Reprogram your life, episode 0: Introduction

Today we´re starting a series of articles where I´ll be showing you the content of my ebook first steps to reprogram your life, linking IT and computer science concepts with the world of personal development (typical me!). I hope you like it and find it helpful.

Mobile phone on a dark wooden surface, showing a white screen with the word "Hello" written in black

Very often in our life, we want to make a change, achieve a goal, make a dream come true... But we don't know where to start.

The truth is, it all begins in our minds. The human mind is an amazing artifact, a lot more powerful than any computer ever manufactured, and it can generate endless possibilities for our life. But for those possibilities to go in the direction that we want, we need to learn to make our minds work in our favour and not against us, which is what it unconsciously does sometimes.

Through these pages, I'm inviting you, by using a mobile phone as a metaphor, to explore how to reprogram your mind, and your life, to get closer to the results you want to obtain. Please, feel free to question any of the ideas you read here, try out the suggestions that resonate with you, and give yourself permission to not pay attention to the ones you don't find appropriate. At the end of the day, it's all about being curious and keeping an open mind, and experimenting in order to find what works best for each of us.

Enjoy the adventure! And if you would like to share your experience with me, feel free to email me at, and I'll be delighted to read you.

Would you like to get as much out of your life as you get out of your phone?

Do you ever feel that you wouldn't be able to live without your phone? Isn't it amazing the amount of things we do on our phones every day? So many different apps that make our lives easier, from sending messages to paying at the supermarket, finding our way without getting lost, watching our favourite series...

A mobile phone is a wonderful tool, a really easy-to-use superpowerful computer compressed in a pocket-size format. And best of all, we can configure it in whichever way we like: we can set up a personalized background screen, install and uninstall apps as we see fit... We can greatly benefit from having a mobile phone, provided that we know how to use it correctly.

If only we had a similar thing for real life, right? Having the ability to press a button and make things happen magically, exactly how we want them to happen... Because, let's be honest, the benefits of mobile phones are great, but we all know that the best things in life happen outside the screen..

It is outside the screen where we really get to live, where we are faced with the joys, surprises and challenges that life puts in front of us. Where we want to change the things we don't like or the things we know could be a lot better than they are right now.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to install an app in our head to be able to make all those changes we want, to be able to configure our life in our own way?

Interestingly, the human mind is a lot more similar to a mobile phone or a computer than we may think: it's also "programmed" to work in a specific way, and those "programs" it uses (language and behaviour patterns, either inherited or learned) can be changed to enable whatever changes we want in our life.

OK, and how can we do that? Well, it may not be as simple and quick as pressing a button, but once you learn how to do it and start putting it into practice, you may be surprised by the results. You will need to be patient, though, and give it time and attention, because those old patterns have probably been installed there for a really long time, and initially, our brain finds it much more difficult to "execute" new programs than old ones.

Are you ready to start the adventure of reprogramming your life? Over the next few weeks, I'll give you eight tips to help you to take your first steps; let's go!

The value of self-discovery

This past weekend, a former colleague (thanks Eli!) invited me to participate in a Facebook live broadcast about the importance of self-discovery. Here is the content I prepared for that session, I hope you find it interesting; some of this you may have heard from me already.

Surface view of an iceberg and its reflection on the water, against a blue sky

Today I'd like to talk to you about the value of self-discovery, and how useful it is for life in general and for a coaching process in particular. Why? Because self-discovery helps us to find better solutions to our problems.

Have you ever had a problem (with your family, your partner, your friends, at work...) you initially didn't know how to resolve? Maybe you felt like complaining, and blaming someone else, but, did that solve your problem? Probably not.

Perhaps you resorted to asking for advice, getting someone else to tell you what to do. And did that solve the problem? Maybe, or maybe not. Because a solution that works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. And even if someone gives you advice with their best intentions, it may not be appropriate for your situation.

Today we're going to look at an alternative proposal, a different strategy for facing challenges that enables the solution to emerge from within, instead of being brought from outside. And that proposal is self-discovery.

Know thyself. This famous aphorism was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, in ancient Greece. Before making any inquiries to the Gods, the traveller was invited to investigate their own essence, to understand themselves as a starting point for understanding the world better, in order to be able to make wiser decisions.

Nowadays we have more modern versions of the Oracle of Delphi: we have therapists, coaches, self-help books, and all kinds of information sources. The advantage of a coaching process as opposed to a self-help book is that the coaching process is a lot more personalized: it focuses on the person and their specific goal, which can be related to solving a problem, overcoming a challenge, or reaching a particular goal. In either case, it's all about making a life change.

But making long-lasting changes that truly work for us is not always easy; in fact, we tend to find it quite difficult. Why? Because each person is like an iceberg.

What we can see of a person is only a minimal portion, less than 10%. We get to see the environment they live in, and their behaviour in certain situations, but we have no idea of the reasons behind it, their motivations, their fears, and so many other factors that make up their reality.

And the same applies to ourselves, even if we find it difficult to believe. Most of the time we're running on auto-pilot, making unconscious decisions, so if we want things to change, we need to dive into the iceberg and become aware of those areas of ourselves that are really unknown to us. That's what self-discovery is all about.

This metaphoric iceberg was described by Robert Dilts through what he called neurological levels. The first two levels (environment and behaviour) are conscious, and all the rest are unconscious unless we work on them. Our exploration can start with our behaviour, which is still conscious, and from there we can carefully dive in deeper to discover each level:

  • Behaviour: How do I react in certain situations? What triggers me? What patterns can I find?
  • Capabilities: What am I good at, and what am I not? What skills do I have to work on?
  • Beliefs: What stories am I telling myself about myself and about the world? Are those stories helping me, or holding me back?
  • Values: What do I consider most important in my life? Am I honouring those values in my day-to-day life?
  • Identity: Who am I? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to become?
  • Transpersonal: What meaning do I want to give to my life? What legacy do I want to leave behind?

As we dive deeper into the different levels of the iceberg, we start understanding ourselves much better, and we find explanations for the things that happen to us. And the deeper the level where we initiate a change in our life, the more effective, stable, and durable that change will be, and the easier it will turn out to be.

For example, if I want to quit smoking and I try to achieve it just by using my willpower, I'm going to find it really difficult, and if I still see myself as a smoker, I can relapse at any moment. In contrast, if I'm able to see myself as a non-smoker, as a smoke-free person, that new identity is going to make things a lot easier for me. I no longer have to fight against myself in order to maintain this new habit.

OK, great, understood up to here (I hope), now we know the theory 🙂. But in practice, where do we start? How do we approach getting to know ourselves better?

The key to this is self observation, being present so that we become aware of what happens when we´re running on auto-pilot: the thoughts that pop up regularly in our mind, the situations we feel comfortable and uncomfortable in, the way each of us reacts when certain things happen, etc.

From there, we leave judgment aside, and with curiosity, we start pulling the thread to find out what's hiding behind: what's my motivation to behave like this? What fear or need am I feeling right now? Has something similar to this ever happened to me?

That's how we start discovering patterns that show us how we relate to ourselves, to other people, and to the world, giving us a lot of information about the way we understand life and the strategies we use (successfully or unsuccessfully) to solve our problems.

We can also use a number of tools that help us to identify patterns according to our personality. Not because we want to label ourselves and justify everything based on that label, but because that knowledge is going to give us more freedom, and allow us to take advantage of our own nature, instead of fighting against it.

For the record, I want to highlight that every person is different, and there are many many factors involved in human personality. Self-discovery tools are nothing more than that: tools, approximations; they're not a rigid classification, or the absolute truth.

Here is a brief mention of my favourite tools, they're all fascinating, I'll explain more about them in future posts:

  • From NLP, as well as Robert Dits's neurological levels, we can learn about representational systems, the tendencies we as humans have to rely on some senses more than others when interacting with the world (visual, kinaesthetic, auditory & digital).
  • Morphosicology studies the relationship between facial features and personality, more specifically around our temperament (our innate capabilities). The face is the only part of the human body that's directly connected to the brain - that's why the configuration of our face somehow reflects the inner workings of our mind.
  • The enneagram is a study of personality from a cognitive point of view: it explains nine ways of understanding life (the nine enneatypes, as they're called, represented by numbers from 1 to 9), the basic need each enneatype is focused on, and the set of strategies each enneatype develops in order to fulfill their basic need.
  • The instinctual biases theory complements the enneagram. It tells us how all the natural instincts we inherited from animals can be grouped into three categories, and how each one of us gives more importance to one of those three instinctual biases (preserving, navigating, and transmitting).

In summary: self-discovery is an inward journey that allows us to discover how we truly function and how we interact with the world, so that we can find tailored solutions that really work for us.

Through observation, curiosity and the use of tools, we discover patterns that explain why what happens to us happens to us. And the better we know ourselves, the more we understand, and the less we judge ourselves. We no longer beat ourselves up for tripping over the same stone again, because now we understand how that happens, and we can acquire resources to manage it better.

Each person is different, and self-discovery helps us at multiple levels, from solving specific everyday problems to enjoying more freedom and happiness in our life, as we begin to live more in line with our own nature and suffer a lot less.

So, now what? Now, the choice is yours, do you want to keep searching for generic solutions to your problems, and blame others when they don't work, or do you want to find what really suits you?

Warning: the path of self-discovery is not always easy, you have to be brave enough to dare to look inward. Some of the things you'll find along the way will be a little painful, they'll sting a little, and you won't be able to use any excuses! At certain times you may even feel that your world is becoming a bit wobbly: that's a sign that you're growing and evolving, the deepest layers of your iceberg are readjusting.

What I can assure you is that it's a most interesting journey that lasts a lifetime, it never ends. It's like a videogame: every time you learn something new and overcome a certain level, life puts the next level in front of you, so that you continue to earn points in wisdom and freedom 🙂

And that's today's article, thanks for reading until the end. Are you curious now? Do you dare to embark on this fascinating journey toward the depths of your iceberg?

Being liked... Or not

This week marks two years since this new phase of BinaryWords started 🙂

If someone asked me why I write this blog, it would take me a while to think of an answer. There are many reasons, one of them being that I absolutely love writing: the creative process helps me to express myself, and gives me an incredible sense of fulfillment. It also helps me to reflect on the things I learn and discover as life goes on. In this sense, I could say that I write for my own sake.

But I also, obviously, write for other people: for all of you, my dear readers. If I didn´t want you to read me, I wouldn´t be writing a blog, I would be writing a private diary. But instead, every week I share here my thoughts, experiences, and knowledge, hoping that they would be useful for you, that they would inspire you, and make you think and reflect.

That you would like them.

Close up of a hand showing thumbs up. In the backgound we can see the arm and torso of a man in a suit and tie

How much do we care about our publications being liked or not? And given that whatever we publish on the internet, social networks, etc. is basically an extension of ourselves... How much do we care about being liked or not?

And what are we willing to do in order to keep being liked?

This is a very interesting premise that I came across this week. And it´s nothing new, on the contrary: it came up in a conversation on stoicism, a philosophical school that originated in Greece and Rome around three hundred years BC.

Very often we spend our days doing certain things in order to please others, to be liked by them, to fulfill their expectations, and ultimately, to be accepted by the group. From an evolutionary point of view, there´s a reason for this: in prehistoric societies, losing the protection of the clan could be the equivalent of a death sentence, so we humans developed strategies to adapt and be accepted by our peers.

But nowadays, when most of us are lucky enough not to have to worry about surviving, giving up on our principles in order to belong to the tribe is no longer needed. Once we become adults, we can assume the responsibility of making our own decisions, and do what we believe to be correct at any given moment, even if that gets us disapproval from certain people.

I´m not saying it will be easy, especially when those who don´t approve of our behaviour are our loved ones: partners, family, friends... We may even feel a certain kind of guilt when doing what we believe is right, knowing that it´s not what they would want; that feeling of discomfort is completely normal, in fact, it´s a type of guilt related to growth, and it´s the price we pay for making our own decisions. Even though we can´t completely avoid that feeling, what we can do is learn to be more and more comfortable with it.

We can learn how to free ourselves from the opinions of others by developing our own self-confidence, this way acquiring the superpower of not seeking to be liked.

Because, you won´t be a truly free individual until you get to feel comfortable with other people´s disapproval.

I still have a lot of work to do in this area... What about you, how good are you at it?

Keep showing up

Has it ever happened to you that, when setting a new goal or establishing a new habit, you start off very enthusiastically and then lose traction as time goes by? This is completely normal: the initial motivation gives us that energy boost, in order to get us started, but once that moment has passed, how do we keep the momentum?

Well, with discipline.

I´m aware that the word discipline may spark some uncomfortable feelings, because of associations with harshness, rigidity, and even a certain level of suffering (no pain, no gain, etc.). But it doesn´t need to be that way: we don´t need to force things too much, or beat ourselves up, or suffer. All we have to do is disregards some of the messages we receive from our brain.

Let me explain: imagine that, in a moment of euphoria and good intentions, you sign up for a membership at your local gym, and decide to go for training three days a week. You start strong, and attend training three times in the first week, but in the second week, one day you´re really tired coming back from work, and decide not to go, another day you feel lazy because it´s raining and you don´t go either, and by the time you realize, you´ve lost momentum and it´s more and more difficult to get motivated to go to your training.

What´s happening is that your habit is not well established yet, so your brain still needs to spend extra energy in order to trigger that particular behaviour. And, given that your brain´s goal is to keep you alive (IMPORTANT: your brain doesn´t care about your happiness, it only wants you to survive), and that saving energy is very convenient for that, then it starts rationalizing and giving you reasons to stay safely at home

Our brain doesn´t understand a thing about long term goals, it´s only interested in keeping us alive in the here and now; that´s why very often the things we instinctively want are not necessarily the best for our long term health and wellness. Another typical example is nutrition: our brain craves sugars, salts and fats in order to guarantee our energy supply, but we know that, once the risk of starving to death is minimized, a more varied diet is a much healthier option for us.

That´s why I suggest paying a bit less attention to our own brains, and using a bit more discipline, which is nothing other than the will to keep moving forward with the task even if we don´t feel like it at that moment. In the words of Woody Allen, 80% of success is showing up. Why? Because we all find it difficult to stay consistent, and that includes artists and elite sports people as well, but it is only through consistency that success is achieved.

So how can we be disciplined and consistent without having to resort to willpower alone? Here are a few tricks that can help:

  • Make it easy to perform the task: for example, if you want to start running every morning, prepare your running gear the night before, and leave it ready next to your bed, so that it´s easier to get dressed and go. If you want to eat more fruit and less sweets, have fresh fruit easily accessible at home, maybe already cut up and prepared.
  • Make it difficult not to perform the task add consequences so that you feel a bit bad if you don´t do it, like for example, agree to go running with someone else (if you fail to go, they´ll be on their own), or even make a public commitment, so that you feel embarrassed if you have to admit you didn´t do it. Or, you can also add obstacles to the behaviour you want to eliminate: for example, don´t keep sweets at home, that way if you want to eat them, you have to go out to buy them first.
  • Set out to do the bare minimum: if you don´t feel like going out for a run, think about running just for five minutes; if you want to eat healthy, think about only swapping your breakfast roll for a piece of fruit. The majority of the effort is in the first step you take to get started, and then everything is a lot easier after that, so figure out the smallest step you can take in the direction you want to go, and at a minimum, take that step. You will probably end up doing a lot more than that (or if you don´t, that´s also fine, give yourself permission to only do the minimum),

And then there´s my favourite trick, the one I use every week to write in this blog: not to give ourselves another option. It doesn´t matter whether I feel like it or not, whether I´m at home or travelling, whether it´s late afternoon or midnight. Sunday is the day I write a post, so I write a post, and that´s it. It´s not negotiable. I don´t allow myself to discuss it in my head, because if I did, most days I would end up finding reasons (that is, excuses) to avoid sitting down to write.

If you look at it that way, the mere existence of this post is proof that these strategies work 🙂

What about you? What tricks do you use to keep consistently working towards your goals?

The importance of context

Some of the books I remember most fondly from back when I was a child were the ones about Mafalda, a compilation of comic strips from the sixties and seventies created by Quino, the great Argentinian cartoonist.

I don´t remember how old I was when I started reading those books; I do remember being curious about words and expressions in Argentinian Spanish, and not understanding some of the jokes. But I didn´t mind, I loved them anyway. I re-read them so many times that I ended up memorizing many of the strips, and years later I finally got to understand them... Quino´s sense of humour is really, really clever in my opinion, and many of the topics he explored in Mafalda´s comic strips and his other graphic humour works remain as relevant now as they were back then.

Today I´m bringing you this strip, to illustrate a topic that came up recently:

Mafalda comic strip - Mafalda and Susanita talking about understanding adults

Here´s the transcription in English: it´s a conversation between Mafalda (a girl who´s about six years old) and her friend Susanita:

- Susanita: Why on Earth do adults spend their time doing and saying things one doesn´t understand?
- Mafalda: It´s very simple, Susanita. When you arrive at the cinema and it turns out the movie has already started, do you understand it?
- Susanita: No.
- Mafalda: Well, the same happens with adults. How can we possibly understand them, if, by the time we arrived, all of them had already started!?

What do you think of this reflection? Leaving aside the joke about kids not understanding adults, the truth is that sometimes we adults don´t understand each other either. Have you ever been in a class, or a meeting at work, and felt completely clueless, as if you had arrived in the middle of the movie?

The problem is that, more often than not, there´s certain basic information missing, and it´s assumed that everybody knows it: the context has not been defined. This may seem very obvious but in reality, it´s not, and it causes more communication issues than you would imagine. Going back to the work meeting example, maybe there was a previous email conversation that didn´t include all participants, and people go straight into discussing solutions without first checking that everyone knows exactly what the problem is. In a classroom, for example, the teacher may start teaching a topic that´s completely new and different, getting straight into the detail, without first explaining what it is about, why it is important, and how it fits with all the previous learning. Both the meeting and the class will be much more productive if there´s an initial investment in explaining the context.

And in a similar way, each person also has a context: each of us has a history, a family, a culture, a set of values, personal circumstances, thoughts, emotions, etc., etc., etc. The more we know about a person´s context, the better we will understand them, and the less we will judge. That´s why I think that, in our day-to-day, we could all benefit from clarifying the context of our conversations, this way getting to understand each other much better.

But be careful not to give too many explanations! It´s not necessary to explain everything, only the essentials. You´ll avoid being told what my mother used to tell me when I rambled on: start at the end! 😀

Untranslatable sentences: taking a step back

Today I'm bringing you another one of those sentences that I think work really well in English, and for which I don't have a convincing translation into Spanish: taking a step back.

The literal translation into Spanish would be dar un paso atrás, and it's used in the sense of distancing ourselves from the details of a situation in order to see the whole picture more clearly, and be able to make better decisions.

And what better moment for taking a step back than while enjoying a few days off?

This is a long weekend for us in Ireland, or as they say in Spanish, estamos de puente . My niece Ana and her boyfriend, Javi, are here visiting us (thanks guys!), and we're taking the opportunity to get out of Dublin for a few days, and do touristy things around the West of Ireland.

There's a lot of talk nowadays about the importance of switching off and recharging batteries every now and then, mostly because we are hyperconnected and overworked in our daily lives... I encourage you to go the extra mile, and next time you take a couple of days off, also take a step back and reflect on some of these quotes:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.

Annie Dillard

Action expresses priorities.

Mahatma Gandhi

Do fewer things. Do them better. Know why you're doing them.

Cal Newport

Learning, re-learning, unlearning

Do you enjoy learning new things? And do you prefer learning by yourself, or signing up for courses where someone teaches you?

I don't consider myself a professional trainee, one of those people who sign up for course after course in an infinite loop, but it is true that I love learning, and I love taking part in training courses and workshops on a variety of topics, especially those related to personal development.

Luckily, there are many companies (including mine) that invest quite a lot in employee training and development, not only in direct relation to their job role, but also in a more holistic way, on topics like emotional intelligence, mental health or financial education, to name a few examples.

Also, one of the good things that came out of the pandemic was the opening up of possibilities for online training that simply didn't exist a few years ago, or that only existed in an in-person format. Thanks to this transformation, the amount and variety of interesting choices for learning,, both formally and informally, has grown in an exponential way. And slowly but surely, the in-person option is starting to become available again, like in the seminar I've attended this weekend in Dublin (which by the way was amazing, thanks Owen!)

But that begs the question: in reality, to what extent are we making the most of all those training courses we sign up for? All those webinars, those masterclasses, those workshops? How much of what we're learning are we practicing in real life, and how much ends up forgotten? Because getting to know theory X, technique Y or spiritual philosophy Z is all well and good, but unless we apply them to our life, unless we bring them down to Earth and practice them, we're not going to notice any difference, beyond having had fun for a little while (and probably, having spent a certain amount of time and money).

Please don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that we shouldn't focus on learning new things; I'm proposing that we truly learn them, integrating them into our life. Knowing that sometimes along the way, we will need to re-learn things that we had already forgotten, or we will come across other things that we used to believe were the absolute truth, and then turned out not to be, forcing us to unlearn them so that we can learn again later. It's an infinite process, it never ends, but it can be tremendously enriching.

So this is what I encourage you to do each time you take part in a training course, workshop, masterclass or whatever: find at least one specific action you can practice in order to integrate what you learned, make the commitment to do that action, and enjoy the results.

And for reflection right now, here are three questions:

  • What's the most useful/valuable/important thing you've learned lately?
  • What had you forgotten already, that you had to re-learn?
  • What turned out not to be true, and you had to unlearn?

Round numbers

This is BinaryWords´s 100th post! 🙂

Hand holding a 100 euro note

It looks cool, doesn´t it? One hundred. A round number. We´ve reached three digits.

Although, well, technically, the very first post could be considered post zero, a simple hello world (no better way to start a blog inspired by computer science) that I wrote back in 2013 to inaugurate my brand new Wordpress site, after the previous incarnation of BinaryWords had fallen into oblivion.

It was also in 2013, ten years ago (another round number), when I took my first Neuro Linguistic Programming course, having signed up for it sort of by coincidence (or so I would think if I believed in coincidences), and completely unaware that I was about to dive right into the world of personal development.

Unfortunately, after that year and that post zero, life somehow got in the way, and my passion for writing was forgotten once more... Until 2021, when it came back again, stronger than ever, and then I finally did it: I took up writing with renewed excitement, this time in a bilingual format, and I chose to share topics that went a bit deeper, helping with self-reflection and personal transformation. That was the origin of my first real post: this is your life, and everything that followed after.

So, technically, if we don´t count hello world, this is blog post number 99, which is not a round number after all... But at the end of the day, does it matter? Sometimes we get too carried away with numbers, especially in these times when we have metrics for everything. Let´s focus on content for once.

And speaking of content, what is your favourite post to date? You can see them all in the archive; I would love to hear which one you enjoyed the most and why, as well as other topics you would like me to write about. And once again, thanks for reading me!

Time to reflect

Happy Easter to all of those celebrating 🙂

A text message from a good friend the other day (thanks Ara!) brought me back to the way I used to spend Easter weekend as a teen and young adult: in a retreat at a convent called El Palancar.

"El Palancar" convent (Extremadura, Spain) seen from a group of rocks high on a hillside

La Pascua del Palancar was a retreat for young people organized by Franciscan brothers from the Betica province, from Holy Thursday until Easter Sunday. The main theme was obviously religious, as it happened with most spiritual events back then, but there was more to it: it was a wonderful opportunity to switch off from the noise and haste of daily life (even if mobile phones didn´t exist yet!) and get more deeply connected to Life, Nature, our travel companions, and ultimately ourselves.

Now that I think of it, these were probably my first steps along the path of self-discovery and personal development.

During the three and a half days of the event, most of the activities were done in company, either in one big group or divided into smaller groups. But there was one, on the Saturday afternoon, which was different: they called it the desertand it was a time slot of about two hours for which they encouraged us to find a quiet place for contemplation and personal reflection. You can imagine how challenging that could be for some of the teenagers: two hours on their own, without talking to anybody!

I remember I always climbed up the rocks on the side of the hill, up to a place very similar to the one in the photo: from there I could see the convent down in the distance, surrounded by the characteristic landscape of Extremadura in the springtime. I was carrying a notebook, a pen, and a piece of paper with a few questions as a guide. But apart from that, nothing.

Silence. Nature. Time and space to allow everything I had inside to come out.

I loved that feeling.

And up there, in that little corner of the world, the two hours would go by, breathing, thinking, writing... Then at some point I would start hearing voices down in the distance, maybe also the strings of a guitar, and I would realize it was almost time to return to the world. I felt like Saint Peter in that passage from the Bible about the transfiguration, when he says to Jesus: Lord, it is good for us to be here, let´s put up a shelter, and Jesus explains that they can´t stay in contemplation at the top of the mountain, they need to go down again and continue with their mission on the ground.

Sometimes we get so sucked into this world we live in, that we lose contact with what matters most to us. But if every now and then we take a break to go up the mountain, then we will listen to our inner voice again, and it will guide us to get back on track. It´s been many years since I last went to El Palancar, and my "mountain" these days sometimes takes the shape of a beach, but the idea is the same: a little bit of time, solitude and silence, and the answer appears.

What about you? When was the last time you listened to your inner voice? And what would it say to you today, if you stopped to listen?

Sharpening the saw

If you´re into topics like productivity, time management or personal development, I´m sure that more than once you will have read or heard the idea that one must pause to sharpen the saw.

Manual saw making its way through a wooden block

This is how Stephen Covey explains it in his book, Seven habits of highly effective people:

Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.

– What are you doing? – you ask.

– Can´t you see? – comes the impatient reply. – I´m sawing down this tree.

– You look exhausted! – you exclaim. – How long have you been at it?

– Over five hours – he returns – and I´m beat! This is hard work.

– Well, why don´t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw? – you inquire – I´m sure it would go a lot faster.

– I don´t have time to sharpen the saw! – the man says emphatically – I´m too busy sawing!

This metaphor illustrates really well how we often get too deep into the weeds of our day to day tasks and forget to stop every once in a while, first of all to rest, but beyond that, to be able to take a step back, gain some perspective and find more efficient (and more enjoyable) ways to achieve our goals.

Another great example along the same lines is one of those quotes that appear printed on geeky T-shirts, especially dedicated to IT people: Six hours of debugging can save you five minutes of reading documentation.

It´s that well known adage, work smarter, not harder, which we know so well in theory, and we find soooo difficult to put into practice... Maybe it´s partly because our society values super busy people; we associate being busy with being productive, so consciously or unconsciously, we keep looking for ways to stay busy (and then we love complaining about how busy we are, it makes us feel important), Or maybe it´s because it´s easier to stay in the momentum we have created for ourselves (which deep down is nothing more than a comfort zone) than to question the way we´ve always done things, even if there is a benefit hiding behind that.

This habit of sharpen the saw can be adopted at multiple levels and in different formats. For example, this past week at work, I had the opportunity to get together with my team (in person, bonus points!) to take a moment, celebrate what we´ve achieved in the last quarter, and plan the work for the next quarter. This is usual practice in Agile methodologies, and it´s been proven to work really well.

And at a more individual level, we can schedule time every week or month to sharpen our very own saw, and that time will be well invested for sure, I remember that one of my very first managers here in Ireland suggested this to me (thanks David!), and for years I kept a time slot booked for myself every Friday afternoon, when the work of the week was already done, and I would sit down in the canteen/cafeteria with my notebook, look at the trees outside the window, and do lots of reflection and planning, getting my ideas in order... I have to say that I used to get a lot of benefit from that little habit, and now I´m in the process of restarting it again, be it on Friday afternoons or at a different time during the week.

And, given that it´s actually impossible to separate our work self from the rest of our being, this principle goes beyond the concepts of work and personal life, because at the end of the day, each person is a whole self. Stephen Covey proposes four areas where we must sharpen our saw: physical, mental, social/emotional and spiritual.

What about you? How do you sharpen your saw? And now that I think of it, wouldn´t it be easier to explain the metaphor with an axe, instead of a saw? Because I´m not sure how a toothed saw like the one in the photo can be sharpened...