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

ONE APPLE A DAY #594 – a clean start

I took a few days off from this little project of mine. Even more, I paused the whole morning routine for a week.
No exercise, no meditation and no writing.
I understood that it was necessary after writing the previous daily apple last Monday. At the end of my fifteen minutes writing process, I was spent. I had to push the words out instead of letting them flow, and that depleted my energy. I’m not sure when it started, but it wasn’t energising anymore.
I needed to rest. So I put the morning writing on hold.
And with it everything else.
In fact, this recovery pause made me realise that this tiredness was affecting everything in my life.
My to-do list was crushing me. I had things in it that I’ve been postponing for weeks, some even for months.
And they were hunting me, pushing me to keep doing stuff even if my energy was gone and I wasn’t really able to take any step further.
So, I did something a bit crazy.
I didn’t just pause the to-do list, I wiped it clean. I deleted all the things to do that I wasn’t doing. I thought that if they were still there after weeks than the key to making that happen surely was not that busy do-do list.
So, I cleaned it.
And you know what. The day after I cleaned my to-do list, I completed one of the tasks that I’ve been dragging for months.
Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I think it’s not.
Sometimes we put so much weight on things that we aren’t unable to move them forward. The moment we give up, we lift that weight and voilá, the magic happens.

The Monthly Edition: August 2019

It’s the holiday season! At least in Italy. This is typically the month when nothing happens, and everyone is in vacation mode (often even when they are working).

Anyway, whatever your situation right now you’re probably worried because you haven’t received my monthly newsletter.

At least, this is what I’m telling to my ego. 🙂

Reality is that your inbox is already full of stuff, so you’re just realising now that this month I’m late.

Again.

Even more than the previous months.

It looks like I can’t keep up with my own commitment.
If I squeeze my brain for a few minutes, I’m pretty sure I’ll come out with some excellent excuses for this delay.
But you know what.

Screw the excuses.

“Victims make excuses. Leaders deliver results.” — Robin Sharma

I have no plans of being a victim.
I want to deliver results.

And that requires me to take responsibility. With “taking responsibility” I mean to own my failures, so I can learn from them. To do that I need to have an honest and frank conversation with myself, asking uncomfortable questions and staying away from the easy answers.

So, right now I’m asking myself; “what can I learn from this failure in keeping the deadline for my newsletter?”.

Yep, all of a sudden this newsletter is about the answers I found in my self-inquiry process. I know each one of us is unique, so what came out of my process will be unique to me. But who knows, you may find some ideas or insights that will be beneficial to your own processes.

Lesson #01: Clarity of meaning

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” — Nietzsche

The first thing I’ve investigated in my self-inquiry is the “why”.
When we investigate the motif behind something we want to do, we may be tempted to use a “why” question. Like “why do I want to do this?”

But even when I’m talking with myself, this question tastes judgemental. So, I decided to go for a different one.

“What are the things that make this newsletter so important to me?”

And this is the list that came out:

  • I love writing, and this is another opportunity to write
  • This newsletter is more personal than the other stuff that I publish, so it sparks a different type of reflections
  • It creates opportunities to start conversations with others
  • It helps me slow down and assess my own journey, something I often overlooked because I’m too busy doing stuff.
  • It’s an opportunity to improve my discipline (like having a book to suggest every month).

No lack of motivations then. The solution ought to be found somewhere else. Even if, it’s good to reconnect with the intentions that started this small project of mine.

Lesson #02: Plan ahead

“A man who does not plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” — Confucius

I realised I had to send the newsletter only on the 1st of August. That means I was already late for it. That’s not a good start. On top of that, my schedule for the first week of august was already defined. So I couldn’t find the time that I needed to write this newsletter. I am a slow writer, so I need at least four hours to get in the flow, find the inspiration, do the actual writing, review and polish and then send it. If I want to be on-time, I need to set aside the time for this task way ahead.

Thanks to these two learning, I was able to design some actions.

Actions!

“There can be no learning without action, and no action without learning.”  — Reg Revans

  1. I locked the time in my calendar for the next five newsletters, until December.
  2. I defined the list of books to read and comment for the next five months
  3. I’ve decided to publish these newsletters also on my website as articles to create even more opportunities for conversations (that would be the page you’re reading now. If you want to receive it also on your inbox, just subscribe to my newsletter using the form on the right of this page).
  4. I’ve decided to share more updates on all the things I’m working on, so maybe new collaborations can emerge.

From my bookcase

This month’s suggestion is “Liminal Thinking: Create the Change You Want by Changing the Way You Think” by Dave Gray. This book had a profound impact on my vision on almost everything. It really opened my eyes on the power of the space in-between.

“In order to learn anything truly new, you must empty your cup, so your existing knowledge, theories, assumptions, and preconceptions don’t get in the way.”

 

So, in a few weeks, I’ll have a new monthly edition with more updates and a new reading suggestion. If you want to be sure you won’t miss this article next month (or if you want to check if my actions deliver the expected results), just subscribe to my newsletter.

For now, this is the end of this summer (and first) edition of this post.

Thank you for your patience and for giving me this opportunity to reflect and improve.

And if you want to share with me how you deal with your own failures, comment below. I’d be happy to have a conversation with you and learn!

One Apple A Day #589 – my changing loop

“Being in your true essence makes it less of a struggle”.

This BeTheChange card led me into my morning reflections.

Over the years, I’ve experienced many times the struggle of not being aligned with who I am.

When my actions are aligned with my identity, they just flow. But when they are not, everything is a burden.

After many trials and errors, this is my process when I want to achieve something.

First thing, I understand what I want to achieve. I need clarity of the goal to know where to put my attention.

Once I have clarity about what I want, I ask myself who the person who achieves that is. In short, who do I need to become to get what I want?

Then I design a new set of behaviours to install in my life based on my future self. But that’s not enough to sustain the new practices. I’ve learned that I need a set of structures and strategy to support those new behaviours. This is where knowing my present self, with my strengths and weaknesses, is essential. I design structures and strategies around my present self, so they can sustain my journey towards my future self.

One Apple A Day #578 – practice and boredom

Mastery requires practice.

Simple though not easy.

I often use this quote from Bruce Lee, who knows something about mastery:

“I fear not the man who has practised 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times.”

The problem with practice and discipline is that it gets boring. At some point, sooner or later, the feeling of boredom will appear.

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

What can you do then? How can you keep showing up despite the lack of impulse?

I wrote almost 600 posts. The road to 10,000 is still very long but, I already received the visit of boredom. Some morning, when ideas elude me or when I’m tired, it’s not easy to open the laptop and write.
But I’ve learned something from those mornings.

The first and most important thing that I’ve learned is that your practice must be about developing your identity, not achieving your goals. Goals are temporary, and they work very well as motivators when they are achievable in a reasonable amount of time. They are great to start something, but not to sustain it. If you want to build a habit for the long game, you must make it about your identity, your growth as a person.

The second lesson is variety. Add small changes to keep it compelling. In my case, I write every day about something different. This makes the practice more exciting.

The third things I’ve learned is to not get too attached to the practice. It’s not about the habit itself, it’s about what I will become through the practice. So, I’ve decided to stay away from this practice every weekend.