One Apple A Day #663 – systems, drawings and bows

Sometimes I dig too much.

I think in part it’s because I’m naturally a reflective person, and in part for the work I do. I study ways to help people remove their limiting beliefs and unearth their true selves. So, I think it’s natural to do the same thing on myself. To ask me the challenging questions.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work so well. 

Sometimes I just get trap into an inquiry spiral that leads to more confusion and can be exhausting.

I was sitting there meditating on this, and a few thoughts came to my mind.

The first one was a quote from Liminal Thinking by Dave Gray, a book that I love. 

“If you’re part of the system you want to change, you’re part of the problem.”

I believe it also works if you replace the verb “change” with “understand”. It’s hard to understand something from the inside. 

The second thought is a trick that art teachers use to train the observation capabilities of new artists. They ask the students to focus on the negative spaces around the object they are required to draw and not on the object itself. This is because in drawing an object, the artist knows what that object is supposed to look like. She has a mental model in her head that keeps her from drawing precisely what her eyes see. Hence, when asked to paint everything but the object itself, the proportions are easier to get right. The observation is not conditioned by the mental models.

The last one was the voice of my friend Stefano telling me that “I need to unload the bow every now and then otherwise, the tension will break it.

Not sure how these three thoughts are connected, but my time for this writing practice is gone, and I definitely need breakfast.

One Apple A Day #659 – a long trail

Yesterday, I did some trekking with a friend. We walked for a few hours on an unexpectedly steep trail.
As always, I’m amazed by the amount of learning and discovery that a walk in nature can unlock.
Anyway, we left early in the morning with plenty of enthusiasm. I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.
The first meters has been effortless. My legs were fine, my heart beating normal, and my breathing relaxed.
One kilometre, two kilometres. All good, we were walking in a beautiful autumn scenario within the woods, the mountains immersed in the November mist.
2,999 meters and I feel good.
Un meter later, fatigue arrived. Like a little shock running through the thigh, a bump in my heartbeat, the breath a little louder.
From that moment, the walk shifted and became tougher and tougher until we finished our excursion and came back to the car.

Would you say that the reason for the fatigue was the meter 3,000? That if would skip that meter, I would have any problem and maybe walk easily for hours?
I’m sure you won’t say that. Obviously, fatigue was just manifesting at that point but has been building up in all the meters before.

Yet, how many time in life, we focus on one event and forget the journey that led to that moment?
We think some people become successful overnight ignoring the years of hard work they put in to get there.
Something or something falls apart for what looks like a small push, and we overlook the long trail of small cracks that have been manifesting for a long time.

“Breakthrough moments are often the result of many previous actions, which build up the potential required to unleash a major change.” – James Clear

That’s why it’s essential to take care of your habits. Being aware that the journey to the top is a long one and every single step matters.

One Apple A Day #657 – love boredom

Mastery requires practice. 

I know that, if there is something on which every master or big achiever agrees is that if you want to get to excellence, you must practice.

I also wrote about it many times.

I think I got the concept, but I also know that knowing what to do and doing what I know is not the same thing.

In this case, the barrier between the knowing and the doing has a name; boredom.

“The greatest threat to success is not failure but boredom.” — James Clear

The more you practice something, the more you get better at it. But also the more tedious and routine it becomes. At the beginning everything is exciting, every time I practice, I learn new things. Improvements are visible, and they motivate me to go on. But sooner or later, the day by day improvements become less evident, routine replaces the excitement, and slowly my interest starts fading away. That’s when I start looking around for some novelty and my journey to mastery crumbles. Even if it is working and I am making progress.

“Men desire novelty to such an extent that those who are doing well wish for a change as much as those who are doing badly.” — Machiavelli

I’d love to say that there is a strategy to avoid that, but so far, I have found nothing but learning to fall in love with boredom.

One Apple A Day #640 – Collapse

We all live on different planes or realities at the same time.
We all share the physical and material one, where our body moves and things happen. But at every moment, a lot is going on at the emotional, rational and spiritual planes.
Very often, those different planes are misaligned, if not completely disconnected. Our body is in the present while our emotions are still trapped in the past. We walk in nature, but our mind is still in the office.

Do you ever experience that?

I do. And I also experience the magic unleashed when all those planes collapse into one. When my soul, heart and mind melt and sink into my body. When it happens, I feel a sense of connection and strength as if my energy gets multiplied.
Maybe you’ve experienced that too. When you do something that you’re so passionate about that everything else disappears. When you’re playing with your kids, and the world goes silent. When you’re with someone that you’ve fallen in love.

When all those planes collapse, it is as if your self expands beyond you.

But can we do that? How do we create that alignment?

One thing that is helping me is to have a grounding rhythm in my life. A set of rituals that I choose with the sole purpose to help all the layers collapse into one.

 

 

Photo by Matúš Kovačovský on Unsplash

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 #626 – discipline

“How are we to become a warrior? There are certain characteristics of the warrior that are nearly the same around the world. The warrior has awareness. That’s very important. We are aware that we are at war, and the war in our minds requires discipline. Not the discipline of a soldier, but the discipline of a warrior. Not the discipline from the outside to tell us what to do and what not to do, but the discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.” — Don Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements.

I’ve been struggling with presence and focus since I can remember. When I was a kid, my mind was continually wandering in a world of fantasy. I was under the sea with Captain Nemo, on a boat with Harvey Cheyne, fighting with the pirates or travelling to the centre of the Earth. Anywhere but not wherever my body was.

Even growing up, I kept being a wandered of the mind. My thoughts always floating between past, present and future. Reality and fantasy.

Over the here, this rambling mind of mine has become an invaluable tool. It helped me do some of the things I love the most; find connections, dig out ideas, change often, begin many different things.

The other side of the coin is the struggle to focus on one thing, to keep the ball rolling until the work is done, to finish what I start, to close what I open. 

Through different experiences, starting from school and going through various jobs, I’ve learned that discipline is how I can teach my wandering mind to focus. So, over the years, I’ve created different structures and systems to bring discipline in my life. However, almost every time, those systems and structures failed me. I thought it was part of the game. Then the other day, while I was going through my notes in search for something I need to write a post, I found some words I highlighted many months ago from The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz.

They’ve been working in my head for a few days.

The discipline of a warrior.

The discipline to be ourselves, no matter what.

It’s time for me to approach discipline in a whole new way.

One Apple A Day #624 – whatever

The other day I was reading an article on what is the best way to exercise. There are so many disciplines, theories and methods out there that you can spend days trying to understand which is best for you. 

I got to the end of the article, still not knowing what the best way to exercise is. They all have pros and cons.

Then I remembered a short video interview of Arnold Schwarzenegger – yep, the terminator. They asked him what was better between kettlebell and dumbbell. To which he answers: “it’s the same because your muscle doesn’t know what you’re holding in your hand“.

These two moments made me think of how easy it is to get lost in the quest for the right way. It’s like waking up with the desire to go somewhere, and then spend the whole day analysing all the possible options to get there. Until the sun sets down, the day is gone, and you postpone the trip to another day.

How often did I spend all my time to understand what was the right or best thing to do and ended up doing nothing?

And how often, did I decide to start big because I wanted to make my effort worth it? I want to get fit so, let’s run for one hour three times a week. And then, the second week it’s only two times, then 30 minutes one time before giving up completely.

So, I found an easy trick that works, most of the time, for me.

The answer to “what should I do to get there” is “whatever I can consistently do long enough to make it stick“.

My rule of thumb is anything I can keep doing “every weekday for 3 months“. If it doesn’t stick, that’s not it, and I look for something else. If it holds, but I can’t see the results I want, I tweak it until it works. In any case, I’ll have learned something valuable.

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 #602 – pressure and time

“Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes really, pressure and time. That, and big goddamn poster.” — The Shawshank Redemption

Andy, the main character of the movie, spent 20 years digging a hole in the wall of his prison’s cell, a few crumbs at a time. He applied a little pressure for enough time until he was able to escape the prison and gain freedom.

When we are going through a tough moment, or we feel trapped in a difficult situation, we dream about a significant change. Something that shakes our world, turns things upside-down and redefines our life.

And while we wait for this defining moment, time goes by, and it eats up our energy. At the point that, even when that moment comes, we are not able to seize it.

“It is so easy to overestimate the importance of one defining moment and underestimate the value of making small improvements on a daily basis.” — James Clear

There is always something small you can do. It may seem insignificant at that time, but if you are consistent, you can build massive transformation.
Geological transformations are massive, we talk about continents moving and mountains emerging or disappearing. Yet, you can stare at a mountain for a whole life without seeing the slightest change. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not happening.

Decide who you want to become, find the tiniest action you can do every day to be that person, and then do it.
Pressure and time.
That’s all you need.

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