Sustainable pace

Has it ever happened to you that, after a period of really intense work or study, once you finish that critical project or exam, or maybe at the start of a holiday, your body says “that´s it” and you fall exhausted or ill?

That´s how life lets us know when our current pace is not sustainable.

This has happened to me several times, thankfully in a much less dramatic way, as I´ve been learning to read the signs. Signs like, for example, a head cold or a sore throat that interestingly start showing on a Friday evening, when the work week is over and my body knows it´s allowed…

Gray newtons cradle (perpetual motion device) in close up photogaphy

In the software development world, and increasingly in other work environments, many companies follow Agile methodologies, which are based on moving forward and getting results quickly by leveraging an iterative work process, while continuously adapting to change. And a key success factor for those methodologies is that the “moving forward” happens at a pace that can be maintained in the long term, in other words, that is sustainable, in theory indefinitely. Because it has become clear that moving too fast for too long ends up negatively impacting the team.

This sustainable pace that companies seek for their employees also applies to each person individually, and it´s our own responsibility to achieve it for ourselves. At the end of the day, at work as well as in life, the to-do list is infinite, it never ends… In reality, it´s a long-distance race, more like a marathon than a 100-metre sprint, so the best strategy is to economize our energy, and if at one point we need to run faster for a little while, then later on we´ll have to slow down for another while, or even stop so that we can properly recover.

But even though this seems pretty easy to understand, we often forget about it. Why? Maybe because we don´t realize it´s a long-distance race, and we only see the 100 metres in front of us. Or maybe because we´re so engrossed in the race that we forget to stop for a moment and listen to ourselves, pay attention to how we feel, and what our body is trying to tell us.

I love this quote that says that life first whispers to you, if you don´t listen, it talks to you, and if you still don´t listen, it screams at you. Setting aside a little time for ourselves every day, without distractions, and really listening to ourselves, will help us to identify those whispers before they become screams.

What about you? How are you making sure you maintain a sustainable pace?

Movie or video game?

Do you like video games?

My general answer, as of today, would probably be a no. But there was a time in my younger years when I used to play some video games.

Well, Tetris, mostly. I used to looooooooooooooove Tetris.

I played on a Nintendo Game Boy, which back then was the coolest pocket video game device ever. The games came in removable cartridges, and I had a few cartridges apart from Tetris , including Super Mario Land, which I also used to play quite a lot.

I liked those games (and I was more or less good at them) because they came with very clear instructions: fitting pieces together in order to complete horizontal lines, or running from left to right, jumping around, and catching as many gold coins as possible. But later on, when more sophisticated computer and console games came along, like graphic adventures and so on, I lost interest.

Hands holding a videogame remote control

Because the instructions for those games were not nearly as clear: there was much more freedom of movement, which also meant a much bigger need for quick decisions, adventure, and exploration… I felt lost, not knowing what to do or where to go, and I found it overwhelming. So I got to the point where I preferred not to play.

I preferred watching a movie for example, which was much easier and more comfortable.

So, why am I telling you all this? Because today I´d like to share with you some thoughts on two ways to see life: as a movie or as a video game..

If we choose to see life as a movie, it looks like everything is easier: we don´t have to do anything, just sit down comfortably on the sofa and watch life go by. But the thing is, if for some reason we don´t like the way the story is unfolding, there´s nothing we can do to change it, or to change how it ends, because we cannot interact with a movie. At most, we can complain, shut down the TV, or get up and leave the room. But the movie stays the same.

On the contrary, if we choose to see life as a video game, then that means more work: it´s time to get up from the sofa, take the controls, and start moving, exploring, and making decisions. And yes, we may make mistakes along the way. But in exchange, we get the opportunity to live our own adventure, influencing the course of the game and the results we progressively obtain. We can experiment, discover, get surprised, get it right, get it wrong, learn, course correct, and try again, as many times as we need (for as long as we have lives left!). We can change the game, and as the game changes, we also get to change.

What do you think about these two ways of looking at life? And which one do you choose for yourself today? I recently realized that I´ve already spent many years watching movies, so I´m starting to take up the video game controls, would you like to play as well?

Ends and beginnings

Here´s a quote that resonates with me with special strength today:

The end is never the end, it´s always the beginning of something.

Kate Lord Brown

My colleagues and I have spent the weekend presenting our final Masters´ degree projects, this way culminating a whole year of learning and transformation. I feel proud, very happy, a bit nostalgic about the cycle that´s now at an end, and very excited about the one that´s about to start.

To all my classmates in “the 15th” – a million thanks and congratulations, now is when the real adventure begins 😊

Brand new website

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment has come…

BinaryWords is no longer just a blog, now it´s a full-blown website!

Purple banner with the BinaryWords logo and a number of electronic devices showing different images: colours, landscape, clock and calendar, yoga at sunset, hands making a heart shape, target circles

A new phase is now starting for me: the personal project I kicked off a little over a year is now also turning into a professional adventure, and I´m taking my first steps along this new path with a great deal of excitement (and a little bit of vertigo, as one would expect).

From now on, in addition to sharing my weekly thoughts, which I will of course continue to do, I´m offering you my services as a professional life coach . And soon you will start to see appearing on this website new content, workshops, and courses that will allow you to dig deeper into the art of reprogramming your life.

For the moment, I hope that what you see here resonates with you; feel free to explore the pages and articles already published and send me your feedback, so that I can continue to learn and improve. And as always, thanks a million for reading me, and keep an eye out for exciting news…

Routine (not monotony)

The month of September is starting, and in the northern hemisphere, the summer is now at an end, or getting very close to it: it´s the moment to get back to a routine.

Calendar sheet for the month of September, on a pink pastel surface, surrounded by groups of dried flowers and small ornaments

What goes through your mind when you hear or read this word, routine? I get the impression that many of us, at least the adults, have a love-hate relationship with it…

Of course, for children this is also the moment to get back to a routine: it´s back to school time, or will be very soon, depending on the country. What´s interesting with kids is that, because they´re growing, their routine keeps changing every year, it´s never exactly the same. Each school year brings new activities, new excitement, and new challenges; it´s a brand-new adventure.

And for adults? Well, it depends. As we don´t always “move up to the next class”, for us it may seem that we´re coming back to exactly the same routine as always, the same job, the same people, the same obligations… The truth is that some of those things do change, but they may not stand out enough for us to notice. And if during the holidays we´ve been able to “escape” from a job or environment that we didn´t enjoy much, we may not be looking forward to getting back there now.

But the thing is, like children, adults also thrive in a routine, it helps all of us to stay much more centered. We, humans, are creatures of habit.

So then, why do we dislike this time of the year so much?

Could it be that we confuse routine with monotony?

A routine provides structure to our day and week, it´s like the framework where we can place our different tasks and activities. And even if some of those tasks and activities are imposed from the outside, many others are not, so we have some flexibility to adapt, make changes, experiment, and see what happens.

Now that we´re just starting the cycle again, it´s a good moment to introduce small changes in our daily routine, starting with simple things that can translate into big results. For example, here are a few suggestions to start your day on the right foot:

  • Breathing consciously
  • Planning/visualizing your day
  • Reading an inspiring book
  • Writing down your thoughts
  • Repeating positive affirmations
  • Being thankful for what you already have
  • Meditating for a few minutes
  • Doing some yoga or stretching
  • Going out for a walk, a run, playing a sport…
  • Preparing a special breakfast for yourself

All of these are beneficial at any time of the day; my suggestion is to dedicate the first time slot of the day to them (to YOU), before speaking to anybody else, and before reaching out for your mobile phone, so that you start your day from a place of intention, instead of just reacting to whatever happens to you.

What are your thoughts? What new activities and challenges are you going to add to your daily routine this year, to avoid falling into monotony?

Uncomfortable conversations

I recently read somewhere (sorry, I don´t remember where exactly) that in order to keep healthy relationships, you need to have uncomfortable conversations every once in a while. This applies to all kinds of relationships.

It makes sense, right? Disagreements and conflict are inherent to human beings, and it´s the way we manage them that makes the difference.

But, what happens when you´re so afraid of conflict that you try to avoid it at all costs?

Hello, my name is Bea, and I´m a conflict avoider.

Two people having a conversation in the street, only their hands and arms are visible, their faces are not shown

I´ve spent many years tiptoeing through life in order not to bother anyone, not to create conflict. Many years acting as if certain problems did not exist, in the hope that they would sort themselves out.

So, you can imagine what happens, right? They DON´T sort themselves out, even though sometimes it looks like they do. To really solve a problem you have to bring it out into the light, you have to talk about it, otherwise the discomfort stays there, under the surface, until the day it inevitably comes out again.

So, what can we do then? Three things come to mind:

  • Accept conflict as something natural: we each have our own needs, opinions and ways to do things, which sometimes clash with those of other people.
  • Not take it personally: one thing that helps a lot is focusing on the problem itself, instead of what we perceive that the other person “is doing to us”.
  • Find a good way to communicate, so that we can convey our needs and wants to the other person, and listen to theirs, in a respectful and non-violent way.

When my daughters were small, I used to play for them a song in Spanish by Miliki, the lyrics translate to something like “Talking is how people understand each other, and that way everything works better…” Nowadays I still sing it to them sometimes, and also to myself, as a reminder that none of us are mind readers, and that issues need to be talked about.

And you? Do you also avoid conflict? What uncomfortable conversation have you been trying to avoid?

Sensitivity

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

I´ve been asking myself that question for a few days now… I don´t think I ever thought of it before.

Close up of a brightly red flower against a blurred dark green background

They say that you learn something new every day, and the other day I learned, through a friend and colleague from my master´s degree (thanks Idoia!) that approximately 20% of the world population are estimated to be something denominated highly sensitive persons, or HSPs.

The nervous system of a highly sensitive person is more evolved than the average, which causes their brain to receive a much higher amount of sensory information. This is not an illness or a psychological disorder, it´s simply a personality trait. And like any other aspect of personality, becoming aware of it is really useful in order to understand ourselves better, in this case realizing that some people live their emotions in a different, and much more intense, way than others.

According to Dr. Elaine Aron, who coined the term HSP (translated into Spanish as personas altamente sensibles, or PAS), there are four basic characteristics that highly sensitive people manifest:

  • Depth of processing (profundidad de pensamiento) - they have a tendency to process the information they receive very deeply and intensely, which leads them to spend a lot of time reflecting on things and going over them.
  • Overstimulation (sobreestimulación) - given that they receive so many sensorial stimuli, they can get to the point of overstimulation, or sensitive saturation, especially when they have to process a lot of information in a short period of time.
  • Emotional reactivity (reactividad emocional) - they live their emotions in a much more intense way, both the pleasant and the unpleasant ones, and they also have a great ability for empathy, being able to feel what others around them are feeling.
  • Sensing the subtle (sensibilidad a las sutilezas) - their heightened sensitivity allows them to detect subtle changes that others may miss, such as small changes in the environment, or in other people´s moods.

On top of these four central characteristics, there are a number of complementary ones that many HSPs identify themselves with, and some of them are really interesting. I´m not going to list them all here, so as not to make this post too long; if this topic has piqued your curiosity (as it did mine), I encourage you to continue to investigate.

But there´s one particular aspect that I think is important to highlight here: many HSPs often get the feeling that they don´t fit in, that they´re the “the odd one out”, and they´re not going to be able to find others they can truly connect with… More often than not, their extra dose of sensitivity comes together with an extra dose of suffering, due to not understanding what´s happening to them, or why they´re different.

This is why I thought it was worth contributing to spreading the word on this topic. Because of that, and also because every time I read another article or watch another TED talk on HSPs, I find even more things that resonate with me 🙂

So, going back to the original question…

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

Untranslatable sentences: back to basics

Here’s another one of those phrases that I like to call “untranslatable” - it’s not that they’re impossible to translate into Spanish, but they sound much much better in English, in my opinion, and you have to kind of explain their translation so that people can understand it well (other phrases and expressions here, here and here).

And today’s phrase is “back to basics”, which roughly translates to “Volver a lo básico”.

And what are the basics? Well, it depends on the topic that´s being discussed. If we´re talking about decoration, for example, or fashion, it might mean choosing simple colours and lines, instead of more complex styles. If we´re talking about primary education, it might mean returning to focus more on essential subjects like reading, writing, and maths. To me, the general idea conveyed by “back to basics” is that we have become so sophisticated (in whatever area) that we have forgotten what is truly important, the basis of it all, and we must return to it.

It´s a sentence that can be applied to many situations, at home, at school, and at work. Today, I´d like to propose that we use it as a reminder to look after ourselves.

woman doing hand heart sign while looking at the sunset

Looking after ourselves first, so that then we´re able to look after others, or take care of our own tasks. Because, how often are our days so busy, and so full, that they go by without us dedicating any time or attention to ourselves? And by the time we realize it, we´re already out of energy, already exhausted.

It may be due to us believing that other things are more important, that other people must come first… But that´s not sustainable in the long run. I love the way Katie Reed expresses it:

"Self-care is giving the world the best of you, instead of what's left of you."

Katie Reed

Would you like to have the energy required to give the world the best of you? Then I suggest that you return to focus on these four basic pillars, if at any point you have stopped paying attention to them:

  • Rest – getting enough sleep every night (enough hours of deep, restoring sleep), as well as taking short breaks during the day.
  • Diet – keeping to healthy, balanced, and if possible, natural foods. Also, drinking lots of water in order to stay hydrated, and practicing conscious breathing every now and then, to help oxygenate each and every cell.
  • Exercise – dedicating some time to move, even better if it´s outdoors, and often. If you choose something that you like and find motivating, you´ll be more likely to keep at it: your favourite sport, swimming, running, dancing, yoga…
  • Connection – finding the balance between spending time connecting with others (as we are all social animals) and also connecting with ourselves, so that we can "keep our batteries full".

What do you think about these four basic pillars of self-care? Would you add any others? Which one do you think would be good for you to give more time and attention to, at this moment in your life?

Not enough hours

Do you ever feel that your days are too short, that they´re not enough to be able to do everything you want (or need) to do?

That was totally me a few years ago when I bumped into a TV programme from RTÉ, the Irish national television, which was called precisely this: “Not enough hours”.

Thinking about that time, I remember I used to feel quite stressed out in general; in fact, the subtitle I gave to the blog I was writing back then (the previous incarnation of BinaryWords) was “fighting against chaos”. Because that´s how I felt: there was a lot of chaos in my life, and I had to fight against it, and everything seemed like a huge effort… Basically what was happening was that I had a full-time job, one little girl plus one more on the way, and a set of expectations for myself that I wasn´t able to live up to.

So that TV programme was to me just what the doctor ordered, for multiple reasons. First, I felt better when I saw that what was happening to me was also happening to many others, in different ways. Second, I learned several things that I found both interesting and useful; I´m sharing two of them down below.

And third, that´s how I got to meet Owen Fitzpatrick, the psychologist and time management expert who presented the programme. He accompanied a different person in each episode, helping them with their particular problem. I loved the way he explained time management concepts and then applied them to figure out solutions that truly worked for each of the participants... Later on, speaking with a work colleague (thanks Tim!), I found out that Owen was an expert in many other areas as well, and that´s how I ended up taking my first NLP course, in Dublin, back in 2013, with Owen Fitzpatrick and Brian Colbert 🙂

These are the two learnings I took away from the programme, as I remember it:

  • How perfectionism causes us more harm than good, and the “perfect” phrase to not let ourselves get blocked or stressed by it when tackling something:

It doesn´t need to be done perfectly, it only needs to be done.

(Owen Fitzpatrick, and many others using similar words)

Interestingly, even today, when I realize I´m stuck trying to perform a task to the level of perfection, what I hear in my head is Owen´s voice saying this phrase, and that helps a lot (it also confirms that one of my main representational systems is the auditory one, which is something I learned in his NLP course).

  • How the concept of time is something abstract, represented internally in different ways by different people. For example, when imagining a timeline, some people visualize it from left to right, placing the past on one side and the future on the other side, while others represent it perpendicularly, placing the past behind them and the future in front of them. Depending on your particular internal way to represent time, you may find it more difficult to get organized with a traditional format calendar, and if so, there may be other strategies that suit you better to get things done.

What do you think about these two ideas? What would help you to make the most of your time?

Learning from the artists

Yesterday, taking advantage of a free day in Madrid (and running away from the heat, it also has to be said), I went to visit the Prado Museum.

I truly enjoyed the visit, totally recommend it. What I wouldn´t recommend is doing the whole museum in one single day, as I did; by the end of it my feet were hurting... For reasonable people like you all, there´s a very good audio guide with recommendations of what pieces to see, depending on whether you want your visit to last for one hour, or two, or three. I simply kept walking from room to room, going with the flow, curiously looking around. Don´t ask me how long it took me.

One thing that immediately caught my attention were some paintings that were copies of other paintings, or parts of them, sometimes showing side by side. Please note that I´m saying copies, not forgeries; the intention was not to try and make one painting pass as another. They were often made by painters as part of their training, or as a tribute, copying paintings from the great masters of their time (or a previous time), with high quality results as well.

On other occasions, the same painter made several copies with slight variations on the same theme, especially if his art was in high demand, and sold different copies to different people (back then it was not as easy as copy and paste 🙂 )

And something else that I learned is how, for certain high stakes commissions, some painters made one or more drafts in a smaller format before tackling the big canvas. This gave them a space to rehearse the structure and elements of the painting in advance, and also allowed them to show their sponsor a "sneak preview" of the result, in order to secure approval for the final order. It´s really interesting to see the evolution of the piece from the first draft all the way to the finished painting, similarly to how comics, movies, etc. are made these days.

But going back to the copied paintings: a good example of this is Rubens, who, during his stay in Italy, copied several works by Titian, including "The rape of Europa".

Original work by Titian (displayed at a Boston museum):

Copy by Rubens, displayed at the Prado:

But this is not the end of the story. Later on, here comes Velázquez, and includes a tribute to this same work in one of his paintings. Pay attention to the tapestry in the background of this scene represented in "The spinners" (also called "The fable of Arachne"), which is also displayed in the same room at the Prado museum:

I thought it was a very cool idea, a painting inside another painting 🙂

An idea of which I bumped into several other examples across the museum, like this painting by Jan Brueghel and Rubens, dedicated to "Sight" as part of a series on the five senses:

And then, the most awesome one in my opinion, this work by David Teniers the Younger, "Archduke Leopold Wilhelm van Habsburg in his art gallery in Brussels":

OMG, the amount of talent needed to paint all that...

Anyway, I really loved my visit to the Prado Museum, far beyond getting to see the typical famous paintings like "Las Meninas" (though I enjoyed those as well). I especially liked seeing how the artists learned from each other, building on the knowledge and techniques that already existed to innovate and create new ones, and this way make their own contribution to the world of art, for others to enjoy and learn in turn.

It got me thinking about how for us as well, for anything we may want to learn, there are already plenty of masters we can model and learn from (even more so in these times of Wikipedia and Youtube), so that we don´t have to "reinvent the wheel" every time, as the saying goes. And it´s also said that the best way to learn is to teach, to share what we already know, of course giving due credit to those we have learned it from.

Sharing knowledge, learning together, we all move forward.