How Do You Become Better?
Read time: 5 minutes
Last week we talked about Performance.
But how do you become better at something?
The neuroscience-based answer to it is through repetitions made with the intention to build your capacity in 4 areas: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual.
Even the most talented athletes, without repetitions, would not transform their talent into an Olympian performance.
Building performance is about creating a habit and sustaining it.
Because of repetitions, in our brain, the grey matter gets reorganised. This short movie - albeit advertising a sports system I do not know, I am not associated with, nor endorse here - describes very well what neuroscience discovered in the last decade about what happens in our brain when we learn something new.
When we make the first attempts, new neural circuits get fired in our brains. They were not there before. They appeared because we thought of something, felt something or did something in a completely new manner.
The newly born neural pathways are not reliable yet. They can discontinue at any moment and disappear if not fired by the same complex mechanism of thought, emotion and action that created it in the first place.
With repetitions, what originally was perishable chemical and electric connections became enforced, more pregnant, supporting faster and faster the chemical and electric informational flows created by those acts (thoughts, feelings and actions) which in the beginning are clumsy, fuzzy or unclear. Just because the new neural pathways are fickle.
In time, with practice, these acts become well-rounded and immediately accessible, happening as automatisms, tricking us to believe they are our second nature. We just forget how hard was it in the beginning.
And the mechanism or chemistry is the same for good habits or for bad ones. Just to give you an example.
When fed with ideas (i.e. thoughts) that “I am not good enough”, that “I will certainly fail these negotiations”, with the feelings (i.e. emotion) of frustration or unfairness, with the sensation (i.e. perception) of fear or restlessness, and the behaviour (i.e. reaction) of jumping to eat some goodies to feel better (i.e. safe and out of danger), our brain will strengthen neural paths in our brain supporting the script above: Every time you are afraid of performing negotiations, you “need” to eat something sweet to feel safe. And this is what you will do. Because this is the way you felt the need to seek comfort and safety and alleviate your feeling of insecurity, etc.
Guess what: our brain cannot make the difference between one script and another. Its mission is just to execute that script which is most in use AND preserve our safety.
If so, why not give your brain a positive script, where your thoughts empower and inspire you, where your feelings make you feel really good and appreciative, in which your emotions warm your heart, your mind remains curious, and your actions are towards your actual growth?
The point of inflexion between remaining where you are now and where you want to be is therefore setting a clear intention.
This intention is a new thought, dragging a series of other thoughts, questions and wonders. Remember how the brain works. At the point of intention, you want to cultivate curiosity, the mental openness, you want to remain in the exploration of what else is possible for you.
All other thoughts, the nagging ones, the self-sabotaging ones, the ones that pretend to have your back through comfort and safety, those are just justifications concocted by your Thinking Saboteurs. They come immediately just because you literally fed them for years (How old are you?) and entertained (i.e. activated and maintained) them every time you pondered whether to do something (new or different) or not. They did not move you towards anything. Just kept you put.
Building Intellectual Capacity
As a manager you probably want to improve a skill, let’s say project management. But as it happens your days are full and in the evening you are too tired to digest any new information. What do you do?
Are you going to continue to worry that you never learn anything new, or complain about nobody seeing how much are you working, or are you going to craft a new habit for you to support this new habit? Take a decision.
Do daily something new towards learning more about project management. How to do it?
Negotiate with your employer a daily 20-minute study interval in your professional development plan and use that to accrue new knowledge.
Or wake up 20 minutes earlier and, instead of checking your social media, read for 10 minutes an article about project management.
Or let’s say maybe you are already involved in project management. Create your own way to take notes about what you have noticed and learned so far in the projects you are involved.
Practice does not need to be in big steps. In practice, mastery is obtained through increasing the number of repetitions, not necessarily by increasing the dimension of each learning step. Because your other three capacities (emotional, physical, spiritual) may not be prepared yet to support you successfully.
By taking small steps I managed to read thoroughly for the first time the PMBOK in 6 months. And whatever I read and learned in theory, I made it my priority to notice it at work applied by others, to practice it myself, and to teach others about it. It is exactly what I am doing right now with writing the newsletter.
Building Physical Capacity
In 2015, I realised that my life happened from one chair to another. Literally. I lived one km away from my job, but I used my car to get back and forth. Once in the office, I moved from one chair to another depending on the meeting room, for in the evening to get back home to drop into an armchair.
For one year I kept thinking that I need to do something, and continuing feeling like I am a victim and nothing can be done. Until one day when I realised it is on me to move. And for several years afterwards, I woke up as early as 5:30 am to meet other people who wanted to build their physical capacity, to take long walks for about 60-70 minutes, before going to the job. With the exception of the heavy raining days, we were walking daily at least 6-7 km.
That 4-year preparation was enough for me to dare to participate in 2019 in the annual Milano-Pavia Camminata, a 37 km distance walk. Which I successfully did: I completed the full distance! That walk was not about finishing it the first. Instead, it was to prove to myself I can host and gently manage all the thoughts coming into my mind inviting me to stop somewhere in the middle and take the train back, while still reaching the finish line.
I keep continuing to these days to take 10-15 km long walks in nature since I feel they bring clarity to my mind, help me see the big picture, and process any resistance I feel I carry for things that I need or have to do for “the first” time, and empower myself with positive affirmations about who I like to become. These walks are second nature to me now.
I can also assure you it was not like this in the beginning. And even if I like a lot the sensation I have after these walks, this does not prevent me from thinking when I have to get up early in the morning that “it is too early, dark, humid, cold, etc to go out for this walk”.
It is that I made a commitment to myself to go, I know why I do it, and I am aware of how I feel if I do not do it. And peacefully I choose for waking up and going out.
You may believe you do not have the discipline to follow routines with consistency. The truth is people are not behaving equally. Me included. There are aspects of my life where it is very easy for me to follow routines and others where it feels difficult.
Still, every time when I connect my routines and the benefits I get from following them with WHY I made them part of my life and how proud I am about WHO I became because of them, it gets easy for me to continue and happily sustain that routine.
Building Emotional Capacity
You may ask yourself what is emotional capacity.
It is a measure of your ability to overcome limiting beliefs, your ease in adapting to challenging situations, and the quality of your relationships. No matter how talented, disciplined, or values-driven you are, if you don’t have high emotional capacity, you’ll fall short of your goals eventually.
Every situation you had to deal with left you with a lesson, especially when relationships, expectations, assumptions, perceptions, and beliefs of yours or of other people were involved.
It is usually a lesson about how you experienced that situation: did you feel successful or not? Did you feel proud or a failure? Did you feel motivated or disappointed? Did you feel valued or disrespected? Did you feel safe or attacked?
The meaning you attach to the experience of that event will call any of your 10 Thinking Saboteurs “to help you soothe” your emotional pain.
How do you do that? By issuing judgements and/or justifications, with the main purpose of rationalising what happened to you and of giving you the perception of a win, with the immediate effect of establishing your sense of safety.
Still, once the event passed and you are able to put a distance to it and observe from outside how you experienced that challenging situation, what did you feel and how did you behave in it, you realize the decisions you took “in the heat of the moment”, what you said and how you manifested has not been at all useful for you in long run. And now, it is hard for you to even think that behaving like that was a decision of yours.
If that was not yours, whose decision was it? A straightforward but hard-to-swallow response is it was a decision of your Thinking Saboteurs. They run our show whenever we do not have with us the right tools to intercept them and to shift towards present awareness, balance, and calm. In one word, towards our sage essence.
Building emotional capability is building resilience. Is about building comfort in feeling the discomfort. And you can do it by practising small steps, too. Like changing the habits that keep you in your comfort zone, in small steps.
What would happen for example, if, for some unimportant tasks, you would try to change the predominant hand with who you execute that task? Like toothbrushing? What would happen if you would try to break unessential comfort patterns in your life? Like changing the position in the room where you sit or work? Like talking to unknown people more often? Like pulling out bad routines and changing them with a healthier alternative? Or like starting to practice what Positive Intelligence calls to be a PQ Rep, and here is a longer video about it.
Building Spiritual Capacity
Spiritual capacity is understanding and taming the “wild beast” in you for your own sustained well-being and success.
While practising the uncomfortable, you do keep raising your sensitivity threshold. After a while, things that previously seemed to you difficult or impossible, start to become achievable and the idea of having or needing to do them would not trigger negative feelings in you anymore.
And this is how you become aware of your essence.
- WHO do you are when you are hungry (and you need to run a project meeting)?
- WHO do you are when you are lost (and your team members come to YOU to obtain clarity)?
- WHO do you are when you feel vulnerable (and YOU are the leader)?
- WHO do you are when you made an error (and your team members point it out to you)?
- WHO do you are when you are unsure (and your people need more than anything certainty from YOU, their leader)?
- WHO do you are when you lack vision (and your people notice that and point it to YOU - their leader)?
- WHO do you are when you are restless (and your people are overwhelmed by how many things you through at them)?
- WHO do you are when you avoid (and your people will notice it and will wonder about the elephant in the room)?
- WHO do you are when you want to achieve too much (and your people get too tired to follow you)?
- WHO do you are when you need to remain in control (and your people are fed up with your micromanagement)?
- WHO do you are when you realise you are not perfect (and you believe your people need to see a perfect leader in you)?
- WHO do you are when you get bored (and you see the motivation of your people flickering too)?
- WHO do you are when you are scared or afraid (and you are paralyzed and incapable of taking a decision your people need you to take fast)?
- WHO do you are when you want to make everyone happy (and manage just to not be able to keep pace with your promises to your people)?
- WHO do you are when you explore? (and your mind is miles away ahead of anyone else and people find you coming from the Moon)?
- WHO do you are when you have a mission? (and people feel they are pushed in a direction not congruent with what they want)?
- WHO do you are when you build or create? (and you feel the need for everyone to know it was your idea)?
WHO do you are when you listen to yourself? It is only by listening to yourself, you understand WHO you are at your essence. It is then, that you can say you have already built your spiritual capacity.
What is the first step you can take today, and finally feel proud for doing something to build WHO you want to be?
Write me back and tell me WHO you want to be at your essence. I am honoured to partner with you in your journey towards the future YOU.
Until next time, remain safe and sage!
Your High-Performance and Mindset Coach
💥🎉 That’s pretty much all for today 💥🎉
Building performance is about creating new habits and sustaining them.
You become better at something by practising the same thing again and again, through repetitions.
Repetitions will create new neural pathways in our brand, the more repetitions we do the more will our brain support us in performing the respective task with whatever it needs: thoughts, feelings and automated actions.
To increase our performance, we need to build these 4 capacities within ourselves:
Capacity building is done through small practices challenging yourself to BE MORE.
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Your High-Performance and Mindset Coach
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