One Apple A Day #530 – Anchor

It’s dawn in London, and I’m writing this on a bouncing train to the airport.
I’m tired and a bit sleepy so there is a high probability that this post won’t be one of my best.
Though, I needed these fifteen minutes of writing. No matter the outcome, I need to put some music, open the laptop and tap on the keyboard.
This moment is my anchor.
When I don’t do my morning writing, I can’t get through the day smoothly.
I found that for me it’s vital to have something I can anchor my day.
It helps me stay centred amidst the storms of life.
For me, it’s writing, for someone else it may be running or just sitting for a coffee with your family. If you are sailing through the sea of life, you need sails to catch the wind and move forward. You need a compass to know your way and a rudder to steer the trajectory.
But you also must be sure to carry an anchor with you.
So you’ll know that no matter what, you’ll always be able to ground yourself amid turbulences or maybe just to rest.

Do you have an anchor? What is it?

One Apple A Day #529 – environment

I wanted to write about the importance of having an anchor in our life.
But then I woke up with the birds singing, the sky over London is blue, from my window I can see the vivid green of grass and the tree of the park behind the house.
I saw all of that, and I stop for a minute to stay with it.
The more I stared at the beauty of nature, the more I feel peaceful and positive about the day ahead.
This moment of morning bliss reminded me of the importance of the environment that surrounds us. At home, at work, everywhere we go and operate. And with “environment” I mean everything around us; the location, the building, the furniture, the things but also the people.
If the environment in which we are immersed is not aligned with our intentions and values, it’s like rowing against the current. It can be done, but it drains all your energy just to move a little. But when there is alignment, then the environment becomes an amplifier.
Even more, the right environment can pull you in the direction you want to go and support you also when you’re tired or your motivation drops.

We can’t always choose the environment on which we are, that’s why it’s essential, anytime you can, to choose wisely what and who you want around you. Your environment can become one of your greatest assets.

One Apple A Day #528 – defining moments

“When a defining moment comes along, you can do one of two things. Define the moment, or let the moment define you. “— from the movie “Tin Cup”.

I don’t remember how I ended up watching this movie years ago. It’s not really Oscar’s material. Probably it was before the “on-demand” era when there weren’t many choices on TV. Anyway, I remember nothing about that movie but that sentence. And it comes back anytime I am, or someone I love is, going through a tough moment.*

I believe that somehow every moment is a defining moment. In the sense that every moment contributes to shaping your identity. Every moment in life we are called to choose how we want to respond to external circumstances. Our choice, as we saw in a previous post, will cast a vote towards the person we want to be.

But some moments are more defining than others. I’m talking about those events that can turn a life upside down. From the positive ones — having a baby, falling in love with someone, or winning the lottery — to the negative ones — losing someone you love, a divorce or a nasty illness.
In those moments, it may feel as if the universe has something against you and it’s easy to feel lost and without any way out or forward your current situation.

But we always have a choice.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor Frankl

If you hide from that choice, then it’s highly probable that the moment will define you. But if you choose to own the moment, you can define it and transform it into a growth opportunity.
I’m not saying you can turn things around just because you decide to.
Some situation can’t just be changed or are outside your sphere of control.
But you can decide how you show up.

“Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” — Viktor Frankl

So, if you are going through a defining moment, you may want to ask yourself “who do I want to be in this situation? What can I change about this situation? What can I change about myself? What opportunities to grow are here for me?”

* I’ve searched the scene on youtube. I believe that when the character, played by Kevin Costner, said that sentence to explain his stubbornness more than to talk about the importance of owning the moment. Though, that statement is still compelling.

One Apple A Day #527 – chaos

“Babies are born in blood and chaos; stars and galaxies come into being amid the release of massive primordial cataclysms.” — from Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

Chaos is scary because it is unpredictable.
You can create the conditions for chaos to happen, but you can’t design it. Our brain is a predicting machine. It continuously evaluates the situation to find clues that will trigger behaviour in response. In every moment, our brain tries to fit the complexity of the world within the map of reality it has built over time.
But amidst chaos everything gets blurred and mixed up, clues are hard to find, and our mental framework becomes almost useless.

For all these reasons, chaos can’t be modelled or replicated. So, it is hard to deliberately create chaos to solve a problem. Though, chaos is generative. Because we can’t rely on what we know, we are forced to connect with the energy, to use our intuition and to trust.

Chaos challenges our beliefs, and in doing so, it helps us evolve beyond the boundaries of our mental framework.

“Unless some degree of chaos is permitted to enter the system, no further progress can be made. Sometimes, to create new structures, the old ones must be destroyed so the blocks can be recombined in different ways.” — From Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray

One Apple A Day 526 – explore and exploit

Today I want to write about passion. Or better, about the lack of it.
When I was a child, I didn’t know what my passion was. Sure, there were many things that I love, reading above all, but I didn’t have a clear idea of who I wanted to become.
Things didn’t get better growing up. I can’t remember a moment when I thought “this is it, my passion, what I’m going to do from now on”.
Instead, I went using a trial and error approach.
An approach that I’ve been refining over the years and it worked quite well for me. Though, I still have that subtle feeling of envy when I meet someone who has a burning passion for something; a person on a mission.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many people haven’t found that defining passion or mission, yet.

And you know what? It’s ok.

It’s ok to be searching and trying. Isn’t it the quest for our mission a mission on itself?
The important thing is to keep searching, trying and learning. Fragments of the picture will emerge along the way. Our passion will grow within us while, at the same time, we will grow into it.

Of course, there’s a problem with this approach: life is short.

We need to find the best explore/exploit trade-off.
Find something that works for you, something on which you get higher returns than the average person and exploit it. But always keep a window open for exploration, to try new things and when you find something that works well, exploit it integrating it with what you’re already doing.

One Apple A Day 525 – the master is ready also

This morning I walked my niece to school. It’s a five-minute walk through a small industrious village of the Italian countryside. On the way to the school, she told me about her day’s ahead, what she likes and what not. Her stories about school make me often think about how we approach education here, but that’s a good topic that won’t fit in a fifteen minutes writing slot.
On the way back, I was thinking about the relationship between a student and a master. In the last two years, I met many people who have taught me a lot. They are not teachers in the proper sense. They are friends, colleagues, partners, fellow travellers in the walk of life. Yet, more than once each one of them has been a master to me.

I was thinking about this while walking home, and I remembered reading somewhere that “the student makes the master” or something like that.

So, I ask Google, and I found out that the quote that I remember was “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” A quote that is often presented as a Buddhist proverb.

As I always do, I dig a bit more until I discovered that Buddha has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an old Theosophical statement taken from a book titled Light on the Path, wrote in 1886 by Mabel Collins. The statement is a bit more poetic, and it says; “for when the disciple is ready the master is ready also.

Anyway, even if the quote has some weird and questionable origins, it resonates with me.  Any time I embrace a learning mindset, a “master” manifests before me. Sometimes the master is a person, other times it is something else like a piece of art, an event or nature herself.

I think the lesson for me is that if we want to learn something, before finding a master, we must embrace the learner’s mindset.

P.S. I just realised I already wrote about this not long ago. What is the lesson here? 

One Apple A Day 524 – courage and love

Courage: c. 1300, corage, “heart (as the seat of emotions),” hence “spirit, temperament, state or frame of mind,”from Old French corage “heart, innermost feelings; temper” (12c., Modern French courage), from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor “heart” [source]

If I ask you to place courage or love somewhere in the body, I believe that most of you would associate both of them with the heart. An organ that we don’t control and that relentlessly pumps life in our body.

There is a powerful connection between courage and love. They are both about surrendering to something bigger than ourselves.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this morning reflections. It all started with my morning Be The Change card that has the word “Courageousness” on it. The drawing that accompanies the word is a human being with a stream of energy flowing through his core.
And I thought that love is the same; a stream of energy flowing through all of us, connecting people.

So, maybe to be courageous is just to open up my heart so love can freely flow through.

“The opposite of love is not, as we many times or almost always think, hatred, but the fear to love, and fear to love is the fear of being free.” — Paulo Freire

One Apple A Day #523 – a piece of cloth

“A bad system will beat a good person every time.” — W. Edwards Deming

Talking about synchronicity; this morning I found this quote in the book that I’m currently reading, and it would be the perfect summary of a conversation I had yesterday afternoon. I was talking with a friend about the role leaders play in the change processes within their organisations.

The image that keeps coming back for me is “a piece of cloth”.

An organisation can be seen as a piece of cloth, an intricated system of interwoven threads. Every organisation has its own unique size, material, fabric and texture. So, each piece of cloth will react differently to changes. If you pick a point in the fabric and lift it, depending on the strength and elasticity of the threads and the weight of the material you may be able to lift the whole piece from that one point. Or you may be able to hold it only for a moment before it is pulled back in place by the strength of the texture.

So, if you lift the cloth from one single point, the rest of the material will follow with some delay. And, no matter its unique characteristics, the parts that are farther from the lifting point, will be left behind. Sure, that lifted point will stand out, but what happens when it is released? It’s highly probable that the whole piece of cloth will fall back in the previous flat state.

What if instead of lifting the piece of cloth from one point, we lift it from many points at the same time? Or even better, what if we create a system, like a frame, that will allow raising the whole piece of cloth at the same time?

Just replace “piece of cloth” with “organisation” and “lifting point” with “leader”, and I believe the questions still work.

Drawing lines

It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon here in Valencia. I’m about to leave to go celebrate the birthday of my favourite place in town, and usually on the weekend I don’t write posts.

But I feel this urge to write a thought that emerged in my head while I was taking a shower and I don’t think I can resist until the next Apple A Day on Monday morning.

So here I am, writing about lines.

Let me start from something that happened a few weeks ago when I was in Italy. I was listening to the news on the radio while driving. As you may know, the political situation in my country is quite tense at the moment. The journalist was talking about some friction within the government. I can’t remember what it was, but I do remember a brief interview of a politician from one of the opposition parties. She said that the tensions going on between the parties in the government was a sign of their weakness and that her party was the only viable alternative. I remember thinking “hey, but aren’t you all there because you want to serve the country? So, wouldn’t be better to offer your help to solve their problems for the benefit of the whole nation instead of trash talking them?

Yesterday I was joking with a dear friend about our work descriptions, and I told her that I should write “I draw lines” on my business card. It wasn’t the first time we joked about me drawing lines, but yesterday I had a small a-ha moment. One can draw a line to separate two spaces or to connect two points. The gesture is the same, but the intention is totally different.

Then a few moments ago, in the shower, I was thinking about all of this. At how good we are in drawing lines that separate; right and wrong, good and bad, left and right, winners and losers, us and them. We surround ourselves with all these lines that are imaginary but feel as real as concrete walls. What would happen if we would start drawing lines to connect? If when we see a fracture, we draw a line to connect the opposing sides?

After a while, we would create a network. Like a spider web or a texture when we will be all interwoven so when someone rises everyone will rise.

All of this to share with you that I love “drawing lines“, but I prefer the ones that connect.

One Apple A Day #522 – it starts from you

In the book Atomic Habits, James Clear presents a concept called the “Three Layers Of Behaviour Change” to describe how we approach change.
Going from the outside-in, the three layers are outcomes, processes and identity.

“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.”

All levels are useful to create a change.
What really makes a difference is where we start from; the direction of change.

The need for a change something in our life is usually triggered by the desire for different outcomes. We want to have something different, so we start a process to change what we have.
This focus on the outcomes sparks one or more outcome-based interventions; projects aimed at changing what we have.

Some of us are wiser, and they understand that if they don’t change how they do things they won’t get different results. So they review their processes so they can generate better outcomes.
Indeed, changing how we do things is more effective in creating the desired results but, as we know, when our behaviours (processes) are not in tune with our identity (beliefs), they are not sustainable on the long term.

“In fact, the word identity was originally derived from the Latin words essentitas, which means being, and identidem, which means repeatedly. Your identity is literally your repeated beingness.”

Behind every action that we make there is a set of beliefs. The beliefs that define our identity. The reason why many change projects fail is that we focus only on the outcomes or the processes while bringing in the process the same beliefs that create the reality we want to change.

A sustainable change must start from our identity.