Yesterday I was writing an article about “the daily question process” created by Marshall Goldsmith. It’s a straightforward yet powerful practice to improve ourselves based on a set of active questions answered every day. You can read how and why it works here from Goldsmith himself.
This morning, while I was meditating and creating space for the seed of this post to emerge, I had a small Aha moment when my thoughts went back to the daily question process. Goldsmith does not say anything about what he does with all the answers he collects.
Every day he asks, or better he has someone asking him 32 active questions to which he answers with a yes or a no. That’s a massive amount of data, but he never talks about it when he describes the process.
All that really matters are the questions. Just by asking the right questions in the right way, we can trigger a series of constructive thoughts and nurture our self-awareness. The answers are merely incidental in this process. The thoughts and the emotions that the questions spark are the real gold in this process.
And as Goldsmith says in his post, “even the process of writing questions will help you better understand your own values and how you live or don’t live them on a daily basis.“
A few weeks ago, I went to this coffee place nearby for the first time. It’s a lovely place, perfect for morning conversations. When I went to the till to pay, there was this little black book laying there over the counter. Quite thick, with a leather cover and the title “The book of answers” engraved in gold on the cover.
It’s a delightful book to play with. You probably know how it works. You think about a question, open it randomly and read the short answer on the page before you.
Then, it’s up to you to decide what you want to do with the answer you get. You can laugh and dismiss it. Or you can take it as a sign.
To me, the best next step is to take the answer as an inspiration to an even better question.
“Creativity rarely begins with an answer.” — from The Way of Nowhere
I’ve been thinking about the magic of questions lately, and about how much, when I encounter a challenging one, I feel the pressure to find an answer. However, it is only when I let go of that urge to answer, and I stay with the question, carrying it with me and allowing for it to do its work, that magic happens.
So, I’ve decided to carry a small notebook with me. I’ll call it my little book of questions.
We’re already one week into this new year and, after a short break to refill the batteries, I feel the need to get back to my practices.
But, before I restart my small thing called One Apple A Day, I thought it was a good idea to welcome 2020.
It won’t be a long post like the one I wrote to say goodbye to 2019. With last year there was history.
The new one is like a big blank canvas.
I don’t know what will happen this year. What colours will end up on that canvas and what images will appear at the end.
I don’t know, and it’s a gorgeous feeling. One of anticipation and excitement.
So, this welcome message to the new year is concise. It’s more like a letter of intent. And I’m writing it in my usual 15 minutes morning slot, to be sure I’m not wasting time with clichè or trivialities.
My guiding word for 2020 is Sustainability.
I’ll write more about it in the next days, but in short, it’s a word that speaks about balance and transformation. It’s about small daily steps and consistency. It’s the ingredient connecting identity and discipline.
To me, these days going from the 27th to the 31st have always felt weird. It as if this year is done, so there’s nothing more to add. At the same time, the new one is not here yet, so I have to wait before I can start anything new.
I like to think about these five days as an opportunity to slow down and reflect. But then, I don’t. I don’t know, maybe because my energy is low, or because it’s the only time of the year where I can reconnect with people I love. Or perhaps it’s because the festivities disrupt my routine.
Whatever the reason, I struggle to focus and concentrate. My space is full of half-read, half-written and half-done things.
Two days ago, I was reading an old and small Italian publication about yoga, shiatsu and martial arts that has been lying on my desk for a while. It’s a few pages essay, and I thought it was the perfect solution to keep me away from my laptop for an hour or two.
Who would have thought that I would have spent the whole time highlighting half of the rows?
Anyway, a thought, in particular, got my attention. It is part of an article on shiatsu by Alfredo D’Angelo.
“Concentration is the dynamic reunification of all the constituent parts of the human essence.” (translation is mine)
I know he was talking about pressure in shiatus, yet these few words really hit me. Concentration is the act of bringing things into or about a central point. So, to concentrate means to bring all of me, not only my thoughts, around a centre. It means to align my mind, body, heart and soul around a single point.
That may explain why I struggle so much these days. I’m trying to focus my mind, but all the other parts of me are distracted. It won’t work.
Only if I bring all the parts together, I can achieve the focus I need to create.
What should I do? Should I write my daily apple this morning or not?
It’s almost 11 in the morning, and my morning routine has been completely disrupted. For good reasons. I’m on a short vacation in a city I love, visiting people who are really dear to me and we arrived very late yesterday night.
It’s always about getting your priorities right. A night of good sleep is vital for my health. And my health is a top priority. Friends are also over there among the essential elements of my life.
Though, this short daily moment is part of who I am. Every time I write and publish a post, I’m saying to the universe “Hey look, this is who I am. I am an author.”
Even when it’s not perfect. Even when my routine is gone or my inspiration is low. It’s not the outcome that matters the most. It’s the consistency through which I shape and reinforce my identity.
I don’t write for the outcome, I write because this is who I am.
And you know, I’ve surprised myself. I’m a lazy and undisciplined person, yet I’ve been consistently writing almost every morning for years now. I firmly believe that the reason I’ve been able to achieve this is that I’m not writing for the outcome, I’m doing it because it’s who I am.
So yes. I’m writing this morning to remind myself that I’m an author.
My morning writing ritual is made of different elements.
Almost every day, I write in the same place, at the same time and following the same process. This routine helps me get in the inner space I need to write.
This morning, however, my routine got wholly disrupted. I’m away from my writing place, and so far, I did many things but the ones I used to do to start my day.
I was even wondering if I wanted to write or not until I found myself sitting and ready to start. As if my body knew what I really wanted before my mind.
It is the power of practice.
Practice is what transform something you do in who you are. It’s the way through which your behaviours shape your identity.
I witnessed the power of practice yesterday evening. I attended a workshop of Taiko, it’s the Japanese art of drumming and percussions. But it is a lot more than drumming. It’s a practice of the mind and the soul as much as of the body.
Observing the teacher playing the Taiko was a unique experience. He was not doing the movements, he was the movements. Even the smallest gesture infused with all of who he is.
It was as if every muscle of his body knew exactly what to do and how to do it.
Years of deliberate and intentional practice has transformed his doing into his being.
The power of practice.
This is why it’s essential to be present and aware in everything we say and do.
“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day; while failure is simply a few errors in judgment, repeated every day. It is the accumulative weight of our disciplines and our judgments that leads us to either fortune or failure.” — Jim Rohn
Yesterday, I did some trekking with a friend. We walked for a few hours on an unexpectedly steep trail.
As always, I’m amazed by the amount of learning and discovery that a walk in nature can unlock.
Anyway, we left early in the morning with plenty of enthusiasm. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.
The first meters has been effortless. My legs were fine, my heart beating normal, and my breathing relaxed.
One kilometre, two kilometres. All good, we were walking in a beautiful autumn scenario within the woods, the mountains immersed in the November mist.
2,999 meters and I feel good.
Un meter later, fatigue arrived. Like a little shock running through the thigh, a bump in my heartbeat, the breath a little louder.
From that moment, the walk shifted and became tougher and tougher until we finished our excursion and came back to the car.
Would you say that the reason for the fatigue was the meter 3,000? That if would skip that meter, I would have any problem and maybe walk easily for hours?
I’m sure you won’t say that. Obviously, fatigue was just manifesting at that point but has been building up in all the meters before.
Yet, how many time in life, we focus on one event and forget the journey that led to that moment?
We think some people become successful overnight ignoring the years of hard work they put in to get there.
Something or something falls apart for what looks like a small push, and we overlook the long trail of small cracks that have been manifesting for a long time.
“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.” – James Clear
That’s why it’s essential to take care of your habits. Being aware that the journey to the top is a long one and every single step matters.
You’ve probably read about the famous “10,000-hour rule”. It is widely used by many speakers and motivators. This rule says that to achieve mastery in any field, you must be ready to commit to at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
Defined by the journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers”, the 10,000-hours rule is based on a study on violinists conducted in 1993. According to that study, the best artists had dedicated at least 10,000 hours to the relentless refinement of their talent.
Over the years the 10,000-hour rule has become very popular but has also received much criticism. In fact, it seems to suggest that practice and discipline are the only ways to reach excellence, placing the person’s talent and uniqueness in the background.
Recently, psychologist Brooke Macnamara of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland decided to repeat part of the 1993 study. Its results show that the 10,000 rule is quite an oversimplification.
In fact, among highly qualified performers, the amount of practice seems irrelevant. Every one of them has practised a lot and keep practising even once reached excellence. Therefore there must be other factors to explain why someone reaches higher levels of mastery.
Macnamara states that “When it comes to human skill, a complex combination of environmental factors, genetic factors and their interactions explains the performance differences across people.“
Therefore, discipline is fundamental, but not sufficient to determine the final result. It must be combined with some other factors that, through disciplined practice, unleash the full potential of a person.
Another study, done in the 90s, again in the field of music, can give us a hint on where we should look at.
In 1997, Professor Gary McPherson of the University of Melbourne decided to do an unconventional experiment to answer a simple question: Why do some children are quicker than others at learning an instrument?
For his study, he randomly picked 157 children between 7 and 9 years old. For years, he followed and monitored them, keeping track of their progress using biometric tests, recording their practice sessions and doing lots of interviews.
In particular, a question proved to be very insightful.
During the first interview, even before the begin of the first lesson, McPherson asked each child: “How long do you think you’ll play your new instrument?“
Based on the answers, the children were divided into three groups depending on the length of their commitment: short, medium and long term.
What surprised McPherson was that the students of the group that had foreseen a long-term commitment improved at speed four times higher than the children of the group who planned to engage only in the short term. Even if they were doing the same number of hours of practice with the same frequency.
There it was, the most decisive element in defining the speed of learning in the kids was not the IQ or the sense of rhythm, or any particular motor skills. None of that.
The defining element was the perception of themselves that each child had, even before starting to play any note.
According to McPherson’s study, what was making some students better at learning an instrument was a voice within them saying “I’m a musician” instead of just “I’ll learn to play an instrument“.
The learning here is that when our actions are an expression of our identity, they are much more powerful and sustainable in the long term. Even for 10,000 hours.
To achieve excellence and success, we must, therefore, combine identity and discipline. Identity to design the direction and discipline to pursue it until we reach the aspired success.
We must, hence, develop what Don Miguel Ruiz calls the discipline of the warrior in his book, “The Four Agreements”.
“The discipline of being ourselves, whatever happens.“
Maybe, for 10,000 hours until we fully realise who we are.
“How are we to become a warrior? There are certain characteristics of the warrior that are nearly the same around the world. The warrior has awareness. That’s very important. We are aware that we are at war, and the war in our minds requires discipline. Not the discipline of a soldier, but the discipline of a warrior. Not the discipline from the outside to tell us what to do and what not to do, but the discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements.
I’ve been struggling with presence and focus since I can remember. When I was a kid, my mind was continually wandering in a world of fantasy. I was under the sea with Captain Nemo, on a boat with Harvey Cheyne, fighting with the pirates or travelling to the centre of the Earth. Anywhere but not wherever my body was.
Even growing up, I kept being a wandered of the mind. My thoughts always floating between past, present and future. Reality and fantasy.
Over the here, this rambling mind of mine has become an invaluable tool. It helped me do some of the things I love the most; find connections, dig out ideas, change often, begin many different things.
The other side of the coin is the struggle to focus on one thing, to keep the ball rolling until the work is done, to finish what I start, to close what I open.
Through different experiences, starting from school and going through various jobs, I’ve learned that discipline is how I can teach my wandering mind to focus. So, over the years, I’ve created different structures and systems to bring discipline in my life. However, almost every time, those systems and structures failed me. I thought it was part of the game. Then the other day, while I was going through my notes in search for something I need to write a post, I found some words I highlighted many months ago from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.
They’ve been working in my head for a few days.
The discipline of a warrior.
The discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.
It’s time for me to approach discipline in a whole new way.