Think about a relationship of yours.
One that is not working as you wish.
It may be with your lover, or with a member of your family.
Or maybe it’s a friendship or a professional relationship.
It doesn’t matter. Just pick one and reflect on the following question.
In percentage, how much the status of this relationship is your responsibility?
I believe the only possible answer is 100%.
Yes, you are fully responsible.
I know, you can’t change the other person.
And often you can’t improve the situation in which you are.
But as Viktor Frankl wrote, “when we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.
It’s only when you take full responsibility for something that you can become the spark that ignites the change.
And this is when the magic happens.
When you become the spark, something beautiful and surprising manifests.
New possibilities to which you were totally blind.
So, go all in, take full responsibility and be the spark in your relationships.
A few days more and also this year will be part of the past.
For some of us, these days are also an opportunity to slow down, look back, review the past year and maybe set a few goals for the new one. Wins and losses, successes and failures, the things we started and the things we closed, the people we met and the ones we lost.
How did you assess your 2018?
And how did you plan the new one?
I used to do a performance-oriented review. I measured the finishing year through the filter of the goals and intentions set 12 months before. And then I plan out some SMART goals for the next 12 months.
To be honest, it hasn’t always worked well. If you read some of my past articles, you probably already know that I’m not very good with goals.
So, this year I decided to do things differently. I decided to look at the past through the lenses of the future, and look at the future through the lenses of the past.
I’ve challenged myself to review 2018 as if the whole year was the preparation for the next one. Everything I’ve done, everything that happened, all my experiences were meant to set me up for the best year ever; the incoming 2019.
With this mindset, I shifted the focus from goals and performances to my learnings and my evolution as a human being. And it makes me feel a lot more positive about the next year. Now I have more clarity about my future direction, and I feel ready to celebrate the end of 2018 properly.
I created a document with all the questions I’ve designed for my own year-end review.
Knowing what to do it’s not the same as doing what you know.
I’m reminded of this simple truth every day.
I dedicate some time every day to nourish my knowledge.
I read, study, have conversations.
I learn new strategies and discover new perspectives.
And sometimes I write about the things I’ve learned.
However, all the knowledge of the world is meaningless if I don’t act on it.
Knowledge is not power. It’s just potential.
It’s when we act that we transform it into power.
So, the right questions we should ask every time we learn or discover something is “what do I do with this new knowledge or insight? How can I act on it?”.
And not only in that moment. We should ask those questions every day.
This morning I realised that in my burning desire to learn and acquire new knowledge, I forget to act on it.
Even worst, it’s getting in the way of habits that are important to me.
So today I’ll focus on acting on what I know before learning something new.
“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.” – Bruce Lee
I can see it coming.
It’s like watching myself from the outside.
I can observe the whole scene as it was a movie.
The external trigger and my internal reaction.
I can clearly see the inner pain surging and opening its way to the surface.
I can see it, but I can’t stop it.
All the work I’ve done on myself gave me the ability to see my reactions when they are happening. I learned what triggers me and I can spot all the signs.
Yet, I can’t stop all of this from happening.
Some reactions, some beliefs are wired so profoundly that it’s hard to change them.
I may, one day. Or I may not.
At some point in my self-development journey, I thought I would be able to change everything. So, it was frustrating to see some patterns surfacing without me being able to do anything to fix them.
Until I realised that I don’t have to.
There are things we can not change. Not now at least.
I’m learning to be present with what it is.
Through self-compassion, I’m finding peace.
The world has become a complicated place to live and work.
Business experts call it the VUCA world.
“Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.”
Hasn’t it always been like that? I mean, with our knowledge we can look back to a few centuries ago and say that life was much easier. But how was living for the people at that time? With their knowledge and understanding of the world?
My point is that, no matter how far we expand our knowledge and understanding, our boundaries extend with us. And the universe outside, the space of the not known, will always look volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
The other evening, I was talking to a small crowd about leadership, and this question emerged.
If the world will always be complex and uncertain, how do we thrive in this complexity?
Immediately another question popped up in my mind.
Who do we know that thrive in complexity and uncertainty?
I smiled because the answer looked so obvious at that moment.
Children. To them, this world made of and by adults must look so volatile, complex, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. With their short and unstable feet, their small hands, their limited language everything must seem so complicated.
What if your ultimate purpose is to fully realise and express who you are?
The quest for purpose or “why” is becoming more and more relevant for both individual and organisations. I witnessed groups dedicating long brainstorming to define their purpose, their cause. I have friends who felt lost because they don’t have a higher cause or a reason to which they can dedicate their lives.
We are constantly reminded about great leaders with a compelling vision and a clear purpose that fits in a t-shirt or an Instagram post.
You probably feel that you too should have a higher cause and are investing time and resources to find your “why”.
I hear you. I’ve been there.
The quest for purpose is a tricky one. It can quickly transform into feel-good research. Without even noticing, you shift from “what is my purpose?” to “what is a purpose that would make me feel one of the good ones?”.
Nothing wrong in being one of the good ones but if your purpose is not aligned with who you are, it won’t bring in your life the bliss you’re looking for.
So, what if you decide that your purpose is just to fully become who you are meant to be? The quest then becomes “who am I?”. A personal one. One that is not about feeling good but being real.
And in this quest for your “Who”, you may also find your “why”.
This post is inspired by this short and fascinating article.
In the last months, I’ve been searching a lot about goals vs habits, and behaviours vs identity.
I started this quest because I struggle with goals. I tried many strategies, methodologies, tools without cracking the code of this limit.
Until I started focusing on habits instead of goals. Creating patterns is definitely more in tune with how I operate, and it helped me improve in many aspects of my life. Still, sticking to some habits has been and still is harder than others.
The next shift in my quest was realising that only when my habits are in synch with who I am, I can be more consistent and create significant results.
These are my learnings so far.
Your identity informs your behaviours.
The starting point is the WHO, not the WHAT or the HOW. Once you have clarity about who you are (“I am a writer”), then you can design your goals or habits (depending on what works better with you) as a way to become more of who you are (“I am a writer because I write every day”).
Unfortunately, at least for me, this is not enough to really create an impact in my life.
Your behaviours shape or reinforce your identity.
To know what to do is not the same as doing what you know. Once you have clarity about who you are and you have designed your goals or habits, you need to infuse discipline in your practice.
That means creating the structure that will support your newly designed behaviours. Over time these identity-based behaviours will shape and reinforce your identity, that in turn will infuse more energy in your behaviours creating a positive growing loop.
Discipline has played a crucial part in my childhood education. I’m talking about the kind of discipline that relies on punishment and guilt to educate people to follow the rules and codes of behaviour. Indeed, it was driven by love, but still, that was the idea of upbringing when I was a kid, in the seventies and eighties.
Nonetheless, I was a rebel and a dreamer. I have always sought freedom, since when I was a youngster wandering in the woods fighting my imaginary dragons. I was a rebel inside, and a rule-abiding kid on the outside.
No surprises that growing up I’ve always perceived discipline as a cage. I wanted to follow my intuition, to be creative without limits. How was it possible if I had to respect rules and form? Like when I aspired to become a rockstar. I wanted to be a songwriter, to write my songs and perform my guitar on a stage. I couldn’t understand why I had to repeat the same boring exercises day after day. Deluded, I gave up.
I was looking for freedom, not discipline.
So, I repeated the same pattern on any other project that required discipline. It didn’t help that the ones who loved me kept telling me how smart and creative I was. It just fed my ego and my belief that I didn’t need discipline. My talents were the unique source of my achievements.
With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be. Instead, we rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.” F. Nietzsche
The first breakthrough came when I attended a riding class on a closed circuit. As I wrote previously, a circuit is by definition a closed loop. During the day of the course, I repeated the same sequence of turns and movements for hours, lap after lap. At every lap, my moves became a little more smooth, and my overall speed improved. In the last hour, I had the opportunity to do some free practice without the instructors. It was exhilarating. I instinctively knew where to put the wheels, where to brake and accelerate. I was free to play with the motorbike. I was so excited about the whole process that I forgot about my assumptions on discipline. To my surprise, I had been able to stay disciplined a full day, and at the end, I felt freer than when I started.
That day, I felt that there was something wrong about my beliefs on freedom and discipline. I wasn’t entirely aware of it, but I started digging. I learned about underlying automatic commitments and limiting beliefs, but it was only when I met the Japanese word “Shuhari” that I had my second breakthrough.
It is fascinating how the Japanese language can embody a whole concept into one word. The word Shuhari represents the three stages of learning to mastery in martial arts.
Shu (守) “obey”; It is the first stage, in which the learning is focused on the fundamentals. As students, we practice the techniques, the forms and the rules. We mainly learn from a single model through imitation and repetition until we can execute the form flawlessly. The focus is all on the what and the how.
Ha (破) “detach”; The second stage is about expanding the learning, both in depth and width. We explore the “why” beyond the “how”. We learn the theories and the principles behind the techniques and the forms that we can now execute flawlessly. We also look for other models and integrate all these new learnings into our practice.
Ri (離) “leave”; The higher stage is when the students become masters. Everything becomes natural to us, and we transcend rules and forms to create our own way.
I’m not a martial arts practitioner, and my knowledge about Japan comes only from movies and books. But this concept immediately resonated with me.
“Ri”, the higher stage, is my idea of freedom.
Freedom is not the denial of the form. It is the transcendence of it. And discipline is a vital ingredient that sustains the journey through the stages.
Thanks to the Shuhari concept I gave meaning to discipline. It wasn’t any more a limit to my freedom, but rather the way to achieve it.
But then new and relevant questions rose to my mind. How do we know when we are ready to move to the next level? How do we avoid the risk to get stuck at the first level becoming perfect machines? How can we be sure that what we achieve at the end is freedom and not just the illusion of freedom?
I needed another piece to complete the puzzle, and I found it in the conscious competence learning model.
The four stage of competence
In psychology, the four stages of competence, or the “conscious competence” learning model, relates to the psychological states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill. — Wikipedia
In short terms, it is a model that focuses on our consciousness along the learning process. The four stages are:
Unconscious incompetence: at this stage, we don’t know how to do something, and we don’t recognise the deficit. Only when we accept our incompetence, we can move to the next stage.
Conscious incompetence: at this stage, we recognise our deficit, and we start the learning process to address that gap. Rules, forms and imitation are essential to building the competence we need (the Shu stage).
Conscious competence: at this stage, we have finally acquired the skills we wanted but to use them we must concentrate. Conscious is highly involved in using the newly acquired skills. Being conscious of our skills allows us to go deeper in the understanding and explore the principles (the Ha stage).
Unconscious competence: at the final stage what we have learned become “second nature”, and we can operate using the new skills without consciously thinking. We finally reach the Ri stage. Freedom.
Self-awareness was the element I needed to complete my formula.
Without self-awareness, the learning process won’t even start. The first necessary step to grow is to become conscious that we need and want to grow.
It may look obvious, but it is not. Becoming stuck in our beliefs is easy. When faced with our incompetence it’s easy to accept it as a “limit” and make it our reality. And because we can’t go against reality we ignore our inability, or we find good rational explanations on why we don’t need to learn. That is precisely what I did with my belief about discipline.
Self-awareness is also a fundamental piece of the whole learning journey. Without self-awareness, we won’t be able to understand when we are ready to step to a higher level. We won’t be able to go beyond the form, connect with the meaning and transcend it. Self-awareness magnifies our discipline and allows us to achieve the freedom we aim for.
So, here it is, my not so secret formula to create freedom.