Learning Archives

This post is dedicated to Inge and Bob who taught me about trust.

 faith_trust

Trust and faith are fundamental in our lives

Trust opens you up and allows you to learn in a moment. Outside your comfort zone.

Faith is a framework of your beliefs, in-flows and out-flows, approaches to learning and making use of your knowledge.

And here comes a story ….

***

One day I discovered I was pregnant. This was the beginning of a new journey into my second pregnancy. It turned out I was carrying twins. Quite a shock: double trouble and double blessing ūüôā

During pregnancy, the ultrasound scan at the 18-20 weeks serves as a tool to evaluate the development of the baby. It is an early diagnostic of some potentially serious health problems. I had one at the 18th week.

A sonographer was pleased with the pictures and gave me happy news – the kids were growing well. Yet, there was a little bit of hesitation in her voice. I ignored it.

I entered the room of the consultant with the ultrasound results. I was expecting the confirmation of the good news. There was, however, a big surprise waiting for me.  After a moment of silence, there was a shot in my heart.

“Are you going to terminate the pregnancy?”, the consultant asked calmly.

“What???”, my jaw dropped. I thought he was taking nonsense. “What do you mean?”

“There are two strong markers indicating that both your kids may have the Edwards syndrome.”¬† his voice was emotion-less.¬† “Moreover, your age makes the picture much worse.” he continued. “The chances are high.”

“What is it?”, I whispered. (I knew that statistically I was prone to much more genetic disorders of the babies than young mothers.)

“It is a serious genetic disorder of the 18th chromosome. It makes it impossible to support life. There are usually stillbirths. When born, majority of babies die in the first week.¬† Nearly nobody makes till 1st birthday. There are a few exceptions above one year old, but overall, there is no hope”, he explained calmly.

I suddenly knew it all. My friend’s baby died a few days after birth because of this disorder. And the next two babies died in the womb. Since I helped him to overcome the dark hours, I knew how devastating this experience was for him and his family.

I was petrified. The darkness was sudden and overwhelming. I could hardly breathe. The monsters were running wild.

– “We can perform amniocentesis from both amniotic sacs, but there is the risk of miscarriage for any of the twins. About 3%. “, he continued. “The risk is much higher with twins than with a single baby.”

Again a pause.

“You will know 100% whether the babies suffer from this disorder or not. “

I had no idea what to say, yet I felt I had to say something.

– “What would you do in my situation?” I asked.

– “I don’t know what I would do”, he said, “I’m a man.”

There was a pause. 

– “… but I know what my wife would do.¬† No hassle. Termination.”

I left the clinic with a leaflet on the Edwards syndrome in my hand. Little information really.

Dark hours

I returned home and spent hours on the web to educate myself on this genetic disorder, markers, amniocentesis and so on. I learned what was to learn there.

I felt angry, scared and abandoned. I felt as if I was the only person in the whole world. Deeply lonely.

The darkness was slowly competing with the Light for space both in my head and in my heart.

I studied the information. With detail.
There was intent. There was conscientiousness. There was devotion.

I listened to my feelings.

I was crying. Desperately.
There was pain. There was anger. There was drama.
 
I punched the pillow.
There was blame. There was anger. There was force.

I had done it all until I felt I became empty.
There was no more blame. No more guilt. No more emotion.

There was just silence and calmness. In the emptiness, a healing space was being created.

I was there, present, in the moment.

I had collected all necessary knowledge.
I returned to my center.

In the center I was able to create trust.  I recognized I was in God and God was in me.
 
I looked again at the data.

“Why would I choose a real risk of miscarriage of the twins for the hypothetical risk of their death resulting from the chromosome disorder?”

I wouldn’t.

In that moment I decided against amniocentesis (as the termination was out of question, anyway). The consultant was surprised.

The choice to trust

This was only the beginning. The pregnancy challenged me on all levels: as a human, wife, mother, scientist, and coach.

I chose to trust and have faith in great uncertainty. As never before in my life.

During pregnancy the lives of the twins have been threatened multiple times based on various grounds: lack of development, inappropriate support of my body, internal and external conditions. The twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome was at the background. At the 28th week I was pushed to be delivered because one of the babies stopped growing. In my opinion, the decision was based on insufficient data and the worst-case scenario approach.

I again studied the all the data diligently and read as much as I could to learn about the subject. I connected to my inner knowing. I decided to continue the pregnancy on my own request and risk.

The children arrived seven week later. Beautiful babies with no sign of Edwards syndrome.

***

In all these weeks, I was always in touch with the babies. I talked to them in my consciousness in order to send them love and respect, support them and respond to their needs in a moment. It was a remarkable experience.

I created a beautiful tunic of trust from various fabrics of knowledge, beliefs, experiences and understanding. By wearing it daily, I have kept faith.

What is the moral of the story?

Trust is not given, neither earned. It is not a data collection of gives-and-takes, scores of kindness, neither a one time learned approach.

Trust is being created in a moment and supported by an inner process.

Trust relies on the past experiences, but only relevant ones. It is created in a moment, in response to the needs. (For the advanced ones in pattern recognition: it resembles transductive learning).

It comes naturally when you are at the center.

To arrive at the center, you simply allow it. You remove resistance and let emotions flow. Freely.

Whatever comes, you let it pass through you in a safe way – without any harm to others.

In the moment you are empty, you can plant a seed of trust. It is a decision.

You simply say “I trust”. And you follow with your intention.

You keep your garden of thoughts clean and watered.

Your seed of trust will grow into a bush of roses.

Strong. Supportive. Beautiful.

***

Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

Traveling with small kids is both fun and challenge. I do my best to maximize the former and minimize the later. Sometimes, the optimization process comes with a surprise as it happened during my last flight.

It started well as we arrived at the airport 3h before the departure. We suddenly¬†had too much time, so we decided to run the kids around the airport to let them get rid of extra¬†energy. It was a good move ūüėČ Then we had a meal and still plenty of time to go through the security. Since we were not in hurry, we ended up late in the final queue to enter the plane. As a result, we had little choice in choosing good seats (yes, it was a budget airline). We took the only possibility¬†which offered us neighboring seats, somewhere in the middle of the plane.

It first seemed to be a good choice, but it soon became less obvious. The reason was a very noisy couple in the opposite seats. Since the plane was nearly full, there was no chance to find quiet neighbors. We could only let things evolve naturally and participate in the events. As it turned out, they were interesting.

Imagine a couple, a lady and a man, say 30-35 years old, who look and behave like rebellious teenagers. Loud and colorful attention seekers. Imagine strong make-up, tattoos, earrings, headphones in the ears and them singing aloud to the music, making noises and commenting loudly on everything in the news and around, including passengers and stewardesses.

The lady clearly wanted to be in the center of the attention, talking louder than everybody around, even interfering with safety recordings. Stewardesses approached her a number of times, asking her to be quiet. Each time she managed to become silent for 20-30sec to only comment louder soon after. It was both annoying and hilarious for the other passengers.

If this was not enough, soon the lady nonchalantly took an electronic cigarette out of her bag¬†and started smoking. OK, it was not a real fume or course, but nevertheless I was annoyed. I don’t like cigarettes and I don’t feel comfortable when I see somebody smoking in the front of my kids even if ¬†it seems not to be a cigarette. I must admit that there was no detectable smell, but it still¬†made me feel uneasy. ¬†When I was about to asked the lady to stop smoking, one of the stewardesses took an action.

What followed then was a series of discussions between stewardesses and the lady. They tried to stop the lady from smoking while she was vividly defending her stand: the electronic cigarette was not a cigarette and could be smoked on airplanes. The were some loud arguments, complains and the citations of the airplane rules. She was very stubborn so the stewardesses had to use smarter and smarter strategies to make her stop. And in meantime she continued smoking, of course.

On the top of that she made  discussion of which meals and drinks she would buy. After satisfying her hunger, she decided not to smoke any more, of course commenting loudly on injustice and the policy at the airplanes.

By that time I was already fed up with the whole situation especially that keeping my children occupied at the seats was challenging enough. 

Surprisingly, however, after some more minutes, the lady became quiet. She started to observe my kids and became interested in them. And in the following 15min she fully transformed herself into a new being, it seemed. She became a calm and charming lady, a lovely child carer, engaged in various plays with my son.

It was surprising, to say at least.

She was very enthusiastic, cheerful and simply fun for my son, applauding him for little progresses he was making in the plays. He simply loved interacting with her. In addition, she easily connected to the other two and was able to play with all of them on various levels.

It was a big surprise to me to see how easily she connected with the kids. She simply entertained them for the rest of the journey. There was no barrier between her and them. Everything was fun, easy, natural, as if effortless. The connection was just there.

During that time my son considered her as his best friend and had difficulty to say goodbye when we arrived at our destination. There were multiple hugs and kisses between them two. Quite amazing.

We learned she was a mother of two, having her four-day holiday away from the kids, first time in some years. She simply wanted to get crazy on her holiday, as she said. 

The moral

What is the moral of this story? A simple one is this: appearances are deceptive. 

Yet, there are two more important learning points.

First, what we see on the surface does not determine the quality of the inside.  Therefore, let us remember about the treasure each of us holds inside. A treasure that can be discovered, awaken or transformed when the right moment comes.

Secondly, what we perceive as a potentially negative feature, say a loud and childish behavior, has a complementary aspect which is positive, i.e. say easiness to connect with kids. Next time when we are willing to stigmatize an aspect of others, let us pause for a moment to find out what may be a hidden treasure beneath.

For sure, it is there. 

 ****

Other inspirational or educational posts:

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learning_from_mistakes 

Let me first clarify what I mean by a “bad idea” here. “Bad idea” means ineffective, at best and stopping progress, at worst.

“Learning from mistakes” is an expression strongly rooted not only in our language, but also our thinking. It is accepted as a sound piece of advice for some or a trivial colloquialism for others. The idea is that we make mistakes and we have to learn from them in order to improve. We consider it as a truth.

Now is the time to challenge it. Or at least, challenge what we understand by this expression.

***

You and I make mistakes in our lives. They are inevitable. We made them in the past, we are making them now and we will make them in the future. No doubt about it.

Mistakes are simply misguided actions or poor estimates in the given context or situation. They may involve experiencing borderline cases, crossing the edge or making wrong judgements.

Mistakes have an important role in the learning process and I don’t want to dispute that. They are a part of the feedback on the progress we make. They are however not the foundation of our success.

When is learning from mistakes ineffective?

If you constantly focus on your mistakes and how to improve them, you focus on what does not work. In other words, you concentrate on the problems and not the solutions. This is a trap that one falls into – the trap of losses, misses and the don’ts. What you focus on, takes your energy and expands. If you concentrate your efforts on what doesn’t work, you provide fuel to recreate the very conditions of such situations.¬† Whether you like it or not.

Imagine this. You want to go shopping. You make a list of all products you don’t want to buy. Does it help you to know exactly what you need? Does it help you to make a smooth buy? Nope. There are plenty possibilities of what you may consider buying even if you precisely know what you don’t want.

Imagine this. You are a teacher at a college or university and you teach a group of students. At the end of the semester you prepare a questionnaire to find out how they benefited from the course. What would you ask?

Would you focus on finding out what they didn’t like?
or
Would you focus on finding out what worked for them?

In all cases of teaching there are usually a few unhappy no matter what. Would you adapt your course, examples and exercises to satisfy the disappointed few or would you rather expand with doing more of what worked for the 90-95% of others? Paraphrasing, would you focus on multiplying your strengths or on improving your perceived weaknesses?

(By the way, a great question to ask in such circumstances is this: “What did you like the most and how can I improve it to make it even better?”)

Imagine this. You are starting a business. One of the advice you will get is to fail often and as fast as possible. This is the idea of learning from mistakes in the context of business. If you follow such a process, however, you will become an expert in the land of unsuccessful approaches. But… Will you know what makes it all work?

The implicit assumption behind “learning from mistakes” is that if you know what doesn’t work, the opposite will pave you the road to success. The reality is not that straightforward, however. Oftentimes, it is a unique combination of strategies, approaches and particular details that fuel progress and create a formulation for success. Such a mixture cannot simply be discovered by negating the things that don’t work.

Do you see where I am leading to?

Knowing what does not work, helps you very little to find out what does, despite what you may want to believe.

Understanding own mistakes does not necessarily lead to progress. They may, in some circumstances, but they usually do not.

Persistence

Take a 9-12 month old infant who learns to walk. Have you ever seen one? Although infants find unique ways to master this skill, they all share one thing. They are persistent and continue doing what they are strong at (or what works for them), no matter what.

Some of them, like my oldest, practiced crawling in a free-style movements and supported standing (i.e. standing up by a table, chair etc), until one day he simply felt ready to walk. His first steps were not just a few, but a 20m straight walk, instead. I was shocked as he simply walked a distance.

My other child was forcing me to hold his hands in order to exercise walking with him until he was ready to do it by himself. Over and over again. Although his first steps were a few only, soon they became many. He demanded help and he received it.

Both children spent somewhere between 5 to 8 weeks on daily practices. Until they succeeded.

The point I want to make is this. Oftentimes, persistence (or perseverance) coupled with a simple strategy is much more effective than multiple approaches, all abandoned too early at the level at which we could perhaps judged them as mistakes or failures.

Foundation

The key point about learning is the same as about concept learning. You need a solid foundation first.

How do you build your foundation? By collecting your positive examples which are used to build your first concept. Studying the examples and experiencing the successes behind them will help to refine the concept further on.

With respect to life it means that you focus on your talents, gifts, model cases, nearly-ideal examples, successes and everything that works for you or others involved.

Mistakes is everything where you sucked at, what others judged as wrong, inappropriate or unsuitable. They serve as an important feedback for the re-formulation of your concept. This is a crucial difference with respect to the usual understanding of the “learning from mistakes” mantra.

Mistakes are necessary for the testing of the boundaries. They allow us to re-define clear (or crisp) edges of the concept we are learning. But in order to make use of the mistakes successfully, we need to have the concept formulated first. And such a concept can only be built by using the positive examples – essential for our learning. This brings us to the final thought here.

Mistakes are not for the learning of a concept/skill but for re-learning of an already formulated concept/skill, especially with respect to the boundary cases.

Finally

Any time you want to learn a new skill or start a new enterprise, learn from successes of yours or others and focus on what works. Build your concept first before you begin testing the boundaries. Only then mistakes can be used effectively.

What does it mean?

If you begin your relationship, make it successful.
When you start your business, make it work.
When you lead a project, bring it to conclusion.

Commit to make your efforts success first before you allow yourself to fail.

***

Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

more with less 

The mantra “be more with less” or “less is more”¬†resonates perfectly with the idea of conscious living.

Not surprisingly, it has become one of the two challenges I work on this year. It is a huge challenge for me as my natural inclination is to elaborate, which usually mean to do more than less.

Over the years it has become clear to me that practising “less”: owning less, doing less and becoming less, is a necessary pursuit on the path of personal growth. “Less” coincides with the ability to choose. Consciously.

In this post I present three cases where less is more important than more.

Stuff

I grew up with the idea that “more is better”. I used to imagine how easy was the life of rich people, who were living happily with the abundance of goods. Yet, I knew that there was a limit to such happiness. As a child I was touched by a Greek myth about the¬†king Midas. He¬†was supposed to be a happy man – able to turn everything into gold just by touching. It seemed perfect in a while until his beloved one turned into a gold statue as well. Clearly, it was too much.

Even with this story in my mind, I still imagined the life was easy for wealthy people. Many years forward and I now understand how (too much) goods and stuff become limitation instead of liberation. The overwhelming stuff stops being enjoyable. Moreover, it becomes a hindrance for development.

A huge house surrounded by a large garden and a few cars may sound great but there is a hidden price to it. You need to take care of your large possessions. If you don’t do the daily/weekly/monthly maintenance, cleaning and repairs yourself, somebody else has to do it. And such services need to be supervised as well.

As a stuff collector, you need both space and place for your valuable clothes, shoes, toys, books, computers. technological gadgets, videos and other things. Stuff multiplies fast and needs extra maintenance.

Basically, more stuff means less of your precious time. This is the time you could spend in nature, relaxing, exercising, reading, learning or enjoying activities with your family or friends. Or whatever else you would choose.

More stuff = work + headaches
Less stuff  = breathing space + expanding mental space + creativity

Take the challenge.

I am not a minimalist and I don’t aspire to be one. But the¬†overwhelming stuff¬†makes me learn to say¬†“no”¬†before the new stuff arrives. Learn it too.

A good challenge is to get rid of 20% of your stuff: clothes, shoes, books, old gadgets and equipment, furniture and so on. You can denote these to a charity, sell on Ebay, give away or recycle. Possibilities are plenty.

An even greater challenge is to get rid of 50% of your stuff. You can perfectly live on less.

If you are nostalgic about your stuff because it holds precious memories, I have a great solution. Photograph your stuff, one by one and store the photos on a hard disc. Hold a picture of every thing in your mind, thank for the precious memories and set them free. Let the stuff start a new cycle of life.

Ideas

One of the breakthrough in my life concerned ideas. I used to think that great ideas were special and belonged to a few chosen ones. With time and experience I’ve understood it was not true.

Generating ideas is relatively easy. You can observe it in any brainstorming session. Ideas are simply shared and belong to the Common Space. We may paraphrase Plato to say that the ideas live in the Cave of Shadows and we simply discover them. Alternatively, we may say that ideas are inspired from God so they come from a single Source.

Yet, we often think that a particular idea is ours. It is both true and false. The idea is ours in the sense that it is proposed through us, but it is also not ours because it is not totally exclusive to us. Oftentimes the same or very similar idea¬†it being proposed, discussed or executed by other individuals at the same time. This is particularly noticeable in science, but I’m sure that you can recognise this phenomenon in your daily life as well.

The consequence is this observation is far fetching. We merely discover ideas (and perhaps share them with others) but we don’t own them.

Such a concept is is a hard pill to swallow for some. They will guard their best ideas, tricks and practices with life. They want to keep the ideas confidential, hidden or patented as it is a common practice of some companies or corporations.

The point is this. There is abundance of ideas, thoughts, concepts and books, easily available. Just look over the internet and you will find a plethora of ideas. Free. How many of them have you executed?

The simplest ideas are often neglected or discarded, because they are either old or known. Nothing exciting in them. Alternatively, ideas are neglected because they require focus and discipline.

Isn’t that interesting that successful professionals thrive on simple ideas, perfected over time? Think medical doctors, engineers or researchers who constantly improve their solutions.

Isn’t¬†¬†that interesting that the most successful brands describe narrow niches (=ideas)? Think Coke,¬†Sunwarrior,¬†BlendTec, Lexus, and so on.

Isn’t that interesting that successful companies offer either a limited choice of products or a limited and specific service? Think¬†Apple,¬†Evernote,¬†37signals¬†or FedEx.¬†

More ideas = confusion + procrastination + difficult choice
Less ideas  =  clarity + execution

Guard yourself from the flood of ideas. The more ideas around, the bigger the overwhelm and the harder the decision which one to execute. You may easily spend ages trying to find the best idea.

The truth is this: the best idea is the one which is implemented.Why? Because a direct experience will teach you much more than any thinking or reading.

Take the challenge. Limit the number of ideas to consider for any decision taking. Choose the most appealing one and execute it with devotion.

Time

We often think of time as if it was our resource. Yet, we can neither buy time nor generate it on request. Time is limited, yet we often live in an illusion that we have still plenty of time to do many things. This makes us careless with respect to how we trade our time (and effort) for money (call it job or business), or how we let the time pass.

When we look at people who suddenly discover that they may live one more year at most because of a terminal illness, we will often observe the following. After the initial shock, disagreement and rebellion, there comes a moment in which the person accepts his/her fate. There is nothing more to loose but everything to gain.

The time limitation sets the person free. He/she can now take actions and decisions which were perhaps postponed until some day in the future. Such people often spend their last months of life in the most active ways, renewing relations, repairing mistakes and following passion. Some become healed and continue such a practice for years.

Time is limited. If you knew you would die in a year, how would such a perspective have changed your life? Which decisions would you take today? Which job would you commit to? Which experiences would you choose? Which discoveries would you make?

While such a perspective may seem as too far fetched for some, think about time in a different way.

Your time is precious. There is no other today as this day. When this day is gone it will never return again. The challenge is to be the one you want to be and to do the important things.

When you give yourself less time for specific tasks and challenges, you will force yourself to become more creative in order to meet the time constraints. It may not work perfectly the first time, but you will become more resourceful when you use this strategy on daily basis.

More time = indecision + procrastination
Less time  = action + creativity + resourcefulness

Take the challenge.

  1. Every day determine your most important (one to three) tasks for the day, tasks which contribute to the growth and well being of yours or your family/friends. Commit to them with 100% effort. They really need to be done!  
  2. Use the¬†Pareto rule and Parkinson’s law to do the most important things in less time.
 
 How can you become more with less? It is only through a conscious choice and dedication.
 
***
Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.
 
*** 

“It is an old ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way.”¬†
Rollo May

Paraphrazing the quote above, we run faster or attempt to do more when we are lost, overwhelmed and don’t know what to do.

Turning back, being still or letting go may be the hardest things under the sun because they require trust.

Instead of stopping what we have been doing so far, we often prefer to act even more. Taking action and handling urgent tasks leaves us with a tangible feeling that something is being done. We feel as if we are moving towards a solution.

The higher the level of busyness, the faster we seemingly move. 

What if we are moving in a wrong direction?

***

I’ve been busy, oftentimes too busy, most of my adult life. If this busyness had been directly related to the results I would have moved mountains by my achievements. I didn’t, however. I curved shapes in a few rocks, instead.¬†

There are two strong reasons behind it. First, I grew up believing that only hard work for long hours would produce results. I have spent countless hours working very hard. I believed these were necessary for success, even though many hours were unproductive. In fact, I could have better used them for rest to maintain balance. 

Secondly, I’m a polymath i.e. a person who has too many interests to selectively focus on a few only. I want to be an expert in multiple unrelated fields, but not necessarily the top 1%. Top 5% sounds good enough ūüėȬ†

Understanding. It took me years to understand the following. Hard work is essential for success. It is hard work, but not arbitrary hard work. It is hard work of a certain kind and quality, in agreement with the principle of rhythm. This means that rest, thinking time and playful creativity are as important as intensive work is. 

Being busy the right way

I believe a structured busyness is healthy for us. What I mean is a daily structure in which you work on your goals, projects, products or ideas. Following your vision.

Any meaningful achievement requires dedication and effort, which is work. At the same time, any meaningful achievement consists of multiple small steps and some “a-ha moments”.¬†Such insights only arise when there is sufficient space and stillness in which the creative process is able to unfold on its own.

Being still or playful is a necessary ingredient of the structured busyness. Knowing how to follow the rhythm of work and rest is an indispensable skill to master. It is the key to success.

The danger comes from overwork and being too busy all the time. This means an endless to-do list and flood of tasks, projects, ideas, and work to handle. Such an approach is especially draining on the mental level. Over-busyness and hard work all the time is counter-productive and often leads to permanent stress, burnout or an illness. I guess we all know that. 

What lies beneath continuous busyness

I see three factors behind overwork and busyness.

The first factor¬†is rooted in either an inaccurate self-image or/and self-esteem, or fear. The fear may be of various kind but it is usually a fear of rejection, loneliness or failure. This manifests as the inability of saying “no”, when we want¬†to please everybody and be friends with everybody. We are afraid that people may stop liking us with all the consequences of this. ¬†

On the other hand, the same factor may manifest as having too¬†high standards for deliverables, which is related to perfectionism and feelings of obligation. We believe we have to be spotless and expect the same from others. In both cases, the inability of saying “no” or perfectionism lead to more tasks and responsibilities than it is possible to handle.¬†

Partial solution: Accept yourself and value yourself. ¬†Learn to simplify and say “no”. It is a laser focus that delivers results.

The second factor behind busyness is ineffective work. Busy people are usually quite efficient, but not effective. Remember that efficiency means doing things right, which is about doing particular tasks well. Effectiveness means doing the right things i.e. things that matter in the context of our job, goal, task or purpose etc. 

Example. Imagine you receive 100 emails daily on average. To handle this you have perfectly optimized your inbox structure. Your inbox structure is complex to allow for all type of messages and actions to be taken. While this may be a great solution, it is hugely inefficient. Assuming that it takes you 2min per email, we arrive at more than 3h of handling emails daily Рtime that could have been spent better otherwise. 

In this context an effective approach is to first eliminate your incoming email perhaps by developing detailed FAQs on your products or discouraging clients from contacting you unless truly necessary. The next step is to have a simple system for inboxing and automation as much as possible. This should ideally cut your emails to 20 or less per day.

Partial solution: Pay attention and become aware. Ask questions on how repetitive tasks can be simplified and automated. Look for ways to improve the given process.

The third factor behind busyness is a defence or resistance to face the challenge that matters and, oftentimes awaits us anyway.

By keeping ourselves too busy we leave no time for thinking, questions and introspection. Overwork is an excuse to postpone an important decision taking because we may not like the consequences. By buying busy we avoid a challenge ahead in a false hope that this challenge will vanish or be solved somehow. Busyness often masks for lack of trust.

Partial solution: Create trust. Gather your courage and face the truth. There is no growth if you try to escape the challenge in your face.

***

The partial solutions above address some important points, but they do not expand beyond busyness. The growth beyond busyness relies on deliberate practice.

Deliberate practice

We need the long hours¬†for developing expertise, estimated by some as much as 10 000 hours (see Gladwell’s book Outliers). It is however not the hours alone that reach the conclusion.¬†Expertise requires much more than hours. With the hours alone we are destined to mediocre at best.

What we need are the hours dedicated to pushing through and outside our comfort zone, i.e.¬†handling challenges and tasks we don’t know yet or are not comfortable with.¬†It becomes a deliberate practice.¬†And there are only few who would follow this path.

Why?

Because this path requires discipline to endure pain of uncomfortable tasks or uneasy experiences beyond what is known. This is necessary to train the mental and physical muscles as well as myelin towards a development of new skills and deeper foundations.

While developing a skill you need to deliberately choose challenges of an increasing difficulty within the field or in the neighboring fields. What is however interesting is that such laser focus and uncomfortable action is needed for relatively short times, say hours a day instead of the whole days. Such days become highly disciplined in which intensive yet uncomfortable practices are structured at specific times.

Committing to such a training is a path of personal growth. See this article for more details. 

Example.¬†Let’s say you need to develop your presentation skills because you will be giving talks on conferences. You start by preparing your slides and then training your talk. In the beginning, people often write it down and memorize sentence by sentence, or train by repeating the whole talk endlessly to make it sound smooth. While this is¬†a good strategy for newbies, when you need to handle your fear of public speaking, it is an ineffective strategy when you have already spoken a few times.¬†

You need to practise, but rehearsing a complete talk multiple times is counterproductive. The challenge is to focus on the difficult pieces only and leave some space for the story to emerge.

The next step is to consequently increase the difficulty from an event to an event. This may be training your voice in smooth talking, only a light preparation beforehand and improvization at the spot, introducing an interesting side story, making a joke that fits, becoming interactive with the audience, and so on.

Strengthening your myelin

In the book the Talent code, Coyle develops further the ideas presented by Gladwell. The book gives arguments why talents are merely grown through a hard work and practice. Coyle points out to the role and workings of myelin.

If we see a human movement or thought as an electrical impulse travelling through a circuit of neurons, then¬†myelin is the insulation which wraps around these fibres and increases their signal strength. Coyle says ‚ÄúThe more we fire a particular circuit, the more myelin optimizes that circuit, and the stronger, faster, and more fluent our movements and thoughts become‚ÄĚ.

In short, the book postulates three necessary ingredients behind any talent or expertise. First, you start with a burning desire to become great at something. Secondly, you follow great mentoring or find good teachers. Finally, you need a”deep practice”, a deep focus of doing the thing you are working on and constantly improving it. The goal of the practice is to strengthen the myelin strand coatings in the brain in order to strengthen brain connections made during practice.

The conclusion of the book is that passion and persistence are the key ingredients of talent and success. Why? ‚ÄúBecause wrapping myelin around a big circuit requires immense energy and time. If you don‚Äôt love it, you‚Äôll never work hard enough to be great.‚ÄĚ

Pareto principle and Parkinson’s law

Now we know that practice is necessary for success. Such a deliberate practice relies on tools, techniques and systems. In my opinion, it has to incorporate two rules, one by Pareto and the other by Parkinson.

Pareto rule (80/20): 80% of the results are achieved through the 20% of effort.

Of course the proportion is approximate, but it gives you an idea. This rule reminds us that the majority of time is spent on the details while the essential things (80%) can be achieved with minor focus. This principle challenges us to produce results instead of producing them perfectly.

Example. You can easily observe this in real life. E.g. you can easily create the whole article in the 20% of the total time , the remaining 80% is spent on getting all the details right, rewriting, editing, grammar checks and formatting. These are often endless repetitions.

Parkinson’s law:¬†“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”
If you have only one task to be done in a day, say, writing and posting a letter, it can easily take the whole day. As a result if you reduce the time given for the completion of the practice, you will force yourself to use the time well.

Applying the two rules. The challenge is to give ourselves limits and deadlines and stick to them so that we are forced to cut unessential, eliminate distractions and arrive at innovative solutions to meet the time constraints. 

Finally

What’s the point of this article?¬†

Except for the obvious side effects, overwork and/or busyness kill creativity. Creativity unfolds in undisturbed time and space, when mind becomes explorative and playful.

Introduce a structured approach to your busyness which incorporates silence and empty space. Limit the time for the tasks and you will become more resourceful. You will be able to focus on the essential things and master them to perfection.

You need this step. For breath. For being. For your own presence and joy.

***

 The coaching questions about busyness

If you want a change, start by becoming aware. Explore the questions below and learn more about yourself. 

  • What do you avoid facing by keeping yourself permanently busy? What is the challenge beneath that you need to face?

Perhaps you need to communicate to your family or supervisors that your plate is too full.
Perhaps you need to organize a helping hand or a system to simplify the tasks.
Perhaps you are not happy at your job and need to  choose a new direction of your growth.
Perhaps your marriage is at risk and you need to learn new ways of communication.

Change is inevitable and the only way to go through a change is to manage change.

  • What do you loose when you are so busy?

It is important to realize what your price is. Do you have time for rest, thinking, exercise, reading books and learning new things?

  • What would you be doing if you were not that busy?

Perhaps the key point is here. Work is an important aspect of our lives. It nourishes when we can express ourselves and become creators, be it on the level of product development, programming, team management or organization structures. However, sometimes works takes everything there is in life. And then you begin to dread your free hours as you simply don’t know what to do.

Maybe it is the time to go out, find new hobbies, start volunteering or seeing others.

  • How can you become less busy and more successful?

The combined Pareto rule and Parkinson’s law are helpful here.

***

Alternatively, you can ask the questions below exploring your towards and away motivation as well as hidden aspects.

  1. What would happen if I continued to stay permanently busy?
  2. What wouldn’t happen if I continued to stay permanently busy?
  3. What would happen if I stopped being busy?
  4. What wouldn’t happen if I stopped being busy?

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

 

 

 

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