My experience with any human transformation process is that it all starts with the creation of a safe space for everyone. There are plenty of studies proving that “Psychological safety” is one of the most critical conditions for people to fully express their potential. It’s only when we feel safe that we show up authentically, we speak our own truth, and we take risks. This is why the initial agreement is vital in any coaching process, both in a one-to-one relationship or in a group setting.
Thou, the English word “agreement” has always felt a bit cold or impersonal to me. As if the focus is more about setting boundaries than finding a connection.
Inspired by the Italian translation of agreement, I prefer to use the synonym “accord“.
The word “accord” used with the meaning “come into agreement, agree, be in harmony” originates from the Vulgar Latin word “accordare” that literally means “be of one heart, bring heart to heart“.
When we build an accord, we are doing more than setting some shared rules or standards. We are bringing our hearts together. And that takes courage, another word connected to the heart (Coeur in French). The courage to open up our heart and hold space in it for someone else.
Can you think of a safer space to be than the heart of someone else?
What I find fascinating is that in Italian, the word “accordo” also means chord; “a group of notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony“.
So, to find an accord is like tuning our hearts together, so they vibrate in harmony. Anytime we do that, with another person or within a group of people, something magical happens.
That is why I’m never worried about investing plenty of quality time in the tuning phase of a workshop. When we are all, facilitators and participants, in tune, things just flow.
People open up, and the light they hold inside their hearts infuses the space.
You’ve almost surely read and heard many times about “Psychological safety”. Many studies proved that it is one, if not the, most critical condition for extraordinary performance at the personal and team level.
Psychological safety can be defined as “being able to show and employ one’s self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career“. In short, it is the belief that, within a team or organisation, you feel safe to show up authentically, to speak your own truth and take risks.
So, creating a space where everyone feels safe should be the starting point for every teamwork.
How do you do that?
This is what I’ve been pondering about last days. The feeling of “being safe” is entirely subjective. I may feel safe to express myself fully in a space where someone else can not. How can I know if a space is “safe” for everyone? If someone doesn’t feel safe, will she or he manifest that feeling?
Indeed, some configurations are more helpful than others in creating a safe space for everyone. But I believe that psychological safety is sourced within. If I want to create a safe space, the first vital step is for me to sincerely believe that that space is safe and show up authentically.
No matter what.
And that means taking risks. It means to be willing to step out of my inner “safe” zone and feel unsafe.
It is a kind of paradox.
If I want to create a safe space for others, I must be ready to risk my own safety.
“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” — Anton Chekhov
This morning this few words appeared in my mind while I was doing some stretching to wake up my body; “show, don’t tell”.
It’s an expression used to summarise a writing technique. If you’re writing about something, you can describe what’s going on, providing all the information and details, including feelings and emotions. Or you can paint a picture through which the readers can feel the experience as if they were living it.
In the first case, you’re telling, in the second one you’re showing.
The short excerpt at the opening of this post comes from a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother, and I think it explains the concept perfectly.
Now that we know what “show, don’t tell” means, I’m left with a big question mark and only two minutes to finish this post.
Where is this thought coming from? And what should I do with it?
Maybe it’s related to the experience of last days. I had been talking and coaching with people from different part of the worlds. We used the English language for our conversations even thou, it was not the native language for any of us. And the different styles are just the surface of a more profound richness of cultural nuances.
In those situations, telling doesn’t work.
If I tell how I feel using the words I know, the other person may never really feel the connection. I won’t be able to spark empathy. But if I show how I feel, I can go beyond the boundaries of words and create a real connection.
“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
All human beings are extraordinary.
Within each one of us, there is a universe of wonder, ready to expand if only we create enough space.
I just came back from a workshop with other 15 people.
They are what you may misjudge ordinary people. Like the ones that you meet every day when you go on with your life. The colleagues you see every day in the elevator, the parents waiting outside the school, the bankers, the plumbers, the guy driving the car in front of you and so on. Everyone trapped into a role, our universes compressed within the boundaries of the doing.
But once we created together a safe space in which each one felt safe to expand the being, the magic happened.
All these extraordinary universes, no more tamed by the boundaries we imposed on ourselves, flooded into the shared space. They fused together, and a new collective awareness emerged, one that embraces all perspectives and wisdom.
And when it was time to go home, a spark of that wonder was shining in the eyes of everyone.
All human beings are extraordinary, we need to create a safe space where this extraordinary potential can get out and shine.
Anytime you help others shine, the world gets a little brighter.
In this inspiring article about mastery, Marcia Reynolds gives us some hints on how to get into the “the zone of mastery” or, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it, in the “Flow”.
There is one passage in the article that I find fascinating.
“I found the best competitors do not think about anything, not even winning, when they perform at their best. Thinking of winning causes their brains to entertain the possibility of losing.”
Isn’t it ironic that in a society so obsessed with results and achievements, the best performers avoid thinking about winning to express their full potential?
Keeping the focus on the prize is a common mistake in goal settings. You set an audacious goal, maybe a SMART one and then, because you want to be sure to get it, you keep your eyes on it all the time. As a result, you’re not in the here and now. And Marcia says, “being fully present while performing is the critical factor that can put you over the top into the zone of mastery“.
The approach to goal setting that I use is the following one:
FIND: First I set a goal, and I spend time finding what makes it meaningful to me
REWRITE: Then I think about what do I need to change to get where I want. Who do I need to become to achieve that goal? What do I have to learn? Which habits, rituals and structures do I have to install? This transforms the journey into a learning process.
EXPERIENCE: Finally, I forget about the goal and focus only on the experience, on being consistent with the new habits and rituals.
EXPAND: even if I don’t always achieve the results that I set at the beginning, I always learn something valuable in the end that I can apply in other parts of my life.
A few days more and also this year will be part of the past.
For some of us, these days are also an opportunity to slow down, look back, review the past year and maybe set a few goals for the new one. Wins and losses, successes and failures, the things we started and the things we closed, the people we met and the ones we lost.
How did you assess your 2018?
And how did you plan the new one?
I used to do a performance-oriented review. I measured the finishing year through the filter of the goals and intentions set 12 months before. And then I plan out some SMART goals for the next 12 months.
To be honest, it hasn’t always worked well. If you read some of my past articles, you probably already know that I’m not very good with goals.
So, this year I decided to do things differently. I decided to look at the past through the lenses of the future, and look at the future through the lenses of the past.
I’ve challenged myself to review 2018 as if the whole year was the preparation for the next one. Everything I’ve done, everything that happened, all my experiences were meant to set me up for the best year ever; the incoming 2019.
With this mindset, I shifted the focus from goals and performances to my learnings and my evolution as a human being. And it makes me feel a lot more positive about the next year. Now I have more clarity about my future direction, and I feel ready to celebrate the end of 2018 properly.
I created a document with all the questions I’ve designed for my own year-end review.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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).
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).
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.