A year of BinaryWords

BinaryWords 2.0 is having its first birthday this month!

Twelve months of writing, over fifty posts so far, always published with all my love and dedication 🙂

For me it's been a year full of changes, some of them more visible than others: decisions, new challenges, lots of learning... Starting to forge a new path. And the best part is that this is only the beginning.

I'm already working on the next version of this website, version 3.0. The blog will continue, that's for sure, but there will also be other elements, delving deeper into the world of coaching and personal development.

So let me take this opportunity to thank you again, dear reader, for being there week after week, you're the reason I'm writing this blog. And also to ask you (if you're OK with it) to send me your feedback as a birthday present; it will help me immensely as I take my next steps.

Here are a few questions, please feel free to add or remove whatever you see fit:

  • How did you land on this blog, and what made you stay?
  • What's your favourite post up to this date, and why?
  • What other topics would you like to see content published about?
  • What's the biggest challenge you're facing at the moment?

I'm looking forward to reading your answer, your present. You can reply with a comment right here in this post, contact me through social media, or email me at binarybea@binarywords.com.

Thanks a million!

Year two, here we go 😉

Let´s sing! (and dance)

A quote that made a huge impact on me when I discovered it years ago (thanks Gleb!) was this:

No music, no life.

Quite radical... And probably quite true.

Because, who doesn't like music? OK, we may not all have the same musical preferences, but we don't necessarily have to, and it's thanks to those differences that there's such a variety of styles. But we can't deny that music has the power to connect us, to make us vibrate, to move us. It's a universal language. And if we add some movement on top of it, even better.

I don't know how to play any instruments (unless you count a few tin whistle lessons back in school and a handful of tunes I used to play on my Casio PT-1 keyboard), but what I do like a lot is singing. At work we are lucky enough to have a choir, and this month we've started singing together again in person, so exciting! 🙂

On the first day of in-person rehearsal, after two years of singing on mute on Zoom and not being able to hear each other, we were pleasantly surprised by the fact that we didn't sound that bad. And on day two, the surprise was that we had to learn a simple choreography for our song... So there you go, double challenge for the brain: singing without looking at the lyrics, and doing the dance steps at the same time! It would have been great to have a bit more space (we were rather crammed while rehearsing) and a big mirror like in a ballet classroom, but all in all, I'd say we managed quite well.

It felt great to get to connect and enjoy the music together again, singing and moving along. We're not anywhere close to being able to perform, but that's not the point (though hopefully it will come in due course). The reward we all take away from each rehearsal is a huge boost of energy and good vibes, plus starting off the afternoon at work much more relaxed and with a big smile.

So here's an experiment for you to try, if you'd like. Next time you feel down, stuck in a problem, or in any way short of energy, just play some music, start some movement, and see what happens 🙂

From here

Some time ago I heard a joke that´s supposedly Irish, though apparently there are many versions from different countries: a tourist that´s lost in a rural area stops to ask a local man for directions to get to a particular city (let´s say Cork), and the local man, after a good while of getting mixed up with his own indications, ends up saying to him: “well, if I wanted to go to Cork, I wouldn´t start from here!”

OK, one thing is clear: sometimes we wish that things were different. We would like to be “somewhere else”; maybe we´d like to have already arrived wherever we thought we should have got to. Or maybe we would have preferred to have taken a different path. But the thing is, wherever it is that we are now, that is our “here”, there´s no two ways around it.

So we have two options: to keep complaining about where we are and what brought us here, or to learn from it and finally start walking towards the place where we want to be.

Here´s an anonymous quote that I think summarizes it well:

Though you cannot go back and start again, you can start from now and have a brand new end.

And you? Where are you, and where do you want to go? And do you want to keep wasting time overthinking it, or are you ready now to start walking?

Playing draughts

My daughter Eva, who´s seven years old, is learning how to play draughts. Well, in fairness, I think I recall playing with her a bit some time ago, but for some reason, we had not played again in a long while, so she had forgotten the rules of the game.

Playing with Eva brought me many memories from when I was a child and played draughts with my sister Cristina, who was the one who taught me. And she would always beat me up! I don´t remember ever winning a game… In my defense, I´ll say that she´s six years older than me, and in children, such an age gap makes a big difference. Now she looks younger than me, but that´s a topic for a different post 🙂

The thing is, one of my strongest memories is how stunned I was when all of a sudden she would take two or three of my pieces in a row, and I totally didn´t see it coming. It wasn´t because of losing that I felt so bad (I never really minded too much if I lost at games), it was the feeling of impotence, of not knowing how to play well, and being unable to catch up or get ahead.

And sure enough, now the one getting that feeling of impotence, game after game, is Eva. She doesn´t know how well I understand her.

We all have gone through similar experiences when we start learning something for the first time, and we´re awful at it, or so we think; in reality, it´s just that we still don´t know how to do it, it´s that phase of learning that we call conscious incompetence. It´s unavoidable. And it can be really, really frustrating, especially when we haven´t been outside our comfort zone in a very long time, and we´re used to things always going well for us. Nobody wants to feel clumsy and useless, like a fish out of the water.

But we keep forgetting that every new learning needs to follow its process, and naturally, that takes time. What´s important is persevering, keeping up the practice, and making the most of our "mistakes", so that we can improve our technique, strategy, or whatever it is that we need to improve.

I´ve always considered board games to be a good rehearsal for life, a good way to learn skills that we can apply later on to any other situation. Thiking about this week´s example with the game of draugths, a few things come to mind:

  • Managing emotions like sadness, anger and frustration.
  • Being patient with yourself, and with others.
  • Focusing on learning and improving, as opposed to winning or losing.
  • Allowing yourself to be imperfect and make mistakes.
  • Observing, to become more aware of what´s happening, and be able to foresee your opponent´s moves.

What about you? What learnings have you discovered through games? Was there any game you found particularly frustrating?

Curiosity

This week I´ve been lucky enough to enjoy a bit of social life, say hello to a bunch of people I hadn´t seen for some time, and even get to meet new people. New people! And in person! So much fun. After over two years of working from home and rarely going out for one reason or another, it felt like such a treat.

I had forgotten that feeling of curiosity I get when I introduce myself to someone I don´t know and start a conversation. Everything is new, so I´m starting from scratch, without expectations, and I let myself get surprised by the other person, as I begin to discover some of the “pieces” of their jigsaw.

white puzzle pieces on blue surface

Because that´s what each of us is, a unique and special jigsaw, made up of a gazillion pieces. Unfortunately, sometimes, once we get to see a couple of a person´s pieces, we tend to assume that we know their entire jigsaw, and without realizing it, we fill in the blanks based on our own experience, bringing in our prejudice, our beliefs, our values… And that´s when we fall into the trap of judging and criticizing.

But the thing is, the other person´s jigsaw is not the same as ours, even if, looking from the outside, they may look a bit alike. Each person experiences the world in a different way, has a different history and life trajectory than the rest, and the pieces from one jigsaw won´t fit in the other.

So, how do we fix this? With an attitude of curiosity, towards others and also towards ourselves. If we don´t assume we already know, we will seek to understand, and we will investigate. And the more we discover, the better we will understand ourselves and each other.

The antidote for criticism is curiosity.

Sir John Whitmore

Presence

Today I´m bringing you a quote I came across this week, taken from a book on team management called Software for your head .I have to admit that I haven´t read the book itself, even though it looks really interesting, and at least the title is very much aligned with the spirit of this blog 🙂

Whether the members of a team are dispersed across the world or crammed shoulder-to-shoulder in rows of cubicles, distance is always the central issue among collaborators. The remedy for distance is presence. Of course, it is easier to spot distance-related difficulties in a geographically dispersed team, and people are more likely to attribute team problems to miles rather than minds; regardless of geography, the primary task with any team is that of surmounting distance. The distance that must be surmounted, though, is the psychological distance (or the "headgap") between people rather than the amount of physical space between their bodies..

Jim & Michelle McCarthy – Software for your head

The book was written over twenty years ago, and if this paragraph was probably already true back then, I would say it´s even more so nowadays, both inside and outside the workplace environment. We live so distracted in our life in general, our attention is usually so disperse, that we find it difficult to be truly present with the person in front of us at any given moment. We are often there without really being there. Or we´re only half there, devoting just a small piece of our attention to the other person. And the worst part is that we´re now in the habit of living like that, we consider it normal, and we use all kinds of excuses to justify it.

But when we make the effort to be truly present, leaving all distractions aside for a little while, the difference doesn´t go unnoticed. Connections become deeper, shared moments become more valuable. And if we are at the workplace, communication likely becomes more efficient, greatly helping to get the work done.

So wherever we are, let´s remember that the best present we can give others is our presence, our full attention, during the time we spend with them. Family, friends, work colleagues, whoever it may be. And then distance no longer matters.

Untranslatable sentences: spread too thin

These last two weeks have been a bit crazy for me: tasks and meetings at work were getting on top of each other, with some of them planned and some unplanned, and to be honest, I was mad busy.

And as it usually happens, it was not a case of me being very busy with one particular thing; instead, I had to take care l of multiple things at once, so I spent my days in a state of alertness, splitting my attention (or rather, dispersing it), and constantly switching between tasks.

Does it sound familiar?

Thankfully it was only for the two weeks, and now there´s a quieter period coming up. Otherwise, I would have found it exhausting.

And all of this reminds me of another one of those expressions that I really like but find impossible to translate, or at least I´m not able to translate in an elegant way, from English into Spanish: to be spread too thin. I´m not sure whether the phrase originated here, but I remember reading something very similar in The Lord of the Rings, in words said by Bilbo Baggins:

"I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

I think all of us may have felt this way at some point in our lives. And what can we do? Well, a few things come to mind:

  • Become aware of what´s happening to us, and recognize how that´s affecting us physically, mentally and emotionally. This is the first step: once we know it, we can do something about it.
  • Reduce as much as possible (or even better, eliminate) multitasking, that is, this doing several things a the same time. In a future post, I´ll take the time to explain why multitasking doesn´t work, but just for you to know, it doesn´t work, even if we get the impression that it does 🙂
  • Rest and take care of ourselves as much as we can during this time: sleep time, good diet, a bit of exercise and fresh air... (please note that I´m not counting watching Netflix, or scrolling through social media in our smartphone "to unwind", in my opinion that doesn´t work either, it´s not relaxing)
  • Whatever we cannot avoid, let´s take it in the easiest possible way. This may seem paradoxical, but if you think it through, if we take the pressure that´s already there and add another layer to it with our own worries, stress levels are not going to decrease, quite the opposite, they will increase. Patience and good humour will make it all more bearable.
  • And also very important, though we may not always think of it: whatever we can avoid... let´s avoid it! Here I like using the four Ds that David Allen lists in his book Getting Things Done:
    • Do it (if it takes you less than two minutes),
    • Defer it (schedule it for later),
    • Delegate it (get somebody else to do it), or
    • Delete it (it´s not the end of the world if it doesn´t get done).

Do you agree with these strategies? What others can you think of? How do you deal with this feeling of being "stretched too thin"?

Reminder

Quite often it happens that, without realizing it, we set too high standards for ourselves, and then we self criticize for not reaching those standards… We let our personal saboteur (that little mental voice that keeps annoying us non-stop) take control and beat us up, not recognizing our true value. And that way, we become our own worst enemy.

For those moments, I bring you this reminder from my upstairs corridor:

Always remember, you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, & twice as beautiful as you´d ever imagined.

What goes through your head as you read this line? Do you believe it? What else do you need in order to believe it? If you were reading it out loud to your friend and they didn´t believe it, what would you say to them?

What if you could be your own best friend?

Violinists in the subway

Life is full of little details, of those details that go unnoticed when we´re lost in our own thoughts, which is most of the time. More often than not, our auto-pilot is turned on, and we´re worrying about the future or ruminating about the past, thus missing the present.

And of course, ignoring as we are all those details that make each day unique and special, it´s no wonder that we feel like we´re living in groundhog day!

But if we get to slow down a little, and focus on being alert and present as the mindfulness practice teaches us, then we start noticing surprising things, amazing things, wherever we are. Because there´s beauty everywhere, as long as we know how to see it.

I recently heard a really cool story related to this (thanks Paz!), an experiment that was carried out a few years ago in the United States. A superfamous violinist, one of the best in the world, set himself up as a busker in a subway station in Washington D.C., playing with his Stradivarius violin during rush hour. He played for almost forty-five minutes, and during that time, only seven people stopped to listen to his music, and only one of them recognized him. All the rest walked by, carrying on with their daily stress and worries… Is that really the way we want to live? Always passing by, only to complain afterwards about how we´re stuck in a rut?

The good news is that we can break that cycle. Each morning when we wake up, we have a choice between turning on the auto-pilot and living one more groundhog day, or shifting our perspective, and letting ourselves be surprised by the “subway violinists”: a spectacular sunset, your children´s joy when arriving home, a chat with a loved one…

Today´s “violinist” for me is realizing that this is the fiftieth post in this blog 🙂 What´s yours?

Go raibh mile maith agat

It was Saint Patrick´s day earlier this week, and all around the world there were celebrations of everything to do with Ireland and the Irish, including their very own language: Irish (or Gaelic).

I used to think that I was good at languages, but that was before I moved to Ireland and bumped into Irish… I find it really interesting as a language, but also very complicated to learn; it took me years to learn how to say something as simple as “thanks”.

Although, in fairness, saying thanks in Irish is not as straightforward as saying it in Spanish or English…

This mug was a birthday present (thanks Irene!), it literally says “a thousand thanks”. It´s one of the few things I do know how to say in Irish, together with the colours, counting from one to ten, and some of the most popular names for boys and girls, which I learned by meeting people whose names I had no idea how to pronounce 😊

Luckily, you don´t have to speak Irish in order to live in Ireland; English is more than enough for day-to-day life. Children do learn it in school from an early age, and even though it´s not going to help them to communicate with people from other countries, it will help them to preserve this country´s legacy and traditions.

Also, on top of that, learning languages in general helps to open our minds, because it forces our brain to think differently, and allows us to explore, through the use of words, other ways to see the world that are different from ours. So whatever we get to learn, be it a lot or a little, will be welcome.

For the moment, here is the message from the mug again, and let me take this opportunity to thank you for being here and reading me every week:

Go raibh mile maith agat