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.

Balancing

Has it ever happened to you that the day feels too short? That it's nighttime already, and you still have a list of things you would like to do? And that you find it difficult to choose what to do today and what to leave for another day?

That's me at this very moment :-)

notebook with four blank tasks for today

Should I...

  • Do some yoga and stretching, to relax and feel better physically?
  • Spend some time studying for my course, so that I'm not rushing at the end?
  • Write another blog post, and keep up the momentum?
  • Or go to bed already, so that I'm fully rested tomorrow?

Those are the four options coming to my mind right now, and that's without counting the "mandatory" tasks, which are already done for today (those ones I've learned there's no point in postponing - the sooner you get rid of them, the better, and the less stress).

As you can imagine, today I opted for writing this post, not without pondering over it for a good while as I finished other tasks... Sometimes I find it a bit difficult to decide: on the one hand, knowing myself, I don't want to fall into the trap of always choosing the easy option, and leaving the one that involves more effort to the last minute. On the other hand, I don't want to dedicate too many hours to a single thing when I also want to make progress on others. And also, I know that as soon as I start doing any of them, time will very likely fly...

So what can I do? Well, keep balancing as best as I can.

The way I've figured out for the moment is setting up a weekly plan. On Sundays, I write down a task list for the following week, including X yoga sessions (replaceable by walks on days when the weather is nice), the course exercises, the blog posts, etc. I'm not assigning specific days for each task, I simply get to them as I see fit during the week, and tick them off (and oh how good it feels to tick off a task!).

That way I add more intention to my days, I make progress in all the areas I want, I can adapt to unforeseen events or take a break if I need to one day, and given that there's usually a bit more free time during the weekend, there's also the chance to finish certain things if I haven't been able to finish them earlier.

So far this my second week using this system, and of course I know that I won't always complete everything. But I think it's very useful as a reference, and it helps me to keep making progress, which at the end of the day is what matters most.

And you? How do you find balance?

Finding your voice

I have always thought I was not a very creative person, mostly because when I heard the word "creativity", what usually came to my mind were artistic skills like painting, design, arts & crafts... Precisely those things I was quite bad at.

Then over the years I´ve changed that perception, not because I started getting good at painting, design or arts & crafts, I´m still awful at all of them. It´s because I have realized two things:

First, that trying something once or twice and finding you´re not good at it doesn´t mean you´re never going to be good at it, it just means you don´t have enough practice (this seems really obvious when you see it written here, but it´s not always easy to see in the moment, especially when you´re used to getting other things done right the first time round without much effort)

Second, that you can be creative in so many different ways! You just need to find the creative outlet that better suits you personally. Your own way to express what´s inside you.

Your voice.

A couple of years ago I "found my voice" in the most literal sense, upon signing up for my company´s workplace choir and starting weekly practices with Nicola, our choir director. I had always liked music, but never realized before how much I really enjoy singing, it truly lifts my spirit.

Whether I´m good at it or not is another matter entirely; that will only be seen once we can reunite again and put together a performance, although I would say that that´s the least of my worries... The most important thing is how much we enjoy singing (and laughing) together as a group, and if other people also enjoy listening to us, then that´s brilliant, double reward.

Also in my life there are and have been other ways to express my creative side: during my childhood and adolescence it was dancing, when I moved to Ireland it was blogging, and when the gils were younger (and even now that they´re a bit older), you can imagine, being a parent also demands a fair amount of creativity :-)

How do you express your own creative side? Have you found your voice yet?

Create, consume, connect

This week, with all the excitement of starting with the blog again, I have felt full of energy. More than once the hours went by in front of my screen without realizing... And all this after having already spent my usual working hours also in front of a screen.

Sum them up and they are many, many hours of screen time.

semi opened laptop computer turned on on table

The fact that the hours go by without realizing is a good sign, I know, I´m enjoying it a lot, and also learning at the same time. On top of writing the posts, I´m also configuring the website myself (now with WordPress, much better than with what I had previously), and I want to do it properly, fully accessible and bilingual Spanish-English. So my time is split between configuring the various plugins and settings (thanks a million Maria for all your advice), thinking of ideas to write about, writing about them, and translating everything that´s already written, not only the posts but also all of the text strings scattered around the site. Let me take this opportunity to ask you: if you see any errors or typos, please let me know so I can fix them, some of you have already done that and I´m grateful for it :-)

Another thing I´m doing this week is taking a crash course in social media, as things have progressed a lot in the last few years. In the old times, writing a blog post was enough; people woud see it in their RSS feed reader, or would subscribe via email, or would visit the website every now and then checking for new content... Now you have to be on social media, the more the better, so I took the plunge and created a Facebook page, Twitter account and Instagram account, so that whoever wants to follow me can do it easily.

But of course, all that brings a new challenge: more social network connections, more interesting content available, more notifications and more screen time, as soon as you drop your guard for a moment. That´s why it´s so important to use the internet consciously, and take advantage of the infinite possibilities it gives us without letting it interfere with our life more than it´s necessary.

Not long ago, in a very interesting video I watched on Youtube (more screens), they mentioned that the activities we do on the internet can be divided into creating, consuming and connecting. After months and months of basically consuming content and learning passively, I am really excited about creating (in this case writing, translating and bringing the blog to life), and I even enjoy connecting and reconnecting in new ways through social networks. But I´m also looking forward to being able to go out into the real world again, and connect, create and learn there as well, in a more tangible way and in three dimensions. I´m finding it a bit hard to get started due to lack of habit, but I know the effort will be worth it.

So in summary; walk away from your screen for a while and find something else to do! :-)