A year of BinaryWords

BinaryWords 2.0 is having its first birthday this month!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks a million!

Year two, here we go 😉

Playing draughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Presence

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

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

Jim & Michelle McCarthy – Software for your head

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

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

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

Violinists in the subway

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

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

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

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

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

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

Configurations

Sometimes when we´re thinking about a problem we want to resolve, especially if we´re a bit on the perfectionist side, it happens that we fall into the trap of thinking two things: first, that there´s only one “ideal” or “perfect” solution for that particular problem, and second, that there´s only one possible way to get to that solution.

We forget that as human beings we are all different, and the same way the situations that each one of us can encounter in life are potentially infinite, such is also our creativity to find solutions, as long as we give ourselves a confidence vote.

But you see, sometimes along the way we lose that confidence, like when we´re putting together a side of the Rubik´s cube, and in doing so we dismantle another side. Sometimes when we make a change, we unintentionally stir other things up, because everything is related.

Maybe the secret is to start thinking about life as an experiment, and instead of trying to get to that perfectly put together Rubik´s cube, which is also so rigid and immovable (and boring!), with all its coloured little squares slotted on their corresponding sides, we could decide to find our own combination, the one that works for each one of us. Our cube doesn´t have to look like anyone else´s cube, or be the exact same for as long as we live.

And how do you achieve that? Well, by trying different configurations. I´m a big fan of intermediate solutions, that is, making small changes that slowly get us closer to where we want to be, knowing that we can always modify the experiment and change course if we so decide, as we start getting new results and making new discoveries.

And I´m saying small changes, because if they´re too big, they may not last long, or they may seem so difficult that we end up giving up, or worse, not even trying in the first place. So let´s go bit by bit: what happens if I move this piece slightly toward this side? Or if I swap this colour with that other one?

Apparently, a Rubik´s cube can be configured in 43 quintillion different ways… How does today´s combination look for you?

Choose your stones with love

The year 2021 is about to finish, and very soon we´ll be welcoming 2022.

But that´s still a few days away, so before we start celebrating the New Year, we have some time to reflect a bit on the past twelve months. I propose we use an acronym for this, a few words in Spanish whose initials spell the word AMOR (LOVE):

  • A for Agradecimiento – THANKFULNESS: What do I feel thankful for this year? What events do I want to give thanks for?
  • M for Mejorable – IMPROVABLE: What did I set out to achieve and was not able to? What would I do differently now, and how would I do it?
  • O for Orgulloso – PROUD: What did I achieve this year, that I´m proud of? What obstacles did I overcome?
  • R for Reflexión – REFLECTION: Which things turned out as I expected, and which ones didn´t? What surprises did I find along the way? And what did I learn?

Now, having looked back for this little review, and knowing where we come from and the path we’ve followed to get where we are, we will find it easier to look ahead and decide where we want to go now, what goals we want to set for ourselves in 2022.

But be warned, I’m not talking about making new year’s resolutions, changes that last only a few days and then fade away, leaving us the same as we were, or even worse… I’m talking about being honest with ourselves and consciously deciding our priorities, the things we consider valuable and important in our life, because once we connect with those things and they´re clear in our mind, motivation and success will come naturally, or at least with a lot less effort than if we tried to change just using our willpower 😊

And speaking of priorities in life, I´d like to share with you a story that you’ve probably watched or read already, but I think there’s no harm in remembering it. Now is the perfect moment for choosing, from a place of love (AMOR), our big stones (or according to this version of the story, our golf balls, although I have to say it doesn’t sound nearly as poetic as the stones…)

Emotions

Easy question for Pixar fans: can you name the five characters in this image?

Exactly, they’re the five emotions that appear in the movie Inside Out, which in Spain got translated as Del Revés: Fear, Disgust, Sadness, Joy and Anger.

What you may not know is that it´s not a coincidence that those five emotions were picked for the movie. They´re what experts call the universal emotions, that is, the ones that every human being possesses from birth, regardless of their origin or cultural environment. There are two additional emotions, surprise and contempt, that are considered universal by some experts but not by others; what´s clear is that they all agree on these five.

Cool, right? Even cooler is the fact that each of these emotions goes with a characteristic facial expression that´s also universal: we can all recognize them instinctively, and in fact we do it all the time, interpreting how others feel based on the expression on their face. Focus on the characters in the image for a moment, and you will clearly see the emotions they each represent.

We know all this because Paul Ekman, a psychologist specialized in emotions (and Pixar´s advisor for Inside Out) travelled in the 1960´s to one of the most remote and isolated civilizations on Earth, in Papua New Guinea, where modern advances like photography or television were unknown, to study how the locals managed to express their own emotions and recognize them in others.

Which goes to show that sometimes we may seem very different on the outside, but on the inside, deep down, we´re all made of the same stuff, even after us adding extra layers of personality, cultural references and learned behaviours that sometimes cause us not understand each other very well.

Personally, I think the movie is very funny and really interesting for all ages, worth watching if you haven´t done so yet. My favourite scene is a super cool example of empathy provided by Sadness, one of the main characters, but there are many, many other memorable moments.

If you´ve already watched it, do you have a favourite scene? What would you highlight from the movie?

And if you want to learn more about emotions, have a look at this atlas: http://atlasofemotions.org/

Thankful and proud

Today I´d like to propose a habit that´s as simple as it is powerful, and that you´ll probably have seen recommended in multiple places: spending a few moments each day being thankful.

purple petaled flower and thank you card

This can be done in many ways: in the morning or at night, in writing, out loud or simply thinking about it… but the idea is always the same: stopping for a moment to appreciate what we already have, the daily gifts that life sends to us, and to feel fortunate and abundant because of it.

I started putting this into practice with my daughters a few years ago, when I heard that it was truly beneficial for kids to think of three things for which to be grateful for each night, as it helped them to finish the day on a happy note, remembering pleasant things. We made “giving thanks” part of our bedtime routine back then, and nowadays we still keep it up.

In some ways it reminds me of what I used to do as a child, praying before going to sleep. Every now and then I would repeat a prayer by heart, but usually it was more like a few minutes of “talking to God”: I would tell Him about my day, thank Him for some things, ask Him for others… And now remembering it all, I realize that this little exercise of reflection at the end of the day used to help me a lot and make me feel good, regardless of who could be “on the other side” in that silent conversation going on inside my head.

So now I’m a big fan of having routines at the start and end of the day, of course including thankfulness. And in the last few months, also including a few minutes of handwriting, which is a really interesting process, and very different from just thinking the words, but I’ll tell you about that some other day 😊

What I did want to tell you today is that this week the girls and I have done an experiment, and added one more thing to our bedtime routine: in addition to the three things for which each of us is thankful, we’ve started to mention one thing for which we each feel proud that day. It may be for something big or small, it doesn’t matter; the important thing is to feel that joy for a moment again, that boost of self-esteem, and to let it encourage us to continue to face new challenges.

It is true that some days we’ve found it harder than others to find something to say there, and that it still doesn’t come out naturally, but I hope that little by little this new habit will get settled. For what better way to finish the day than appreciating what is around us, and also ourselves.

I have to...

One thing that I set out to do with the blog a few months ago, and that I´ve kept doing since, is writing a new post each week. As you can imagine, sometimes I find it harder than others to keep it up... I usually write during the weekend, when in theory I have more time, but then in practice, it´s not unusual to get as far as Sunday evening without having written the week's post, as it happened today. And at the end of the day, tiredness and laziness start to show up...

woman typing on laptop

But hey, here I am, writing, as it couldn´t be any other way. Tiredness and laziness are going to have to wait for another little while.

But how do you achieve that? How do you get to keep up a habit when that moment arrives, the moment when you don't feel like doing it at all, and instead you feel like skipping it?

One option is resorting to willpower, as we very often do: you remind yourself all the reasons why "you have to do it", you beat yourself up for wanting to skip it, and you force yourself to do it even if you don't feel like it. After all, you "have to do it", right?

Yes, that option will probably work, at least at the beginning, but at the cost of giving you a hard time (and you suffer it twice: when you beat yourself up, and when you end up doing it without any motivation). So then in the long run, how can you stay strong and keep up the habit if you see each step as an obligation? How can you not stop feeling like doing it?

Maybe the trick is to make it look not like an obligation, but something we have decided to do ourselves, because that's the reality - even if it's something that somebody has imposed on us, if we have committed to it, it's because we have accepted that commitment, for whatever reasons.

In cases like this, it may be useful to ask ourselves what we made that commitment for. And please note I'm saying "what for", instead of "why"; the "what for" makes us look forward and find motivation, while the "why" leaves us looking back, searching for justifications. If we continue with the example of this blog, I keep writing a post every week to nurture my most creative side, to keep the blog alive and not let it be forgotten again, and to share my thoughts and experiences, in case they other people find them useful.

Then, once we have remembered the "what for", and it's clear in our mind that the habit is worth keeping, we can use some language tricks to flip that perception of obligation, simply by choosing the right words, inside our heads as well as outside.

I recently heard in a conference that if we say "I have to..." or "I must..." whatever it is, the simple fact of thinking like that already stresses us out and demotivates us, because we don't usually like being forced to do things. On the other hand, if we swap it with "I want to...", then our brain accepts it much better, and we feel much less resistance.

But what happens when we don't feel right saying "I want to"? The speaker offered a third option for that particular case: just saying "I'm going to..." without getting into whether it's something I want or something I have to do. I'm doing it, and that's all. No need to mull it over, it's time to do it, which is what I tell my youngest daughter when she fights back something I ask of her :-)

And, as a final point, something else that helps me a lot is knowing that the biggest resistance that I have is really towards getting started, towards breaking that inertia that I feel before I begin. Then once I'm on the task, in this case, writing, I know that I really enjoy it, that the ideas keep coming with little effort, and that after finishing I feel really happy for having published an article once more.

What about you? What tricks to you use to stay motivated and keep up your habits?

Saint John´s Eve

On the night of June 23rd, many towns and villages across Spain celebrate Saint John´s Eve. It´s the Christian version of the summer solstice celebration in the northern hemisphere, and like many other ancestral festivals, involves fire as its crucial element.

outdoor fireplace during nighttime

I personally haven´t had the pleasure of enjoying a big bonfire celebration at the beach (my hometown doesn´t officially celebrate St. John, and also we´re not close to the seaside), although I do remember getting together with friends to mark that night in our own way… One year we even had a queimada with its incantation spell and everything, thanks to Víctor, our Galician mate :-)

Of course, we had our own mini version of the bonfire, improvised in a bowl or an ashtray, over which we jumped three times in order to attract good luck. And in that mini bonfire, we used to burn a piece of paper, which if I remember correctly, had three things written on it: something we were grateful for, something we no longer wanted in our life, and something we did want to happen to us or receive.

It was a magic night, full of possibilities.

I always liked the idea of taking this opportunity to reflect a little on our life: evaluate where we are, decide what we want, and perform a ritual so that we can feel the magic of change. The thing is that sometimes we forget that this magic is not only in the “universe”, in that abstract concept at which we throw all our wishes… this magic is also inside of us, because we are the centre of our own universe. So writing down our wishes as one writes a letter to Santa is not enough, we also need to do our part for the whole thing to work :-) 

This year I suggest that you do a little extra reflecting in front of the bonfire, and write down four things instead of three: something you are grateful for, something you no longer want in your life, something you do want to happen to you or receive, and something you´re going to start doing now to contribute to your desired change.