One Apple A Day #632 – outgrow your systems

I am a big fan of structures and systems. 

Maybe because willpower is not high on my list of strengths, I learned that they are vital to reaching any goal.

But there’s a caveat. 

They, systems and structures, should never become the goal.

If you want to reach a particular outcome, you can just rely on defining goals. No matter how S.M.A.R.T. your goals are, they are not enough to move you forward.

In the past, before I understood the importance of systems, I use to think that I wasn’t achieving success because my goals weren’t high, bold or smart enough.

“You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” — James Clear

Goals are the starting point to set the direction. But it’s only when you design a system around those goals that you make real progress.

Unfortunately, it is easy to fall in love with the systems we create. In particular when they work, obviously. 

Systems and structures are very sexy for the rational mind. They are made of shapes and forms. That means that, no matter how flexible they are, they still have boundaries and limitations.

When the system becomes the goal, then we are limiting our potential to grow within the boundaries of the system itself.

The best system is one designed to support and sustain our growth, as individuals, teams or organisations. 

The ultimate purpose of a system is to become obsolete.

So, when we outgrow it, we can mould into an evolved version of ourselves.

 

Photo by Andy Holmes on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #620 – good fences

They say that “good fences make good neighbours.
But is it?
Do they really make our neighbours better? If yes, how?

We build walls around us made of rules, policies and laws to feel safe. To protect what we have from others. To be sure that we can collaborate with others even if we don’t trust them fully.

But that’s the trap with walls. They close you in as much as they keep the rest of the world out. They protect your world, but at the same time, they make it smaller.

I believe that within every human being, there is this bigger extraordinary WHO longing to expand.
Like any substance, to expand it needs space.
Our bigger WHO also needs structures that can support its growth.
But it’s a delicate balance. Because if we don’t pay attention, those same structures become walls and fences that closed ourselves in. And without space to grow, we shrink.

So, that’s my challenge.
How can I make good fences that really make us good neighbours?
Fences that help all of us expand our bigger WHO instead of shrinking into our walled garden?

Searching for the source of this proverb, I found out it became common after Robert Frost used it in his poem “Mending Wall” published in 1914.

 

One Apple A Day #615 – out of the clay

Last Sunday, I joined an extraordinary group of men in a one day workshop. It never ceases to amaze me the magic that can bloom from a circle of men showing up with authenticity and willing to explore their vulnerability.

One of the activities we did during the day involved the use of clay.
At the end of this practice, we all were entirely covered with clay.
No wonder that people were stopping by to admire us.
A circle of man, standing still on the shore, covered in white clay head to toe. Like a group of statues from some ancient Greek temple.
We were beautiful.
Really.
At least, this is how I felt.
Beautiful.
The clay hiding all my imperfections.
So, I was standing there.
Still.
The sound of the waves, the warmth of the sun, the slight chill of the breeze.
And the clay was drying out.

The more the thick layer of clay was drying up, the harder it became to move. At some point, even opening my eyes was a struggle.
I was still feeling beautiful but, at the same time, I started feeling trapped.
And then I couldn’t feel the sun anymore. Nor the breeze.

Then we finally moved, the skin itching while the clay crumbled.
We entered the sea and quickly the clay dissolved into the salty water.
It was again me, welcoming back all my imperfections and all my freedom.

It was a fascinating experience.
Going through life, we add layers and layers of beliefs and stories around ourselves. And little by little, these layers become a shell, transforming us in a beautiful statue.
But also limiting our freedom to move, transform and grow.
So, sometimes we need to break that shell, to mould so we can create freedom and make space for new stories.
Like my experience with clay, the more we wait, the harder the shell gets. Getting out of it becomes painful, at the point that someone may decide that it’s easier to learn to stand still.

P.S. Talking about synchronicity. While we were there, standing in the circle becoming statues, a small crab started walking between us on the shore. And I was reminded of the story of the lobster that I love so much.

 

Photo by Karen Maes on Unsplash

One Apple A Day #604 – Connection

All of a sudden, the woods go silent. 

All the others are behind me and observing my movements, however, at that moment, I am alone.

There is nobody else. There is nothing else but me, the bow, the arrow and the prey.

It’s an incredible feeling that words struggle to describe.

Like being out of space and time.

Everything is happening incredibly slowly and fast at the same time.

I look at the prey. I choose the exact spot where I want to hit and then we are one.

The prey and me.

I can feel the connection as if there’s no distance at all.

I raise the bow, pull the cord and then liberate the arrow.

I know where the arrow is flying. I know where it is going to hit. 

I feel as if I always knew.

The arrow hits the exact spot that I visualise.

And then the world comes back.

The sounds of the woods, the voices of my friends.

I am back in the current space and time.

 

That was my experience of flow last Saturday. An utter sensation of just being one with everything. And everything happens effortless and naturally as if any obstacles have been removed.

It was not a pleasure for a good shot. That came only later.

It was a profound and potent sense of being whole.

It wasn’t the first time. I have the same experience sometimes when I’m writing, or when I’m immersed in a powerful conversation.

I’m still not sure how it happens. 

Anytime I try to deliberately create that feeling, I fail. 

And maybe that’s the secret. 

It’s not about trying more or harder.

It’s about setting the stage and allows for the flow to happen.

For sure, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Knowing your goal with clarity is not enough to get it. 

I must create a connection with it. I have to become one with my objective.

And then it will pull me towards itself.

P.S. Obviously, the prey wasn’t a real animal.

One Apple A Day #603 – Curiosity

“Being curious is better than being smart.” — James Clear

Curiosity is a propellent that ignites growth. Being smart is about using what you know in the best way possible. Yet, you’re still limited by what you know. It is curiosity that pushes you to explore beyond the boundaries of what you know. 

The word “curiosity” comes from the Latin curiositatem; “desire of knowledge, inquisitiveness“. And obviously, it’s connected to the Latin word curiosus “careful, diligent; inquiring eagerly, meddlesome“. 

So, when we nurture our curiosity, the unknown becomes like a magnet, calling us to explore and inquire. 

To do so, to cultivate a mindset of curiosity, we must train ourselves to look at things with fresh eyes. As if everything is new, with the same awe of a child exploring the world.

I also found it fascinating that the word curiosity is akin to cura, “care”. A curious person is also someone who takes “care” of something. And that made me realise that the other ingredient of a curious person is love. 

Love is what gives us the courage to go beyond the resistance created by fear. It is vital to act on curiosity.

One Apple A Day #599 – practice

You’ve probably heard of the famous “10,000-hour rule“.

It has been defined by journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell in his book “Outliers: The Story of Success“.

He created this rule based on the results of a 1993 study on violin players. That study shows that the best performer had put at least 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to refine their talent.

This rule is used by many speakers and motivators. In a way, it says that it’s not about your talent, but it’s the amount of work you’re ready to put in that will make the difference. And if you are prepared to put in 10,000 hours of practice, you can aim to mastery.

In a way, I like to be reminded of the importance of practice as a vital part of the journey to mastery. But there’s always a risk of oversimplification when we put all the focus on the outcome. Because when everything is about the results, then the practice is just a means to an end. Something to get through, as quickly as possible.

Recently, Brooke Macnamara, a psychologist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, decided to repeat part of the 1993 study. You can find more about this story in this article.

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.

So, practice is fundamental, but many other factors will determine the final outcome. And that’s in an important reminder that we should fall in love with the practice itself.

Macnamara also said: “Practice makes you better than you were yesterday, most of the time, but it might not make you better than your neighbour. Or the other kid in your violin class.”

And that’s all the beauty of the practice. It is not about competition, it’s about realising our full potential as humans.

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.