In the August of 2020 I was reflecting on the chaotic situation caused by the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our lifestyle and normality were disrupted at so many levels.
On a personal level, we might have lost private space, hobbies and activities, and many of us struggled to reinvent our own time. Personally, I had to drop Wing Chun classes and I haven’t resumed them yet, while keep training from home. Virtual sessions were short-lived and finally I was left to practice on my own.
At the social level, we had to forget the time we spent with friends and dear ones. Many families suffered a forceful separation. Virtual meetings, commonly used in the corporate world, became the one way to stay in touch. I wasn’t able to visit my family for two years, even losing some important events.
And finally, the business was heavily affected, too. I am sure you are familiar with the turmoil and the many redundant discussions about the pros and cons of remote working. In all this mess, I achieved a permanently remote job, which turns out to be my dream job, too! These few years of lingering on data science and analytics courses helped me land a job as Data Scientist this year, with all the perks.
What happened to me is what happened to all of us. We went through many changes, some were pleasant while others made the situation worse. We were forced to adapt – or we took the opportunity to move on.
Back in 2020, I wrote about a few things that I deemed essential to succeed, or at least survive, in critical situations like the one we have been stuck lately. Their common denominator is that they are all about self-mastery and control. Today I did some changes to that list, expanding on some points while readdressing others differently.
#1 – Critical Thinking
Critical thinking is the equivalent of articulating thoughts by separating facts from impressions, feelings and emotions, as well as making inferences about probable outcomes, and assessing risks.
It is useful to wash out the garbage from the news, and getting the facts straight. It is useful to see patterns in data or repeated events and behavior. We mostly adopt this way when we need to take important decisions. Doing a pro-con list is a form of critical thinking: we try to get all possible perspectives from a given situation before deciding what’s good for us.
It isn’t free from bias and emotional drive, but we can still use it to minimize their negative effect or harness their advantages, since these two things tell us a lot about ourselves.
If you did not read it yet, I recommend to checking your facts and getting them straight with Factfulness by Hans, Anna and Ola Rosling – the founders of GapMinder and DollarStreet.
This year, in addition to that, I recommend two further readings:
- Thinking, Fast And Slow, by Daniel Kahneman: a profound analysis of our cognitive biases and lack of natural statistical insight
- Prisoners of Geography, by Tim Marshall: a book that offers an exhaustive geopolitical perspective on what’s going on around the world based on historical events and distribution of natural resources.
#2 – Emotional Intelligence
Emotional competencies became more critical than ever in the last two years. Our conversations with colleagues, clients and family were subject to a massive transition to virtual meetings.
In order of importance, the content of the message is what should matter; however, being, just, human being, makes the format of delivery as important as the content. We know that messages and emails often aren’t that effective if compared to a one-to-one dialogue. Our brain craves non-verbal clues that help us assess the “untold”. Having screens as a barrier means to give up to every sign that comes from below the neck (that is, if you are lucky enough that the other person turned on the camera).
In a nutshell, the digital distance requires us to be even more emotionally competent than ever. That means to be able to understand our emotions in relation to events, but also to understand the ones of the other. Having empathy is no easy job in many circumstances; but by all means, it is essential to foster boundaries and connect. It was important before, and it is important now. Just, you may have realized the toll that your emotions have on your life.
Daniel Goleman boils down the neuroscience of emotions to the way it manifests in our life and social interactions, in his book: Emotional Intelligence (my review here). He does that by describing the triggers and different facets of our emotions and how we communicate them. When I read this book I realized many things about the way we behave, and why governing emotions is critical for our inner growth.
You must as well practice this on yourself: there are various devices to do that. One that I prefer in particular is a form of retrospective-introspective analysis that I do in my diary. You can read about it in my recent article: A Framework for Deep Introspection. This will allow you to actually work on both your critical thinking and emotional intelligence. You can take it one step further and rework your emotions, too.
Analytical Observation Situational Awareness
Situation Awareness means being aware of everything that is happening around you in a given moment. It requires focus, memory, and observation.
This is a skill set that might be easier to achieve than the level of observation I previously mentioned: the analytical observation which I described as “the ability to read small details and translate them into a hypothesis – especially from body language”.
Truth to be told, not everyone might be interested in, or have the right mindset for this kind of observation. However, situational awareness is easier to practice. The purpose of it is to achieve a higher degree of readiness, from preventing dangerous situations to happen to predict events. Here are some examples:
- We spend a big deal of time in front of our laptops, then we switch to our smartphones. That applies to the others: when driving a car, we must pay attention for our own sake as well as for them. We do not want to harm anyone more than we want to be harmed.
- The rise in popularity of electric scooters in big cities has brought new challenges to traffic regulation. There is not a week that I hear about an accident between a scouter driver and: a pedestrian, or a car, or a dog on a walk.
- Finally, I observed that people on the street tend to be more unstable than before the pandemic. Many have been hit by losing their job or their peace of mind. While some have it under control, others are literally loose cannons looking for trouble.
- It might be irrelevant for EU citizens, but it is worth mentioning that FBI data shows that purchase of guns in US rose during the pandemic. Shootings are also increasing (source). Do people feel more entitled to resolve their conflicts and disagreement with guns than ever? These aren’t just sociopaths – many people lose mental stability along the way, and we must acknowledge that.
You may have observed these things as well. The point is, even if we don’t want to be careless, we do not have 360-degree view. Some events happen too fast for us to realize. Thus, it is important to work on our situation awareness to face fewer risks. Body language, which I emphasized 2 years ago, is one facet of it. But the personal space and the environmental setting matter, too.
I really believe that situation awareness is more and more critical. I invested in these skills and I keep doing so. If you are looking for some formal training and continuous education, you should have a look at the Arcuri Group‘s offers, which I recommend.
The other is to start playing Kim’s Game, or learn some other memory skills.
#4 – Envisioning
Having the big picture is, in my opinion, a unicorn. Whatever picture we have, it is not complete. There are two reasons for that.
The first is a systemic error that propagates from our limited sources of information to our head which, together with our prejudices, gives us a specter of what the real thing is.
The second, is that many times there is not one, but many big pictures. Look at corporate transformations or even changes in law: uncountable reasons from many heads, and uncountable consequences.
Sometimes (read: very rarely), a state changes its law to benefit the citizens, without having a concrete idea of its positive and negative impact. Usually (read: very often) the citizens think of changes as a disservice, although sometimes (read it as it is) there are benefits in the long run.
The same happens at work: changes happen and we are not aware of all reasons behind them, but we make our own assumptions. Instead of basking in them, something we can do is to gather more information from reliable sources and reassess our view of things (critical thinking, wink-wink).
There is more to that. The Covid-19 forced all of us out of our comfort zone, while some decided to endure the changes, others became driven by quitting their job and going on their own. The Great Resignation which is riding over the business world these days sees people distrustful and dissatisfied due to a lack of meaning in their job, for they don’t see the big picture clearly – if there is any!
Are you envisioning a different future? One that provides you answers, real motivation, mutual respect, sustainable rhythms and equal pay? So, how to get there?
- Revise your dreams, break them down into achievable goals.
- Set priorities. Do they align with what you are doing right now?
- What can you do aside of your current job? Do you feel balanced?
- Can you describe your vision in a few, simple sentences?
- How does your vision (= where you want to be) translate into your mission (= how you want to get there)?
On this matter, you can consult my free-of-charge-and-subscription self-coach toolbox for more guidance.
While the world (myself included) praises mindfulness and many of us feel the urge to master it, there is a lot of misinformation on the matter – including the belief that mastering mindfulness is the ultimate solution to self-control, and to everyone’s mental worry.
Mindfulness is like situational awareness, but happens inside us. With mindfulness, we perform constant inner-check: what do we feel and how do we feel it, while we feel it. We may say that the practice follows a practical Gestalt approach when is cleansed by all the mysticism that surrounds it. It is, however, only a part of the complex organisms we truly are – it is a rational translation of our perceptions.
Self-Awareness, on the other side, has been the object of debate among philosophers, scientists and psychologists ever since. If you put together situational awareness (external perception and observation) with mindfulness (internal monitor), then you have self-awareness.
It is a very complex concept to be explained briefly in this article, but to make it more practical, our lack of self-awareness manifests in the most disparate ways: from unconsciously scratching our crotch in public to staring at someone without realizing it. Again, these are things you may have done, or observed in others. Surely, they bothered you more in the latter case: but that’s because you haven’t realized it when you did it yourself.
And again, self-awareness reflects in the way we behave and communicate. It is emotional control, observation, critical thinking, focus… You name it.
As with mindfulness, a way to work on self-awareness is through meditation. Regularly getting our own space to meditate and staying on our own helps us to refocus on ourselves. Sport and physical exercise give us, as well, a better understanding of our condition. It also tells us how happy we are with it, and if we feel balance.
Finally, it is good sometimes to ask others what they think about us. Feedback from “critical friends” is important to understand how areas of improvement.
Critical Thinking, Emotional Intelligence, Situational Awareness, Envisioning and Self-Awareness are 5 important elements to grow and succeed in life.
Things changed too quickly and too much. We may have been struck by Covid-19, wars, and possibly another economical recession; but there are always adversities in this world. Otherwise, it would be a perfect place.
While we cannot have an impact on everything – even if certain events have a strong influence on us, we own ourselves and can do better. And while improving ourselves, we are contributing to improving the world. Probably we just must be more active.