lap after lap. At every lap, my moves became a little more smooth, and my overall speed improved. In the last hour, I had the opportunity to do some free practice without the instructors. It was exhilarating. I instinctively knew where to put the wheels, where to brake and accelerate. I was free to play with the motorbike. I was so excited about the whole process that I forgot about my assumptions on discipline. To my surprise, I had been able to stay disciplined a full day, and at the end, I felt freer than when I started.

That day, I felt that there was something wrong about my beliefs on freedom and discipline. I wasn’t entirely aware of it, but I started digging. I learned about underlying automatic commitments and limiting beliefs, but it was only when I met the Japanese word “Shuhari” that I had my second breakthrough.

Shuhari

It is fascinating how the Japanese language can embody a whole concept into one word. The word Shuhari represents the three stages of learning to mastery in martial arts.

  1. Shu (守) “obey”; It is the first stage, in which the learning is focused on the fundamentals. As students, we practice the techniques, the forms and the rules. We mainly learn from a single model through imitation and repetition until we can execute the form flawlessly. The focus is all on the what and the how.
  2. Ha (破) “detach”; The second stage is about expanding the learning, both in depth and width. We explore the “why” beyond the “how”. We learn the theories and the principles behind the techniques and the forms that we can now execute flawlessly. We also look for other models and integrate all these new learnings into our practice.
  3. Ri (離) “leave”; The higher stage is when the students become masters. Everything becomes natural to us, and we transcend rules and forms to create our own way.

I’m not a martial arts practitioner, and my knowledge about Japan comes only from movies and books. But this concept immediately resonated with me.

“Ri”, the higher stage, is my idea of freedom.

Freedom is not the denial of the form. It is the transcendence of it. And discipline is a vital ingredient that sustains the journey through the stages.

Thanks to the Shuhari concept I gave meaning to discipline. It wasn’t any more a limit to my freedom, but rather the way to achieve it.

But then new and relevant questions rose to my mind. How do we know when we are ready to move to the next level? How do we avoid the risk to get stuck at the first level becoming perfect machines? How can we be sure that what we achieve at the end is freedom and not just the illusion of freedom?

I needed another piece to complete the puzzle, and I found it in the conscious competence learning model.

The four stage of competence

In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. — Wikipedia

In short terms, it is a model that focuses on our consciousness along the learning process. The four stages are:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we accept our incompetence, we can move to the next stage.
  2. Conscious incompetence: at this stage, we recognise our deficit, and we start the learning process to address that gap. Rules, forms and imitation are essential to building the competence we need (the Shu stage).
  3. Conscious competence: at this stage, we have finally acquired the skills we wanted but to use them we must concentrate. Conscious is highly involved in using the newly acquired skills. Being conscious of our skills allows us to go deeper in the understanding and explore the principles (the Ha stage).
  4. Unconscious competence: at the final stage what we have learned become “second nature”, and we can operate using the new skills without consciously thinking. We finally reach the Ri stage. Freedom.

Self-awareness was the element I needed to complete my formula.

Without self-awareness, the learning process won’t even start. The first necessary step to grow is to become conscious that we need and want to grow.

It may look obvious, but it is not. Becoming stuck in our beliefs is easy. When faced with our incompetence it’s easy to accept it as a “limit” and make it our reality. And because we can’t go against reality we ignore our inability, or we find good rational explanations on why we don’t need to learn. That is precisely what I did with my belief about discipline.

Self-awareness is also a fundamental piece of the whole learning journey. Without self-awareness, we won’t be able to understand when we are ready to step to a higher level. We won’t be able to go beyond the form, connect with the meaning and transcend it. Self-awareness magnifies our discipline and allows us to achieve the freedom we aim for.

So, here it is, my not so secret formula to create freedom.

Discipline + Self-Awareness = Freedom

 

Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash