One Apple A Day #529 – environment

I wanted to write about the importance of having an anchor in our life.
But then I woke up with the birds singing, the sky over London is blue, from my window I can see the vivid green of grass and the tree of the park behind the house.
I saw all of that, and I stop for a minute to stay with it.
The more I stared at the beauty of nature, the more I feel peaceful and positive about the day ahead.
This moment of morning bliss reminded me of the importance of the environment that surrounds us. At home, at work, everywhere we go and operate. And with “environment” I mean everything around us; the location, the building, the furniture, the things but also the people.
If the environment in which we are immersed is not aligned with our intentions and values, it’s like rowing against the current. It can be done, but it drains all your energy just to move a little. But when there is alignment, then the environment becomes an amplifier.
Even more, the right environment can pull you in the direction you want to go and support you also when you’re tired or your motivation drops.

We can’t always choose the environment on which we are, that’s why it’s essential, anytime you can, to choose wisely what and who you want around you. Your environment can become one of your greatest assets.

One Apple A Day #528 – defining moments

“When a defining moment comes along, you can do one of two things. Define the moment, or let the moment define you. “— from the movie “Tin Cup”.

I don’t remember how I ended up watching this movie years ago. It’s not really Oscar’s material. Probably it was before the “on-demand” era when there weren’t many choices on TV. Anyway, I remember nothing about that movie but that sentence. And it comes back anytime I am, or someone I love is, going through a tough moment.*

I believe that somehow every moment is a defining moment. In the sense that every moment contributes to shaping your identity. Every moment in life we are called to choose how we want to respond to external circumstances. Our choice, as we saw in a previous post, will cast a vote towards the person we want to be.

But some moments are more defining than others. I’m talking about those events that can turn a life upside down. From the positive ones — having a baby, falling in love with someone, or winning the lottery — to the negative ones — losing someone you love, a divorce or a nasty illness.
In those moments, it may feel as if the universe has something against you and it’s easy to feel lost and without any way out or forward your current situation.

But we always have a choice.

“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

If you hide from that choice, then it’s highly probable that the moment will define you. But if you choose to own the moment, you can define it and transform it into a growth opportunity.
I’m not saying you can turn things around just because you decide to.
Some situation can’t just be changed or are outside your sphere of control.
But you can decide how you show up.

“Man is capable of changing the world for the better if possible, and of changing himself for the better if necessary.” — Viktor Frankl

So, if you are going through a defining moment, you may want to ask yourself “who do I want to be in this situation? What can I change about this situation? What can I change about myself? What opportunities to grow are here for me?”

* I’ve searched the scene on youtube. I believe that when the character, played by Kevin Costner, said that sentence to explain his stubbornness more than to talk about the importance of owning the moment. Though, that statement is still compelling.

One Apple A Day 526 – explore and exploit

Today I want to write about passion. Or better, about the lack of it.
When I was a child, I didn’t know what my passion was. Sure, there were many things that I love, reading above all, but I didn’t have a clear idea of who I wanted to become.
Things didn’t get better growing up. I can’t remember a moment when I thought “this is it, my passion, what I’m going to do from now on”.
Instead, I went using a trial and error approach.
An approach that I’ve been refining over the years and it worked quite well for me. Though, I still have that subtle feeling of envy when I meet someone who has a burning passion for something; a person on a mission.

I know I’m not alone in this. Many people haven’t found that defining passion or mission, yet.

And you know what? It’s ok.

It’s ok to be searching and trying. Isn’t it the quest for our mission a mission on itself?
The important thing is to keep searching, trying and learning. Fragments of the picture will emerge along the way. Our passion will grow within us while, at the same time, we will grow into it.

Of course, there’s a problem with this approach: life is short.

We need to find the best explore/exploit trade-off.
Find something that works for you, something on which you get higher returns than the average person and exploit it. But always keep a window open for exploration, to try new things and when you find something that works well, exploit it integrating it with what you’re already doing.

One Apple A Day 525 – the master is ready also

This morning I walked my niece to school. It’s a five-minute walk through a small industrious village of the Italian countryside. On the way to the school, she told me about her day’s ahead, what she likes and what not. Her stories about school make me often think about how we approach education here, but that’s a good topic that won’t fit in a fifteen minutes writing slot.
On the way back, I was thinking about the relationship between a student and a master. In the last two years, I met many people who have taught me a lot. They are not teachers in the proper sense. They are friends, colleagues, partners, fellow travellers in the walk of life. Yet, more than once each one of them has been a master to me.

I was thinking about this while walking home, and I remembered reading somewhere that “the student makes the master” or something like that.

So, I ask Google, and I found out that the quote that I remember was “when the student is ready the teacher will appear.” A quote that is often presented as a Buddhist proverb.

As I always do, I dig a bit more until I discovered that Buddha has nothing to do with it. Instead, it is an old Theosophical statement taken from a book titled Light on the Path, wrote in 1886 by Mabel Collins. The statement is a bit more poetic, and it says; “for when the disciple is ready the master is ready also.

Anyway, even if the quote has some weird and questionable origins, it resonates with me.  Any time I embrace a learning mindset, a “master” manifests before me. Sometimes the master is a person, other times it is something else like a piece of art, an event or nature herself.

I think the lesson for me is that if we want to learn something, before finding a master, we must embrace the learner’s mindset.

P.S. I just realised I already wrote about this not long ago. What is the lesson here? 

One Apple A Day #521 – you can do something

According to the Global Challenges Foundation – a foundation that works with researchers to explore threats to humanity -, the next 50 years will set the pace for humanity’s survival in the next 10,000 years.

Climate change, mass migrations, artificial intelligence, political instability, deforestation. The list can go on and on.

The challenges ahead of humanity are greater than ever, and it’s easy to feel small and powerless.
What can we do?
What can I do?

When I caught myself in these thoughts, I always go back to this sentence from “Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler“, a beautiful book by Paul Lindley.

“While a toddler’s world might be geographically tiny, it is mentally limitless; conversely, when we grow up, we have the potential freedom to explore everything around us, but will often limit ourselves to the same narrow range of places, people and experiences.”

From toddlers, we can learn to be creative with what we have. But there is something more than that. They face every challenge with an open mind because they haven’t been conditioned yet. When we want to find a solution to a problem we approach it with the same mindset that creates that challenge in the first place. Our mindset comes with us, and it limits us our possibilities.

I believe that I can do something about the significant challenges we face as humanity.
But it all starts by expanding my awareness.

“The biggest challenge we face is shifting human consciousness, not saving the planet. The planet doesn’t need saving, we do.” by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez (a 19 years old activist)

One Apple A Day #520 – time flies

This morning when I wrote the date in my journal’s entry, I suddenly realised that one-third of this year is gone.

Time is a tricky thing. One hour can feel endless while months just flow away in the blink of an eye. Probably this is why I always add too many goals to my daily plan.

“Men historically have tended to overestimate achievements in the short run and to underestimate what can be achieved in the long run.”

This statement was said by Alfred Mayo, an aerospace consultant for the NASA, in a 1969 interview to a newspaper for an article about humanity’s future activities in space.

I have this tendency. When I sit down to plan the months ahead, I try to squeeze in as much as I can. It makes me feel productive to look at a plan packed with clear goals and tasks.
Until one morning I realise that one-third of the year is gone, a good chunk of that plan is untouched or forgotten while a lot of unplanned things had happened and some unexpected results have been achieved.

Does this mean that planning is useless?

Not at all.

“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Planning is vital to define your direction and, most of all, to prepare yourself for the journey ahead. To choose what you will need to get where you want; people, skills, tools, structures and so on.

And some times, it is a good idea to stop to check your journey against your plan. Are you getting closer to your goal? Do you need to adjust something? Maybe you need to review the destination. What have you learned so far that you can use to move forward?

The International Workers’ Day seems a good opportunity for a journey’s review.

One Apple A Day #515 – escape forward

“I agree with Schopenhauer that one of the most powerful motives that attract people to science and art is the longing to escape from everyday life.” — A. Einstein

I’d be curious to understand how “everyday life” was for Schopenhauer or Einstein. But I can relate to their point. We all go through many moments and situations that we don’t like. When it looks like things are conjuring against us and the only thing we’d like to do is to escape from our present reality.

We may decide to escape backwards or hide from reality, losing ourselves in mindless entertainment or using substances to disconnect from reality.  Unfortunately, this route only brings temporary pleasure as it doesn’t really change anything.

As Schopenhauer and Einstein suggested, we can choose to escape forward by creating a new reality through art and science, learning and growing. The good news for me is that we don’t need to do what Einstein or Schopenhauer did to change reality.

We just need to focus on our own craft because when we change, our reality change.

“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin

One Apple A Day #513 – no man’s land

It was almost the end of the day when we finally cross the Chilean border. The sun’s light was already fading from white to gold.
We thought, like with the previous borders that we crossed, that the Argentinian checkpoint was a few minutes away, just behind the turn.
We were wrong.
We drove for a good 15 minutes that looked like an eternity before we found the first sign of the border to enter Argentina.
Fifteen minutes in no man’s land.

It’s a powerful feeling to know that you are in space between spaces.
In our lives, every space is owned by someone, or it is dedicated to something. The threshold between spaces is so thin that you can’t really stand on it and take a pause.

We exit something to enter something else.
We finish something only to immediately start something new.

But that day, we’ve been in no country for a while.
A space that doesn’t exist and yet it is so real.
And now I realise that it was also the sunset; that space in-between the day and the night.

There is magic in no man’s land.

Next time that you are crossing a threshold take a pause and breathe in the energy of the space in-between.

One Apple A Day #506 – be more to do more

I’ve been struggling with productivity since forever.
I’ve always seen myself as a lazy person.
Probably this is why I love so much to study tools, tactics, and strategies to be more productive. I want to find out how a lazy person can be productive at the same time.
I can’t remember how many things I’ve tried from goal settings, “Pomodoro” techniques, time management, early rising, focus bubbles, daily habits and so on.
I haven’t found the perfect solution for myself, yet.
But through all this experimenting and play I’ve learned one important thing.
Behaviors that are not in tune with who I am don’t last.

You see, my problem has always been that I can get a lot done in one hour and waste a full afternoon doing nothing. When I was a kid, I was able to read a very long book in two hours, and then I couldn’t finish my homework in a whole afternoon.

Our behaviors are – usually – a reflection of our identity. And this is why we typically fail with productivity tools and strategy. We force them upon our identity instead of shaping them around our identity.

Most of the productivity methodologies aim at increasing what you produce (having) focusing on improving the process (doing), but in doing so, they overlook what you believe (being). But if your doing is not aligned with your being, it’s like rowing against the current. At some point, you’ll give up.

Any effort to become more productive, as an individual or team, should start by focusing on who you are; your identity and beliefs.
Be more to do more.

One Apple A Day #505 – assume nothing

“Before you step into someone else’s shoes, remember to take off your own.” — Devan Capur*

We all have a frame through which we perceive and interpret reality. This frame, or filter, is based on the beliefs, assumptions we develop through our life since we were kids. This frame is vital, it helps us get through life filtering out the flood of data flowing through our senses.
Problems arise when we mistake our frame for the truth, and we lock ourselves inside a bubble becoming blind to the infinite possibilities outside it.
When we enter a conversation with this mindset, we create conflicts and tensions. Because we assume to know the truth, we can’t understand why others can’t see it. It’s so obvious.
We use expressions such as “you should …”, “you think …”.
We can really understand the perspective of someone else until we step out of our bubble.
If you really want to have a meaningful creative conversation, enter empty.
Assume nothing.

* I found the quote on the book Nonflict by Amir Kfir and Stephen Hecht