One Apple A Day #696 – the magic is in the question

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.

One Apple A Day #693 – search the ember

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.

One Apple A Day #692 – blame vs responsibility

Moving from “blame” to “responsibility” is one of those shifts that can turn a life upside down.
Yet, it is not an easy one.
In a way, blaming is like taking a painkiller.
When something or someone hurts me, I take my blame pills, and the pain fades. Nothing changes, I know. But the pain is gone, and I can keep going on with my life.
But the cause of the pain is still there. And anytime it comes back, I’ll need a higher dose of blaming to dull the pain.
To take responsibility means to look into the source of that pain and act to solve the cause. Unfortunately, often this can make the suffering even worse at the beginning.
I believe this is why blaming comes so easy. In particular, when we are the ones hurting ourselves.
I’ve always been good at this one.
Years of training in blaming myself for every little mistake, so I could relieve myself from the struggle to change.
Even now that I’ve learned the lesson, it’s easy to slip into the blaming mode.
So, this post is a note to self.
A way to remind me that to blame is to look back, so if I want to move forward, I have to take responsibility and do something.

One Apple A Day #691 – being creative is a habit

“The process of being innovative as an organization is a cultural thing; it’s a habit.” — Astro Teller

Yesterday, someone asked me how do I find something new to write about every morning. 

I’d love to say that it’s an innate talent and that ideas flow out of my head and my finger effortlessly. Or maybe that I have found a secret formula to access a wellspring of inspirations and ideas. 

The truth is that there are no secrets, and I don’t have any superpower.

Reality is less romantic. 

I just made a habit of looking for ideas and inspirations. 

Being creative is a habit that everybody can cultivate through intentional and deliberate practice.

When I began this project almost three years ago, it was only to improve my writing. Nothing else. No desires to share anything particular with the world. Just a pure writing practice. But, obviously, to write, I needed something to write about. So, without even noticing at the beginning, I began paying attention to just everything. Everything and everyone became a potential source of ideas for my writing.

Until it became a habit.

Sometimes, when I’m listening to something, I can hear my mind opening the drawer labelled “ideas for the morning writing” and save it for later.

So, that’s the “secret”; practice creativity every day until it becomes a habit.

Welcome 2020

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.

Welcome, dear 2020.
I’m ready. Let’s begin.

Bye 2019

So here I am again. A few hours more and 2019 will be a thing of the past. A folder filled with memories, images, words, faces, emotions ready to be archived. So, today I’ve decided to put aside my morning practice and instead of the daily “apple”, I’ll celebrate the year ending today.

In the last days, I spent some time looking back at all that has happened over the previous 12 months. Not to cling to the past, but to dig out lessons and insights that I can use for the future. All of that with a sense of gratitude.

As I did last year, at the end of this post, you can find a pdf with the questions I used to reflect upon the past and set the stage for the future. If you’re not interested in my learnings and you want to jump straight to the document, click here

If you’re still reading, I’m grateful for your interest, and I hope you could find some useful hints for yourself in my recollections.

First of all, the word that better summarise my 2019 is Identity. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting, talking, reading, writing and exploring the subject. My own identity obviously, but also “identity” as a concept. Can we really know our identity? How do we know who we are? Is it a fixed thing, or does it change and evolve over time? Even if I’m sure I’ll always have more questions than answers on this subject, I feel that this quest is an integral part of my own identity. So, it will also inform my future work, but I’ll talk about this in another post about 2020.

My three most significant achievements in 2019.

  1. The launch of The Lab by MentorLab. I had the incredible opportunity to partner with Rossella and Cristiano in the creation of The Lab. A safe and private place of knowledge sharing and collective learning to connect coaches, mentors and hr professionals in Italy. So far, it has been an incredible journey, and the best has yet to come.
  2. The ACC credentials from ICF. I must admit that I’ve never given much importance to formal recognition or titles. But this one is special because to get it, I had to face and overcome some of my toughest limiting beliefs. So, I want to celebrate this achievement because it reminds me of the journey I did to get there.
  3. The first Italian company taking the Being At Full Potential Organisation Assessment. I’m so grateful for the trust, the courage and the openness with which they decided to challenge themselves.

My three favourite posts (that I wrote) in 2019.

This year I wrote 249 posts as part of One Apple A Day practice plus a few other articles. In 2019 I have produced fewer pieces than the previous years even I definitely wrote more. The main reason is that I started writing in Italian (on The Lab by MentorLab). I’ve also kept working on the book I’m writing with my mentor, but not as much as I wanted. This is something I want to improve next year. Anyway, these are the three posts I remember the most.

  1. Discipline and Identity
  2. Identity, Maps and Territory
  3. Drawing lines

Three lessons I’ve learned in 2019 that will serve me in 2020.

  1. Connecting vs Collecting: I wrote about this lesson in this post. In 2019 I learned that every time I got engulfed in the collecting mindset, my energy drops and my actions are less powerful. In 2020 I’ll nurture a connecting attitude to play my part in letting the energy of the universe flows.
  2. Serve the vision: at the beginning of 2019, I was struggling between the desire to serve others and the need to serve myself. I was stretched between these two divergent forces. That was creating tension and stress. Then I remembered the metaphor of the pendulum, and I realised that when I serve my vision, I’m in service both of myself and others.
  3. Aspirations vs Goals: over the last 12 months, I set many goals, too often failing at achieving them. At the same time, I achieved some unexpected results. I realised that with me, aspirations are more effective than goals. Starting with my aspirations, I can create and focus on practices and rituals that generate results. In 2020 I’ll focus less on what I want to achieve and more on who I want to become.

The three people that most inspired me in 2019.

I am surrounded by incredible people that inspire me every day with their love, passion, curiosity, talent, courage and, above all, with their humanity. I feel blessed, and I’m immensely grateful for their presence. 

Your presence. 

Because if you’re reading this, then you’re one of them. You’re a person who inspires me with your extraordinary uniqueness. 

But there are three persons in particular that I want to celebrate this year. Just thinking of them reminds me of what it means to be human and why I do everything I do.

  1. My dear friend Stefano with his bow, arrows, hugs, jokes, presence, poetry and realness. 
  2. My best friend and travelling partner Andrea for his courage, curiosity, humbleness, open mind, authenticity and ethics.
  3. My sister Silvia because she’s the most incredible example of selfless service, kindness, faith, strength and unconditional love.

The three most useful book that I read in 2019.

  1. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
  2. The Nature of Consciousness: Essays on the Unity of Mind and Matter by Rupert Spira, Deepak Chopra, and Bernardo Kastrup
  3. Beyond Performance: How Great Organisations Build Ultimate Competitive Advantage by Scott Keller, Colin Price

One Apple A Day #676 – don’t let anger poison your soul

I read somewhere that being angry with someone is like drinking poison, hoping to hurt them. It won’t affect the people you hate, but it will surely and slowly kill you.

It happens many times in my life. I allowed negative emotions and thoughts to grow within me until they became toxic and poisoned my soul.
The irony is that while I was getting sick from my own doing, nothing was changing with the situations or the people that sparked my anger.

A few weeks ago, it happened again.
On a Saturday, someone did something that really hurt me. Knowing that there wasn’t much I could do to change the situation, I tried to convince myself that I could let go and enjoy my weekend as planned.
On Sunday morning, my partner and I went visiting some friends. We went exploring a lovely Christmas market to find some inspiration for gifts.

All the time, my mind and my heart were somewhere else.
Pain became a disappointment.
Disappointment became anger.
I was poisoning my own soul.

On the way back home in the afternoon, I realised that I was wasting my energy and my time. For nothing.

When I got home, I immediately went talking with the people who hurt me. From a practical point of view, that conversation was pointless, and it didn’t solve anything. The wound and the pain are still there.
But it helped me pushing the toxic thoughts out of my system, replacing anger with compassion.

Discipline and Identity

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.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

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.

Sources

One Apple A Day #653 – being me

“When I shifted my attention from the change I wanted back to my identity, the change I was seeking just happened.”

This is a powerful insight that a dear friend gave me yesterday. 

In the past, when I wanted to change something in my life, I put all my energy and focus on the change I wanted to make.

Too many times, however, I’ve lost myself in the changes I was seeking. I was so focused on changing something in my world that I forgot who I was in that world. When that happened, I find my self lost and disconnected within the same changes I was longing for.

It is only when I shift my focus inward, that I can root my life in who I am and navigate through changes without losing my centre. 

While changes can depend on many factors. I’m the only one in the whole universe, who can be me.

“Know who you are because no one is better at being you than you are.” — David Droga

One Apple A Day #652 – the universe is my teacher

There is something to learn in everything.

In pain and joy.
In failure and success.
In fear and love.
In friends and foes.
In peace and conflicts.
In the present and in the past.
In my stories and in the stories of others.

Because for the soul, heart, mind and body of a student, everything and everyone is a teacher.

It doesn’t mean that we have to reflect on everything we go through in life to extract a lesson. That would be exhausting.

But we must nurture the learner’s attitude in our mind, heart, body and soul.

Sometimes the learning is manifest, sometimes is subtle, and other times it is apparently invisible.
However, if we keep the learner’s attitude, the learning will manifest itself at some point, in its own way.