What Is Your Problem?

For the audio version of this post click below.

On July 6th I gave my first fact-to-face speech since the lockdown. I spoke at the BED Event in Barcelona for professionals of the events industry, both event organizers and providers. My question for them was: What is your problem?

One way of making sense of life, is to view the situations we face as a series of problems. For example, getting a degree, finding a job, and raising kids can be seen as “problems” we face in life.

Problems fall into one of two categories:

  • Problems-we-have. Examples could be: I want a promotion; I want more clients; I need someone in my life. What do these problems all have in common? In all of them we occupy the center stage and the spotlight is shining on us.
  • Problems-we-solve. Examples could be: I want to participate more in the company’s success; I want to serve more clients; I’d love to share my life with someone special. These problems have in common the fact that other people occupy the center stage and the spotlight is shining on them.

Generosity is the highest form of fulfilment.

Notice how both types of problems deal with the same situations and the same people. The difference is who the problem is about: us or others. Now look back on the lives of your role models. Was it a series of problems-they-had or problems-they-solved?

From what I’ve seen in my 45 years, it is much easier to deal with the challenges we face, both professionally and in our personal life, when we transform problems-we-have into problems-we-solve by moving our butts away from the center stage and shinning the spotlight on others.

So what problems are you solving at this point in your life?
Given the recent changes in the world, what new problems could you solve?

What Is Your Problem?

How’s Your Psychological Immune System?

Photo by Zachary Kadolph on Unsplash

I recently listened to a guided meditation where William B. Irvine, an expert in Stoic philosophy, explained the idea of a psychological immune system. Imagine Billy, a child who grows up never being exposed to anything unpleasant, never receiving any bad news, never criticised or insulted, and always having someone solve his problems. What will happen to the adult Billy when he goes out into the world? How will he deal with setbacks?

Whereas the biological immune system protects us from sicknesses caused by germs, the psychological immune system protects us from the unpleasant emotions that are triggered by life’s setbacks.

The world is imperfect, which means shit will happen. So it seems wise to strengthen our psychological immune system in order to better deal with setbacks. How can we do this?

  1. Psychological vaccination: Irvine suggests we regularly use the Stoic technique of entertaining negative thoughts, like imagining losing something or someone. Or recognising that our lives could be much worse and imagining what that would look like. He says we don’t want to dwell long on these negative thoughts, but for it to be flickering moments. These thoughts work like a vaccine, preparing our psychological immune system for life’s setbacks. Another Stoic technique he recommends is called “the last time”. I talk about it in this video here.
  2. Psychological exposure: Another way to develop our psychological immune system is to expose ourselves to “germs”. This means deliberately moving out of our comfort zone, and doing things that are physically and/or emotionally uncomfortable. For some people, karaoke in front of a big crowd will do the trick.

In what shape is your psychological immune system? A good measure is how often you feel outraged or lose control to anger. Another is the average mood of your mind. Is it tranquility and confidence, or agitation and anxiety?

It’s naive to think we’ll live without setbacks. Preparing for them by strengthening our psychological immune system is the wise thing to do.

3 Hacks to Manage Mess in Life

On Friday I gave an online workshop for Amazon’s Recruiting Team for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. It was about self-care and self-investment, and my premise was that any life worth living will regularly get messy just like the kitchen gets messy when we use it.

The key then to wellbeing is not to try avoid the mess, but to care and invest in ourselves so as to be emotionally fit when the mess happens. I shared with them several shortcuts for emotional fitness. Here are three that require little effort but have a massive, massive, massive impact in our wellbeing.

  • Sleep: Matthew Walker, sleep expert and author of the book “Why We Sleep”, recommends we give ourselves the opportunity of 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. He says that the pillars of a healthy body are not diet, exercise and sleep, but just diet and exercise, because sleep is the foundation.
  • Gratitude: It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to feel grateful and at the same time anger, fear or sadness. Gratitude energizes us to deal with life’s challenges. This is why I recommend starting the day by bringing to mind a few things we can be grateful for, and to connect with the emotions that this generates. This will set us up to deal with what comes our way during the day.
  • Hanging out with TRUE friends: There is a growing body of evidence about the vital role of friendship in overcoming challenges. Introverts or extraverts, we are all social beings. Helen Keller said that she would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light. The Beatles nailed it when they suggested we get by with a little help from our friends.

Life will always give us challenges that require we reinvent ourselves. Things will break down. People will let us down.

The key to a balanced life lies in being ready for these inevitable events, for any life worth living is a messy life.

You Can’t, Until You Have To

In my years as a volunteer in jails, I always hated talking to someone on their first day. What the hell do you say? To my point, in seven years volunteering, EVERY person I spoke to on their first day told me:

I can’t do this.

The irony was inevitable and piercing: Of course we can’t do this. We’re not made for imprisonment. But then again there was no other choice. The following week I’d come back. There we were again. Sad, sometimes angered, maybe bitter, but they no longer thought: I can’t do this. This a hard truth of life:

We can’t, until we have to.

Christmas is around the corner. Of course none of us were made for this year’s Christmas. But what’s our alternative? When we catch ourselves thinking: I can’t do this, let us remember: We will, if we have to.

Discover How Altruistic You’ve Been Lately

Every year for the past nine years, I coach the students of the Executive MBA Persuasive Communication Program from IESE Business School in Barcelona. Inevitably every year the question about how to deal with nerves comes up.

I begin by saying that whether we intend to or not, nerves are an act of egocentrism because the spotlight is placed on us as the speakers. The alternative is to shift the spotlight to our audience and our message.

If we focus on giving the gift of our message to our audience so that they walk away better off, we stop thinking about ourselves. No more nerves — our mind is engaged in something much more important.

We move through life in a similar way. We either put the focus on ourselves or shift the spotlight to making other people’s lives better. In the first case, we can end up obsessing over ourselves and our life, we can end up feeling dissatisfied with how far we are from where we planned to be.

In the second case, we are engaged in something that is greater than us, which gives us meaning and the necessary resilience to face the challenges that life throws at us.

On who do you shine the spotlight?

Here’s a exercise that might indicate where you’ve been putting the light. Access the photos on your smartphone. Who tends to be in the spotlight: you or others?

An Exercise to Prepare for Confinement

Winter is coming (for some of us) and with it the likelihood of another confinement (in one form or another). It would be dumb not to prepare. This is what I’m doing.

Three Steps

Step 1: Take some time alone to fill in the template below. Ask family and friends to do the same, especially those who will be spending more time with you.

Step 2: Come together in a celebrative spirit to share your findings.

Step 3: Decide what you will commit to. Focus on what requires low effort but has a high impact for you and those around you.

Would love to know what works best for you. Please share your results.

An Unpublished Song for 2020

Two weeks ago, Antonio Monteiro reached out to me in response to my blog post on to How to Use Our Problems to Feel Grateful. Antonio and I go back to the days when I was priest.

More recently we’ve been in touch since I gave a series of workshops at the Air Traffic Control Centre where he works an Aeronautical Information and Communications Technician.

Antonio shared with me a song he composed this summer. The lyrics were written by his brother, Fernando. I asked them to post it here because it has a powerful message for this tough year. Click below to have a listen. Thank you, Antonio and Fernando.

Stop watching the news, boy
Step into the light
So many beautiful things
Waiting to brighten up your eye

Discover those moments
You cherish the most
Smile every time you can
Even when it’s so hard, man

And live every moment
Like it’s your last
The future is in you
No control over the past

Stop watching the news, girl
You’re better that
Lookout for that sunshine
That always warms the truth

Laugh more with your friends
Embrace every hug
Be grateful for what you have
Even when it’s not so much

And live every moment
Like it’s your last
The future is in you
No control over the past

Stop watching the news, boy
Stop watching the news, girl
Get out there and love life
Everything will be alright

Stop watching the news, girl
Stop watching the news, boy
Get out there and love life
Everything will be alright

I Broke a Promise

Photo Credit: Jonny Miller

I broke a promise when I decided I’d no longer serve as a priest.

I broke a promise when I decided I’d end the relationship.

I broke a promise when I decided I’d stop seeing that friend.

Breaking a promise didn’t feel good. But it happened, again and again.

This week I came across a poem by David Whyte about how to break a promise.

Apparently we humans break promises, again and again. Apparently we can learn to do it better.

Shall we accept that breaking promises is part of life, like making them is?

To Break a Promise

Make a place of prayer, no fuss now,
just lean into the white brilliance
and say what you needed to say
all along, nothing too much, words
as simple and as yours and as heard
as the bird song above your head
or the river running gently beside you.

Let your words join one to another
the way stone nestles on stone,
the way water just leaves
and goes to the sea,
the way your promise
breathes and belongs
with every other promise
the world has ever made.

Now, let them go on,
leave your words
to carry their own life
without you, let the promise
go with the river.

Stand up now. Have faith. Walk away.

In “The Sea in You: Twenty Poems of Requited and Unrequited Love” by David Whyte

P.S. David, I hope you don’t mind me sharing your poem here. Thank you.