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“.
“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.
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
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.
Too often we underestimate the power of the small choices and actions we make and do every day. Most of our time in life is made of small acts, sometimes apparently insignificant. But, each one of them contributes to building your identity. And, most importantly, while you may not have control over the big events that happen in your life, you surely can choose how you want to show up every day.
I love how James Clear explains the power of the daily action in his book Atomic Habits.
“Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.”
So, who are you voting for today?
This post is inspired by the Be The Change card I pick this morning; “How do I show up every day” and by the realisation that the writer within me reached 500 votes this morning.
“Outcomes are about what you get. Processes are about what you do. Identity is about what you believe.” — James Clear
I love lean and sleek systems to help me work better. There are many of them out there created by successful people who’ve decided to share their strategies with all of us.
The problem is that most of the time, despite my efforts in applying their strategies, I didn’t get their results.
It took me a while to realise that all these great strategies, tools and methods were the results of the unique journeys of their creators.
Yes, they are about how they do things, but they are rooted in their identity. In who they are.
A winning strategy is one that is rooted in your identity. It is only when your WHO and your HOW are aligned that your results, the WHAT, really improve.
This reminded me of the Japanese word Shuhari, that represents the three stages of learning to mastery in martial arts. In short, the three steps of becoming a master are; to repeat, to detach and to transcend.
Studying and applying existing models is the starting point. But we must continuously check what is working and what not, what comes natural and where the resistance is. After a while, we can learn what is aligned with our identity, keep and leave the rest. In the end, we will learn to combine pieces from all the different sources and make our own way.
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.
One of the problems when we want to install a new habit, it’s the delayed reward that comes with it. The costs of a good habit are in the present while the reward is potentially somewhere in the future. In general, with bad habits, it’s the opposite.
Unfortunately, our brain hasn’t changed much from our prehistoric ancestors. Because their primary goal was to survive, our brain favors the present more than the future.
This is why for most of us it’s easy to slip into bad habits while it takes a lot of effort to start a new one.
However, being aware of this we can trick our mind adding an immediate reward to the habit we want to start. Something that makes you feel good as soon as you finished the activity you want to transform into a recurring practice.
But there’s a caveat.
The reward must be consistent with your identity and the one habit you want to create.
If you want to create the habit of training every day to get fit, you can’t use ice cream as a reward. It would send contradictory messages to your brain.
The more the habit becomes natural for you, the less you’ll need the reward. The simple act of doing your practice will be rewarding.
For me, the challenge is often the reward. When I started this writing habit, I printed a simple grid of 90 squares, and I challenge myself to tick all of them in 90 days. Seeing that “X” every day was my immediate reward. It made me feel good enough to keep going until it became natural.
Our brain is a fantastic predicting machine.
It is continuously assessing the environment against what it already knows to find patterns to apply. Anytime an action creates pleasure, it contributes to the creation of a pattern. When anything generates pain, the brain puts an alert label on it so to be ready to recognise the threat in the future. It is part of our natural survival instinct.
This process makes us very efficient. Being aware of it we can use it to our advantage to create patterns that help grow and become the person we want to be. There are plenty of good books and programs on how to develop positive habits.
Once I watched a video of a personal trainer, explaining that our body works in the same way. Every muscle is designed to obtain the maximum result with the minimum effort. When we do the same exercise over and over, our body learns how to perform it using the minimum energy possible. As a result, we experience a peak in muscle development. This is why is a good thing to change often the exercises you do. To confuse your body, so it has to break the pattern, learn something new and grow.
It works the same way for our brain. Sometimes we need to create chaos and unpredictability to force our mind to be creative, to find new connections and patterns. In short, to grow. When we don’t have references, when we cannot use what we know to find a way forward, we are forced to create new connections, explore new possibilities.
It is scary, I know.
But once our creativity is released, the reward is incredible.
Life is a sequence of choices. At every moment you’re making, or not making a choice.
Some are big and important.
Others are so small and insignificant that we are not even aware that we are making a choice.
But all of them affect the direction of your life.
Who you are and where you are today, is the result of all these choices compound together.
Sometimes I found myself stuck before a choice, unable to decide what is the right thing to do.
I believe you know the feeling.
I think and explore all the possible scenarios. I weight all options trying to figure out the best choice.
I must admit that sometimes I spend so much time reflecting with the hope that, if I wait enough time, something or someone else will choose for me.
I made a lot of wrong choices. And I didn’t make many choices I probably should.
Though I am here and I am happy with where I am in my life. And this is thanks also to the wrong decision and to the ones I didn’t make.
What I’ve learned is that I should try to consume less energy to make the right choice and focus more on making every decision made —and not made—, a good one.