I just came back from a conference where incredible people and leaders discussed how to make the world a better place. Last week millions of students all over the world walked together on the streets to ask adults to do something instead of just talking. A terrorist attack in New Zealand reminded us of the fragility of peace.
Before all these big challenges it’s easy to feel small and powerless.
What can I do? What can a single person do?
One of the speakers at the conference said that “without peace at the individual level, we can’t create peace in the world“.
We cannot change the world without changing ourselves before.
So, the question shifts from how can we make the world better to how I can make myself better.
It all starts within.
A friend reminded me that the best gift I can give to the world is to fully express my potential. And love.
Our brain is a fantastic predicting machine.
It is continuously assessing the environment against what it already knows to find patterns to apply. Anytime an action creates pleasure, it contributes to the creation of a pattern. When anything generates pain, the brain puts an alert label on it so to be ready to recognise the threat in the future. It is part of our natural survival instinct.
This process makes us very efficient. Being aware of it we can use it to our advantage to create patterns that help grow and become the person we want to be. There are plenty of good books and programs on how to develop positive habits.
Once I watched a video of a personal trainer, explaining that our body works in the same way. Every muscle is designed to obtain the maximum result with the minimum effort. When we do the same exercise over and over, our body learns how to perform it using the minimum energy possible. As a result, we experience a peak in muscle development. This is why is a good thing to change often the exercises you do. To confuse your body, so it has to break the pattern, learn something new and grow.
It works the same way for our brain. Sometimes we need to create chaos and unpredictability to force our mind to be creative, to find new connections and patterns. In short, to grow. When we don’t have references, when we cannot use what we know to find a way forward, we are forced to create new connections, explore new possibilities.
It is scary, I know.
But once our creativity is released, the reward is incredible.
Listening is a tough job.
I’m talking about deep listening. With intention.
I spent the last two days listening to many amazing people talking.
I wanted to be sure to capture the full essence of what was shared in the room, so I had to be deliberate in shutting down everything unnecessary, to keep my thinking at bay and create enough space within to hold everything.
I had to learn to turn off the noise and tune into the signal.
No wonder nobody listens nowadays.
Yet, I realized that to start real and meaningful conversations, the first vital step is to listen.
Because everyone has something to share, but if nobody listens with intention, all those beautiful words will be lost.
That is why artists are fundamental.
They listen, they see, they sense with intention, and then they distill the essence into their artworks.
So we can feel listened and seen.
And because we are all artists, we are called to practice the art of listening with intention.
I heard this sentence yesterday from the leader of an organisation that aims to solve one of the biggest challenges of our world.
Before the significant challenges of humanity such as climate change, inequality, human rights and so on, it’s easy to feel powerless.
I often feel powerless.
These days I’m listening to leaders who are committed to change the world, who are dedicating their lives to higher causes.
In the beginning, I felt small.
But then, the more I listened to them I realised two things.
Before being leaders, innovators or changemakers, they are human beings.
Like you and me.
They are not cut from a different cloth.
Their superpower is being human. A power that we all have.
The second thing is that every choice, every action albeit small, counts.
It may not seem so in the moment, but it counts.
It’s natural to think that significant shifts in the history of humanity are the result of a single massive event. But in reality, they are the compound effect of many small choices and actions.
Because it is the last drop that makes the cup run over, but all the drops before are the ones that filled the cup.
This morning, I don’t know what to write about.
But it’s not a lack of inputs.
On the contrary.
These days I am flooded by inspiring ideas, places, people, conversations.
It’s just so much that my mind keeps jumping all over the place without staying on anything for more than a few seconds.
And I love this feeling.
But this morning, when I sit for my morning writing, I realized that being exposed to so many inputs can be paralyzing.
So, the only option I have is to surrender.
To hold a space in my awareness for everything to come in, trusting that what really needs to emerge will find its way back to the surface.
I don’t need to have the answer as long as I stay open to the questions.
Not knowing what to do or what to say, it’s an incredible opportunity to just stay, breathe and listen.
Life is a sequence of choices. At every moment you’re making, or not making a choice.
Some are big and important.
Others are so small and insignificant that we are not even aware that we are making a choice.
But all of them affect the direction of your life.
Who you are and where you are today, is the result of all these choices compound together.
Sometimes I found myself stuck before a choice, unable to decide what is the right thing to do.
I believe you know the feeling.
I think and explore all the possible scenarios. I weight all options trying to figure out the best choice.
I must admit that sometimes I spend so much time reflecting with the hope that, if I wait enough time, something or someone else will choose for me.
I made a lot of wrong choices. And I didn’t make many choices I probably should.
Though I am here and I am happy with where I am in my life. And this is thanks also to the wrong decision and to the ones I didn’t make.
What I’ve learned is that I should try to consume less energy to make the right choice and focus more on making every decision made —and not made—, a good one.
“There can be a cost to acting on one’s principles, but there is a bigger cost to abandoning them.”
With this sentence, Jane Philpott, Treasury Board President of the Canada government closed the message in which she announced her resignation.
This message struck me because yesterday night I was reflecting about another, more famous, quote.
“If a man hasn’t found something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.” — Martin Luther King Jr.
Albeit I love this quote, it always makes me feel a little uncomfortable.
Martin Luther King was fighting for a high but dangerous cause. A cause that was going to change the world, or at least his country, forever. He was aware of the risks of pursuing his vision and, in the end, he died for it.
But, how does it apply to me?
Since yesterday, I’ve been pondering on this question.
Nothing I do is putting my life at stake.
Sure, I have my values and principles on which I’m not willing to compromise, but saying that it’s something I would die for seams a bit of stretch.
Then, this morning I was reading this article about the political crisis in Canada, and I found that sentence. And it hit me.
If I abstract MLK’s message from his historical context then “to die for” means “to give up everything”, including that same thing you are fighting for.
The question then becomes “what are you willing to sacrifice your career for?” or “what are you willing to let your company die for?”.
Non-attachment is a powerful practice.
But it’s not easy at all.
We live immersed in a culture that celebrates achievements and material wealth.
It’s hard to do something without being attached to the outcome.
Yet, anytime I’ve been able to experience non-attachment, my performances surged.
This practice of writing every morning is a good example.
When I started I had no goal but writing.
Being completely detached from the outcome, it was easy for me to sit down and write.
Then, once the practice became a habit and my writing began to improve, I started paying attention to the results.
I wanted to write something good because I knew I could.
I developed an attachment to the outcome, and I experienced the first difficulties. Days when words weren’t flowing, ideas were not coming, and my posts became less authentic.
Then I realized that nobody was expecting anything from me.
Nobody was reading me.
That gave me freedom.
And with that freedom words started flowing again.
Until lately, when I realized that I was focusing, again, on the outcome.
I have some readers, and I wanted to write something meaningful for them. For you.
The attachment to the outcome was getting in the way of my creativity.
Last days writing hasn’t been as fluid as usual.
And this morning I was stuck.
I was ready to give up and call it a day.
And when that thought came, when I gave up my attachment to the outcome this post emerged.
A few weeks ago I had an inspiring conversation about playfulness with my dear friend Luca. While we were reflecting on what “being playful” means to us, we realised that in playing, like in every human experience, there are both form and essence.
Because the form is the only visible one and the easier to model, we usually focus on it. It is what most of the companies did years ago when “gamification” became one of the main buzzwords in the digital industry. I did it too.
My feeling is that the “gamification” approach didn’t deliver the expected impact because it was all about form. We were trying to apply the typical visible elements of games to other areas. But the essence wasn’t there. We were just asking people with a business mindset to use a playful form.
What could happen if we do the reverse? If we infuse a playful mindset into other forms?
For Luca and I, a playful mindset or attitude is about being always curious, making everything experiential, seeing everything as an opportunity to learn and discover, focusing on the act of playing more than on the outcome, having fun together.
What about you? What is the essence of playing for you?
And what would happen if you infuse that essence in your work?
Sometimes all we need is just a nudge.
A little push to break the inertia and start moving.
I discovered it soon after I decided to write every morning.
The first days I was so excited that it was easy to find something to write about. And to be completely honest, I just wanted to write, so I wasn’t paying much attention to what I was writing about.
Soon, I found myself consuming most of my writing time to search for something to write about.
In the beginning, I thought that I needed a topic. A destination or at least a direction for my words. But this search wasn’t easy and, even when I found a direction, I wasn’t satisfied with the final result. Having the end in mind was narrowing my creativity, and the outcome wasn’t very inspired.
Then I discovered The Write Practice and its prompts. A prompt is a great way to inspire the writing process. It gives you a starting point, not the destination. It’s a little push, so you start moving, but being free to go anywhere.
Anything can be a prompt; a word, a question, a picture, a sound.
You just need to be willing to surrender to it, open the gate and go with the flow. Prompts are great for writing, in conversations, in self-reflection.
It’s a way to start without the end in mind.