One Apple A Day #538 – take care of your energy

This morning I woke up tired and sleepy.
It is like when you forget to plug the charger of your phone before going to sleep, and you wake up with less than 15% of power in your battery.
With such a low level of energy, I’m struggling to keep the focus. Anytime I close my eyes, my mind goes adrift, and I have to make an effort to bring it back here and now.
However unpleasant, this condition is a great reminder of the importance of managing my energy.
There are plenty of books, strategies and tools to improve the way we manage time. But what about our energy? If we have the time to do something, but we’re out of energy, we won’t make anything remarkable.
Having the energy we need when we need it, it’s vital to do what we want and to enjoy doing it. When I talk about “energy” I mean physical energy. We have only one battery that serves our body, our mind and our heart. And our mind is voracious; it consumes circa 25% of our energy despite being only 4% of our mass.
Like with any resource, we must learn how to recharge our energy and how to use it wisely.
But my fifteen-minute slot to write this is gone. Being low in energy, I couldn’t write much. So, I close this post with a question: how do you take care of your energy?

One Apple A Day #536 – help others shine

“We cannot hold a torch to light another’s path without brightening our own.” —Ben Sweetland

My first boss was, he still is, an incredibly talented, smart and knowledgable person.
In my eyes, he knew everything about software development. We worked together for a long time, and we became friends. It was the time of the Internet Bubble, the beginning of this millennium. Life was great for software developers. We worked a lot, most of the time on exciting projects, and we were well paid.
During all those years, he kept teaching. It wasn’t a well-paid job, not compare to software development and, considering the amount of time spent in the office, I couldn’t understand why he was investing so much time in teaching.
When I asked him, he told me that teaching was the better way he knew to learn and improve himself.
I have to admit, I couldn’t really understand his answer at the time. To me, he was already the most competent person in my field.

But this morning, while I was reflecting upon the power of helping others shine, his story came up.
If you are struggling to overcome a tough situation, or you want to grow, but you can’t find your way forward, you can try helping someone else who’s on a similar journey. When you help someone else shine, their light will brighten your path.

One Apple A Day #535 – don’t resist, embrace

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.

One Apple A Day #530 – Anchor

It’s dawn in London, and I’m writing this on a bouncing train to the airport.
I’m tired and a bit sleepy so there is a high probability that this post won’t be one of my best.
Though, I needed these fifteen minutes of writing. No matter the outcome, I need to put some music, open the laptop and tap on the keyboard.
This moment is my anchor.
When I don’t do my morning writing, I can’t get through the day smoothly.
I found that for me it’s vital to have something I can anchor my day.
It helps me stay centred amidst the storms of life.
For me, it’s writing, for someone else it may be running or just sitting for a coffee with your family. If you are sailing through the sea of life, you need sails to catch the wind and move forward. You need a compass to know your way and a rudder to steer the trajectory.
But you also must be sure to carry an anchor with you.
So you’ll know that no matter what, you’ll always be able to ground yourself amid turbulences or maybe just to rest.

Do you have an anchor? What is it?

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 #518 – step by step

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“.

One Apple A Day #517 – take care of your emotions

“Hence, in order to have anything like a complete theory of human rationality, we have to understand what role emotion plays in it.” – Herbert Simon, 1983, Reason in Human Affairs

Every decision, even the one that we perceive as very rational, is an emotional decision. Neurologists have discovered that people with damages to the emotional centres of the brain that impaired their emotions and feelings, lose the ability to make decisions and act even if they can list many reasons to do it.
Logic can help us find the reasons to act, but it’s our emotions that compel us to take action.

“It is emotion that allows you to mark things as good, bad, or indifferent.” – Antonio Damasio

Emotions and feelings transform what we experience into things we want to cultivate or avoid in the future. Anytime we perceive a cue, emotions tell us what the action or decision that will make us feel good is.

“You learn what to do in the future based on what you were rewarded for doing (or punished for doing) in the past. Positive emotions cultivate habits. Negative emotions destroy them.” — James Clear

I often got trapped in endless thinking trying to understand what the right decision is. I created spreadsheets, tables and complicated systems. All in the hope of making a rational choice. And it helps. Don’t get me wrong, the reasoning is essential in decision making. But it’s only when I take care of my emotions that I really move forward.

One Apple A Day #512 – I threw it away

I wrote a very thoughtful piece about health, performance, goals and systems. I included two brilliant quotes from the book I’m reading. And then, when I got almost at the end of my 15 minutes writing slot, I realised that it didn’t feel authentic at all.

Yep, a good exercise, some cool words but my soul was not there.

So, I threw everything away.

Now I have only a few minutes to finish my daily apple.
And I may not be able to write anything significant.

Years ago I was visiting a vineyard in the North of Italy. The owner told me that the year before, he had to throw away all the wine made from a particular type of grape. It was not good enough. He could have sold it, but that would be shortsighted. He wanted to be a great winemaker not to sell a lot of wine.

I’m far from being as courageous as that man, but I’m doing this daily practice not to increase the number of posts but to become better at writing. To do that my words must feel authentic to me.

Ah, and in the end, I have also found a fitting quote.

“Having lower standards for something is bad for your soul.” — Ed Catmull

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.