Culture and Habits

My talk at #dareconfUSA* is focused on making learning a habit to uncover new opportunities. I will be using a personal example of my journey into learning English to illustrate the value of saying yes to new experiences and how to go about it.

Mastery takes time, but not necessarily just in a physical sense of managing our time, though that is part of it. It's also about learning to appreciate where we put our energy (that's where our focus falls) and how far into time we project ourselves (where the attention goes.)

We tend to see things better in retrospective only after we accept to learn from our past. So whichever way you turn it, acceptance and awareness are part and parcel of the pursuit of better. Experience teaches us that all is temporary, including us, and that is how we eventually learn to be more present to what happens right now.

My mastery of English did not come easily — because I literally had to rewire my brain to think myself into existence in another culture before I could enjoy the experience fully. And I am still working on it five million blog words, and millions of conversations later.

The Internet and instant communication with anyone in any part of the globe holds much promise. Technology is and enabler, but it still comes down to reaching out and making choices to activate that potential. It comes down to habits, working with our defaults — which involves change via routines, etc.

This change, however, first happens in our mind, with how we think. From the early days when I was working as a translator in the developmental field I have come to appreciate that we can change our brain — we can literally rewire it. Like I did by learning another language and culture. 

Our mind is a much harder thing to change. Because our identity and the story we tell ourselves about who we are are tied to it. In organizations this mechanism balloons with scale.

Though we now have a few biographies and books about Steve Jobs that provide good food for thought on the value of changing our mind — and in doing it without much drama — this is still the exception in mainstream culture. 

Changing our own mind is an acquired habit. It's made more doable with feedback. By understanding which habits are good for us and which are better — as in better things will happen, we will get closer to what we want better. Maybe we'll even figure out what we (really) want, after all.

We have the power to change things

Yet to unlock it, we often first need to change our mind. Our thinking is that important. Mel Robbins' phrase in her TEDx Talk# if you are in your head, you are behind enemy lines is a valuable reminder. How many times do we approach situations with our mind already made up? We look in the mirror that way, too.

David at Raptitude says there is a small habit# that could make a big difference — that small habit is our default on how we think about strangers:

In our culture, the default is to treat strangers with indifference at best.

If we agree that culture is often more important that strategy — because it is the place we come from where we make/don't make those decisions that impact us — then we owe it to ourselves to understand it. Or at least attempt to.

Culture scales up and down with countries, regions, cities, communities, groups, organizations. We also have a personal culture. Steven Pressfiled says#:

As artists and entrepreneurs we must design, construct, and perpetuate an interior culture that is as vivid, unique, and self-empowering as that of the corporations and institutions we work with and compete against.

We all have it, we just need to first find it, then construct and reinforce it:

When we embark on our hero’s journey, we are seeking our individual culture, whether we realize it or not. The climax of that journey is our discovery of that voice, those gifts, that unique point of view.

How easy or hard the journey from discovery to intentional design depends on our degree of attachment to the way things are. Culture empowers and supports our actions. When a brand is real, it is both expression and experience. The interplay of identity and behavior in culture is well documented in literature — plays, poems especially. A discussion of the most famous thing Jean-Paul Sartre never said# [via David] is a good example:

[…] the characters are in hell because they are trivial, pretentious people. This is Sartre’s satiric point: they are in hell because they are petty-bourgeois. Their concern for the world goes only as far as the extent to which the world services their needs. When it doesn’t adequately cater to their desires, they blame the world and the people in it – that is, they say that “hell is other people.” Au contraire, the people in No Exit are in hell because they themselves made the decisions that put them there.

In blaming “other people” the characters in the play, Sartre says, are pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

It does sound like Sartre was quite familiar with the work of Dante Alighieri. The Divina Commedia is one of the 12 books that changed my life.


* To attend register here. To volunteer, apply here (by April 24.)