A Little Red Notebook


I am sure you all know what a bad day is. In online dictionaries I found such synonyms as:

– a politically correct “Not-so-perfect day”

– a straightforward “Bummer day”

– a very popular “Shitty day”

And a special variety of it – “A bad hair day”

A couple of weeks ago, I was in the middle of all of the above.

I got up not only on the wrong side of the bed but also on the wrong foot (as we call it in Russian). With mental clarity and level of self-acknowledgement fluctuating between 50 and 20 percent, it would be fair to say that I was not enjoying myself.
Life was clearly testing what wood I was made of. I took on the challenge and decided to not settle for this. I reached out for my toolbox of tricks and resolved to treat myself the way I would treat a coaching client.

I sat myself down at the table and asked myself one of my favorite coaching questions:

What is it that you could still do today?
For me, the question landed into a larger context and transformed itself into something like this:

What doable reasonable step can I take right now, this very moment that would take me closer to my biggest dream?
That was when I stormed out of the house, walked into the closest shop, and bought myself THIS: a little red notebook.
A little red notebook?

How was this supposed to help me out on a tough day? Let me tell you how.

A little red notebook is something that I will carry with me everywhere, to jot down ideas for blog posts, articles, speeches, and workshops.
A little red notebook is super important, because it will contain the seeds of my future self-expression as an author and speaker.

Ideas of all sorts, sizes, and shapes cross my mind on a regular basis. Ready-to-use gorgeous phrases and succulent metaphors swim through my reality every other hour – all to be consumed by the turbulent currents of the mundane.

I cannot let these delicious first class ingredients remain a half-baked cake. I gotta catch them now or never. I gotta start with something.

There I was, on a rough day, with a little red notebook in my hands. Then and there, I saw:

I have big dreams, and I can start with the small steps.

Perhaps, the universe does not want me to drop everything and start something major right away, like saving the world and feeding the hungry. Perhaps, the only thing that the universe requires from me right here and now is: DO SOMETHING.

Does not matter or big or small, how smart or stupid. SOMETHING.

If that is the will of the universe, my little red notebook is surely good enough.

I made my way to a café, and put my first two entries into my little red notebook.

I knew:
A successful blog does not start with a Big Bang of overwhelming eloquence that majestically arises out of nothingness and propels me onto the top of the world while angels are singing and rose petals are falling from the skies.
It starts right here and now, with a little red notebook, with three words, or three sentences, with one small doable action that is within my existing capability.

Such a small doable action is surely within anybody’s existing capability.
It is one tiny teensy choice away.

Therefore, I leave you with a question:

What is it that you could still do today that would take you closer to your biggest dream?..

How perseverance breeds success

These days, I am thinking about perseverance.

Maybe it is this time of the year: fresh new 365 days of life waiting to be lived and remembered as the ones worth all the breaths taken, the words said, the miles walked. Unpainted canvas of life versus the gravitational pull of winter hibernation. Rewards of following through versus temptation of calling it quits the moment it stops feeling good. Engaging in life fully versus letting it pass by. Or maybe it is the desire to succeed: reflecting on what I should do different this year, on how to grow stronger, act smarter, reach out further.

One thing I know for a fact: my peak experiences of life coincided with the times when my integrity level was at its highest. When I followed through. When I was on point, committed. One might think all this can bring tension and stress – on the contrary, perseverance brought me clarity, focus, and peace of mind. I knew what I was doing, and eventually the “how” dissolved – I was fully in, immersed, one with the action, until the action took over and unfolded by itself. At some point, the effort transformed into flow, and flow evolved into success.

I wonder where we as a society could have been now if only all of us would be doing what we said we would do, consistently, following through with what truly matters. I have recently learned, for example, that reading one hour per day on the subject of your choice will make you an international expert in 7 years. Contemporary culture pushes us to get it faster, chase harder, push stronger. While all this hectic action is going on, I am wondering: have we lost our patience? Have we forgotten the value of step-by-step persistence?

Imagine, for example, how far you could come if you would study and deepen what you have learned on Master I one hour per day for a year. Or what an amazing coach you could become if you would engage in peer coaching every week for a couple of years. How far your business could get if you would persistently engage in putting yourself out there, despite failures and doubts.

Aristotle said that we are what we repeatedly do, and concluded that excellence is not an act, but a habit.

Which is to say: anyone can be great. You can become outstanding in any area of your choosing.

Yet first, you need to put something at stake: get your bum to the chair and type; put on the running shoes and head out of the house into the rain. Little by little, you will build traction, you will get faster, smarter, stronger – the cumulative snowball effect comes with mastering the chosen skill through learning the ropes and confronting resistance. Perhaps, you will hit a shortcut or meet a fairy godmother at some stage. However, before landing her dream shoes and the prince, Cinderella had to put in quite some hours of labor.

I believe success comes to those who show what wood they are made of. Success comes from making the choice to follow through.

Additional reading:

How long does it take to form a new habit

Accuracy, resilience, and denial


Context is everything

The more I live, the more I get to appreciate the power of creation and context. Context is power. Context is everything.

Whether we want it or not, everything we have in our consciousness comes with a context. All events, circumstances, situations, people, even ideas and emotions, have context, which determines our relationship to all of the above. Having a context for something means having a reference frame for that something, with subsequent thoughts and feelings about it and resulting beliefs and behaviors. That something is what it is – a plain compilation of facts, an occurrence in reality. Isness is neutral. Our context – self-chosen or uploaded – gives it flavor.

All our highs and lows, joys and dramas directly result from our context. And, most interestingly, context can be downloaded from “the cloud”(the matrix, or Thrownness as Martin Heidegger called it) or it can be created. Nothing exists without context – therefore, think carefully how you contextify different elements of your life. Do you have a self-chosen context for your partner, your job, yourself – or do you find yourself having a particular relationship to what is happening? Perhaps you do not even like that relationship. Then check – have you chosen to have it or do you simply find yourself having it? Afterwards, look: what context would I myself choose?

I want to share my example.

Every now and then I need to update my residence permit here in Berlin, Germany. This involves going to Auslaenderbehoerde (ABH, or foreigners’ office), known as a place of terror and trepidation for all non-EU citizen. Before I got to know CC and context, I, of course, had a particular relationship to ABH and everything that was happening there. And, guess what, that relationship was one of terror and trepidation – and I never deliberately chose it. I picked in up from the cloud – other people, Internet, my own projections. The result? My context of terror and trepidation caused me to attract and experience exactly that: for example, three hours of being left to wait outside on the freezing cold until the doors open.

After I discovered context, my experience changed 180 degrees. I could see that the context I had before was something I have neither chosen nor enjoyed. I created a different context: ABH are my friends, everything will go smoothly. I had no reason or no reference to believe in this new context – and this is the magic of it, I did not even have to. Power of the word and power of context does not require my thinking and feeling to be in any particular way! Isn’t this just liberating? No need to even listen to the chatter in my mind, no need to give any energy or meaning to the waves of fear or worry inside!

This Monday, I applied the power of context again. I said, it will be nice and easy. At first, my thinking and feeling disagreed. After some minutes, on the way to ABH, thinking and feeling realized that I am not going to feed them, and vanished. I did in fact have it all nice and easy, and got my residence permit extended for even longer than I committed to in my context!

Nice and easy, the power of context.

Do not be lazy, create your context. It matters and it can turn your life around.

What will matter?

Some days ago, I visited my grandmother in Russia. When she opened the door, I was shocked by what I saw: instead of my grandma with red-coloured hair in a bun, there was a very old woman with short grey hair. For many years she was holding on to her long hair and refused to get it cut, although it was difficult for her to manage it. Now, she gave in – her eventual resignation, one step closer to the finality of it all. She is less present, less involved in the mundane, with her gaze turning more and more inwards. Although we are as connected in spirit as ever, I notice that she is asking fewer questions and is distant from life. I do not know how long it will be, years, or months.
What I do know, is that the presence of our ultimate undoing, of death, stirs up something so deep.
Seeing that change in her, knowing that we do not have much time left together, brought up the questions:
Am I living up to my commitments or am I letting my time go by?
How much time do I dedicate to living my legacy vs taking care of survival?
How much do I invest in being Love vs pleasing my identity, buying into my thinking and feeling?
How present am I to what matters vs to my to-do list?
How often do I stay true vs hold on to being right?
What am I willing to put on the line, in order to live a life that matters?

In this light, I saw everything – my life, my business, people around me. What are we talking about? What do we choose to spend our energy on? If I am to choose, here is the bottom line: I am here to support people, to liberate people from suffering, to support them in standing up for what is true, to lift the veil of pain and regrets, to bring people to their Light!
I am writing to say this: people, stop being so interested in your thinking and feeling, stop perpetuating your own suffering, stand up for yourself and get the guts to live what truly matters to you!!! For the sake of your own lives, get yourselves together and commit to something that really gets you going and, most importantly, go spend time with the ones you love and do not be stingy and give the people around you the gift of your presence! If you are alive – LIVE!!! You can be bored, right, on it, confused, resistant, some other time, but now, as long as your heart is beating – LIVE! Make a difference! Create! Enjoy! Celebrate!!! Go now, go!!!

“The Lean Startup” book: from a lean company to a lean (and happy) life

I am very fond of “The Lean Startup” by Eric Ries. What learnings from the Lean Startup approach can be applied to life in general? Here are some reflections. (NB – I am aware of the perils of such a reductionist approach and know that life is more complex than any analogy can possibly capture, yet, I cannot resist the temptation of comparing life to a startup. It is a metaphor, not more and not less).

1. Eric Ries writes that the goal of a startup is “to figure out the right thing to build – the thing customers want and will pay for – as quickly as possible” (p. 20). In life, we are our own customers, and the people in our environment are our stakeholders. Isn’t it the goal of life as well – to figure out what we want, what we are ready to invest our time, energy, talent in, to figure it out as quickly as possible, and then start living it? Isn’t it our goal to learn our lessons, integrate the learnings, and create a new, more advanced, “version” of life? I believe it is. We as human beings search for meaning, long to apply ourselves to a worthy cause. We are entrepreneurs operating in the setting of complexity and uncertainty. We try to create and promote a “product” that would make a difference. Our life’s vision and mission, our unique profile of talents and characteristics constitute our “product” – our essence, our selves ready to be given to the world. The “profit” we expect to leverage takes the form of happiness, love, and fulfillment. The question, therefore, is: how can I create my “product” (myself) in a way that maximizes my “profit” (happiness, love, and fulfillment)?
2. Creating the product, according to the Lean Startup method, goes on in stages of revisions and incorporating feedback. Ries urges companies to develop and ship their Minimum Viable Product (MVP) in its first version right away, without further ado. Developing the MVP, you should “remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek” (p. 110). Let’s say your life’s vision and mission is your MVP. It is tempting to spend years on discovering, refining, and polishing your uniqueness. Years can go by, and you will still not feel ready to get out there and make impact. What if you do not need to wait long until you can start making a difference? What actions can you take already today that take you closer to living your vision? And – what minumum requirements do you need to fulfill (what needs to be in place) for you to “ship” the first version of your “product”?
3. One of the cornestones of the Lean Startup method is soliciting and integrating customer feedback. As we live our lives, we constantly receive feedback from our environment. It shows up through the universe supporting our actions and giving us the green light – hints, shortcuts, chance meetings – versus the universe signaling that our actions are not in alignment with it. When we are stuck, bored, “unlucky”, or not successful, this means that something in our attitude is simply not working. Sometimes we are stubborn and unwilling to learn. We continue living the old version of our “product”, investing lots of effort into being right about it. The universe gently pushes us to reconsider our approach and adapt. We get the same lesson over and over again until we are finally able to acknowledge and integrate it. Thus, it is crucial to develop sensitivity to feedback, ability to recognize it, inregrate it, and initiate change basing on the learnings. What do I need to do to make my “product” work? What is missing and what is irrelevant? What do I need to let go of and what should I keep?
4. The Lean Startup highlights that companies make decisions basing on assumptions. This holds true for life: how often do we act assuming that this action will make us happy, bring us more money, get us new love, make people like us? Very often we base complicated schemes of action that come down to one simple, yet fundamentally flawed, assumption. To save yourself the pain of discovering the mistake too late, identify the assumptions that you base your “product” on, and then get into the field and test them. Is this really so or do you say/think that is so? What was it that you assumed about your “product” and environment that took you to where you are now?
5. “Waste not” is the Lean Startup mantra. It can work as a life mantra as well. What if we do not have as much time as we think? How would you live and what would you focus on if there was no tomorrow? What can you get rid of in order to live a more happy and meaningful life? The trick is to not only welcome the learnings, but also to learn fast. As the saying goes: if your horse is dead, stop riding it. And (I suppose it was Ram Dass who said it, but I am not sure) – when you got the message, put down the receiver.

Copyright © Violetta Pleshakova 2013