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 #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 #613 – from control to care

It’s past nine in the morning. Quite late for my morning writing practice.

I had, in fact, I’m still having a slow pacing morning.

My weekend was quite intense, and when I woke up at dawn, my body clearly told me that it was too early. 

It needed more rest. So, I decided to take care of myself before doing anything else. Including having my vital apple a day.

Taking care.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to reflect on one of my inner struggles; control. 

I’ve learned long ago that I can’t control what happens outside me, out there in the world.

However, I’ve been struggling with my inner control. 

The control over my own thoughts, emotions and behaviours. 

I know I can stop a thought from emerging or emotion from surging, but I should have the control on how I respond to that thought or emotion. 

And that was my struggle.

Lack of will? Poor discipline?

I don’t know.

But this week, I had the opportunity to spend a day with a group of men willing to ask tough questions and to be vulnerable.

In that space, I had a kind of revelation or intuition of some sort.

What if I change my words?

What if I replace “control” with “care”?

Instead of focusing on controlling my response to thoughts and emotions, I’ll use my energy to take care of those thoughts and emotions.

I don’t know where this shift in perspective will lead me, but I feel a sense of excitement just writing about it. 

And that’s very promising.

P.S. The first image that emerged in my mind yesterday, when I thought about “taking care”, was a majestic tree. And that’s curious. A few months ago, I did a visualization exercise aimed at finding my vision for the future. The image that dominated my vision was one of a tree. That’s where the drawing at the beginning of the post comes from.

One Apple A Day #611 – do you walk on water?

“Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. «It’s a ghost,» they said, and cried out in fear.” — Matthew 14:25-36

Sometimes I fall prey of what I call the “walking on water syndrome“. 

It happens when I feel that I can walk above the mess of reality. That I have found the answers. That I am awakened. 

When I convince myself that I can cross the lake without getting soaked.

I don’t know if it ever happened to you. 

Maybe it’s just a feature of my ego.

Like if I’m talking with someone who has a different perspective on something important. And within that space, I convince myself that I have figured out everything; the situation and the other person. And when that happens, when I take myself out of the mess of reality because I believe I can walk on water, when I do that the connection is gone.

I can see it in their eyes. They look at me as if I’m a ghost.

“The thing to remember is that people act in ways that make sense to them. If something doesn’t make sense to you, then you’re missing something.” — Dave Gray


Thanks to my friend Luca for helping me discover this during one of our walks in the park. I was telling him how sometimes I forget that to deal with the messiness of life, we must be ready to get dirty. And he immediately pointed me to the image of Jesus walking on water. 

Image from Wikimedia.

One Apple A Day #605 – It is important

In the last weeks, I’ve been struggling with my priorities. Probably I said too many yes or maybe I just overestimate my energy.
Anyway, the result is that some days, I feel overwhelmed by the things I want and I have to do. Whatever choice I make on what to focus on, I feel guilty for the things I’m leaving behind and for the people I will disappoint.
In my mind, I know that the only way out is to put things on a list, define the priorities and tackle one task or goal after the other.
And that’s what I found overwhelming; defining my priorities.
The easiest framework I know to prioritize things is Eisenhower’s matrix, later developed by Stephen Covey in his 4 Quadrants.
It’s a simple matrix built on two axes; urgency and importance.
The aim is to put as many tasks as possible in the “important, not urgent” quadrant.
Urgency is based on time, so most of the time, it’s easier to evaluate things to do.
“Importance” is an entirely different game. How do you define what is important? It’s a quest that requires us to explore our values and our vision for the future. To me, something is important when it serves my vision, it is aligned with my values. The degree of importance depends on the impact a specific activity has on my vision and on my world.

You’re probably wondering why am I struggling if I have a framework and I know how to define the priority of the things I want to do?

Because to know what to do is not the same as doing what we know.
Between knowing and doing, there are our emotions and our beliefs influencing our actions.

But I have a secret weapon; my morning practice. Including these daily posts. Just writing about my struggle, I gained more clarity about it. I don’t have a solution yet, but I feel less overwhelmed and ready to review my priorities.
No doubts that my morning practice scores very high in importance.

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 #598 – I slipped

The ache in my back woke me up early, a good half an hour before the planned alarm.
I lurch to the kitchen with my eyes half-closed. It was still dark outside. Or at least, it looked dark to me
I remember thinking that I needed just a few minutes on the couch, to let the pang in my back dissolve before doing my morning exercises.
So, I slump on the couch.
Just a few minutes.
The next thing I recollect was my partner telling me there we were late for our appointment.
No time for my morning practice.
“Nevermind”, I thought, “I’ll recover late, we will have plenty of waiting time through the morning”.
Reality is that I felt slow and sleepy all day. I even struggled to find enough energy to read a novel for more than 10 minutes.

So, yesterday I slipped.
No exercises, no meditation, no daily apple.
Nothing.

It happens. It’s not the first time, and it won’t be the last.
And there is always something to learn, in particular when we fail.

Yesterday, I learned that the twenty minutes I spent every morning doing some physical exercises are not only beneficial for my health. They literally awaken my body and my mind. It’s like sending an energy shock through my whole system re-activating it after the night.
Having skipped that, I’ve been sleepy and sluggish all day, unable to focus on anything.

I’ve also learned that my morning practices are now part of my identity. So, even if I miss one day, I can effortlessly get back to my rituals the day after.

“The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this. It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this.” — Atomic Habits by James Clear

ONE APPLE A DAY #595 – shine through defeat

Yesterday I read a short and powerful piece by an Italian teacher. A friend posted it on facebook but mistakenly associating it with a famous Italian poet and writer.

The words immediately resonated with me, so I wanted to learn more about them. This is how I discover that the real author is Rosaria Gasparro. She’s a teacher in primary school, but she’s also a lot more obviously. For sure she’s a beautiful writer.

This small story made me wonder about the infinite potential that lives within each one of us. We just need to crush the walls of our limiting beliefs and allow for our extraordinary self to shine. Then, we would make the world a brighter place.

Below, my humble translation of the words of Rosaria.

THE PRAISE OF the DEFEAT

I think it is necessary to educate the new generations on the value of defeat. On its management. On the humanity that springs from it. On the creation of an identity that can perceive a commonality of destiny, where one can fail and start over without value and dignity being eroded. On how to not become a social climber, on not to walk over the body of others to get there first.

In this world of vulgar and dishonest winners, of false and opportunistic doers, of people who count, who occupy power, who rob the present, let alone the future, to all the neurotics of success, of appearing, of becoming … to this anthropology of the winner, I instead prefer those who lose. It is an exercise that I do well. And it reconciles me with my sacred little.

You can read more from Rosaria here (in Italian).