One Apple A Day #557 – Romeo & Juliet

I’ve spent a few hours strolling around the streets of Verona yesterday. One of the main attractions for tourists is the famous Juliet’s Balcony. People from all over the world come here to see this symbol of love, maybe in the hope that it will bring more love in their lives.
But Juliet’s house and the balcony are nothing more than props. Not much different from the ones I saw outside the Arena when they were setting up the stage for the Aida.
Romeo and Juliet existed in the fantasy world created by Shakespeare’s creative mind. Yet, as Juliet’s balcony proves, if we believe a story long enough, it becomes real. That balcony in Verona feels very real.
This can also happen in our lives. If we tell ourselves a story long enough, that story will shape our reality.
“This can’t be done.”
“I’m not good at this thing.”
“Oh no, I can’t draw, sing, write.”
And so on.
How many “Juliet’s balconies” do you have in your life?
What would you be capable of, if you move past those stories?

One Apple A Day #556 – water and stone

Yesterday I visited a place called “I cadini del Brenton”. It is a series of 15 potholes (the “cadini”) carved in the stone by the water of a stream (the Brenton). Flowing down from one cavity to the other, the water creates small waterfalls. As if the river takes a little jump, then rest for a minute in the silence of nature before taking another plunge downwards.

While I was there, listen to the lulling sound of the water and the wind playing with the trees, I can’t help but admire the relationship between the river and the rock.
The course of the stream is moulded around the shape of the mountains and the rocks. The water twists and jumps and dives adapting its path, but in doing so, it also digs, carves, erodes and smooth out that same stones. Millennials of this dance between the water and the mountain, have gifted us with the beauty that we can admire today.

That view reminds me of how our behaviours and words, like streams of water, are moulded on our identity. But at the same time those behaviours, over time, shape and carve that same identity. The person that I am today is the result of this never-ending dance.
This is where self-awareness plays a vital role. It helps us see how our identity informs our behaviours, so then we can create the habits and rituals that will help us shape the person we want to be.

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 #550 – focus on nothing

What you focus on expands.

I’m sure you already experience this straightforward law. When you focus entirely on one thing, that thing fills up all your sensory space.
I experience the power of this law every morning when I approach this writing exercise. If I focus on the white page before me, it quickly fills up my mind until I’m stuck, unable to write a single word.

So, I know I have to find an idea before opening a new file. Most of the time is just a small seed like a sentence, an image or just a word. Once the seed is there, I focus on it for a minute or two. I allow for that seed to expand until it becomes an idea, and it wants to flow out.

This morning, the seed is a question.

What would happen if I deliberately decide to focus on nothing?

Being able to laser focus on something is extremely powerful. It removes all distractions, so our energy is wholly devoted to making happen the target of our attention. It’s one of the first concepts taught by all experts in high performances.

So, what happens if I deliberately turn off my attention?
When I don’t have a goal to reach, a target for my attention and I just am?
I’m not sure I can describe it in words.
I remember feeling like that when I was wandering in Patagonia with my best friend. We didn’t have anything to focus on but fully being in the moment.
And it was bliss.

One Apple A Day #549 – Make it personal

Don’t take anything personally” is the second of the four agreements shared by Don Miguel Ruiz in his most famous book, The Four Agreements.

Ruiz reminds us that nothing other people do is because of us, but it is because of themselves. Using his words: “Even when a situation seems so personal, even if others insult you directly, it has nothing to do with you. What they say, what they do, and the opinions they give are according to the agreements they have in their own minds.

This is a powerful reminder that would remove a lot of tension and stress from our life. We spend so much time worrying about the opinions of others. In doing so, we let those opinions shape our behaviours and, in the end, our lives.

As Ruiz wrote: “You take it personally because you agree with whatever was said. As soon as you agree, the poison goes through you, and you are trapped in the dream of hell. What causes you to be trapped is what we call personal importance. Personal importance, or taking things personally, is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about me.

What happens around me is not about me. It may impact my life, indeed, but it is not about me.

Though, in my experience, I’ve learned that only when I make something personal, I really give everything I got to make things happen.

So, my agreement becomes “Don’t take anything personally, but make everything personal.

Whatever happens around me, it is not about me, but it is part of me as much as I am part of it. So, I won’t take it personally, but I’ll make it personal infusing my whole being into my doing.

“If we understand and feel that every animal, person and object is our very own self, we cannot go wrong. That is the experience of love.” — Rupert Spira

One Apple A Day #547 – sensing and making-sense

During a conversation with one of my mentors, I became aware of the essential difference and the vital connection between sensing and sense-making.

Sensing is the ability to perceive something even if often we can’t describe it. It’s an innate capacity of our intuitive intelligence that allows us to sense the energy and vibrations of the universe, the one within and the one around us. It is at the base of empathy and compassion.

Sense-making is the ability to find or give meaning to something, to create a logical frame to explain what we experience. It is mostly a cognitive ability.

Our material society favours sense-making. We spend most of our time in school learning how to make sense of everything. Mainly because “making sense of things” is what is supposed to help you move forward in life and have success.
Though, a lot of studies proved that very successful people also have a high ability to sense. Emotional Intelligence is now widely considered essential for a successful life.

Sensing and sense-making are activities of different “muscles”, but only when they work together, we can express our full potential. A high ability to sense that is not matched by a developed capacity of sense-making can easily lead to a sense of overwhelming. Sense-making without the ability to sense is like an empty shell, dry and non-generative.

How can we develop our ability to make sense of the world without losing our capacity to sense it? And how can we awaken our dormant innate ability to sense?

I have the feeling that “art” is an excellent answer to both questions.

“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.” — Little Wins: The Huge Power of Thinking Like a Toddler by Paul Lindley

One Apple A Day #545 – maybe we should

Maybe we should/could …” is an expression we often use when we discuss changes we would like to see in our communities, organisations or groups.

Maybe we should be more grateful. Maybe we should do more of this. Maybe we shouldn’t say that.

And so on.

Most of the time, they are beautiful ideas that, if implemented, they would create a positive impact. However, they rarely get done.
How can I expect something to happen if I am not even sure if I want to do it. “Maybe” and “should” are two words that speak about possibilities, not intentions. And the use of “we” as the subject says that I’m hesitant in taking responsibility for what I’m proposing.

So, here’s my commitment. When I am in any meeting brainstorming about ideas and solutions to change, I commit to avoiding the expression “maybe we should/could …“. Instead, I can start my proposals for new actions with “I want … ” or “I’ll do … “.

Other ideas on how we can replace “maybe we should“?

One Apple A Day #543 – take the first step

This morning I’m really stuck.
My mind keeps jumping from one small idea to another without finding anything to kindle the writing process.
But the time for this practice is limited, so I can’t hesitate anymore. I need to put some words into this post.
How often our action is weakened by the lack of clarity?
If we don’t have clarity about our destination, we are unable to take the first step.
We are stuck.
Like me this morning before a new empty page.
How do you get out of this situation?
Me, I start by accepting that I don’t have clarity about where I want to go.
And then, I do something.
Whatever, if I don’t know where I want to go, then a step in any direction is a good option. The worst that can happen is that I discover that I moved in the wrong direction and that I need to change my path. That’s a valuable lesson.
And if I move from where I am, I’ll be able to see things from a different perspective and what was previously invisible may appear before my eyes.
So, let’s take this first step.

One Apple A Day #540 – the joy of missing out

You’ve probably read about a thing called FOMO or Fear of missing out. It is – according to Wikipedia – “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.
This fear is made worse by social media, where we are regularly exposed to the glittering life of others.
Crawling beneath this fear, there is the need to be seen and to be heard.

I thought I was free from this phenomenon until a friend made me realise that I may have a tendency to say yes to too many things. Sometimes, stretching myself a bit too much, until I feel guilty for not being able to keep what I promise.

Am I pushed but the fear of missing out something?

So, this morning I dug out a little more. I believe mine is a slightly different version of FOMO. I’m not worried to miss out an opportunity to be seen. I’m afraid that I may miss out a chance to find meaning.
So, this morning I’m writing this to remind myself that in the search for meaning, what we don’t do is as important than what we choose to do.

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.