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?

Expectations

This week I´m late writing my usual post. I normally publish it on Sunday night, but this time I wasn´t able to make it, and I honestly feel bad for not having done it.

For failing to meet expectations.

Man dressing in a business outfit sitting in front of his laptop, checking his wristwatch and frowning

And if I stop to think about it, I realize this is a feeling that´s been with me for my entire life. Feeling that I´m not doing it well enough, that I´m not living up to expectations.

But, who´s expectations are those? Good question. Very often, the first answer that comes up for us is that they´re other people´s expectations, but do we really know for sure if that´s the case? Could it what we believe other people´s expectations to be? Or what we expect for ourselves?

In any case, I think it´s always useful to reflect a bit and talk to whoever we need to talk to in order to clarify those expectations, it can save us a lot of stress and plenty of headaches (sometimes literally!)

So let me take this opportunity and ask you: did you miss my weekly post this morning? Did you even notice it wasn´t there?

Movie or video game?

Do you like video games?

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

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

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

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

Hands holding a videogame remote control

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ends and beginnings

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

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

Kate Lord Brown

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

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

Routine (not monotony)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Could it be that we confuse routine with monotony?

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

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

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

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

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

Uncomfortable conversations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sensitivity

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, going back to the original question…

Do you consider yourself to be a sensitive person?

Not enough hours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Owen Fitzpatrick, and many others using similar words)

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

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

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

Learning from the artists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copy by Rubens, displayed at the Prado:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharing knowledge, learning together, we all move forward.

My happy place

What´s that place that´s so very special to you, the one that brings you such good memories that just imagining being there makes you start feeling great immediately?

If you have it (and I hope you do), then that´s your "happy place", an expression that sounds to me a bit like a line from a movie.

close up photo of clear water in a swimming pool

Maybe you have more than one happy place, even better. Today, I´ve been lucky enough to visit one of mine, a place where I´ve spent many summer days throughout my life, and enjoyed many hours of swimming and games with my family 🙂

Some things have changed along the years, understandably (everything is, and all of us are, constantly changing), but I´m always happy to come back... And I know I´m very lucky to be able to come back.

Your happy places may no longer be the way you used to know them; they may be different now, or they may even have disappeared. You may think that you´re never going to visit them again. But that doesn´t really matter, because they still exist in your mind and your heart, where you can remember them in whichever way you want.

Let me propose a little game to you: close your eyes, take a deep breath, bring your mind to the happy place of your choice for a few minutes, truly enjoy it (this is the most important part), and pay attention to the details you like most, the ones that bring you the best memories, so that you can get back to them and feel that great whenever you need it:

  • An image – the sunset by the swimming pool.
  • A sound – the song of the turtledoves (I´m still not sure this is the right bird...)
  • A smell – the wet ground during a summer electrical storm.
  • A taste – the breakfast "bolluelas" (a typical baked good from the village).
  • A sensation – calm, joy, connection.

Would you like to share yours?