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This is a follow-up to my previous post on Experiential Learning.

I was watching a talk by Malcolm Gladwell a few days ago, and there was a sentence that I could relate to: “the tongue knows things that the mind doesn’t”.

In coaching and in life, we sometimes try to find answers by asking our mind, and we seem to forget that our mind is not the absolute source of information. We have bodies that gives us information too, we have intuition, a soul, and can experience things that shouldn’t be isolated from the whole.

If we want to make progress, we cannot use our analytical mind as our only resource. We need to get involved and taste life with all we are.

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Experiential Learning

I just came back from Wintertouch (www.wintertouch.cz), which has been an amazing learning experience from many points of view.

Spending two weeks in the cold mountains of Czech republic at -15, doing things like melting snow for tea, or using trees as latrines, and snow again to erm… clean myself after doing my business, puts me in touch with Nature in ways that a Sunday picnic cannot.

Expedition, survival, games, dramaturgy… all of those elements combined in two weeks together with people from all over the globe where strong experiences are guaranteed. And I am not talking about the adrenaline rush one gets from an outdoor endeavor, I am talking about deep experiences of facing challenges and solving them.

So what do I take out from my two weeks in the cold?

First and foremost… we need almost nothing. I am serious. The moment I realized I had matches, some cheese, a sleeping bag, and felt I missed nothing, then I realized I was being happier there than I was in my normal life where my needs cover anything from a public bus to an iPhone. I could see the stars, listen to the wind, and sleep soundly under the naked sky. Ok, my boots were frozen, but I was connected to Nature, and that was enough.

Second, we learn by doing, and by facing challenges that are structured. Climbing a mountain is a different challenge than enduring routine or boredom. A mountain requires skill, wit, and has a specific aim. Our brains work better when the challenge is structured in time, space, and goals, than when the challenge is blurry and has no specific outcome.

Third: gaming and drama. Both offer the chance to create situations in which we play a role that is safe, while at the same time require all of our skills. It is not the same to say “go spend 6 hours in the cold” than “you are a diamond prospector who needs to get to the top of that mountain in 6 hours, and deliver X, Y, and Z”. Games and drama can create environments for challenge and learning, and I am thinking about incorporating those into my coaching sessions.

Overall, I loved being outdoors, and use that environment for learning, detaching, and growing. Back to the city most things seem superficial, like everyone is running trying to get somewhere and they are always late. Life is much more simple, or it could be. Life is much more basic and raw, and I invite you all to peel all the artificial layers between you and nature, and touch the soil where you come from, look at the stars we have slept under for generations and generations, and listen to the symphonic masterpiece of the wind in the trees. There is peace and balance to be learnt, and can only be learnt by experience. No blog post can give you that.

A night out in the cold... raw contact with Nature

Passion, passion, passion

I was talking to my family yesterday and we concluded that one can do a very good job if you put your energy on it, but passion goes beyond “being positive” or “making a good effort”. Passion drives us on high-octane fuel.

WHY do we need passion? Or better still… how to feel passion if we don’t have it?

People, send me your ideas around passion! Invite your friends. Tell people about this. Those of you who have lost passion for life at some point and regained it… how was that moment? Tell me your story 🙂

Also, if you know someone who is really passionate about life. I want to meet him/her!

Leave a comment below!

JV

The Parachute Theory

It was a couple of days ago I was coaching a client who is full of dreams for her life. She wants to move ahead with those dreams because she KNOWS if she goes the normal route of “steady job” she will lose the hunger for something uniquely hers.

I can relate to that. I have been in that situation. 9 years ago I was pursuing my big dream: Music. I went to London to study and become a great musician, but I got very tired in the midst of finding a job, living on my own, and going to classes, and at one point I was offered a steady, well paid position, and went for it. At that moment, something inside of me died, and I felt I “lost the hunger”. More painful than that, I have always felt I resigned from the kind of life I wanted to live.

The same happened to another musician friend of mine, who said he always stayed in low paying jobs so he would have a motivation to keep on writing music. I have another friend who is a photographer and script writer who follows the same ideal, and Sylvester Stallone said that he wouldn’t go for a “real job” because that would be the end of his fight to become an actor.

It is interesting that deep down we know which actions will destroy our dreams and kill our drive. Richard Feynman mentions in his book: “Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman” that at one point in his life he discovered that “what I want is not good for me. If I had a house by the beach, and could buy my wife all the things she wants, and all the amenities I dream of, I surely wouldn’t be producing excellent work here at University”.

It is true that we are easily mislead when evaluating “what makes us happy”. I believe Feynman put it best with his “what I want is not good for me”.

But then, even if we know what will give us a greater sense of satisfaction and growth, we need to take into account many variables. How is my client going to evaluate how far she should go with her project? How will she balance it with family responsibilities?

The question here is “how to go for your dreams without messing the rest of your life up?”. Let’s be realistic here, it is one thing to be 18 and have the world at your feet, but being 30, bills to pay, and a couple of mouths to feed makes it a little bit more challenging to go and kick it.

One may be dull and “go for one’s dreams and hope for the best” or sensible and “play it safe and be responsible, not risk a bit because of obligations and things…”. Both approaches hold their own delusion, nothing is a complete shot in the dark, nor it is totally secure.

For example, if you build a business and use all your money, you may find yourself at square one if it fails. You may even find yourself at square -10! I have experience in my family of digging your own grave for the sake of a dream.

What would happen if we decided that “square 10 is our new square one”? What if we started our projects with a parachute on so we avoid free falling if our flight goes bananas?

I believe the magic formula is a combination and balance of both. We have been given a left and right brain. We have been given the ability to believe in something without any proof (faith), and also the analytical skills to make a plan and follow through (strategy).

Wearing a parachute may mean the difference between slowing down or failing. For me, this parachute means filling up an emergency fund. It also implies building my practice to a number of clients that make it possible for me to switch jobs if I need to. It also means handing CVs that open doors for me. All of these doesn’t stop me from following my dreams. These are not “Plan B”, just the wood that keep the fire burning.

My client will look for ways to wear a parachute, so she can take some of the stress away. Knowing how far she can pursue her dreams for, and what to do if things do not work as planned, can actually help in being more focused.

How about being a realistic dreamer?

Zen Coffee

Darn me, I am an arrogant SOB sometimes.

All I think I know… and I judge people too harshly. Today my waiter taught me a lesson in being humble and enjoying life.

I kinda like waiter. He is the type of guy that walks slow, serves coffee in his own time, and is gently waiting for retirement. I sort of feel sorry for him: “poor guy, insignificant job, no pace or enthusiasm, this is dull…” And then, he starts talking about the airplane models he builds. His face changes as he tells me how he spends a good portion of his spare time in flow, honing his craft, working in his workshop building the next model, and then taking it to the field and testing how it flies.

“The last one is taking me two years of work, but it relaxes me. I forget about eating, sleeping… it is the greatest feeling”. As he pours me a hot coffee, I see I am contemplating my master. This man has found something that makes him center. He grows his mastery and his love for what he does, and is both enthusiastic and low-key about it.

Some say that the great masters hold humble jobs, as carpenters, or fishermen. Given that I do not see many carpenters around me, possibly waiters will do.

Thanks for the coffee, Master.

Jon

Revolutionary Road

It was one of those moments that are supposed to become a “nice evening” to “get the edge off” and “smooth a rough week out”. We chose a random movie from the multimedia hard drive and off we went to Revolutionary Road. I didn’t know Leo and Kate were to scuba dive into my soul and throw a bomb in there. Not their fault, really. All the TNT was already there, they just installed the fuse and set the timer on. 2 hours of explosions until the foundations collapsed.

Leo doesn’t die on this one and, once again, proves himself an amazing actor, capable of multiple dynamics and nuances. The son of a bitch managed to convey so much meaning with his eyes that I felt I was there feeling the frustration of being him, failing, and knowing it.

I will stop the “movie talk” and go back to the purpose of my writing (HERE BE SPOILERS) Revolutionary Road is that hell in paradise where everyone is supposed to be happy but aren’t. It’s a rosy place, with gentle people, educated and well-meaning neighbors, good salaries, time to spare and plenty of amenities. Somehow, we don’t know how, these people have ended up there following some script of life that took them to that ideal place where all the ingredients of happiness fell into place to form a picture that is, to everyone’s surprise, dull and meaningless. It is almost like a postcard that has been printed a million times and loses its originality.

Special people become mediocre when they deny their deepest core. The movie is so full of nuances it will take a few days to mention them all.

Take the neighbors’ wife. She plays the part of the nice lady, but deep down she craves adventure and meaning. She cries and the husband doesn’t know why: “It’s nothing, it’s nothing. Give us a couple of days and we forget about it all”. The husband cheats on his wife because he desires something else: “I always loved you”. Everyone goes to the beach, the theatre, and the bars to numb their discontent with beers and pretty landscapes, everyone wears a nice face, while they dig their own grave from 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. Without any visible target.

Everyone is so invested in the fantasy that nobody dares to break the spell and say it out loud: “we hate this life we have been sold to live”. Kate is brilliant: “who wrote this rules?” and Leo put it well: “I want to feel things”. Me too, Leo.

As with the other masterpiece of its director, American Beauty, the truth has to be spoken by the weird, crazy and medicated. The freak in the movie is the one who says: “the emperor has no clothes”. When the characters are living their truth, this is a refreshing thing, and we feel we are watching something remarkable. When the characters are invested in their lie, the nut needs to be shut down, locked, treated, medicated. Who is the crazy one? The one looking at things as they are, or the ones trying to fit into a script that nobody wrote?

As with all great poets and painters, we label them as social misfits while they are alive, and as heroes that guide us when they are dead. Is that a sign of our own cowardice to shine with our own light? Is that a way to punish them for daring to listen to their heart? As Kate put it: “Courage is living the life you want to live”. That courage is punished.

We do not want to see the truth. It is too scary. “I do not want to talk about Kate and Leo anymore” says one of the characters, unwilling to remind himself of the misery of his own life, and choosing to move on with his dull charade.

I left the couch refreshed and saddened. Refreshed because it is always good when someone hits you in the face and reminds you of your hypnosis, waking you up from your dream. Saddened because my choices and fears got me where I am: dulled by routine and lack of meaning, waiting for… Kate and Leo? Better: Sam Mendes. American Beauty is another “wake up call”.

This cautionary tale leaves me angry, and reminds me of the epic fight between the forces that want to make us fit, and the force that wants to create a life that is uniquely ours. One which rises above recycled scripts of mediocracy that have proven to leave so many people wishing for something else. Why do we keep on falling for this lie?

It makes me remember the day I decided to leave England and go back to Spain. Plenty of e-mails arrived, all of them with a common theme: “I wish I could. I wish I could do what you are going to do, leave this place and travel, do something else”. Right now I want to ask all my colleagues who wants to be in this office. I bet nobody wants to be here, but here we are. WHY?

It also reminds me of the day I decided to give up on my personal adventures and settle for a comfortable job. That is the moment Kate realizes her life is not the adventure she had hoped for. That is the moment she gives up too and cheats on her “one-minte-ago-so-beloved-husband”. When everything you stand for falls apart, what else is there? Short lived pleasures, only briefs moments of pleasure to forget about the big mess.

And then, once Kate and Leo settle for conformity and safety, it is no wonder she loses interest in him: “you are just a kid that made me laugh at a party once”. He is bitter and resentful as she doesn’t support him or love him anymore because… what is there to support or love anyway?

And then… Why does he go to work for, if his wife has emotionally left him and his dreams have collapsed? The dream turns into a nightmare in which all meaning is lost and life is just a wait, with some moments of comfort in the form of beer, theatre, and beach time.

From “I am king of the world” in the Titanic to the loss of hope in Revolutionary Road, these two actors have done it: they made me think and feel. They remind me of what true living and true dying is. You can live for 3 days and your ship may sink, but you can also build a safe haven and lose your life in the process: “you may remember my father, he worked here for 20 years”, and then silence. A life lost.

No wonder I envy the guy who has a “meaningless job” and spends most of his time surfing, or writing scripts. No wonder I envy the passionate and carefree: they still have it.

Man, is it tough to see clearly sometimes.

In making decisions that could affect your life, there are several ways to go about it. The most common one is to look at “where you want to be in the future, what you want”.

There is another way, and it is to focus on “what you need right now”.

I find it very intriguing that different types of personalities take different approaches to making decisions. Yesterday I had to make a choice between spending 2 or 3 years of training to start a new career and add to my knowledge, or spending some time “recovering” from my intense year of Coaching training. I am so drained I find it difficult to feel inspired about anything, and I am the type of person that doesn’t cope well with lack of inspiration.

I have come to respect that I need to be inspired to be involved in something and get something out of it. Why would I do anything any other way? For other people, the pragmatic benefits may be enough to get them involved. For me, the rewards are always emotional. Without an emotional component, I cannot thrive. At best I will follow through dragging myself towards completion.

I feel it is very important to know what makes us tick, in order to get the best of ourselves. Right now my soul is in need for rest, for some order, fresh air and plenty of de-cluttering. I feel inspiration will come on its own accord. Pragmatics will ask “why now, not then?”. I now respect that I have the soul of a creator who needs a muse. It is known that Michelangelo took long walks, roaming around without any particular aim and, when asked about his whereabouts, he replied “I was working”. He probably was. He was giving his mind the necessary space to come up with an idea that would consume him for months later on.

I am the same way. I need plenty of mental space to come up with ideas that inspire me, then all that energy can be released with an intensity that some people feel excessive. Once my idea has been materialized, I need to rest again.

There is an advantage to this: following my flow allows me to be in touch with who I really am. I respect my times, my creative ups and downs, and I find some kind of balance that way. The problem with that is that “real life” is not organized around my creative flow. My work schedule is not organized that way, nor is the training courses I am interested in. Other people may not understand why I need to spend months doing nothing, which really allow me to find the inspiration to spend years doing plenty.

It is the search for meaning and inspiration which drives me. For me, being inspired is success. Staying up late and waking up early with enthusiasm is success. Other people find support in structure and routine. Not me. Getting to know this part of me and respecting it will be a very interesting adventure. I am going to start by doing something that really inspires me: de-cluttering and simplifying my life.

Muses… come to me!

The Fix Your Wheel program

One of the pleasures of studying to be a Life Coach is to meet people who have an interesting story. Amanda Downs is one of those people.

 

Coaches come in all shapes and sizes, but one common thread among all of us is having a (very) diverse life experience. Most of us have changed jobs, and even careers, several times. Most of us have a hunger for life that makes us re-evaluate what we do . We always want to squeeze out every second of life, and we look for interesting places to live, philosophies to live by, and amazing people to be around.

 

Possibly the story that repeats itself is: “I was being and doing what I was supposed to, grew tired and unsatisfied, and then pushed the makeover button and started living life on my terms”. Amanda is one of these people, and she has written a book designed to help people do the same.

 

The book has no hype about it. It is not a quick fix, and it does not take you to the promised land where everything is rosy, beautiful, and extraordinary. Instead, it does what I like most, kick you in the butt and tell you to start freaking moving. She does so in a very elegant, almost scientific way, exploring the reasons why we remain stuck and how to turn it around, and she starts with something she is passionate about: health and fitness.

 

Let’s face it, there is no better place to start. As soon as we start to fix our wheel, we have more energy, we feel more confident, we start dreaming about new goals. If we have spent some time in a rut, taking care of our health is a great metaphor for other areas of our lives.

 

I must admit I am not yet a big health and fitness fan, and Amanda deals with that issue in her book too: “What are the beliefs that keeps us stuck in the health department?” “What identities have we developed around our fitness?”. Amanda explores the stories we tell ourselves and helps us start shifting that story. It is not quick, it is not easy, but it is possible.

 

I have personally worked with Amanda as a coach. This year I had the goal of seeing my six-pack, and I will have the same goal in 2011. Have I failed? Well, only to a certain extent. The first day I went to the gym I couldn’t move for a couple of hours afterwards. Later in the year I started working with Amanda, and I have gone from not being able to move, to compete in a 10k race. My trainings now include two 10k races a week, and one in which I push for 11, 12 or 13k. That is a big stretch for me, and it makes me start dreaming about the Marathon, which is something I wouldn’t have considered in a million years!

 

Therefore I want to recommend you guys check Amanda’s book, only if you are serious about some change happening. It is dirt cheap, and a quick read, but it is not leisure reading. This is for the doers.

 

Enjoy!

 

Jon

 

 

I know, I know, it is a geeky title… but I needed a way to express something I have been pondering about for the last few days.

I was talking with my Resource Control Manager and Marketing Director, AKA Girlfriend, about salaries, time, space… and it always seems that we need a little more of each to breathe with ease. If I only the day had 26 hours… if only I had a little bit more money… I need more space in this cupboard…

It turns out that my first hard drive had 20Mb and I managed to fill it up. Last year I had 200gb and I filled that up too. I had to buy two external drives that I managed to fill up to the extreme. Now I have a 1Tb hard drive that is up to 90% capacity. Why is that? I don’t even know what stuff is in there. I might be using 10% of all that information.

My day has 24 hours like everyone else’s, but my schedule includes: day work, business startups, gym practice, friends time, music recording, study, family time, girlfriend time, sleeping, eating, commuting, blogging… and no time to just exist and read a freaking book. Mostly I am multitasking, having girlfriend time (3g chat) on the bus (commute) as I learn something on a podcast, or having dinner while I prepare my new business. My days are filled up to extreme, so much so that I don’t know what to do with idle time anymore. What’s free space for, anyway?

My salary is not as big as I would like it to be, but I am glad I have earned good money in the past, and also I have been broke before. How come I always managed to live within my income and make ends meet no matter what? I manage to live with around 90% of what I make. Also, people that make two or three times more money than I do, seem to be living around that 90-95% as well.

So it seems to me that we humans have a tendency to run through our reserves, and only notice it once we get there. How many empty shelves have you seen lately? How many salaries that say “I have plenty to go on for the rest of the month”? How many working people have you talked to who proudly have plenty of spare time to enjoy? I haven’t, and it is kind of worrying. Maybe it is time to de-clutter. I believe it is not a matter of quantity, but a matter of personal philosophy. If our philosophy is one of “not taking care of our bodies until we start feeling really ill”, or “not paying attention to our room until there is nowhere to place the new book”, then no matter how much health, space, or income we have… we will exploit those resources until there is nothing left.

It is fascinating. My initial feeling is that, once we move past the threshold of poverty, and our basic needs are covered, it is all a mental game. Even “basic needs” is a subjective concept. My basic needs as an unemployed 22 year old in London were not the same as the 30 year old entrepeneur-wannabe in Madrid that I am now. In any circumstance, I have always felt I have been pushing it to the edge, and it has only been this year that I became debt free and started to live witihin my means on purpose. Now my brain tries to convince me that “I need more money” and “I need more time”, and maybe my brain has a point, but seeing how others have more money and still live on the edge, maybe Life wants me to learn to play another game. Maybe it is not the game of “more”, but the game of contentment, of having margins, of having plenty of free space in my hard drive, good savings, free time in my schedule to enjoy my life, energy leftovers in my mind.

How can we aim to feel more in our lives if we do not make space for it? Here are some ideas off the top of my mind:

1. Clean the hard drives. Have one that is completely empty, just for the sake of it. 80% of my MP3 collection I will never listen to anyway. Have between 30% to 50% of free space at all times.

2. Empty the closet. Renew my clothing. Donate what I do not use anymore. Have at least one empty shelf.

3. Go through my e-mail and unsubscribe from mailing lists

4. Review my spending habits and fill up my emergency fund again

5. Empty my room from things I really don’t use (the packinging of my iMac, empty suitcases, etc)

6. Make a commitment to leave the office at a certain pre-determimed time

7. Review all the social and professional engagements I have, which right now are: music (mine, and professional), coaching (classes, sessions, and three endeavors), day job, gym (running out and training sessions), books I am reading, material I am learning (podcasts, audio courses). Select what I want, throw out the rest.

8. Select one day in which it is prohibited to work.

9. Review all my subscriptions (hostings, domains, charities I give money to, etc), and select the ones I want to keep, unsubscribe from the rest.

10.  Carry plenty of cash in my pocket. Get used to the feeling of “having plenty to go on with”. Even if I do not “have it”, I can always carry a fake bunch and get used to the feeling of having a lot, instead of the feeling of “will I have enough for lunch today?”

11. Schedule FREE TIME in my Google Calendar. Start filling my schedule with “free time” tags instead of “busy” tags.

12. Keep a very short “to do” list.

For sure there will be more ideas, but the goal is to take what we have and get the feeling of “having plenty”. Of time, of reserves of energy and money, of space, of availability, of room to enjoy. Maybe this will lead to having more space, time and money, maybe not, but I am quite sure it will create a mentality of careful selection of what I engage in, and a feeling of abundance in my life.


It has been almost a year since I started Training Coaching Skills, and I am starting to understand why did I begun this process in the first place. I did it for me, I wanted to change. I wanted to learn how to change, and hopefully then help others do the same.

I even knew which changes I wanted to make. I thought I would manage those changes through peer coaching, conditioning, accountability, and other tricks from the Coaching process.

Those can work, but the kind of change I am interested in is deep. Yes, it is not about “going to the gym”, it is about “being an athlete”. It is not about “having my room tidy”, but “being a tidy person”. In deeper levels, those changes may require looking inside with honesty and finding stuff about ourselves we don’t like.

The thing is, when we find stuff we do not like, it is very easy to try a “surface change”. But what happens with deep shit like “living scared”, or “feeling stuck”? Well, I have come to experience that the hardest part of change is not the logistics, is the loss of identity. It is the “but that’s not me” syndrome. Come to think of it, if we have spent the last 15 years failing, we may have developed an identity, or personality, and that personality has developed social circles that reinforced those ideas. Deep down inside we know we can (and should) grow beyond our limitations, but we encounter fear. That fear is the loss of identity. “If I start being successful, who would I be? What will happen to my personality? But that’s not me!”.

We come to trust and believe in our identities and personalities. As outdated our mental operative systems may be, we find comfort in knowing our problems, knowing ourselves as we have learnt to perceive us.

There is no question. Change, true change, requires a huge amount of courage. It also requires faith, as we need to let go of the old and embrace the new. Transformation into something else is a journey in which we don’t know the result beforehand, there is no “Ctrl+Z”, no “Undo”, no “backup”. We need to make a leap of faith.

True change implies abandoning part of our identity, and we are way too attached to our identities. We may be coming to an era of rapid change, in which we will choose personalities the same way we choose clothing. Maybe new generations will develop the ability to manage and use different personalities in a healty way, to cope with the many challenges of this rapid changing world. More about that in a movie.

For us, normal human beings, a truth needs to be faced: “change is beautiful, but it ain’t pretty”. Before we decide on changing something, we will have to weigh the implications. Any permanent change will imply modifying the perception of who we are. Are we ready for that? The beautiful thing is that, if we can choose to change our identities, then we are corageous, we are the masters of our identities, not the other way around.