All posts by Maria Boicova-Wynants

Family Life CEO: Mother of two, mediator, personal buddy: wise friend for rent (check out my website for more info), gardener, golfer & creative chef. One day will have my own coffee bar & vineyards

The power of a streak

One very intensive day of language training can teach you something, but in general, it will not improve your knowledge significantly. However, consistent 15-minutes a day is sure to bring results.

One very intensive day of sports training can teach you something, but the same as with a language, it will neither significantly improve your sporting abilities, nor your condition. However,… you guessed it right! Consistent even only 15-minutes a day exercises will render much more sustainable results.

I have been talking about the power of small steps for a while, but here is an important add-on to it —

coupled with the power of a streak, you will be surprised how far you can get.

The most important caveat here is consistency. When I say “every day”, that means “EVERY day!”. With all capitals in “every” and an exclamation point at the end. 🙂

No excuses like “I will skip today because I am so tired…” or “I will have to skip today because we are going to that party”. Nope. That doesn’t work like that. If one day is lost, the streak is lost. As simple as that.

In the language app I am using (Duolingo), my streak recently crossed 200 days mark. That means that for more than 200 hundred days EVERY single day I spent at least 15 minutes doing exercises in Dutch. I can tell you, it got me far! As far as being able to have a fluent conversation in Dutch at a party we attended last month. For the record, Duolingo is of course not the only source of learning for me, as the app is more for practicing and — which is probably the most important — for streak-keeping.

Now, the last part is actually very important.

It is a pure psychological trick — a “satisfaction-banana” for our “monkey-brain”. If we see the counter and it is consistently increasing, after a very short while it is kind of sad to lose this streak. For instance, you have already the proverbial 21-days (needed to form a habit), you would not want to go back to zero and start all over, would you?

(Even more, if you do, there is a big chance that you will not pick it up again).

Keeping streak helped me make the learning of Dutch into a daily habit, but it likewise worked for 5 minutes of meditation, a daily plank, and some other small habits – my small steps – of improving my life. Thus I wholeheartedly believe that streak-keeping is an important power working together with the power of small steps towards getting to any big hairy audacious goals you can come up with.

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Don’t mistake possibilities for probabilities

Anything is possible — that’s inspiring and in a way assuring phrase. Indeed, anything can become possible with the right targeted effort and… with the right conditions. Now, this is a tricky one. The right conditions can be just there or they can be created. How probable is that both the effort and conditions will materialize is a completely different question.

To give some examples, it is perfectly possible for me to learn Chinese. If someone else has ever succeeded in doing so, why wouldn’t I? Well, what is the probability that I will learn Chinese? Pretty low. It is not one of my goals nor even dreams. Therefore, despite the theoretical possibility, it will remain impossible for me, or better — it is improbable.

It is theoretically possible for me to become an athlete. Even now in my thirties, if I put all my efforts into reaching this goal, I am convinced I will get myself there. At the expense of what? Pretty much everything I guess, so the probability of this event is likewise pretty low.

If I would put percentages, practically everything where there is at least a tiny chance of occurrence is possible. There are examples of successes that defy all odds. Like a million to one, and still… a possibility is a possibility. However, the probability is a likelihood of occurrence, which can easily be close to zero for this or that reason.

This difference sounds pretty obvious, yet the problem arises when a person mistakes a possibility for probability. If someone says: “It is impossible!”, what is meant on many counts is not that it is impossible, but rather that: “It is improbable!”. Slight nuance, but a huge difference in meaning.

In his book “Principles” Ray Dalio explicitly stressed: “anything is possible. It’s probabilities that matter.” and I cannot agree more.

The price of getting what you want…

There is a phrase which is literally haunting me recently.

I was following a course on writing and, when studying about Neil Gaiman, I came across a quote from one of his books:

But he did not understand the price. Mortals never do. They only see the prize, their heart’s desire, their dream… But the price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.”

Reminiscent of the classic “be careful what you wish for”, Gaiman’s version makes the idea sound much more powerful. Imagine that your dreams of, say, ten years ago suddenly realized? It could very well be that some of your wishes you still cherish and long for, but in ten years people tend to change. At least I did. Ten years ago I had a different life, different wishes, different dreams, and desires. Lots of things changed since then and by “lots of things” I mean — everything!

It could be that you cannot relate to the ten-year span. Take 20. Or 15. Maybe 30. You see, the number does not really matter. The truth is, that we tend to change, so do our dreams. Sometimes we realize that we have misunderstood ourselves; sometimes we better understand the price we need to pay, the opportunity costs if you will.

Be careful what you wish for.

I try. I have always tried. However, having heard that phrase of Gaiman I suddenly felt a cold shiver down my spine. There are things I wanted, which by no means would I want now. They would cost me too much. I would even accept never to have things that I do want at this moment if the price for them is… having those old dreams realize.

“The price of getting what you want is getting what you once wanted.” — a scary thought.

On the other hand, would that mean that we should not dream at all out of the fear of dreaming “wrong”? I don’t think so either. I believe in the power of dreams, and in the power of dreaming. I wouldn’t want to forgo it. However, some of our dreams take hold of us and we give them all our energy. Those dreams can become our obsessions and that is where the trouble might be lurking. Even though it is impossible to predict what kind of people we will become in the future, what would our situations be, and what new dreams will arise in us, we are able to learn to understand ourselves now, in this very moment. We are able to understand what is it we are actually dreaming of. Moreover, with some reflection, we are also perfectly capable of understanding the opportunity costs.

In my work as a mediator and as a personal buddy (“wise friend for rent”) I have seen many situations when a person thinks s/he wants something, but s/he actually hasn’t reflected on that wish good enough. By “good enough” I mean understanding (1) why? and (2) what is s/he willing to pay?

You might have heard of the psychological exercise the “five why’s”. In essence for any dream or ardent wish, you have to ask yourself “why?” five times (or at least as many as needed to get to the core).

Let’s take the following hypothetical example: I want to travel around the world.

  • because I like exploring new cultures and new places;
  • because it enriches my life with experiences;
  • because I see differences and reflect on them, and that makes me question things I am accustomed to;
  • because in that way I can improve my life;
  • because I believe in progress and making progress makes me happy.

Note that for every subsequent answer there are also options other than traveling around the world. Basically every “because” comes with a set of assumptions. You assume that traveling around the world would allow you to explore new cultures for example. Maybe it will, but that largely depends on the way you intend to travel and things you are planning to do while traveling. However, maybe your underlying wish of exploring new cultures could be realized by being active in the local expat community. It might very well be that traveling around the world still is the right way for you. Nevertheless, it is good to understand that there are also other ways to cater to your underlying needs. Be it as it may, every dream comes with a price; and before vesting too much energy in that dream, it is best to understand its price.

Unconscious habits passed through generations

One of my habits which my husband finds annoying is that I never finish my tea. Usually, I would leave a teabag in to get my tea strong enough, yet by the moment I reach the very bottom of the cup, those last drops are already way too strong and no longer tasty. So I leave them. It actually never occurred to me that it was something weird. Moreover, before recently I had no idea why do I actually do it like I do. It dawned on me, when my mother was visiting us recently and I made her a cup of tea. The puzzle pieces fell in place… 

There is a story I heard in several iterations, where a kid is asking her mother why does she always cut off the ends of the sausage before baking. The mother couldn’t answer anything else, but that her own mother was doing it like that as well. So the kid goes to her granny, who is likewise ignorant of the reasons and encourages to ask the great-granny. The old lady three generations up replies with the question: ”Oh, you are not still frying on that small pan, do you?”.

That story and revelation about my tea drinking habit origins made me think about habits in general, or better about unconscious habits passed through generations. The way we do laundry, brush our teeth, fold clothes, or boil eggs (I had a separate post on the last one – check it out here: Understanding people and what hard-boiled eggs have to do with it ) is something we probably do without much thinking. We learned it by mimicking our parents, who probably learned it from theirs and so on. Nevertheless, the “pan” we use might already be significantly different. I wonder how many other habits have we acquired unconsciously? What if we ask a question of whether they are still relevant? What if we ask the proverbial “why”? What if the underlying assumptions no longer hold? 

Another facet is, of course, to which extent should we go in our questioning spree? The beauty of a habit is that it saves us, let’s call it, brain battery. If we would do absolutely all things consciously by the end of the day we would probably just be depleted. Nevertheless, some degree (and I am still convinced that higher is better than lower) of consciousness and inquisitiveness is good to have. At least then we would be able to spot the “changed pan” situations and make timely changes.

What do you think? Do you have habits it is time to question?

The silently allowed discrimination

Had a meat-eater written something like: “Learn to love meat. If you don’t love it, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with these simple steps:…”, vegetarians would have gone berserk. Frankly, I would not appreciate such a style either, as that excludes the possibility of making a choice. However, when a lark is writing something like: “Learn to wake up early. If you don’t love to wake up early, you don’t know how to do it right. It’s the best for you. Start with those simple steps:…”, owls just suck it up. But wait, isn’t that the same narrative just in a different context?

Moreover, this narrative keeps on coming at you in all forms possible: “you definitely need to write the Morning pages!”, “The best time is Morning!”, “It is scientifically proven that a person is most effective in the Morning!”, ”Let me teach you how to start waking up early!” — that’s just by skimming through several pages of popular public speakers and coaches. The silently allowed discrimination! Well, I do not know which science has proven what, but I am dangerously aggressive (LOL) before at least 8 or better 9 in the morning … Am I doomed? Efficiency and balance are not for me by definition?

Actually if one looks around, it might seem like a conspiracy. The social life seems to be made by and for the larks, which personally, I consider to be the cruelest injustice of this world. I will tell you more: if you dare to openly admit that you prefer to work at night, very often you can hear sympathy or comments like: either you do not know how to organize your day, or you cannot prioritize. “You steal your own efficiency!”, “You crush your balance!”, and as a cherry on the pie: “You should just try, you will get used to it!”.

You can, of course, get used to almost everything, but this does not mean that you will feel good about it, nor that it is actually the best way. And if it doesn’t seem to work for you… why would you torture yourself?

I would like to conclude my slightly emotional narrative by stressing that the matter of conscious choice is relevant not only in respect of global issues, but also in connection with certain small habits and actions. There are no one-size-fits-all approaches. There are no magic transformations of owls into larks either. It all starts with knowing yourself, your needs and also your limitations. Most importantly, if it works for Tony Robbins (or anyone else, pick your favourite!), it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will work for you. Thus, if you are more comfortable in the shadow of the night, start writing “Night pages” — they will be just as good and much more natural for you.