Perspective

Has it ever happened to you that, while you were worrying about a problem or a challenge that seemed unsurmountable, suddenly something else happened that completely changed your perspective and made you realize it wasn´t that bad?

Sometimes I remember the beginning of the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, a book of mostly nonsensical humour that I read many years ago (thanks Hernán for lending it to me), and of which I don´t remember much, except for a couple of details I thought were full of genius geeky wisdom🙂

The story begins with the main character arriving one day at his house, only to discover it´s about to be demolished to build a new highway. Apparently, a notice sign had been put up a few weeks before, but he hadn´t seen it, and as you can imagine, he gets very nervous; he starts shouting at the construction workers, trying with all his might to save his house from getting destroyed... But as it turns out, it doesn´t really matter, because then he finds out that the whole planet Earth is about to be destroyed, in order to build a new intergalactic highway (and there was also a warning sign that nobody had read!).

How often do we get obsessed with a specific thing as if our life depended on it, and it doesn´t occur to us to take a step back, change the way we look at it, and that way get to see the big picture?

Close up of a glass ball on a wooden log, showing a rocky landscape that we can also see out of focus in the background

Another good example, this time from real life, was the beginning of the pandemic: many of our worries from before March 2020 suddenly disappeared, as we realized that what was truly important at that time was being healthy and safe, and everything else was an additional luxury.

And I´m not saying that our previous worries were not valid, on the contrary: every single thing that happens to us generates certain thoughts and feelings, sometimes alongside physical symptoms, that we should process; we should pay attention and give them their space, because they´re here to tell us something, to deliver a warning, or maybe a teaching.

What I´m saying is that the importance of things is relative, and when we don´t have something big to worry about... Sometimes our tendency is to worry about something small as if it were big.

Or sometimes we´re so deeply involved in a specific situation that we find it difficult to see it clearly, and as the saying goes, "we can´t see the forest for the trees". That´s when we can benefit most from seeking a different perspective, and a variety of techniques can help us with that, either working individually or with help from a friend, or a professional.

For example, when we´re stuck trying to make a decision for fear of choosing wrong, it may be useful to remind ourselves that in this life, the probabilities of a decision of ours causing irreversible and irreparable damage are very slim. In the majority of cases, regardless of the outcome being "good" or "bad", the consequences are perfectly tolerable, so we can afford to decide, take action, and above all, learn from our results.

By the way, I´m writing "good" or "bad" with quotation marks because as we already know, everything is relative... Except in the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy, where they were able to find the ultimate specific answer to the Big Question on Life, the Universe, and Everything 🙂

Untranslatable sentences: getting out of your own way

Today we´re talking about another one of those expressions in English that I love, and that I think lose their charm when translated into Spanish.

It´s "getting out of your own way", which basically means stop being an obstacle in your own path. When I hear it, I imagine a path in front of me, with a gigantic boulder in the middle of it, blocking the way... And I realize that, very often, I´m the one placing that boulder there.

OK, it´s not always a gigantic boulder, sometimes it´s a smaller rock... But the thing is that I do it, I sabotage myself, and that´s something that happens quite frequently to us as humans.

Today my daughter Eva, who´s reading the Harry Potter books, mentioned Dobby, the house elf. If you remember, every time Dobby realized he had done something against the rules, even if it was with the best intentions, he said "bad Dobby!" and tried to injure himself, doing things like banging his head against a wall, etc.

Well, I get the feeling that we humans do something similar sometimes, unconsciously of course. Our rational side establishes a goal or objective and wants to make progress in that direction, but it finds itself hindered (and sometimes, sabotaged) by an ever deeper side of ourselves, which somehow believes that achieving that goal would be against how things should be.

So, when we realize we´re finding it difficult to get closer to our goal, and we´re taking one step forward and two steps back, it´s time to start digging to see what´s hidden below that self-sabotage: there may be beliefs, values, or even aspects of our own identity that are in conflict with whatever it is that we want to achieve. And that´s where a coaching process can help a lot, in order to shine the light on those "hidden forces" that make us get in the way of our own success.

What about you? How are you getting in your own way, blocking your own path? And what would it take to remove those blockers?

Discomfort

There have been a few moments this week when I have felt a little uncomfortable.

Nothing serious, only a bit of discomfort when facing situations outside my usual day-to-day. They were somewhat tense moments (inside my head, at least), in which I didn´t know what to do or say in order to avoid making a mistake, and I felt clumsy and incompetent, a bit like a fish out of the water.

Outside my comfort zone.

But also this week, interestingly, I heard an analogy that worked wonders in making me change my perspective.

Discomfort is something that we naturally tend to avoid, as we find it unpleasant, whether it´s related to a physical sensation or any other kind of uncomfortable feeling, like in certain social situations.

But for example, when we´re practicing a sport, what we´re doing is essentially subjecting our body to a certain degree of discomfort during a set period of time, with the goal of developing our muscles and making them stronger. And bit by bit, with perseverance, our body gets used to it, and becomes capable of doing that exercise more and more easily and with less and less effort.

It´s very clear that if we stay lying on the couch, our muscles are not going to develop. In a similar way, we could argue that our social "muscles", as well as our skills and abilities in general, develop through experiences that are a bit uncomfortable, as those are the ones that move us, challenge us and encourage us to learn.

Because, let´s be realistic: when we feel a hundred percent comfortable, it´s because we´re not learning at all...

A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.

John Assaraf

I remember that before moving to Ireland, I was not used to feeling cold at all, and I found it really hard. Then as years went by, I acclimatized, and nowadays, it´s not that I enjoy being cold or anything like that, but that sensation that I used to find so uncomfortable in the past is not such a big deal now, I find it much more bearable. Why? Because at some point I decided to stop avoiding feeling cold at all costs, and I allowed myself to feel a bit of the cold and confirm that it wasn´t the end of the world and that I could still function normally. Now I believe I´ve freed myself from having to always keep an ideal temperature.

Bringing the same reasoning back to the situations I mentioned at the start, thankfully now I know that feeling uncomfortable for a few minutes is not the end of the world. On the contrary: it´s an opportunity to become aware and notice (myself as well as around me), flex "muscles" I probably didn´t even know I had, and trust that at the end of it all, I will have learned something new.

What about you, what makes you feel uncomfortable? And what is that discomfort trying to teach you?

Do what you can

It´s been a week already in 2023; we are slowly returning to normal life after the winter celebrations... And maybe the excitement we felt a few days ago, at the beginning of the year, is starting to fade away.

All those plans we were so excited about, all those new year's resolutions, may feel a bit uphill to us right now... In fact, in Spain there's a saying, I'm not sure if it exists in other countries: "la cuesta de enero" (January's "hill" - the word "cuesta" refers to both "hill" and something that's difficult, costly). It alludes to the difficulties we face sometimes during this month, often in terms of money (after spending a lot at Christmas), but I would say also emotionally, given that celebration time is now over and we return to the cold and monotonous winter time.

Wooden steps ascending through a rocky field, under a grey cloudy sky

Apparently, January is the month when many people start planning their next holiday, in order to have something to look forward to. Yesterday I happened to walk by a travel agency, and was really surprised by the queue of customers!

What I'm trying to say is that this time of the year may feel a bit hard to us, especially if we have a goal or objective that still seems very far away and we don't feel that we're making enough progress.

I'm the first one currently in that situation: I have a few enhancements and other things planned for BinaryWords, and here I am, watching the days go by much faster than the progress I'm making with the project... In my opinion, as I've pointed out in the past, the key is finding a sustainable pace, which in my case translates to finding the balance between being patient with myself and giving myself a little kick. Resting and looking after my well-being, of course, as well as carving out time to do things I like, but also motivating myself even when I don't feel like it, and assigning reasonable tasks to myself every day or every week; otherwise, it's very easy for me to stay in my comfort zone and not move.

Speaking of, I´m happy to report that I have finally started a mailing list through Mailchimp. You can subscribe here to receive the weekly post in your email inbox, and get updates about new things coming up. If you´re already subscribed you don´t have to do anything, I´ll add you to the new list, and hopefully, you´ll start receiving emails in a slightly nicer format 🙂 And if you see any problems, please let me know so that I can fix them, I´m still learning (and I still need to investigate how to make the emails bilingual without having to write it all twice...)

Anyway, getting back to our topic, I encourage you to have patience with your goals and objectives for this year, especially during this month of January, and also to keep making progress at a pace that allows for your self-care but doesn´t allow you to make excuses 😉

And I´m finishing today with one of my favourite quotes of all times, which you can apply to any situation, including this one:

Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.

Theodore Roosevelt

New year´s... Resolutions or goals?

Today we´re starting a new year, happy 2023! 🙂

It´s usually the day when, after reviewing the year that´s just gone (and why not, thanking it for everything it brought to us, and what we learned from it), we begin to think about what we want to change or achieve from now on.

Scrabble letters forming the word "resolutions", and three blank post-it notes (pink, green and yellow)

Many people do this in the form of new year´s resolutions: things like exercising more, eating better, starting to save... The thing is, if we leave them as that, vague generic sentences, it´s really difficult to put them into practice in a way that´s effective and long lasting. They often become wishful thinking: we wish for them to magically happen on their own.

Let me propose to you two other options: one is choosing a new habit you want to establish, and another one is to set a goal or objective to achieve for yourself.

I hope to be able to talk more about habits in the near future: my reading list for this year includes the book Atomic habits, by James Clear 🙂

About goals and objectives I can tell you a bit more, because they´re an essential part of any coaching process. In coaching, we work with the SMART acronym when defining goals. Leaving aside the meaning of the word itself, each letter in the acronym points to a characteristic of a well defined goal:

  • S for Specific: the more specific, the better: what exactly do you want to achieve?
  • M for Measurable: how will you know that you have achieved it? What measure will you use?
  • A for Achievable: is it possible to achieve that goal?
  • R for Realistic: how realistic is this for you at this moment?
  • T for Time-bound: when do you want to achieve it by?

There are some variations of this acronym, but the idea is basically the same: making the goal as tangible as possible, bringing those generic and vague ideas "down to Earth", so that they don´t stay up in the air like nice words that are easily swept by the changing winds.

And while we´re at it, why not making our goal even SMARTER, adding two more letters?

  • E for Ecological: I´m not referring to the Environment in general, but rather to the way your goal affects your personal environment in particular (your family, your work, your free time...) Who or what is going to be impacted by your decision of pursuing this goal? Is that impact going to be positive, or negative?
  • R for Reward: what´s going to be your reward once you achieve that goal? What do you want it for? What value is it going to bring to you? How are you going to feel?

I particularly love these last two letters, because they point out aspects that we don´t often think about. Ecological thinking reminds us that we´re not isolated individuals; on the contrary, we influence each other and our surroundings as well. Identifying any possible impact beforehand, especially if it´s negative, will allow us to reach out to whoever we need to and earn their support, so that we can make adjustments to make it easier to progress towards our goal.

And very often we get obsessed with achieving a certain goal or objective without really knowing what we want it for. The question here is not why - I´m sure we all have all kinds of reasons and justifications why it makes sense to go for whatever we want to achieve: going back to the examples I mentioned earlier, we know that a good diet and regular exercise are good for our health, we know we should have some emergency savings in case they´re ever needed, etc. etc. etc. That´s the theory, and we all know it very well, but that´s not enough.

The question is what for. What benefit are you going to get from this, once you´ve achieved it? What´s going to be your reward? It has to be something personal, something of value to you, something meaningful, because that´s the motivation that´s going to help you to hang in there when the initial excitement is gone and you still have a long way ahead of you. Could it be wearing that dress you like so much, the one you look so nice in, next summer? Maybe reaching your retirement age with enough agility to be able to play with your grandchildren? Or perhaps having saved enough to be able to finally go and visit the Taj Mahal?

Whatever it is, the good thing about goals and objectives is that they´re a lot more tangible than resolutions, so I encourage you, if you really want to make progress and get results this year, to use the SMARTER acronym to go wherever you decide. And if you´re not very sure how to define your own goal, or how to start working towards it, why not contacting a professional coach, who can walk alongside you?

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas! To all of you who celebrate, be it as a religious festivity or simply as an occasion to enjoy spending time with your loved ones.

Christmas tree leaves close up with lights, golden stars and golden bauble

Either way, I hope you're having the opportunity to do something different, as well as rest and recharge batteries now that we're getting closer to the end of the year.

And with the new year, new things will come to BinaryWords! For the moment, let me leave you with a phrase I saw yesterday in a Christmas market stall here in my home town, it read something like...

Living is like riding a bike: in order to maintain your balance you need to keep moving forward

UPDATE: after writing this post I learned that the quote is by Albert Einstein, and its wording is slightly different: it mentions moving, doesn't say in which direction. But I say, given that we have to move, why not moving forward?

Christmas carols

Yesterday I spent my afternoon listening to (and singing along to) some "villancicos", which are the traditional Spanish Christmas songs. I found a Youtube compilation that was very similar to what I used to listen to when I was little, a cassette tape with carols sung by children, and it brought me many happy memories.

Old looking sheet music surrounded by Christmas tree leaves and small pink and purple baubles

Some Spanish "villancicos" are versions of Christmas carols originally written in other languages, like Silent night or The little drummer boy, with soft and harmonious melodies. Then there are the ones originally written in Spanish, like "Los peces en el río" (Fish in the river) or La marimorena .(I really don´t know how to translate this one), with lively tempos, cheerful melodies, and instruments like tambourines and "zambombas" (which Google says can be translated as "friction drum" - it´s a typical Spanish thing). Anyway, as you know, Spanish people love celebrating things by being loud 🙂

To be honest, "villancicos" are some of my most treasured Christmas memories. Now thinking about it, I believe it has to do with them being songs that are passed from generation to generation, and that we can all sing together, the whole family. I used to love singing them myself as a child, and years later, when it was time for my daughters to learn them, I really enjoyed passing them along. It was as if, for a little while, I also became a child again...

For me, Christmas carols combine the power of music, which lifts our spirit and brings us together, with the excitement of Christmas. And if you look at it this way, they´re the perfect excuse for us to allow ourselves to become children again, set aside our worries for a little while, and truly enjoy the present moment.

What about you? Do you like Christmas carols? Which one is your favourite? And what other things make you feel as excited as a child?

Untranslatable sentences: me da pereza

Today I´m bringing you one of those untranslatable phrases that I enjoy collecting, only this time it goes the other way round: it´s an expression in Spanish for which I can´t find a good English translation.

Example scenario: it´s Friday evening, and the company´s Christmas party is starting in a couple of hours. Outside it´s already dark, and quite cold; the snow from the previous night has started turning into ice. I´m feeling warm and cozy at home, and when I start thinking about dressing up and going out, into Dublin´s city centre, to attend the party...

Me da pereza.

Grey cat lying on its side a wooden shelf, looking at the camera

That´s what I would say in Spanish, "me da pereza", which loosely translates as "I´m overcome with a feeling of laziness when I think about doing X". It´s as if I got tired just from thinking about it. It´s a powerful sensation that comes upon me... and pushes me toward the couch 😀

Looking around, I´ve found two possible translations: "I don't feel like it", which more literally translates as "no me apetece", and "I can't/couldn't be bothered", which basically means that I'm not going to do it, either because I don't consider it to be necessary, or because I'm not interested, or because I'm too lazy to make the effort.

I guess from those two, the closest one is "I don't feel like it", because it conveys the idea that I think doing X is a good idea in general, but at this moment in particular I don't have the energy or the will to do it. The other one, "couldn't be bothered", doesn't fit as well, in my opinion: it doesn't seem to me that it values X in any way (due to passivity, indifference, or who knows why) and it's also assuming that, whatever X is, I'm not going to do it.

And that's the beauty of "me da igual" or "I don't feel like it", in my opinion: it's an obstacle but not a blocker, just a barrier that can be overcome. Very often, our brain wants to go for the easy option, the comfortable one, the one that saves the most energy, and it has good reasons (namely preservation instinct). But we don't have to always pay attention to it, because it doesn't always know what's best for us...

I'm not saying that we shouldn't listen to our body when it really needs to rest, of course we should. But beyond that, it may be good for us to think about what it is that's holding us back, and why. What's hiding behind that laziness? What are we really trying to avoid? And what reward can we find if we go ahead regardless? That way, we will know if it's worth making that initial effort.

Did I finally go to the party? Yes, I did. Why? Because I knew that once I got there, I would have a great time, and that's exactly what happened. What was my strategy? The same one that's worked for me so many times in the past - going straight into getting ready without thinking too much about it, and most importantly, not sitting on the couch!

What about you? What is it that you don't usually feel like doing, and how do you motivate yourself to get over it?

Excitement

December is here, and in the countries that celebrate Christmas, the Christmas spirit has already invaded everything: streets full of light, families decorating their houses, shops full of people buying presents, Christmas carols and other seasonal songs playing everywhere...

For many people, this time of the year is full of excitement and joy, although it also comes with a certain amount of stress: maybe we´re making preparations for travelling, or it´s our turn to entertain family or friends at our house. Maybe we´re dreading that "overdose" of family reunions and other events that usually take place around this time, or maybe this year we´re facing some situation that prevents us from celebrating the way we would like.

Maybe it´s the first Christmas without a loved one, who´s going to be very present in our hearts and our thoughts.

Or maybe we´re going through a rough patch of any kind, and our discomfort grows even bigger during this time, when it looks like it´s almost compulsory for all of us to be happy (our friend Raúl used to call it something like "the universal peace and love simulacrum", I think he took the idea from an episode of The Simpsons).

For many people, unfortunately, that discomfort is much much deeper... There may be feelings of sadness and loneliness that the rest of us are not able to understand from the outside.

In any case, it seems to me that we ourselves create most of the problems with our own expectations, at every level: from the expectations that society sells to us through advertisements and movies, to the ones we each have on how we must behave or what we must feel, and the ones created by the dynamics in our family or our closest social groups. Year after year, we "buy" those expectations, and then we feel disappointed and frustrated when we are not fulfilled.

That´s why this year I´d like to propose something different to you. I propose that you rekindle your excitement for something related to Christmas (if you celebrate Christmas that is, or at least the winter holidays, or the new year). It can be a particular tradition or anything else you can think of that you´re excited about, no matter how small. And once that moment arrives, I propose that you let go of expectations and LIVE IT, enjoy it as it is, the way it´s happening, without comparing it to how you would have liked it to happen. Because things change, life is constantly changing, and the only moment that you can really enjoy is the present.

So, what about you? What are you excited about this Christmas?

Collecting quotes

Thanksgiving celebrations took place this past week across the United States, and if you have been taking a look at social media, you will probably have seen (in between Black Friday sale ads), a whole heap of inspirational quotes about gratitude.

(If you feel like reading a post about gratitude, here´s one from about a year ago)

Wooden scrabble letters forming the phrase "Say thank you"

My usual readers will have noticed that every now and then I like writing quotes in this blog, but not all the time, because even though I looooooove quotes (we could say I´m a quote collector), I get the impression that sometimes we get bombarded with so many of them that we end up overwhelmed, and then they no longer get our attention. That´s why I prefer to use them in small doses.

Today I do want to show you two quotes that are basically telling us the same thing, and they´re not the only ones by any means. It´s a message that´s been said a thousand times in a thousand different ways, precisely because it´s as true and as relevant nowadays as it was back in the ancient times of Greek philosophers:

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

Epictetus

Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey