I usually write my daily apple at home, in the quiet stillness of the dawn. Today it was not possible as we had to leave early so, here I am in a lively cafè with the latecomers having their quick espresso before rushing to their offices.
We can’t always control the situations around us, disruptions happen. But, as Viktor Frankl wrote, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
When something is meaningful for us, we adapt and find a way through. And as you know, this writing pause is my daily anchor.
And somehow, this disruption in my routine fits with the thoughts that have been spinning in my mind since yesterday evening. I attended a workshop about emotional intelligence, and I left with the awareness that we can’t stop emotions from emerging.
The idea that we can leave our emotions behind in some environment, typically work, can lead to a great deal of stress and pressure. There are things you can’t stop from happening such us changing, moving, communicating and feeling emotions.
We change, no matter how much we would like to stay the same.
We move, no matter how much we try to stay still.
As the psychologist and philosopher Paul Watzlawick said, “One cannot not communicate” because “every behaviour is a form of communication”.
And you can’t stop emotions from emerging within you.
Resisting is energy consuming. This is why it is important to embrace, own and take care of your emotions. So you can harness them to create a positive impact within and without you.
And the first step, as I learned yesterday evening, is to recognise your emotions and give them a name.
“In descriptions of Nature one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture. For instance, you’ll have a moonlit night if you write that on the mill dam a piece of glass from a broken bottle glittered like a bright little star, and that the black shadow of a dog or a wolf rolled past like a ball.” — Anton Chekhov
This morning this few words appeared in my mind while I was doing some stretching to wake up my body; “show, don’t tell”.
It’s an expression used to summarise a writing technique. If you’re writing about something, you can describe what’s going on, providing all the information and details, including feelings and emotions. Or you can paint a picture through which the readers can feel the experience as if they were living it.
In the first case, you’re telling, in the second one you’re showing.
The short excerpt at the opening of this post comes from a letter that Chekhov wrote to his brother, and I think it explains the concept perfectly.
Now that we know what “show, don’t tell” means, I’m left with a big question mark and only two minutes to finish this post.
Where is this thought coming from? And what should I do with it?
Maybe it’s related to the experience of last days. I had been talking and coaching with people from different part of the worlds. We used the English language for our conversations even thou, it was not the native language for any of us. And the different styles are just the surface of a more profound richness of cultural nuances.
In those situations, telling doesn’t work.
If I tell how I feel using the words I know, the other person may never really feel the connection. I won’t be able to spark empathy. But if I show how I feel, I can go beyond the boundaries of words and create a real connection.
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.
Sometimes I catch myself stuck in the “outcome” mindset.
The typical sign is the feeling that I’m pushing hard, but I’m going nowhere.
It is like trying to walk while keeping the gaze locked on the destination. As a result, I’m not paying attention to what’s around me and where I put my feet. I begin stumbling even on small obstacles, and I lose the joy of walking. It’s all about getting there.
Ironically, I’m not getting where I want.
It looks like my destination moves with me.
In those moments, frustration kicks in.
In the past, I’ve quit some projects due to this attitude.
Over the years I’ve learned that when I catch myself in that place, I have to shift my focus. I must redirect my gaze from the final outcome to my next step. Once the direction is set, I focus only on the next thing to do.
Even better. I design a new habit. Something I can do every day knowing that if I am consistent, it will take where I want to go.
Lately, I’ve been feeling that sense of frustration with some of the projects I’m working on. Today’s card reminded me that I need to stop thinking about the outcome and focus on “how do I show up every day“.
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.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon “The Parable of the Prodigal Son“. You’ve probably heard about it even if you don’t have a Christian upbringing.
It’s a story that Jesus shares with his disciples about a father who has two sons. The younger one asks the father for his inheritance and then leave wasting his fortune (prodigal means wasteful and extravagant) and becoming a beggar. He then decides to return home begging his father to take him in as a servant. The father instead welcomes him back with a huge feast. The older son, envious and resentful, refuse to celebrate and he complains with his father. He has always behaved rightfully, but he never had such a celebration for him. The father reminds him that one day he will inherit everything and that they must celebrate the comeback of the younger brother because he was lost and now he is found.
I listened to this story many times, and I always thought it was about the love and graciousness of the father. But this time I was struck by the loneliness and misery of the older brother. By being so judgemental, he had trapped himself in a cage.
When we judge others, we are also judging ourselves.
And when we put others in boxes, we reduce our own space.
Anytime we create a wall between right and wrong, we are reducing our space even if we put ourselves on the right side.
To do what we feel right without being judgmental is indeed a challenge, but one that can create freedom.
When I was a kid, my favourite treat for Easter was a typical cake in my region called “Focaccia Veneto”, or “Fugazza” in my dialect. But not every Fugazza. Only the one made by my grandmother. The funny thing is that she didn’t have a proper recipe to share, or at least this is what she told us. So, no matter how much my mum tried to create the same result studying my grandmother, her cake has always been different. Truth is, I’ve never tasted anything like my grandmother’s Fugazza, but over the year my mum developed her own unique, gorgeous recipe that I love as much.
Behaviour is a function of the Person in their Environment, or B = f (P,E).
Psychologist Kurt Lewin defined the equation above in his book Principles of Topological Psychology, published in 1936.
My understanding of this simple formula is that the same person behaves differently when the environment changes. At the same time, two persons will always show different behaviours even if they share the same situation.
The combination “person plus environment” is always unique, even when behaviours are similar or the same. The problem is that while environments can be observed and behaviours can be measured, a person uniqueness is more elusive. So, what we do most of the time is to study the practices of someone successful in a specific environment and model our own actions on theirs. All of this hoping to get the same results.
Unfortunately, it’s not so simple. Indeed, we can learn a lot from a successful person, we can even clone almost perfectly her behaviours.
But we will never be her or him.
We must find our own unique recipe.
One that is rooted in and sourced from our identity.
In the end, we must always remember to start from the ancient wise words inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
If you divide a number by infinite, no matter how big that number is, the result is always zero.
Yesterday I was talking with a friend about how easy it is to get trap into the desire of doing more, achieving more, having more.
It may be for fear of missing out (FOMO), or for the willingness to be in service. Or maybe is just that we love so much for what we do that we crave more of it.
The result is the same.
It’s just never enough.
It happens to me sometimes.
I got so focused on doing things that I forget to savor the moment.
Yesterday morning, while I was driving home, the sky was so clear that I was able to see the Dolomites in all their majestic beauty.
That view reminded me that life, even the longest one, is practically nothing compared to eternity.
This post is just a note to myself.
No matter how far and how fast I walk, the horizon will always be somewhere in the distance. But if I pause, breathe and lift my gaze, the horizon will come to me.
Our actions are more effective when they aligned with our identity.
This alignment creates a resonance that amplifies the impact of what we do. Resonance is the phenomenon that occurs when we apply vibration to an object that is equal (or nearly equal) to the natural frequency of that same object.
Resonance can be incredibly powerful. In 1940 the Tacoma Narrows Bridge collapsed because regular speed winds produced oscillations that matched the bridge’s natural frequency.
The same principle applies to our words and actions. When they resonate with our identity, our natural frequency, they become incredibly impactful. And that works for individuals, teams, and organizations.
That doesn’t mean that we should do is predefined in who we are.
“Genes can predispose, but they don’t predetermine.” — Gabor Mate
But we all have natural inclinations and. When we have clarity about who we are, we can design our unique journey towards our goals.
At the beginning of every learning process, it is natural to model our actions on someone else who already achieved what we want. But at some point, we must understand our uniqueness and find our own model if we really want to leap forward.
In the early 1990s, the neuroscientist Antonio Damasio and his wife Hanna where studying patients with brain lesions that were affecting their ability to feel emotions but not their reason capabilities. They observed that when emotions and feelings are impaired, we are unable to make decisions.
Anytime we need to make a choice, we all want to make the most reasonable and objective one. This is particularly true in working environments. We are often pushed to leave our emotions out and make rational choices. The incredible amount of data to which we have access at any moment should always allow us to make the right or at least a good decision.
But does it?
I remember when we had to choose our second flat to rent in London. We spent weeks browsing websites, talking with agencies and viewing options to find the perfect fit. In the end, we choose one that ticks all the boxes. We never really enjoyed that place. After one year we started looking again. Only this time we left more space to our feeling. We ended up with the most unexpected, and a bit fool choice, where we had our best time in London.
What would happen if, instead of ignoring them, we observe and become aware of our emotions and feeling?
“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” — Antonio Damasio