Collecting quotes

Thanksgiving celebrations took place this past week across the United States, and if you have been taking a look at social media, you will probably have seen (in between Black Friday sale ads), a whole heap of inspirational quotes about gratitude.

(If you feel like reading a post about gratitude, here´s one from about a year ago)

Wooden scrabble letters forming the phrase "Say thank you"

My usual readers will have noticed that every now and then I like writing quotes in this blog, but not all the time, because even though I looooooove quotes (we could say I´m a quote collector), I get the impression that sometimes we get bombarded with so many of them that we end up overwhelmed, and then they no longer get our attention. That´s why I prefer to use them in small doses.

Today I do want to show you two quotes that are basically telling us the same thing, and they´re not the only ones by any means. It´s a message that´s been said a thousand times in a thousand different ways, precisely because it´s as true and as relevant nowadays as it was back in the ancient times of Greek philosophers:

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.

Epictetus

Be thankful for what you have; you'll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don't have, you will never, ever have enough.

Oprah Winfrey

Banda sonora

If your life was a movie, what would its soundtrack be?

Vynil record playing in a record player

Today I remembered again a movie scene I watched a long time ago, which gave me a lot to think about back at the time. The story takes place at a university, and the camera alternatively takes the place of one of the two main characters, a boy and a girl, who are walking along the corridors, about to meet each other for the first time. They´re both wearing earphones, and listening to completely different things: the girl is listening to classical music, and the boy is listening to heavy metal or something similar. The moment arrives when they meet, they look at each other, and each of them perceives the other from their own point of view, with their own soundtrack in the background.

To me, this is a scene of incredible storytelling powers. Without needing to use words, it perfectly conveys how different the world is for each of the two main characters, and how differently they experience that exact same moment, with the same external surroundings...

I think we have all had moments when a certain song or music piece has made us look at life in a different way: maybe it made our day a bit happier, it gave us an extra energy boost, or it brought us good memories. Some other times, we may have taken the opportunity to listen to some sad or melancholic music, to let ourselves experience those emotions for a little while. The best part is that we can choose our own "soundtrack" at every moment, and I´m not only referring to the music we listen to (though we can definitely choose that, and we're incredibly lucky for the existence of Spotify).

Our "soundtrack" is also made up of those thoughts that we keep repeating in our heads without even noticing, those stories that we keep telling ourselves all the time, which may either help us or harm us, give us energy or take it away from us. It is true that we can't completely control every thought that crosses our mind, the same way that we can't control what song is playing on the radio at any given time. But what we can do is pay attention and change the dial as needed, skipping to a different station that we like better and find more useful. And it's also a good idea to edit our "playlists" every once in a while, taking the opportunity to remove old songs we no longer resonate with and add new songs that we feel like trying.

What do you think of this idea? What is your life's soundtrack at this very moment? And do you feel like keeping it, or is it maybe time for a change?

Untranslatable sentences: walking down memory lane

Today I´m bringing you another one of those "untranslatable" English expressions that I love, this one I think is a really cool metaphor: walking down memory lane, which we could loosely translate into Spanish as "darse un paseo por la calle de los recuerdos".

And that´s precisely what I´ve been doing this weekend: accompanying my friends in their own walk down memory lane, returning to places they hadn´t visited in many many years. It turned out to be a wonderful walk, both in the literal and figurative sense, and inevitably, we created new memories (thanks a million ladies!)

Stack of old black and white photos

In Spanish, the closest thing to memory lane that I can think of is something called the trunk of memories, from a famous song by Karina:

Searching through the trunk of memories
Any time in the past seems better than now.
Taking a look back is good sometimes,
Looking ahead is living without fear.

Another interesting metaphor, I think. And also during this weekend, I found myself searching inside that trunk, rescuing special moments with someone very close to my heart who passed away recently, and to whom I would have liked to be able to say goodbye.

I agree with the idea that it´s good to take a quick look back every now and then, and fondly remember the things that were, for at the end of the day, as my grandma used to say, "those times brought about these ones". But let´s be careful not to wallow in it for too long, or it may prevent us from making the most of the present moment...

Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.

Robert Brault

Metaphors

Today I'm writing this post from Dublin airport, I'm about to cross the pond to spend a couple of days with my American work colleagues.

Crossing the pond, interesting expression. It's one of the many metaphors we use every day.

Close up of a red flower floating on the surface of a pond

According to Wordreference, one of the definitions of metaphor is a "Rhetorical way of describing another object or thing by suggesting a comparison of it to something else, but without using the word 'like'' or 'as''". Explained like this, it may seem a bit complicated, but the truth is that we use metaphors all day long, very often without noticing that they are, for example...

  • Me encontraba entre la espada y la pared
  • He was kicked out of there
  • I'm starving

And so many others.

Metaphors help us to explain life situations in a way that's easy to understand, and they don't only work outwards, when we speak with others, they also work inwards, in our inner dialogue. Sometimes we find it easier to connect with an emotion when we "give it a shape" through a metaphor, and that way we can even draw it, if it helps 🙂

And when we're facing a problem or a difficult situation, playing with metaphors can help us a lot in terms of changing perspective and looking for alternatives. For example, if a person is feeling that every time they try a particular thing they bang their head against a wall, they may even visualize that wall in their mind when they think in whatever it is they want to try, and get blocked. Following along with the metaphor, we could ask, where is that wall? What is it made of? How high is it? And what's behind it? In which other way could you get there? And then maybe this way, exploring ways to jump over the wall, or go around it, or even break it, this person may come to a realization and find solutions that they wouldn't have thought of otherwise.

Metaphors are also very interesting to think of when reflecting on some aspect of our life, or our work. This is often done in Agile methodologies, as part of team retrospectives: "if our last two weeks had been a movie, which movie would it be, and why?" Once we add that touch of creativity and humour to the conversation, it's amazing how much can come out of there.

So this week I'm proposing two things for you to do this week, if you feel like it: one is to listen with extra attention to see how many metaphors you find around you, and the other one is to find your own metaphor: if today you were a colour, which colour would you be?

Nihil volitum…

…Nisi praecognitum. This is one of the few phrases I know in Latin, and it roughly means that you cannot desire what you do not know.

Monkey with a mirror in their hands, looking at their reflection

It came to my mind today, along with this other phrase I read in a book by Laura Chica: Accept yourself. Love yourself. Improve yourself. In this order.

Very often in the world of personal development, we want to start at the very end: we become obsessed with trying to improve, overcoming our defects, and “fixing” the parts of our life that we don´t think are going well. We try to change our “bad habits” just by using willpower, making huge efforts along the way only to get poor results that are not sustainable. It´s as if we were trying to swim against the tide.

Wanting to change, to evolve, to improve, is a very positive thing. But if we approach it from a place of judgment and self-criticism, then all we´re really doing is beating ourselves up. Loving and accepting ourselves as we are is the necessary previous step for any long-lasting and successful life change.

But of course, this is much easier said than done; how can we get to the point of accepting and loving ourselves? The answer also comes to us from old wisdom, this time in Greek, through the famous inscription that used to decorate the front of Apollo´s temple in Delfos: γνωθι σεαυτόν. Know thyself.

It makes sense, doesn´t it? How are we going to love ourselves if we don´t even know ourselves? The better we know ourselves, the more we will understand ourselves, it´s that simple. As we dive deeper into the adventure of self-discovery, we will start becoming aware of what motivates us and what scares us, what our deepest desire is, why we do what we do (and what for), and it will become easier for us to forgive, accept, and finally love ourselves. And once we love ourselves, change happens from the inside out, without the need to force anything.

So, instead of starting at the end as so many times before, I encourage you to start at the beginning, by looking at yourself in the mirror and setting out on your inward journey:

Know yourself, accept yourself, love yourself, improve yourself. In this order.

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?

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"?