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?

Travelling

I´m on holidays these days, and travelling, as many of you are probably doing as well. After two summers without setting foot in Spain, the girls and I have finally been able to come this year, to enjoy family time and good weather (heat wave included!)

Searching for travel related quotes, I found these three that made me think:

Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.

Ibn Battuta

A really cool quote that I hadn´t heard before.

But in order for this to really happen, travelling (in the sense of moving from one place to another) is not enough; you have to immerse youself in the experience, keep an open mind, let yourself be surprised. In short, it´s what it´s often said about being a traveller instead of a tourist – the tourist gets back home and it´s the same as when they left, while the traveller lets him or herself get transformed along the way.

And it seems to me that it´s a lot easier to get surprised when traveling to a new place, which brings me to the second quote for today:

Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.

Anonymous

A great piece of advice, in my opinion. Even though I admit that I tend to return to certain known places; when it comes to travelling, I´m not very adventurous... But, once I overcome that initial laziness and embrace adventure, I do enjoy a lot, and I learn loads, getting to know new places.

But hey, is it that we can only get transformed if we travel to unknown places? Well, not necessarily; I think what happens is that a new place can change our perspective more easily, it can help us to think and act in a new way, while staying in the same old places usually leaves us thinking and acting... well, the same old way 🙂

That´s why I liked this third quote so much, it was also new to me:

Once in a while it really hits people that they don’t have to experience the world in the way they have been told to.

Alan Keightley

What this last sentence is suggesting is that it really doesn´t matter where we are; our environment can be the same as always, but if we change the way we look, if we change our attitude, we will perceive it all in a new and different way.

Y a ti, ¿te gusta viajar? ¿Eres de los aventureros, o de los que prefieren repetir destino? ¿Y te consideras viajero, o turista?

Martha and Mary

I, like many others around my age both in Spain and Ireland, was born and raised in a catholic environment, so for many years, I attended Mass every Sunday and every religious holiday.

I remember several passages from the New Testament that impacted me, and one of them was the one about Martha and Mary:

 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. Esta tenía una hermana que se llamaba María, la cual, sentándose a los pies de Jesús, oía su palabra. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work alone? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

I think this passage caught my attention because I didn´t fully understand it, it didn´t make sense to me. Well, if you had things to do, then you had to do them, right? You couldn´t just be lazy and stay there… But then Jesus came and said the exact opposite, which I found mindblowing.

I didn´t even think of questioning whether those “things that had to be done” really needed to be done, or whether simply being, without “doing”, really meant being lazy.

And that´s because I was internally suffering that contrast (or rather, conflict) between what Martha and Mary´s characters represented: I was overwhelmed by all my tasks, which I felt as obligations, and when for whatever reason I dedicated time to rest or do something less “productive”, I felt bad afterward. I wasn´t comfortable with either one thing or the other. The result? A lack of sleep that lasted for years, and a big feeling of guilt.

Now that time has passed and I know myself better, I know that what´s really happening is that I have two different operation modes:

  • The “efficient mode”, where I have loads of energy and I´m super productive, be it at work, doing house chores, out on errands, etc.
  • The “quiet mode”, where I follow my own rhythm and take my time recharging batteries, in whatever way is needed depending on the moment.

What made all the difference for me was learning that not only both modes are valid, but they´re also necessary, they complement each other, so it´s all about keeping the balance. In order to spend energy, I need to receive it first. And because we live in the culture of “doing”, we need to highlight the importance of “being”, but if we focus only on being and never doing, then we don´t make progress either… Ideally, the two of them would go hand-in-hand and play for us, not against us.

Going back to the passage about Martha and Mary, what Jesus does is praise Mary for prioritizing the most important thing. Let´s do that as well: be clear on what´s most important to us at any given moment, and prioritize it, with awareness, in the best possible way and without feeling guilty.

Untranslatable sentences: food for thought

As I´ve already said a couple of times in this same blog, there are a few phrases and sentences in English that I love and for which I can´t find a good Spanish translation, and vice versa.

The phrase that came to my mind today is “food for thought”, which is basically something that makes you think when you read or hear it. The Spanish translation would more or less say “food for your mind”.

Which is what I aim to make available to you through these weekly articles: a few ideas and quotes that can spark reflection… and if we´re lucky, even a bit of action.

Here´s today´s food for thought:

The steps that you don´t dare take also leave a mark.

Grela Bravo

In what direction do you want your steps to take you? And what´s preventing you from taking that step that you haven´t attempted yet?

Chapters

I´ve always loved reading. And I guess it´s no surprise, having grown up in a house full of books, with role models like my dad, a die-hard reader, and my sister Cristina, another one, who was also my roommate… Let´s just say I had examples to imitate 🙂

Thankfully (and also thanks partly to Fredi and I being so pigheaded), the fondness for reading has made its way to the next generation, and our three daughters also enjoy reading, which makes us really proud. Because even though they´re also growing up surrounded by books, and we would like to think we´re a good example to them, as you know, it´s not that easy nowadays, with so many screens demanding attention through endless videogames, movies, series, social media…

The truth is, we´ve become an accelerated society, which finds it very hard to slow down. But the thing that can help us to counteract that tendency is precisely a good book: it allows us to take a break from our busy lives, and gift ourselves a little period of calm. It enables quality time with ourselves, and on top of that, it stimulates our brain in a very beneficial way, either because we´re learning something new, or because we let our imagination fly as we dive into a story.

Today my friend Inés was telling me how hooked she is on the book she´s currently reading… Is there anything more exciting than that feeling of wanting to read just one more chapter? Or the feeling of staying up reading until really late at night during the holidays, knowing you don´t have to get up early the following morning? That was the best thing in the world when I was a child, I truly miss it.

There are loads of quotes on the topic of reading; today I´d like to share two of them with you, and the second one, to be honest, is not even about books! You´ll see.

Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.

Louis L’Amour

This first one is clear, right? When a book has an impact on us, there´s always something new, a new perspective, some new learning, that expands our vision of the world, and somehow changes us a little. And it doesn´t happen only with books, it happens with every experience we have in life, as if our life itself was a book, and we kept making progress with each chapter.

But beware, for the book of life contains a hidden danger...

  You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading the last one.

Michael McMillian

… And it´s the danger of getting stuck in a certain “chapter”, in a story that we keep telling ourselves, again and again, and that´s preventing us from moving forward. An infinite loop… Until the moment we decide to break out of it and carry on.

And what about you, what story are you telling yourself? Are you making progress through the chapters? Or are you stuck?

Inspiration in the shape of a card

If you´ve been reading this blog for a while, by now you will have probably noticed that I have a thing for inspirational quotes and phrases. I have gathered many of them over the years, in different formats: in the old times, I used to cut out newspaper and magazine clippings and keep them in a folder; nowadays I mostly take pictures of them, or copy them from the internet and paste them in a notepad in my computer or phone.

Inspiration can show up anywhere: on a blackboard at a shop or café, in a fridge magnet, in an advertisement… Even at the dentist´s office, or in a biology book from school (true story, I was so sad to lose that book).

Today I bring you four phrases in card format that I have at home (from Quotable Cards), which resonate a lot with me at this moment of my life, I hope they get to inspire you as well:

«Life isn´t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself. (Unknown).»

– Oh, so I can create myself then? I can decide what to do with my life? That´s cool! But... Where do I start?

«Go confidently in the direction of your dreams! Live the life you´ve imagined. – Thoreau».

– Ahhh, walking towards my dreams, that sounds lovely. Living the life that I want, at last. But wait, to achieve that, one has to move, right? And I´m sooo comfy here...

«Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. – Neale Donald Walsch.»

– Ufff, getting out of my comfort zone, that´s something else. Of course, I want to achieve my dream, but, what if it goes wrong? What if I make a mistake? What if I look like a fool? I don´t like being in a situation I can´t control... What do I do now?

«Slow down, calm down, don´t worry, don´t hurry, trust the process. – Alexandra Stoddard.»

– Ohhh, so this is part of a process then? That explains everything 🙂. To be honest, this comfort zone where I am is very comfy (as the name suggests), but it´s also a bit boring; my dream is beyond here. And every time I dare to try something new, to put a foot outside, I feel a bit lost, insecure, even scared... But I already know that if I keep going, whatever the result, for sure I will learn something, and my comfort zone will become a little bit bigger, and that will get me another bit closer to my dream.

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?

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