One Apple A Day #597 – you are infinite

Be yourself, they say.

Great advice but, who am I?

Who this self I am supposed to be? How would I know that I am “being myself”?

Because the more I try to define who I am using my thinking mind, the more I wrap myself into a box that gets smaller.

And I can clearly sense that most of me has been left out.

So, you see, there is a problem here.

My mind thinks in shapes and forms, so it is used to set boundaries to divide one thing from the other. To separate me from the others and the world so I can put a label on myself.

The ancient greeks engraved the words γνῶθι σεαυτόν on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

“know thyself”

What they didn’t write is that knowing yourself is a never-ending journey. And that the journey is more important than the destination. It doesn’t matter how many labels and boxes you’ll be able to use to define yourself, as long as you keep exploring.

You are infinite as the universe you hold inside.

The Monthly Edition: August 2019

It’s the holiday season! At least in Italy. This is typically the month when nothing happens, and everyone is in vacation mode (often even when they are working).

Anyway, whatever your situation right now you’re probably worried because you haven’t received my monthly newsletter.

At least, this is what I’m telling to my ego. 🙂

Reality is that your inbox is already full of stuff, so you’re just realising now that this month I’m late.

Again.

Even more than the previous months.

It looks like I can’t keep up with my own commitment.
If I squeeze my brain for a few minutes, I’m pretty sure I’ll come out with some excellent excuses for this delay.
But you know what.

Screw the excuses.

“Victims make excuses. Leaders deliver results.” — Robin Sharma

I have no plans of being a victim.
I want to deliver results.

And that requires me to take responsibility. With “taking responsibility” I mean to own my failures, so I can learn from them. To do that I need to have an honest and frank conversation with myself, asking uncomfortable questions and staying away from the easy answers.

So, right now I’m asking myself; “what can I learn from this failure in keeping the deadline for my newsletter?”.

Yep, all of a sudden this newsletter is about the answers I found in my self-inquiry process. I know each one of us is unique, so what came out of my process will be unique to me. But who knows, you may find some ideas or insights that will be beneficial to your own processes.

Lesson #01: Clarity of meaning

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

The first thing I’ve investigated in my self-inquiry is the “why”.
When we investigate the motif behind something we want to do, we may be tempted to use a “why” question. Like “why do I want to do this?”

But even when I’m talking with myself, this question tastes judgemental. So, I decided to go for a different one.

“What are the things that make this newsletter so important to me?”

And this is the list that came out:

  • I love writing, and this is another opportunity to write
  • This newsletter is more personal than the other stuff that I publish, so it sparks a different type of reflections
  • It creates opportunities to start conversations with others
  • It helps me slow down and assess my own journey, something I often overlooked because I’m too busy doing stuff.
  • It’s an opportunity to improve my discipline (like having a book to suggest every month).

No lack of motivations then. The solution ought to be found somewhere else. Even if, it’s good to reconnect with the intentions that started this small project of mine.

Lesson #02: Plan ahead

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” — Confucius

I realised I had to send the newsletter only on the 1st of August. That means I was already late for it. That’s not a good start. On top of that, my schedule for the first week of august was already defined. So I couldn’t find the time that I needed to write this newsletter. I am a slow writer, so I need at least four hours to get in the flow, find the inspiration, do the actual writing, review and polish and then send it. If I want to be on-time, I need to set aside the time for this task way ahead.

Thanks to these two learning, I was able to design some actions.

Actions!

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”  — Reg Revans

  1. I locked the time in my calendar for the next five newsletters, until December.
  2. I defined the list of books to read and comment for the next five months
  3. I’ve decided to publish these newsletters also on my website as articles to create even more opportunities for conversations (that would be the page you’re reading now. If you want to receive it also on your inbox, just subscribe to my newsletter using the form on the right of this page).
  4. I’ve decided to share more updates on all the things I’m working on, so maybe new collaborations can emerge.

From my bookcase

This month’s suggestion is “Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think” by Dave Gray. This book had a profound impact on my vision on almost everything. It really opened my eyes on the power of the space in-between.

“In order to learn anything truly new, you must empty your cup, so your existing knowledge, theories, assumptions, and preconceptions don’t get in the way.”

 

So, in a few weeks, I’ll have a new monthly edition with more updates and a new reading suggestion. If you want to be sure you won’t miss this article next month (or if you want to check if my actions deliver the expected results), just subscribe to my newsletter.

For now, this is the end of this summer (and first) edition of this post.

Thank you for your patience and for giving me this opportunity to reflect and improve.

And if you want to share with me how you deal with your own failures, comment below. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you and learn!

One Apple A Day #587 – the marshmallow

Do you know about the Marshmallow Test?

It is an experiment on delayed gratification conducted in the late sixties at by at Stanford University psychologist Walter Mischel.
The test was straightforward. A group of children are taken one by one into a room where there is marshmallow on the table. The tester tells them that they can eat the marshmallow, but if they wait for a short period without touching it, they will receive a second one.
Then the tester leaves the room for approximately 15 minutes, so the child is left alone with the marshmallow.
Some resisted until the tester came back and received the second marshmallow. Others gave up and ate the one they have in front of them.

The researchers kept monitoring the children while they were growing up. They found out that the ones who were able to resist the temptation of the immediate gratification and wait longer for the bigger reward ended up with better life outcomes according to many parameters.

I’m sure many different factors contribute to our outcomes in life, but I believe that the ability aim for the long run is a critical one.

Observing how people operate around me, including me, I can see how we are constantly pressured to favour instant gratification. It’s how everyone who has something to sell gets our attention.

What about you? Can you wait for the bigger prize?

One Apple A Day #586 – potato or egg?

“Boiling water will soften a potato but harden an egg.”

It’s great to study the lives of remarkable people. To learn about the strategies of the ones who inspire us. From their experiences, we can extract many useful ideas that can help us in our own life journey.

But there is a caveat.
For an idea to create a real impact in your life, you must be able to mould it around your unique identity.

We study successful people because we want what they have. But what they have is the result of what they did. And what they did is informed by who they are.

Your actions are more powerful when they are aligned with your identity.

So, the first step, as Socrates said, is to know yourself.
The second step is to know who you want to become.

Then you’ll have an inner compass that will help you navigate through the ocean of ideas and strategies from successful people. So you won’t do what others do. You’ll create your own unique way.

One Apple A Day #581 – back to the future

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” — Heraclitus

Two weeks ago, I moved into my family’s home.
I left this house 18 years ago and this small town four years later.
After that, I’ve been to many places, I’ve lived in a few different countries, I’ve met many fantastic people, and I’ve been blessed with a lot of incredible experiences. Some good, others not but all have contributed to me becoming who I am today.

And now I’m here, again.
Everything should be familiar around here.
But it’s not.
From the very first moment, I felt a weight on my chest.
Something was off, but I couldn’t understand what.
It took me a while to realise that my mind was picking a few known inputs and trying to retrieve existing patterns from my memory.
But it wasn’t working.
Those patterns are not mine anymore. New ones need to emerge.
Only when I stop trying to go back, and I decided to move forward that weight started to lift from my chest.

In the end, we are born to move forward.

Literally.

The human gait is designed to propel a person forward.

 

One Apple A Day #577 – shed the old skin

The other day I was walking in a park surrounded by the sound of thousands of cicadas. A typical soundtrack in the Italian summer.
But this time, a friend showed me all their abandoned skins on the side of the trees.

I’m fascinated by these transformation processes in nature, so I had to learn more.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

The female cicada deposit her eggs within slits in the bark of a tree. When the eggs hatch, the newborn nymphs drop to the ground, dig and hide into the soil.
The nymphs live underground for most of their lives. They have strong front legs for digging. They create their home close to roots, and they feed on their sap.

At some point, when they are ready to transform in their final nymphal state, they create an exit tunnel to the surface and emerge into the light. The find a tree and start climbing. During the climb, they shed their skin – a process called moult – for the last time. The new adult cicada emerges, the one we can hear in summer. The abandoned skins still clinging to the bark of the trees.

I find the whole process magical. When the cicada is ready to move into the adult life, it leaves behind the old skin so the new self can emerge to bring its magic to the world.

What do you have to shed and leave behind to bring your magic into the world?

One Apple A Day #569 – Mess things up

Have you ever get to work and then realise that you don’t remember the journey?
I did.
It’s a weird feeling to park the car and realise that I don’t remember driving there.
It also a proof of the incredible ability of our mind and body to create efficiency. Our mind creates patterns or habits to process things automatically and filter out the noise.
Our lives are full of habits, of a lot of them we may not be even aware.
But they are vital.
Without these patterns and filters, we would be overwhelmed by the amount of input flooding our senses and, in the end, stuck.

It is the upside of habits; we can do things without thinking.
But there’s a risk.
You get used to doing things a certain way and stop paying attention.
Efficiency can get in the way of growth and creativity.

That’s why we should mess things up every now and then.
When we feel stuck, it may be because of our patterns and filters making us see and do things the same way we always did.
Messing things up and creating some chaos forces our mind to reassess reality, to find new meanings and to discover new connections.

And once you’ve created mess and chaos, make them matter.

Make my messes matter.
Make this chaos count.
Let every little fracture in me
Shatter out loud.
— from Jupiter by Sleeping At Last

One Apple A Day #552 – responsibility and freedom

Bureaucracy.
This is the word that emerged and filled up my mind this morning.
Not a fanciest or most inspiring word in my dictionary, for sure.

I have a complicated relationship with bureaucracy. At any levels and in any context.
Sure, the worst experience is when I have to do with the public administration. In those cases, I feel as if bureaucracy has been carefully designed to create uncertainty and doubts.
But to be honest, I struggle anytime some rules and procedures overshadow human relationships to make things happen.

To me, bureaucracy is the epitome of a form depleted of the energy from which it manifested.

So, I woke up with this word in mind, and I want to do something with it, not just vent out my annoyances.

I remember a quote that I read a while ago.

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life

That made me immediately think about the relationship between freedom and responsibility.

In a workshop that I did a few months ago precisely on this topic, I’ve been reminded that responsibility is the “Ability to respond” to situations.

“Forces beyond your control can take away everything you possess except one thing, your freedom to choose how you will respond to the situation.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

So, freedom and responsibility are strongly linked.

“Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness.” — Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

If we don’t feel free, we won’t take responsibility. But if we don’t take responsibility for our words and actions, we can’t be free.

I recollect many conflictual conversations in different organisations, where employees were asking for more freedom and the manager were asking for more responsibility. And they couldn’t find an agreement; apparently, they were asking for two different things without realising that they were just talking about two sides of the same coin.

Great! So, where do we start? From responsibility or from freedom?

It looks like a typical chicken or egg problem.

“The first step toward personal freedom is awareness.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements

My feeling is that we should always start by expanding our awareness.

One Apple A Day #537 – it starts from not knowing

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” —Josh Billings

Yes, it happened to me many times. It still happens.
Let’s be honest, when reality doesn’t fit with what we know for sure, it’s more comfortable to lie to ourselves than challenge our truth.

The world is full of opportunities to learn and grow. But you’ll never begin a learning process unless you become aware and accept what you don’t know.

On the 20th February 1969, Martin M. Broadwell published on “The Gospel Guardian” the 17th and last part of a series titled “Teaching For Learning”. In his article, Broadwell introduced a new learning model that he labelled “the four levels of teaching“. Or, how it is often called “the four stages of competence“.
The founding idea of the model is that we ‘can’t being a learning journey if we are unaware of what or how much we know. He calls this first state of being unaware of not knowing the “unconscious incompetence” state. As we progress with our learning, we go through four psychological states until we reach the last one; the “unconscious competence” stage.

Let’s take a look at the four stages.

  1. Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we become aware and accept our incompetence, we can move forward and start a learning process.
  2. 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.
  3. Conscious competence: we have finally acquired the skills we wanted, but to use them, we must be deliberate in our actions. The newly acquired skills may be now easy to use, but they require attention and for us to be conscious. Being conscious of how we use our capabilities allow us to go deeper and integrate the new behaviours in our identity. We are shifting from Doing to Being.
  4. Unconscious competence: finally, what we have learned become “second nature“. The new skills become part of our identity. We don’t do them anymore, they are integral to who we are.

One Apple A Day #536 – help others shine

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” —Ben Sweetland

My first boss was, he still is, an incredibly talented, smart and knowledgable person.
In my eyes, he knew everything about software development. We worked together for a long time, and we became friends. It was the time of the Internet Bubble, the beginning of this millennium. Life was great for software developers. We worked a lot, most of the time on exciting projects, and we were well paid.
During all those years, he kept teaching. It wasn’t a well-paid job, not compare to software development and, considering the amount of time spent in the office, I couldn’t understand why he was investing so much time in teaching.
When I asked him, he told me that teaching was the better way he knew to learn and improve himself.
I have to admit, I couldn’t really understand his answer at the time. To me, he was already the most competent person in my field.

But this morning, while I was reflecting upon the power of helping others shine, his story came up.
If you are struggling to overcome a tough situation, or you want to grow, but you can’t find your way forward, you can try helping someone else who’s on a similar journey. When you help someone else shine, their light will brighten your path.