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?

Yes or no?

A few days ago, speaking about personalized T-shirts, my daughter Alicia told us that her ideal one would be black, plain, with a single word written in big white letters:

No.

I have to admit, it would suit her perfectly 🙂

Also, I´m delighted that she´s so self-confident at thirteen years of age. Because for me personally, it´s taken a considerable effort to learn to say no.

Does that ring a bell? Saying yes, to everything, maybe because of willingness to help others, not wanting to disappoint anyone, striving to be liked and thus feel loved and appreciated, or maybe because we think we´re indispensable… For these and many other reasons, we give away our time and energy to anyone who would ask. Sometimes, until we can no longer bear it.

But there´s one thing we need to realize: every time we say YES to something or someone, there is another something or someone that we´re saying NO to.

  • Who are you saying no to, when you forget to set limits and say yes to everything? yes?
  • How much time and energy are left for yourself (and the things that you choose) at the end of the day, the week, the month?
  • And how much space is left for you to grow, to enjoy, to welcome something new and unexpected in your life?

At this stage, you may have realized that you want to choose more consciously your yeses… but how can you start saying no no , in order to leave room for them?

One interesting perspective can be taking the word NO as an acronym:

NO = Next Opportunity

I love this idea because it has a double interpretation. On the one hand, when we´re asked for something that´s going to consume our time and energy, we can give ourselves permission to evaluate it and decide, and if in reality what we want is to leave space for something else that we value more, then we can respond in a kind, assertive and conscious way, secure in the knowledge of why we do it.

On the other hand, when we happen to be on the receiving end of that no, the acronym will help us to see that it´s not the end of the world and that there´s no need to take it personally. Because, if we want to set limits and get others to respect them, it´s only fair that we in turn respect the limits of others… And who knows, maybe that no turns out to be exactly what we need in order to wake up, learn something new, adjust, make progress, and end up finding an even better opportunity.

Would you dare put this into practice? I challenge you to say NO to something this week and see what happens!

By the way, that model of T-shirt does exist, it´s a good birthday present candidate 😉

Untranslatable sentences: spread too thin

These last two weeks have been a bit crazy for me: tasks and meetings at work were getting on top of each other, with some of them planned and some unplanned, and to be honest, I was mad busy.

And as it usually happens, it was not a case of me being very busy with one particular thing; instead, I had to take care l of multiple things at once, so I spent my days in a state of alertness, splitting my attention (or rather, dispersing it), and constantly switching between tasks.

Does it sound familiar?

Thankfully it was only for the two weeks, and now there´s a quieter period coming up. Otherwise, I would have found it exhausting.

And all of this reminds me of another one of those expressions that I really like but find impossible to translate, or at least I´m not able to translate in an elegant way, from English into Spanish: to be spread too thin. I´m not sure whether the phrase originated here, but I remember reading something very similar in The Lord of the Rings, in words said by Bilbo Baggins:

"I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread."

I think all of us may have felt this way at some point in our lives. And what can we do? Well, a few things come to mind:

  • Become aware of what´s happening to us, and recognize how that´s affecting us physically, mentally and emotionally. This is the first step: once we know it, we can do something about it.
  • Reduce as much as possible (or even better, eliminate) multitasking, that is, this doing several things a the same time. In a future post, I´ll take the time to explain why multitasking doesn´t work, but just for you to know, it doesn´t work, even if we get the impression that it does 🙂
  • Rest and take care of ourselves as much as we can during this time: sleep time, good diet, a bit of exercise and fresh air... (please note that I´m not counting watching Netflix, or scrolling through social media in our smartphone "to unwind", in my opinion that doesn´t work either, it´s not relaxing)
  • Whatever we cannot avoid, let´s take it in the easiest possible way. This may seem paradoxical, but if you think it through, if we take the pressure that´s already there and add another layer to it with our own worries, stress levels are not going to decrease, quite the opposite, they will increase. Patience and good humour will make it all more bearable.
  • And also very important, though we may not always think of it: whatever we can avoid... let´s avoid it! Here I like using the four Ds that David Allen lists in his book Getting Things Done:
    • Do it (if it takes you less than two minutes),
    • Defer it (schedule it for later),
    • Delegate it (get somebody else to do it), or
    • Delete it (it´s not the end of the world if it doesn´t get done).

Do you agree with these strategies? What others can you think of? How do you deal with this feeling of being "stretched too thin"?

Go raibh mile maith agat

It was Saint Patrick´s day earlier this week, and all around the world there were celebrations of everything to do with Ireland and the Irish, including their very own language: Irish (or Gaelic).

I used to think that I was good at languages, but that was before I moved to Ireland and bumped into Irish… I find it really interesting as a language, but also very complicated to learn; it took me years to learn how to say something as simple as “thanks”.

Although, in fairness, saying thanks in Irish is not as straightforward as saying it in Spanish or English…

This mug was a birthday present (thanks Irene!), it literally says “a thousand thanks”. It´s one of the few things I do know how to say in Irish, together with the colours, counting from one to ten, and some of the most popular names for boys and girls, which I learned by meeting people whose names I had no idea how to pronounce 😊

Luckily, you don´t have to speak Irish in order to live in Ireland; English is more than enough for day-to-day life. Children do learn it in school from an early age, and even though it´s not going to help them to communicate with people from other countries, it will help them to preserve this country´s legacy and traditions.

Also, on top of that, learning languages in general helps to open our minds, because it forces our brain to think differently, and allows us to explore, through the use of words, other ways to see the world that are different from ours. So whatever we get to learn, be it a lot or a little, will be welcome.

For the moment, here is the message from the mug again, and let me take this opportunity to thank you for being here and reading me every week:

Go raibh mile maith agat

Untranslatable sentences (or nearly)

You may have noticed that this is a bilingual blog: it´s published in Spanish, and also in English. I have the good fortune to speak both languages, and I´m also an amateur translator, so I get to enjoy double time with this blog: first while writing the weekly post, and then again while translating it 😊

But it´s true that every now and then I bump into a word or sentence that I find really hard to translate… Something that sounds great to me in one language, but then loses all its spark once translated. And it´s not just with the blog, it happens to me also in daily life, and I suspect I´m not the only one suffering from it. At home, I spend most of my time speaking Spanish, but there are certain words and expressions that I always say in English, because in Spanish they just don´t fit. And at work it´s the opposite situation: I speak with my colleagues in English, and sometimes I struggle to explain an expression or saying that would be super simple if I said it in Spanish.

One of those sentences that sound amazing in English, which is why I always say it that way, is something I learned years ago in a yoga class for pregnancy. I love the way it sounds and also what it conveys; I repeat it often to my three “babies”, and I say it to myself as well, because I believe it´s something we can all benefit from hearing:

You are lovely, you are lovable, you are loved.

Beautiful, right? And in English it sounds so musical, so special, almost like a poem. Now, we translate it into Spanish, and it turns out something like “eres adorable, te mereces amor, eres amado/a”. The message is still very nice, but which version sounds better to you?

Binary words

Today I felt like reflecting on the title for this website and blog: binary words... but what do words and binary have in common?

Computers and language? They do have a lot in common.

Did you know that we as people are not so different from computers? We have hardware, our body, which needs energy in order to work. Of course, we don't work on electricity; our energy comes from feeding and hydrating ourselves properly, and from recharging batteries by sleeping and resting :-)

We also have software, a set of "programs" that are running inside our mind. Some of the programs we kick off ourselves, as in the case of computers, and we see them and use them consciously; but in addition to those, the operating system runs many other programs that remain unseen, in the background, making everything work... 

That's our unconscious programming, our autopilot, based on beliefs and values that are well established within us and that we rarely question, even though they may not even be ours, and we may have inherited them or acquired them without realizing. And that unconscious programming pulls the strings in our day-to-day a lot more than we can imagine.

Perhaps that autopilot is producing some results that we don´t want in our life. The good news is that we can re-program it, once we find that program or programs that are causing us trouble, or are preventing us from moving in the direction we wish to go.

But how? How can we bring to the light those troublesome "lines of code", and replace them with better ones?

A programming language that we can use is words.

There is a lot of power in words, and this is something we often forget. The way we talk to others matters a lot. And the way we talk to ourselves matters even more, because we give it even less attention, not realizing that it's a crucial factor in how things turn out for us in life. 

So let's pay attention to the words around us, the ones that make up our world, the ones we use almost without realizing. How is our internal dialogue? How do we talk to ourselves, and in turn, to other people? What are our words conveying? Complaint, criticism, defeat, negativity?

Those words will give us clues about the programs that may be undermining our efforts to move towards where we want to be. And bit by bit, digging deeper, we will get to see clearly what's behind those words, and we will have the power to transform them into other that help us and encourage us, instead of holding us back. We will have the power to choose our destiny.

And following on with the computer metaphor: we, like computers, need connecting to be able to fully function. Nowadays very little can be done without an internet connection... With people, it may be less obvious, but at the end of the day we are social beings, we need to connect with others emotionally in order to live a full life. And even less obvious, but equally necessary, is to connect with ourselves, to have an interest in getting to know and learning to love ourselves. 

The confinement months have tested our ability to connect, and maybe thanks to that, we now appreciate connections more than ever. As the saying goes, it´s all fun and games until you lose your wifi signal! (todo son risas y juegos hasta que pierdes la señal de wifi)

Life, laughter, love

Continuing with the art tour of my own house, this picture is patiently waiting for us to hang it on my bedroom wall:

Irish words for Life, Laughter, Love, written with latin alphabet and Ogham

Beatha, Gáire, Grá are the three Irish words for Life, Laughter, Love… The only one I know how to pronounce properly is Beatha [ba-ha], and it’s a word I’m very fond of, those who work with me will know why ;-)

The lines are the same three words written in Ogham, the earliest written form of primitive Irish. The Ogham alphabet has twenty letters, each represented by one or more lines, and when it´s written vertically like here, it´s read from bottom to top.

Three simple yet powerful words, written in three different ways, reminding me to pay attention to what really matters.