To Emmanuel

Dear Emmanuel,

it was a pleasure to meet you. I know you may be looking at my blog. Here is a reading recommendation to you: Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet. 
It is an insightful book and very soothing the way Rilke writes about all these puzzling pieces of life. 

Keep on writing.
Kind regards,

Is it OK to analyze relationships?

©Everton Vila on Unsplash
Thursday night I had a  conversation that made me reflect deeply on the way we experience relationships. 

The lady I was talking to was concerned to rationally analyze the emotional bondages involved in a relationship. She had just been shown a model that served as an eye-opener to her, but also made her feel guilty.

On Friday I happened to read in Martin Buber's book "Me and You" about the two foundational experiences. He argued that the situation in which I am in the "Me and You" state is a state without reflection, only presence. However, this state inevitably needs to transform into other situations, where I experience the other, I reflect upon them etc. The lady I talked to may have been concerned about transitioning between the feeling whole in the first situation and cognitively reflecting, i.e. leaving this wholeness.

Taking a step back to analyse relationships may feel very strange, even like committing sin, because as a kid, relationships form the foundation on which we grow. Even if a child grows up in a dysfunctional family, it will not question the parents. Analysing relationships is therefore something that does not come naturally to us. 

However, analysing may be another way to help us grow. I think that good relationships will change naturally over time. Others may be good in a specific situation but may start limiting us. Having some tools to see ourselves from different perspectives can empower us to take on roles that we want to and disengage from roles that limit us. Mind you, I don't mean to say that the other party is willingly holding us back. Sometimes it is unhealthy patterns that emerge in relationships, sometimes the perspective of the other holds us down, but I guess, most frequently it is ourselves that hinder us from achiving our own potential or the potential of the relationship. 

What do I mean? If I hold the belief that grandma should not be alone over the holidays, I may be serving my image of  myself as the loving grandchild. If I don't take my assumption for granted, but instead, ask grandma what she wants to do over the holidays and then voice what I would like to do, I may arrive at a new level of interaction. There may be some conflict in there, too, but there is a chance that grandma and myself have a very different conversation. 

I am saying this to advocate for self-care and for empowerment. If I cannot take care of my needs, how should I be able to truly take care of the needs of someone else's? I also don't think that analysing relationships inevitably means that you are cold-blooded and calculating. Of course, you can distort the analysis into that direction. But if you also put the interest and well-being of your counterpart as well as affected others into your considerations, and do not rush to conclusions, you may arrive healthily and steadily at making new, positive discoveries in your connections.

Tipping points 2 – escapes and saving strategies

®Jakub Kriz on Unsplash
After writing about the tipping point, where a personal principle for success turns into a self-limitation, I could not help reflecting on the things we do, to avoid realizing that we are at a tipping point.

The first strategy is to allow exeptions from the rule. To take a simple example, the principle "I don't eat sweets". This may be a very helpful principle for eating healthy or keeping weight. But let`s imagine a hike on which your healthy snack stayed safely at home. The only thing your hiking partner has to offer is a bar of chocolate. Trivial? Maybe. But the point is not the single exeption. The point is that over time you may get so many exeptions to the rule that the principle gets to be only an abstract ideal, whereas your everyday behavior is directed by the exeptions. Storytellers love this discrepency, normal people hate it.

The second strategy is to escape from having to examining a principle. Let`s take "the customer is always right". But what if your customer tells you that your company will not make it to market with the new technology you are developing? The simplest escape is to drive to the conversation to safer grounds (escape). But what if your customer insists?  You may start having second thoughts, you may be wondering, how much the customer really knows about the new technology. All the while you may have discussed the weather, melting glaciers, cats on trees and god knows what, because you are trying to save your customer and yourself from the fact that - "customers can be awfully wrong". 

If you don't have sweaty palms after reading through this, congratulations. Either you are pretty tolerant for cognitive dissonance (this is what psychologists call it, when there is a gap between your ideal and the real situation). Or you are experienced enough to navigate between several prinicples.

If you feel a little uncomfortable, great. No, seriously. In storytellers' words you are feeling tension. And a story without tension is - no story. 

What I wanted to illustrate here is that principles (self-beliefs), tipping points and strategies to avoid realizing tipping points are the true material for storytellers. So, if you are going through a difficult situation, reassure yourself that you will be having a story to tell afterwards. And don't give up, just because giving up is the easiest way!

Where is the Tipping Point?

Recently, I had a very good conversation about self-beliefs that make people successful. The idea is that people strive to be consistent with the self-belief, so that it actually transforms into behavior and from behavior into habits. For example, if the self-belief is "I am a reliable person", this individual may find it important to be on time and work towards being on time. So this is a self-belief, that can make the person successful. Of course, the environment needs to value the self-belief, too.

In that conversation, we also talked about mini-stressors. These are little things, like wondering, if you should have taken a different route to avoid traffic, if you could have influenced a person into a different direction, if your babysitter will be on time and so on. The more mini-stressors you have during a day, the more exhausting your day will be.

Without having done any research on this, I assume that a self-belief can turn into a mini-stressor. So, if you take the example of being on time as being an important self-belief, any external factor that keeps you from being on time (traffic, late babysitter), will stress you way more than if you don't hold that self-belief. 

Is this a catch-22? It certainly can be. But it can be also an opportunity to identify the next self-belief that you may need to revise and fine-tune.

And, by the way, moments, when you need to change your course of action, are the ones that make up stories. So, in my case, if I get to a point that challenges my beliefs and it may be very unconfortable, I console myself by telling me that some day in the future the pain will have passed and I will have a good story to tell.

Can AI become smarter than recruiters?

Quite honestly, I was not greatly surprised by the article on BBC, that Artificial Intelligence (AI recruiting did not manage to overcome human bias (see link to the right). Yet, it got me interested in the question, why we are not able to overcome bias in recruiting with AI 

Just as a reminder: all of us have biases. I like to call them the more subtle siblings of prejudices. Biases operate like filters for information for us, and actually help us in being more efficient with our attention. However, if you want to work for example towards a more egalitarian approach to hiring, they may operate against your intentions.

While I am a little conservative when it comes to AI, I have been surprised by some news in the field. For example, I recall findings that computers can become better in playing chess than human beings or can give better diagnosis for patients than physicians.

I can't help wondering, if the key difference lies in the nature of the decisions related to each domain. I like the Cynefin model (see right) to classify situations.

With both chess and medicine there are clear constraints for the decisions - either rules of the game and the moves of the partner or there are the symptoms that a patients shows. I argue, therefore, that these are either clear or complicated situations. Recruiting falls into a different category. To me it is typically complex (hopefully not chaotic). Even if it is an established role in an established company, there are a lot of unknown factors, for example, whether or not the candidate and the existing team will collaborate well.

As the nature of the situation is so different, I wonder, if we understand enough about human heuristics, that is the way we make predictions based on previous experience. Do we know, which heuristics work best in recruiting? A common one is to anticipate future behaviour from past behavior of the candidate. 

But there must be more. As the employment world is changing so rapidly and new profiles are constantly emerging, there may be jobs for which no one has matching experience. So which heuristics can help then? I personally don't know, but I invite  your insights in the comments section.

Nach der Rohfassung

Vor etwa drei Wochen habe ich die erste Rohfassung des Stücks fertig geschrieben. Nun kommt der Teil, den ich schwieriger finde als die Rohfassung zu schreiben. Jetzt geht es darum, das, was mich persönlich an dem Stoff interessiert hat, für  andere zugänglich zu machen. 

Durch die Fragen einiger Erstleser bin ich zur zentralen Frage gelangt, was ich eigentlich erzählen will. 

Es geht mir darum, zwei persönliche Entwicklungen in und durch die Extrem-situation lock-down zu zeigen. Nicolas will viel und scheitert an seinen eigenen Ansprüchen. Helene stellt die eignen Ansprüche hinten an, weil sie Nicolas Träume mitträumt, und wird auf sich selbst zurück geworfen. Und es geht mir darum, wie Zwang und Gewalt sich in eine Beziehung einschleichen.
Durch die Rohfassung habe ich eine Kontur des Materials mit dem ich arbeite, aber noch ist viel unklar für fremde Augen

Can you optimize your brain to remember more?

This is the podcast that I recently listened to and can highly recommend
Here is an illustration that helps understand how you can use locations to remember more
Sometimes I get asked, how I managed to remember so much text during my career as an actress. The simple answer I tend to give is, that I did not remember the text. People get stunned. What I mean to say, is that plays are never purely text to me and I don't remember them as such. I rather remember a whole sequence of where to move when, which emotions occur, things you are trying to do with your partners and how the character develops during the play.

Already with the first encounter with a text, which is typically the moment when the whole crew gets together and reads a text out loud, is a moment where you start looking for the things that speak to you, for emotions the text evokes, for images concerning the environment. After that, you typically need time to memorize text, some actors more than others. Next, you would rehearse with the text. You would put the pieces together with your partner(s) in space and time to tell the story. I have found that without rehearsing, I would loose the memorized text after two days. But once you are in the process of rehearsing you are starting to craft the line of development through space and time of a given play. And it is the whole performance that my memory was able to pull up pretty easily for months to years.

How can you use this for a life outside of theatre? To the left is the link to a podcast and a graphic on the side that I found insightful. And here are some tips on learning and memorizing out of my own experience:
1) Use timing: Don't expect yourself to remember text. Help your brain with creating a network of logical sequences instead. After A comes B, after B follows C, and then, surprisingly, F is happening, which transforms A. Not everything you are learning may follow the line of a narration, but as our brains love structures of narrations, this can help you in other domains, too.
2) Use imagination: Try to see a picture in your mind of what you are reading about. Reading slowly will help your mind to develop such a picture.
3) Use space: Using gestures to memorize what you are learning can be helpful, as if you were talking to yourself. Also, dedicating a certain places in your surroundings to prompt you to remember things you wanted to learn. 
4) Use your voice: Reading silently only involves the eyes. Reading out loud already adds your listening sense to the visual input
5) Think of application: As you are going through the learning process try to think of situations that your current learning may help you with. Make it as specific as possible - who will be there, how may they react, how is that different to what you have done before. It is important that you can see some benefit in your learning. Otherwise, it will be just too much brain effort without rewards, so not likely that you can pursue it for long.
6) Use your emotions: Emotions are markers to remember something. Any emotion can be a marker, if it is disbelief, joy or the famous aha-moment. The important part is to realize what you are feeling. Sometimes you can reconstruct a situation by remembering a feeling and then re-constructing what caused the feeling.
7) Use play: You can use two pens to have a dialogue about the subject you are trying to remember. Or you can use your kitchen equipment to map out a full process. Any analogy or similarity between your subject of learning and the things you already know, will help you with remembering what you wanted to learn.
8) Accept failure: Regardless of all the techniques that you are able to apply, there may be days when nothing seems to work. Remember that learning is not a linear process where you brain will retain the same amount of information every day. Stay away from blaming yourself. Try again next time.
9) Practice. Don't expect any learning to stick with you if you don't repeat it, put it into your own words or apply it. 

I hope you feel a little curious about your personal learning. Some of these tips may feel like stating the obvious to you, others may be a little awkward. I encourage you to experiment and maybe even come up with your own tips. 

Rohfassung und Streichen

Es ist geschafft - die Rohfassung des Stücks steht. Helene kommt zum Elysium und zu ihrer eigenen Version von Himmel und Erde.

Diesmal habe ich mich bislang bewusst davon abgehalten, fast so viel aus dem entstandenen Text zu streichen, wie ich hinzufüge. Gleich viel zu streichn habe ich zum Beispiel bei Ohne Mond getan und jetzt erst festgestellt, dass ich damit bei einem ziemlich minimalistischen Text gelandet bin, der den Lesern nicht viel außerhalb des Dialogs bietet.
Natürlich habe ich auch diesmal Textstellen gestrichen, die mir selbst langweilig waren oder die zu sehr nach Papier klangen. Den großen Rotstift habe ich aber nicht angesetzt, und das hat gut getan.
Ich glaube, Streichen ist ein Vorgang, der bereits zum Text Verwenden gehört. Man setzt die prüfende Brille auf und wägt ab. Um das Spielfeld aufzubauen, hilft dieser Blick mir nur bedingt. 

Mit dem Fertigstellen der Rohfassung ist es jetzt Zeit, vom Aufbauen zum Prüfen zu wandern.
Helene		Und dann lachen wir und lehnen uns zurück   
                        und schauen in den unendlichen 
                        Sternenhimmel, den wir von hier gar nicht 
                        sehen können, unser Himmelreich. Es macht 
                        alles Sinn. Der Himmel, über uns gespannt 
                        von Horizont zu Horizont, ist unser Zelt. Wir 
                        schauen uns eine Sternschnuppe aus, die 
                        Feuchtigkeit der Nacht auf unseren Lippen 
                        wie ein Versprechen, Mondwasserklatschen 
                        im Wellengeschwups.
Chorführerin	Schwupps.
Helene		Und dann sind wir bei der Galerie der Engel. 
                        Wir gehen hindurch. Einer wird sich uns an 
                        die Fersen heften. Bete dass es ein Guter ist. 
                        Wer das sehen könnte. Am Ende bleibt doch 
                        das Zwielicht der Dämmerung und ein 
                        Geschmack von weiss. Nein, mit Kitsch hat 
                        das jetzt mal nichts zu tun.
Chorführerin	Wir sind da.

Why can’t I be more quick-witted?

Just this morning I saw an article in a German newspaper around how to become more quick-witted. How teutonic, I thought, and, here we go again - I have been seeing this topic come up so many times befoe.

Why do I think that being quick-witted is so particularly important to German-speaking (or Teutonic) people? Well, when I searched for it in English, I landed on German native speakers selling their skills in English. But with all joking aside:
I have been asked this question quite a bit in my past as a facilitator - how can I become more quick-witted. And I cannot count the occasions when as a kid, I returned home from school and told my mum about something that happened. She always knew, what the right answer would have been, and we sometimes laughed at the witty things, she suggested. What had been painful to me in the moment turned into something funny. When it came to it, of course, I was never able to think of a good, spontaneous answer and would typically blame myself for not being wittier.

If you are interested in the Intercultural part here: I was saying Teutonic earlier, not German, because of Johan Galtung's essay on intellectual styles. He stays away from culture in a singular or defining culture by nation. Instead he looks at intellectual styles as they are formed in higher education (since intellectuals are thrilled by what other intellectuals do). He characterizes the Teutonic style with a great pyramid: One solid construct of thought that will encomprise everything that needs explanation. If you are shocked by the number of nouns that I just used, you are probably not close to the teutonic style. Using nouns instead of verbs is one of the characteristics of the teutonic style. 

If we come back to being witty again: As a kid, I felt that a truly witty answer would leave everyone else gasping for words. It would be the great pyramid, if you like, that leaves nothing unanswered. 

Ok, Alice, you may think, this may be teutonic, but still - why can't I be more quick witted? Let me ask you back: What does it mean to you to be witty and why do you want it? 

I have found, first of all, that a lot of people, who wanted to be more quick-witted were truly scared of being spontaneous. They were censoring themselves pretty scrutinously, trying to put their best self forward all the time. We all censor ourselves, because of social norms. Words related to death or sexuality are typically the ones we all try to keep to ourselves. But if we are overly conscious of ourselves - I think you already know what I am getting at. That is when you get into these conversations of fake smiles and too much nodding, where time never runs fast enough. So the first thing is to be OK with being not OK. If you feel like you need to fake a smile ask yourself why? And if you are OK with not faking a smile, you have made the first big step.

Secondly, as a kid, I found the situations calling for more wit typically pretty horrifying for my existance. Remember, as long as you find yourself in danger, your brain goes into the basic reactions of flight, fight or freeze. These are produced by the amygdala and your prefrontal cortex is blizzed out. What you can do against it is actively counting a few numbers, or reflecting on your triggers before or after a situation. Gaining a few miliseconds may be enough to get you out of pure reaction and into operation mode.

The third thing is that people, who think they are not witty, often underestimate themselves. Being spontaneous means that you voice the first thing that comes to your mind. How many times have I seen people make excuses, saying it was a stupid idea, just average, anyone would think of this - only to see them astonished at a training group laughing out loud, once they managed to voice this first thing, finally. The beautiful thing is that everyone of use has a unique build - be it DNA, upbringing or whatever experience. Once training participants managed to embrace this idea, the question of quick-wittedness moved towards the back. And the beautiful thing is that when it moves to the back, individual potential comes to the front. 

Sounds nice, but...? 
If this is too fluffy for you, you can try this brain exercise. It is called the Magic Shop and is used in Psychodrama. You can get whatever you want in this shop, but you need to trade something in that is of equal value. Finding something that is equally important to you as the thing you want is sometimes hard. It may be even harder to accept that you need to give it away. However, if you find it and you get to trading it in, it can operate like a key to unlock your potential.

Still not what you are looking for? Get to the contact page and let me know your thoughts. I will try my best to answer.