My country is on full lockdown. People are confined within their houses, most businesses are closed or operating at reduced speed, kids are home from school. All the things with which we were used to filling up our days are no more available. I heard many friends talking about boredom and the struggle to find something to keep them and their loved ones, in particular children, engaged.
“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.”
This quote comes from one of my favourite book of the last year; Atomic Habits by James Clear.
I think we all agree that practice is the way to achieve mastery in anything. A lot of practice.
The problem is that the more you practice something, the more it becomes boring. What was exciting at the beginning, after a while becomes a tedious routine. Our interest fades away, and we become easy prey for distractions.
Learning to deal with boredom can make the difference in becoming who we want to become.
That is why, as Clear says, “you have to fall in love with boredom.”
Now we have this unique opportunity to practice boredom and learn to love it. Something that will probably make a significant difference in the new normality in which we will all live after this extraordinary situation.
From the way this virus is spreading, I feel we can learn some lessons on how we can create change in any system.
Homeostasis is the natural tendency of an organism to keep its stable condition and environment. It’s a tendency that applies to any system in our lives. Our inner beliefs, habits and environment, they all work together to create and keep our life stable and steady. Any time we try to change a system, those same forces that have established the current equilibrium will fight back to keep as it is.
The more we push to change the system, the more those forces will pull in the opposite direction.
It’s similar to what happens when we pull an elastic band. If we use a lot of force to pull it quickly, we will meet a lot of resistance, and it will be hard to keep the new shape. We will likely have to are to release the band and let it slide back to its natural status.
This virus is showing us a different approach to change. It is not so aggressive to trigger all our defences. At the contrary, in the beginning, it went mostly unnoticed. Our systems didn’t react immediately, so it had the time to spread and compound. When we became aware of it, it was already everywhere.
If we want to change something in our lives, in our organisations or communities, rather than go head-on, we may try a more subtle approach. One based on small but consistent daily improvement that compounds to create the change we want.
We are all living, without doubts, a challenging situation. What is happening is shaking the foundations of our world at all levels; personal, professional, individual, social, economical. Our habits, routines and rituals have been disrupted. Most of the cues and frames through which we were able to read the reality around us, are useless now.
At least, this is what is happening to me.
And I’ll be honest.
There are moments, during the day in which I feel lost and powerless. It looks like no matter what we do, things keep getting worse. The flood of news and messages is not helping for sure.
This morning I woke and realised that this tension is getting under my skin. I slept with my jaw tight, not a good sign.
So, this morning I enter my meditation with the only aim to relax, let go of the stress and find peace.
And some words came up.
“I am the one who’s asked to change and evolve.”
When I opened my eyes, I remember one of my all-time favourite books, “Man’s search for meaning” by Viktor Frankl.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
So, my question for today is “How can I change to thrive in this challenging time?“
“First is an intention.
Then a behaviour.
Then a habit.
Then a practice.
Then second nature.
Then it is simply who you are.” – Brendon Burchard
I love this recipe for transformation. It is not even a recipe, to be honest. In my experience, this is how life works. How we grow, and we become who we are. The things we love and the one we don’t.
They all started with an intention. One that too often, we are not fully aware. And that intention triggers a behaviour that, through habit and repetition, becomes who we are. It’s a long and slow process, like a drop on a rock. When an apparently harmless and insignificant behaviour, becomes a habit, its power multiply and its effects compound.
The secret ingredient in this recipe is self-awareness. Having clarity of your intentions, observing your behaviours and deliberately choose the habits you want to cultivate. Creating the discipline to transform those habits into practices. The rest will be a natural outcome. And this is the beauty of this recipe for transformation. It’s not about making big things or incredibly disruptive actions. It’s about paying attention and being aware of the tiny things that count, and then let time do its magic.
One of the hallmarks of growing up in the NorthEast of Italy is the fog. I mean the real thick one that eats up everything around you and all you can see is a grey wall.
I remember one episode in particular. I was in my early twenties. My driving license was still fresh, so I would miss an opportunity to exploit the freedom of having a car. That Saturday evening I went out with my cousin. There was a light mist when we left, nothing that could stop us.
When we decided it was to go home, however, things were completely different. The fog was becoming thicker and thicker. At some point, we reach a small countryside road. One of those narrow road that can barely fit two cars at the same time, with a steep slope on the side and no white lines on the surface.
My cousin had to step out of the car, walk before me, and show me the boundaries of the road. And he had to do it for at least a kilometre. That night it took us ages to get home. But there was no cellphone, and we knew our parents would be worried. So, we kept moving, even if we couldn’t see anything.
Many times in my life, I experienced moments where everything was foggy within and around me. I couldn’t see my way forward, so I froze. I waited to have more visibility, to have more clarity before doing anything, and that cost me a few missed opportunities. I’ve learned that sometimes, I have to move forward even if I can’t see clearly where I am going. And in that case, it’s useful to have someone you trust walking with you and showing you the edges of the road.
By the way, do you know there are 51 different names for the fog?
In the last few years, we moved many times. Different homes, cities and sometimes countries. Our beloved cat has always moved with us. Anytime we moved into a new place, he has to change all his habits and learn to move within a different environment. He had no choice.
The other day I was observing him moving around while I was going through my morning routine. It’s impressive to watch how it looks like he has always been here, not just for a few months.
Looking back at the process he goes through any time we move into a new place, something that for him means disrupting his whole environment, I notice a few recurring phases.
- Accept. Felix has no words on the choice to move into a new place. He usually complains when we help him into the transporting bag, but once we are at the destination, that’s it. No more complaining, he just accepts his new reality.
- Assess. The first days he goes around assessing the new reality. He explores the room, discovers hiding places and advantage points of observation. He quickly becomes fully aware of where he is and how he can get the best out of the new environment.
- Adapt. Then he changes his habits to the new environment. He makes the new place his own place. He fully embraces his new reality so he can focus on the things that make him feel good.
He looks definitely happy, so I feel I can learn something from wise Felix.
“A different ideal for organizations is surfacing. We want organizations to be adaptive, flexible, self-renewing, resilient, learningful, intelligent – attributes found only in living systems. The tension of our times is that we want our organizations to behave as living systems, but we only know how to treat them as machines.” — Margaret Wheatley, Finding our Way
When I read these words from Margaret Wheatley, the first image that came to my mind, is one of a shift from organizations to organisms.
An organization is an organized group of people with a particular purpose.
An organism is a system consisting of interdependent parts.
These are just the first two definitions that I pick from the web.
Maybe it’s one of my biases, but when I think about an organization, my focus goes to all the parts that make it work. As if the organization is something that grows outside and between the people who are part of it. It’s an image of separation.
The image of an organism is one of wholeness. The strength of the organism comes from the interdependence of the parts. There is no separation from the parts and the whole. The organism’s growth happens both inside and outside people.
I’m not sure about what to do with these thoughts. But I know words are powerful and shape reality. So, maybe, if I begin to use a different word for the initiatives in which I’m involved, new ways of working together may emerge.
“Words are the representations and symbols we use to view, think about, and process our perceptions of reality and they are the means of sharing these perceptions with others.” – Judith Glaser
Words are powerful; they shape the reality we experience.
One word can trap you into a life you never wanted. One word can break the walls and liberate you.
Just yesterday, I was reflecting, with one of my mentors, about my struggle in picking a label for what I do. But that’s for another day.
Last weekend I read an interesting article on how schools are killing curiosity. Maybe this is why that word came back this morning in my meditation.
I did a quick check online, and learned that “curious” comes from Latin curiosus meaning “careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome”. The word is akin to cura, “care”.
What really kindled my curiosity is that the word “care” comes from Latin “cura”. Modern linguists believe that “cura” derived from the root ku-/kav- meaning “observe”. From the same root comes the Sanskrit word “kavi”, meaning “sage”.
In my mind, all of this means that being curious is the way to and a trait of wisdom.
Being curious is better than being smart. It is desire, not intelligence, that prompts behaviour. – James Clear
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.“
It’s dawn, and the air is chilly.
We are not supposed to regroup before an hour.
But I can hear the first early-riser getting out of their tents.
It’s a misty morning, the mountains around are hiding.
I walk to the middle of the open space, the place where the fire burns during the day. There are no flames, but I can see some embers pulsing under the ashes.
I’m not great with fire. But I love to watch how the other men can quickly start one. And I love to watch the flames dance. I just never been useful in starting a fire.
Only now I’m here alone before those embers. And I swear, they are calling. So, I did as I saw others doing the day before. I put some new wood over the embers, and I start blowing. Gently.
With every blow, the ember comes alive and glow. Every time a bit more. Until all of a sudden, a flame bursts and the fire comes alive again.
Since that day, breathing life into a glowing ember became one of my favourite experiences. It’s magical how it happens.
Sometimes, our potential is like an ember, a faint light under the ashes. If we do nothing, it will go dark and cold. But if we breathe our being into it, the ember will start glowing again until it will burst into flame and irradiate our life.