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Opportunities From Chaos

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Detroit down town

Detroit downtown

Louis Pasteur said, literally, that « luck only smiles to well-prepared minds ». Often, life does not happen as expected, and even though, you are prepared to deal with the unexpected, it is not impossible that you have to face the chaos.  What is precisely chaos?

There are few definitions of chaos, but in this present article, the following definition is the most appropriate. Chaos is a condition or place of great disorder or confusion.  And this disorder induces stress, a feeling for uncertainty or insecurity. The chaos is apprehended differently by each of us, and the induced stress is negative for some, and positive for others. Negative for some, because it is an unexpected change, the loss of references, the end of certainties. For others, it is the opportunity to build something new, to discover something new, to know oneself better. Yes, for some of us, chaos is a source of opportunities. It is only a question of mindset.

As freelance interim manager, I remember a colleague telling me the circumstances in which he became a freelance interim manager.  Working for several years for a multinational company, he was fired. It was the chaos for him, thinking that it would not be easy to find a new job. By contacting recruiters, one of them suggested to him to start a freelance interim manager, as he had a strong experience and background that can be valued in this kind of job.  When he started his first assignment, he came quickly to the conclusion that to be fired was probably the best thing that happened to him. Working as freelance interim manager was for him the opportunity to work on different assignments and so to have more diversity of work, the opportunity to learn faster and to build stronger skills. At this stage, the induced stress become positive by discovering a new challenge we are able to face, empowering our self-confidence.

Another example of chaos is the fall of the city of Detroit in the United States of America. Detroit was the capital of the automobile industry, “the Motor City” or “Motown”.  The 3 main cars brands, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, located in Detroit, in addition to a relocation of their production since 1950, experience an unprecedented crisis.  The consequences are the loss of 400.000 jobs since 2008. In some neighborhoods, the unemployment rate reaches 50%. And last but not least, in 2013, with a debt of 18.5 billion of dollars, the city is asking for bankruptcy.  Public services are disappearing and criminality is spreading. Detroit becomes a ghost city. At this stage, Detroit has no choice that to reinvent another future. Detroit is suffering the inequalities between people are important, but people who stayed in town remains united and are creating innovating solutions.  One source of urban resilience is the development of urban agriculture on the abandoned land, providing fresh food for a low price. What people can’t by, they are producing themselves. It is also the starting point of the development of a local economy integrating social justice and solidarity for the most disadvantaged people.  Alongside these initiatives, some investors like Dan Gilbert, invest in real estate renovations and recreate attractive neighborhoods. Dan Gilbert, native from Detroit, decided also to relocate his ten or so companies and around 12.000 employees in Detroit, and is investing in start-up projects in order to rebuild an economical network.  There is still a lot of work to do, but here, chaos was the opportunity to rebuild a city based on another paradigm.

Chaos appears as something negative, of course because it is the result of an imbalance situation, but also because it seems to have no solutions to go out of this situation. But the cause of such perception is also a question of mindset. In the example of Detroit, the chaos has a negative impact on the people who certainly suffer from poverty, insecurity, the unpleasant environment of a ghost city. But chaos is perceived as negative in the way that failure would be definitive and that there would be no other alternative. Such perception results also from the end of certitudes and the questioning of a model.

In our complex society, change is not a variable….but a constant. And change and certitude are antithetical. Change means evolution, but evolution is not always linear. Change is not necessarily a projection of the past, but is sometimes a change of paradigm, a disruption. Change does not mean necessarily chaos if we don’t consider failure as definitive and fatal, but an opportunity to learn and to build new alternatives. Perpetual change makes that it is more and more difficult to predict the future, and it is probably also a cause of anxiety in the face of it.

But facing chaos is something we can learn from, if we see it as an opportunity to experience new things and probably to know a bit better about ourselves. It is in the adversity that we can really learn who we are, what we are able to do. Malcom X quote says nothing else: “There is no better that adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” We cannot really know who we are if we don’t face hard times, or negative experience that gives another look at things. Such experiences make us stronger if we take this as an opportunity to learn. It makes us stronger, “anti-fragile” as described by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book of the same name. Antifragile is not the opposite of fragile. The opposite of fragile is unbreakable. If you drop a crystal glass on the floor, it will be broken, and this state will be different that the one before, but irreversible. If you do the same with a piece of metal, it will remain intact, in the same state, unbreakable. Anti-fragile is the stage when an object, or somebody, suffers a damage, so, changes of state but still reversible. A state where you keep track of a bad experience, but that makes you stronger because you learn from it. A state that triggers a process of resilience.

Chaos can make us stronger, more agile, and mostly if we can face it on a collective way. To come back to the example of Detroit, there are communities of people who decided that the falling of the city was not a fatality, but an opportunity to rebuild something new. They saw an opportunity to meet other people, to share knowledge, experience and skills, in order to build together a new project, a new vision of the future of the city. And knowledge, skills, are the only things each people have more than before when it is shared, contributing to empower our self-confidence. Chaos provides opportunities if we consider it as a catalyst that helps you get out of your comfort zone. It does not mean that chaos becomes something stressless, but induces a stress we have more control on, a stress inducing a positive energy to image and build new and innovative solutions.

 

Picture from Paul Barbieux (Brussels)

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Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

March 25, 2019 at 07:57

Utopia is a strength

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limitesWhat would be the world without utopia? It would be probably a world without dreams and hope.  A definition of utopia is the representation of an ideal society, the contrary of the reality. It can also refer to a reality that appears difficult to accept.  Utopia is considered as something irrational, so, unreachable and by consequence, each effort to reach it seems to be useless.

By such a definition, utopia has a negative connotation.  But considering utopia as a part of dreams, is a positive way to consider it and maybe to consider it as a strength. Let us remember this nice quote about utopia from Théodore Monod, saying that “Utopia does not mean the unrealizable, but the unrealized”. So, is utopia really something unreachable, unrealizable? Let us thing about few things to answer to that question.

Our utopias are a kind of dream guided by our own aspirations, by some values to which we adhere.  Most of the time, we have doubts to the realization of our utopias, maybe because we are referring to that perception of unreachable goal. But have we to see utopia as a final goal or as the path to move to another environment, to something new in accordance with our values and aspirations?  Utopia looks like unrealizable, but to try to get closer from our utopia can be an interesting walk for our personal life.

To reach our utopias induces an idea of movement. The most difficult part of the process is to start that movement, to start that inner walk by putting concrete actions in place. Sometimes, a phenomenon of procrastination appears to some of us, and is the sign of doubts, lack of motivation and self-confidence, seeing utopia as something irrational. Let us talk about an example. A lot of people wants to save the planet, and initiates concrete actions to contribute to that goal. For instance, you compost your household waste, in order to minimize the garbage bags you use and to decrease the ecological footprint of the elimination of household waste. Some people doubt and don’t start such action because they see such action as derisory on their individual level, compared to the overall effort that required to save the planet. But considering such action as derisory could be a way to hide your lack of ambition to face more ambitious challenges and your lack of commitment.

Commitment is probably the key element to shape your own utopias. Commitment to your values, commitment to the community, commitment to implement concrete daily actions in order to reach your goal, to live your own values. Without commitment to act, what is the meaning of values?
Commitment and actions are the conditions to start that walk to your utopias. The inner path along which you will put concrete actions making you discover new horizons and contributing to build communities sharing the same values, a path of learning along which you will shape your self-confidence and that will bring you closer to your values and ambitions, …closer to your utopias.

There are two different ways to see utopia. Or you see utopia as a barrier, a mental barrier, or you see it as a life motivation. We could say that utopia is not precisely a goal to reach but much more a state of mind. Not a goal we could name perfections, but a path leading to excellence, a path along which we discover a bit more ourselves, where we can reinvent ourselves. Don’t see utopia as a constraint, but as a motivation. Life is an utopia, utopia is a strength.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 14, 2019 at 08:42

Culture is good for morale

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img_2572Few weeks ago, I was listening to a podcast on the web talking about culture. According to the chronicler, referring to the book “Sauver la culture” (Save the culture) from Patrick Béziers, culture is an efficient antidepressant. How to reach this conclusion?

Culture is in the books, in the museums, theater, photography, in the painting, in languages and many other things. All these forms of culture express emotions, ideas, are sources of inspiration and an excellent way to stimulate serendipity. Just to remind you, serendipity is the fact to discover or invent something unexpectedly as a result of a fortuitous combination of circumstances, and often as part of a search of another subject.  In other words, it’s finding something other than what you’re looking for.

Culture can make us discover new horizons, and discover new center of interest or hide talents. For instance, you take your children to see a photo exhibition, and after, they would like to try to take photos too. It will be probably an opportunity to discover a new passion, to visit places to make a small photo trip and to learn things about these places. A kind of virtuous circle feeding your culture and knowledge.

Another example, as member of a non-profit association, you are asked to be the community manager and to take care about the blog or the website of the association. You discover the pleasure to write, to relate events or news from the association, or to develop a topic related to the object of the association. With the time, you develop the talents of chronicler or writer, you learn about social media world. On other words, you develop transversal skills.

img_2573Based on these two examples, we can say that culture allows you to find your potential of creativity. In the example of the chronicler for the non-profit association, you start first by writing editorials or articles, then you improve your writing style, you try to develop original ideas you will communicate about. Based on that acquired experience, you can think about opportunities to develop your passion to write. If you build a good reputation thanks to the quality of your writing style, why not to develop a commercial activity as writer or content provider?  What is important and we will see why, is to define a goal that will motivate you to improve your skills, to push your limit ever higher, in order to catch new possibilities.

Why is it important to push your limit higher? Because it is a good way to reinvent yourself, to be more creative and to imagine to start a new activity, a new life. You are not afraid of the future, and you are enough self-confident to move to unknown territories, to new experiences. Looking back, you will find that your life did not go as you thought, and that the fear of the future is a bit irrational. Only self-confidence will help you to face the future, and your capabilities will be a good way to empower your self-confidence.  The famous quote, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”, credited to both Abraham Lincoln and Peter Drucker, make sense.  The self-confidence has a positive impact on your moral. That is why culture that is part of knowledge, is the basic element to build future projects, to develop happiness. That is why culture is good for moral.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

January 9, 2019 at 19:42

Switching from consumerism to freedom

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IMG_0479

A second hand clothes shop in Brussels

This week, I read an interesting article about digital nomads in the Belgian economic magazine, Trends-Tendances. In this article, an IT entrepreneur explains that he decided to work as a digital nomad, in order to break the routine, to visit other countries and discover new things that can feed your knowledge and creativity. Before to start this new life, he decided to sale all the stuff he did not need anymore. His conclusion was that such decision has a liberating effect.

In his book How to be idle, Tom Hodgkinson, a British writer and editor of “The idler”, explains that he decided one day to leave London and to live in the country in a farm, and to adopt a simpler lifestyle, avoiding consumerism.  In his book, he explains that our current society is based on consumerism, and that we spend time doing a job not always enjoyable, in order to reimburse debts.

I mention these two examples, because I experienced the same thing few months ago.  As freelance consultant and interim manager, I decided to redirect my activities in another segment of business, working for SME instead of big and multinational companies. Like any business you start, it takes time to build a portfolio of customers, and when you have the first contact with a potential customer, it takes few months before to conclude an collaboration agreement, if the customer decides to contract your services.

In order to prepare this new activity on financial level, I set up a budget. In one of the different scenarios, counting on a low level of revenue, I reviewed each line of expenses in order to cut what was not necessary. A huge expense item I cut was the car expenses. In Brussels where I live, the public transportation is the most efficient way to move. In a precedent article, I explained how I made my time profitable by using public transportation by reading books. By using public transportation modes, owning a car that most of the time was parked along the sidewalk, was expensive and totally useless. As in many cities, I can use car sharing systems too, and I have the chance too to share a car with a family member.  One of my thoughts and my feeling about such decision was too a liberating effect.

How to explain this liberating effect? In this transition period, as far as the trend is on line with my budget, I have more time to do things to prepare the future, more time to do things I like to do. I take this opportunity too to meet people in order to expand my network, to do self-training sessions to expand my knowledge. At the end of the day, I have the feeling to get more satisfaction about what I did during the day.  The result of this brainstorming is to focus on doing things I like the most. But what about the revenue generated by this new activity. Will it be the same than previously? Probably not as the available budgets in SME are not comparable with large companies and the duration of assignments will be shorter.

How to deal with this constraint? There, I come back to the two examples I mentioned to begin this article. The IT entrepreneur sold his stuff before to switch to his nomad worker career, and noticed that he did not use the three quarters of what he had in his cupboards.  Another way to say that most of the time, we buy stuff because we are influenced by ads, by modes, by marketing, by the feeling to make a good deal, but not by real necessity.  Same finding done by Tom Hodgkinson. We are buying things we don’t really need and for some purchase are made on credit, generating interests. So people are obliged to take any job they don’t like in order to reimburse debts. They are slaves of the consumerism, of a stupid consumerism. Of course, each of us we consume products and services, but there are interesting alternative to consume smartly.  Buy what you really need. Buy second hand stuffs, it is good for the planet and for your wallet.

Finally, the question is to know if consumerism is a barrier to freedom, and if yes how to switch from consumerism to freedom?  It is a difficult process but not impossible to implement. It takes time to switch from our habits to other habits. The key of the process is motivation. As we need to work to earn money, the question is do you work only to earn more and more money or do you want to have a work  you enjoy and where you can develop yourself? Is the quality of your work more important than the fact to own a big car? What is really important in your life, what bring you satisfaction and pleasure? It only depends from your own choice, it is your own decision.  The decision to become an actor, the actor of your own life, and not only a consumer, but a smarter consumer.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 17, 2018 at 08:23

Seniority is an asset

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Seniors workersAs many other criteria like race, gender, or social level, seniority is often an element of discrimination. When companies are operating restructuring processes, it is often the seniors who are fired. Most of the time, there are considered as a cost for the company, and less productive than the youngest. It is a short term vision, and a purely financial logic that doesn’t care about the quality level of work provided by people.

Productivity and creativity are not a question of age. It is a question of mind. Some people are always in a learning mode. In an ongoing changing world, they live with their time and consider learning new things as new opportunities. The key of such way of life is motivation. As far as you define and attribute goals matching with people competences, experience and expectations, you can only have motivated people who will give the best of themselves.

Experience and knowledge are advantages of seniority, as far as you learn from them. Experience means that you are doing mistakes. As far as you are aware and learn from your mistakes, it is an asset that completes your knowledge base and allows you to anticipate similar situations in future projects.

I remember a collaborator at a customer who was nearly 64 years old. As financial guy, he was computer literate and had among other things a high level of database management knowledge. But to reach such level of knowledge is not done overnight. It was the result of hours and hours of self-training and experimentation. He had probably a good salary as a senior, but how can we evaluate a salary if you don’t take into account the level of productivity and creativity. With his database knowledge, my colleague creates applications to do the job of one day in 30 minutes, and providing more information and more accurate.  So, when companies are looking for gains of productivity, is age the right criteria of people selection without considering experience and knowledge? I don’t think so.

Another example: few years ago, I met a woman during an entrepreneur week-end. When she went on retirement, she decided to do her first steps with computers and to discover internet.  After few time, she followed a special training in order to audit websites about their accessibility for people having problems of vision. She built a strong community on the web and is attending co-working places.  Here again, the acquired competences are not a question of age but a question of mind.

Of course, in a fast and ongoing changing world, seniors like youngest must question themselves.  Seniors who worked on several projects and assignments acquired a lot of experience. But what is important is the capacity to perceive the changes of the environment and to transpose their experience into a new context.  Experience does not mean that seniors reach a summit where they know everything and have answers to each challenge and problems.  Seniors have experience, and youngest people have new visions about the future of business, of society. What is interesting is the combination of senior experience and young people visions that can lead to creating innovative processes.

Seniors can be an asset for organization as long as they consider that age is not a criteria to stop to learn and to progress. They are an asset if they are aware about their potential and if they see changes as opportunities that can enrich their personal journey. They are also an asset if they share experience, knowledge and journey with juniors. Transmission is probably a key role they can play in favor of young generations. The conditions to value seniority are first that seniors themselves have always a project and don’t see age as a barrier, and secondly that their value is recognized as an asset. This implies a long term vision. As this African proverb says: “Along we go faster, together we go further”.

 

Picture source: money.usnews.com

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

December 10, 2018 at 06:42

Breaking Down Our Mental Barriers

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Le penseur de Rodin

Le Penseur – Rodin

Few months ago, I was diagnosed with a serious health problem. When the doctor told me that I should consult a specialist, it was a bit a shock for me, as I never had any health troubles during my whole life. The information collected on Internet about that problem was not to reassure me, as the statistics of that disease were not very good. Only 15% of people survive within the 5 years. The chance I had is that a member of my family talked with me about his brother who was diagnosed with the same disease more than 3 years ago, and who has a normal life. These comforting words made me think that it was senseless to panic before to have more information and a detailed diagnostic from the specialist about the situation.  After consulting the specialist and further medical investigations, the doctor announced me that the diagnostic was done just in time, and that I could hope to a complete healing.  Of course, it will be only the result of a medical treatment and a surgery, but at that time, I was thinking that I had to create the condition to succeed in that process. I was surprised by myself, about my resilience capacity. I was thinking the only thing I could do was to face the situation  and to reach the goal. Because I have no choice.

That experience, and I prefer to talk about experience than hardship that sounds negatively, make me thing about a metaphor I use when I doubt to start a project or to take a decision. I imagine I am at the edge of a swimming pool and I hesitate to dive in the swimming pool because I am not sure there is enough water in it. Probably that most of us are hesitating every day to take a decision because there are constraints and we are wondering how to deal with or if we want to assume these constraints. But here, in my present situation, I was thinking again about that metaphor. I was no more at the edge of the swimming pool but already falling in the swimming pool. In this case, the question was not to make a choice between an option or another, because you have only one option, but to take a decision. The decision to do all what is possible to succeed in my healing. And at this stage, I am still facing the situation, my moral is always on the top. I discover my capacity of resilience, and by this way empowering my self-confidence. But I also notice another important thing: I crossed a mental barrier.

In certain cases, our mental barriers are totally irrational. For instance, when an airplane crashes, some people hesitate to take one, or say that airplanes are dangerous. In the meantime, how many people die on a daily basis in car accidents? Much more but the difference is that most of the time, the information is not related in the media, and the number of victims in a car accident is lower than in an airplane crash, so less spectacular.  Statistically, you have more chance to die in a car accident than in an airplane crash. And who can predict that tomorrow, you will receive a roof tile on your head when leaving home? Nobody knows.  In fact, life without risks doesn’t exist and some risks levels are so low that taking a decision to change something in your life will not put you in bad shape.

Other mental barriers are more rational. For instance, people hesitate to change of job or to launch their own business, because they have loans to reimburse, they have to pay school fees for their children, etc. If they could have more certainties about the potential success they want to reach, they will probably make a faster choice. Does it mean that having to deal with constrains, transforming dream into reality is impossible? Certainly not. Having to deal with constraints is probably an opportunity to review your priorities in life. The desire to change can be intense, but change needs time, it doesn’t come overnight.
You probably think, for instance that entrepreneurs like more risks than other people and are taking decisions more easily. This affirmation is not necessarily true. Entrepreneurs are people who are more inclined to take risks, but they often first try to measure and evaluate risk, they are considering also what they are ready to lose.  What you should do to foster your decision is to consider all the constraints you have to deal with, and that are a part of your mental barriers, are essential in your life. Do you really need to have a big car? Do you need to have the last version of smartphone? All these things that weigh in your budget, that make you no more happy, and that are reducing your room of action. If you have a smaller car, a smaller home, but you the job you really want to do and not the one that pay a better salary to pay debts, you will be more happy, spending more time with your children, doing activities and hobbies that are opportunities to meet new people, to open new doors. In few words, reconsider your priorities in order to remove all these things creating mental barriers.

It is obvious that how bigger are our dreams, how impossible it seems to realize them. As already said, change doesn’t come overnight. Before considering ambitious challenges, consider first small challenges, like some habits you could change in your daily life. To use a metaphor, before to climb the Mount Everest, try to climb first a chair.  Each small challenge you will face, each small change you will do, will be an opportunity to learn, to discover new things, hide talents, or what else. Small changes will empower you step by step, and maybe guide you to more ambitious challenges. Considering big challenges first is sometimes the best way to do not start, or to hide the fact you are scared to start, by claiming that the task is not easy.

Our mental barriers are often the results of the environment we are living, where we try to secure everything. The only thing that is certain is the uncertainty. This uncertainty does not prevent us from doing things, taking decisions every day that make an enjoyable life. Time to time, we are facing failures, difficulties.  It is unavoidable, but it doesn’t mean that our entire life is a failure. A failure is an opportunity to learn and to progress, if we decide to face it on a positive way. Life is a journey, where each experience will drive you to the next one. It is the difference between living and only existing.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

October 30, 2018 at 08:53

The Motivations Of Change

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IMG_2272After times of reflection, I decided to sale my car and to use alternative transportation modes. I am the owner of a car since nearly 30 years and to take such decisions doesn’t come overnight.  Such change is never obvious, as the car is a comfortable way of transport. There are multiple reasons why I decided to take this decision. Some are evident, other are less so.

The first reason why I decided to use other ways of transport is the cost that represents the car for the usage I have of it since few years. Like in many cities, Brussels where I am living, is facing problems of mobility. The traffic is increasing every years, and when you calculate the average speed of movement, you are nearly going faster by walking. I am a bit joking, but for instance, during my last assignment as freelance project manager, I was spending more than an hour in the morning to drive 18 km to join my customer office. Considering this as senseless, I decided to take the metro, and I noticed that it took me a bit less time than with the car, but the difference was that I can use the time spent in the metro to read a book. I was feeling less stressed and had the feeling to have learned something by reading, avoiding to waste time. One of the consequences of using less my car is that the fixed costs are expensive for a low usage.  Insurance and taxes represent expensive charges for a car parked 99% of the time along the sidewalk.

Despite the possibilities of other transportation ways (metro, car-sharing, bicycle), I was still hesitating for a while to do the step, considering that it could be possible that I could need my car a day for a reason or another.  The reason was that I never know in advance where my next customer will be located, and if it will be possible to go there in a reasonable time.  And then, I started another reflection. I have several activities, and to do them on a regular basis and in relaxing mode, what you need is….time. So I was considering if I would still ready to lose hours in traffic jams or in a long distance on a daily basis, to work for a customer. The answer was clearly “No”.  Brussels and around is a city where most of the economic activity is concentrated, offering enough opportunities, and to spend hours and hours on the road is not the best way to make your day profitable.

Then, by considering the way to work and the constraints I was ready to assume, the argument of the transportation cost was a key element in my decision. After evaluating the cost of a bundle of transportation modes (metro, car-sharing, train), I evaluated that it would represent nearly maximum 50% of my car budget. When you buy a new car, you have an increase of depreciation costs, you contract an extra insurance premium, and it means that you need revenues to cover these costs.  And then, another reflection started in my mind. By reducing the transportation costs, it would allow me to get more choice of opportunities. I would have more freedom of choice, by working for an interesting project matching with my expectations and my values, instead of working only to earn money and pay invoices.  And it is probably the real question that must be asked: why am I working for?  As freelancer, am I working to pay a car or am I working to be happy by building my own project?

By writing this article, I remember a conference of Luc de Brabandere, a Belgian consultant specialized in creativity. Luc De Brabandere mentions that each change needs two steps to be effective. The first one is to change the way we are doing things, and the other one is the way we perceive that change.  In my case, when I started to take the metro, and when I found the opportunity to read books in the metro, the question was not how long will it take to reach the office, but what can I do during that time.  So the perception of time and the perception of moving is different. This is an interesting point and somebody was telling me recently that philosophers and neurosciences specialist are in opposition. Philosophers say that everybody is able to change and that it is only a question of will. Neuroscience specialists say that it is more complicated than that. They say that when we are doing something, there is always an associated emotion, and that emotion is printed in the reptilian brain. As far as that emotion is not replaced by another emotion, the effective change process is difficult and will not happen.  Here, in my experience, the pleasure to read books and to learn was higher than the pleasure to the comfort of a car, and so a new positive emotion has been printed in my brain.

Change is complex process that doesn’t come overnight. It implies another way to think and to represent things, to consider the direct and indirect advantages that the change provides.  A change has to be desired and not imposed, and there is a time needed to integrate it. But you will notice that to start such process is a way to discover new opportunities and to move to a more enjoyable life. The key is to find the deepest motivations of your life.

Written by Eric Saint-Guillain

October 20, 2018 at 14:53