#005 Building Habits & Meaning Crisis

A winter retrospective on the first few weeks of Hotpot, building (and destroying) good habits, and awakening from the meaning crisis.

#005 Building Habits & Meaning Crisis
After-work sunset walk in the countryside

It’s Monday night and I begin writing the draft of Hotpot issue n.5.

I would normally start a few days earlier. Like.. a week earlier. Actually... after clicking on the publishing button, the work for the next issue begins. Ideas, research, mindmaps, flashcards, conversations, and then draft after draft.

Last week's “bonus” interview issue has been fun and a lot more work than I thought, both for me and Jason, who I will forever be thankful to for being the first of many guests to come, or at least being invited, to Hotpot.

If you have not read Jason's Interview yet, click here!

I’d like to keep this issue light, sharing a short retrospective on this past winter and the first few weeks of Hotpot, reflections that tie the transformative force of building good habits and repairing garments to our personal transformation and to the constant search for meaning and wisdom. I hope you enjoy this issue, as much as I did writing it.

Seasonal Retrospective

Spring is the air

Winter has simply flown by and spring is slowly approaching. I was setting up the infrastructure to host and publish hotpot just a few days after winter solstice; a day cherished with optimism from a light-seeker-being like me.

Days are stretching, more and more, and so my mood goes up along an exponential curve. I appreciate every minute of it, every minute of change. Walking out of the office at the time when the sunset warms up the sky awakens a part of myself that was in hibernation throughout winter.

"che se ha delle nuvolette e’ ancora piu bello"
"and if thereare little clouds around it is even more beautiful”
Giovanni Allevi

Winter has flown by. Back and forth to work between Nuremberg and Herzogenaurach, back and forth to live and love between Nuremberg and Berlin, back and forth between draft 1, 2, 3, final, and final of final, of every hotpot issue thus far. It’s been a lot of back and forth, and all this back and forth has created some sort of rhythm that just keeps me going and hopefully growing at every cycle.

Growth is not linear but it looks more like a helix

Hotpot behind the scenes

If I did not commit publicly in the first issue to publish biweekly, I am certain that I would already have let an issue or two slip and delay. This public commitment signifies a contract with anyone who signs up and/or pledges their support and it is a fundamental component of the trust I want to build between us.

If it wasn’t for my partner Elena, my family, and my friends who encourage me to express myself; if it wasn’t for my sister Alessandra who shared the link to Hotpot with all her friends when Hotpot was far from feeling ready, I would have not started it and I would be defeated in no time by an ever-daunting impostor syndrome.

The name “Hotpot” came after a walk with Elena brainstorming about possible names, until she said, it sounds like you want to put everything into a big pot, in Italian a big Pentolone!

Considering that I cultivate a peer-to-peer Learning Network at adidas with more than 950 members, I thought I was over stage fright but I will never forget how frightened I was to send the very first email to my first 13 subscribers.

Sharing my vulnerability is also something that scares the heck out of me. Timidly promoting this upcoming post on Linkedin, I transformed the fear into a quest: Writing and publishing as means to transform vulnerability into strength? Ben Culpin, a researcher and strategist hanging in the Protein discord, puts it beautifully in the post's comments. Check his work and listen to Dam Kind Conversations.

Numbers don’t count. What counts is what we want to share, how we want to share it, and with whom. All of you, who took a click-of-faith by subscribing. This all means so much to me, and no matter how many you are now, taking a shot at connecting with each of you is what counts.

Sure, every time I see a sign-up, a smile makes my face look very silly, every time I receive your message my heart swells.

Thank you all for your support.

Exploration Topics

Designing the world around our habits

New habits cannibalize old ones. We only have the time we have and a good part of it should be spent recharging and restoring. Every new endeavor before settling in and becoming part of a new routine and eventually shaping my identity takes up a bit of space and energy that I would normally dedicate to other things.

This year, for instance, started with less walking and more writing. Aargh, but I want to walk more. Hopefully, the short trip to the tiny island of Pantelleria next week will kick off the spring walking season and get me going more consistently throughout the year! More walking, more photos, more projects.

I started the year reading “The Blue Pearl” by Patrick Svennson. I am normally not a voracious book reader. Rather the opposite. I loved reading it. Without thinking, on a cold winter morning, too sleepy for my morning stretching routine, I moved one of my foldable kitchen chairs by the window, and most importantly by the heater.

While the coffee moka is heating up, I switch on a light that forms a warm atmosphere when I am about to sit down. It is cozy. I begin reading the book while sipping my coffee between the paragraphs I am immersed in. I kept doing this for a few weeks, and without even knowing a newly formed habit moved me through a few beautiful books, disrupting of course many other good habits that I had put so much effort into building like my morning exercise routine, making my bed, or ironing my day outfit. Damn it!

The day I removed the chair from the heater, the day that a book was not on the window sill, I stopped reading books and all of a sudden the habit was gone. Before I got back to stretching or house chores, indulging on my phone seemed just easier.

It might not be for everyone, but designing the conditions or the invitation for a habit to happen effortlessly is very effective for me. Time is limited though, and temptation is always around the corner.

Designing the setup for this habit to happen made me think about how James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, talks about creating cues, cravings, responses, and rewards.

Random question: what would a home designed around our ideal habits look like?

An architecture reference comes back to Casa Malaparte in Capri, with windows and outdoor spaces strategically positioned to capture the best views of the sea and landscape.

Casa Malaparte designed by Adalberto Libera for Curzio Malaparte

Repairing is a cure

It went like this.

A book about wabi-sabi is sitting on the shelf. A broken bowl you cared about has been in a bag for more than a year waiting to be fixed with some golden patty resembling the ancient and much finer craft of kintsugi.

Visible repair is an aesthetic and being repaired, being fixed can become an added value that distinguishes objects from each other through their stories, lived experiences, and adventures.

End of last year. The term “Repair aesthetics” started going in circles around my head. The Great Repair exhibition opens its doors in Berlin and I am blown away. See all pics here.

Dipdii textiles

In February, I started the Repair Club at work, an informal lunch gathering to share mending tips and tricks, and received more responses than I would have ever expected. The topic resonates with a broad variety of people. Repairing has a strong social appeal.

So I started repairing stuff. The wool sweater I wear every day or almost, a stack of 501s with holes here and there, a book by Sophie Call bought for a fraction of the prices but with a damaged binding, and the list continues.

The Sophie Call Book's spine during the bundle "restoration"

While repairing all these little things can sound normal to some it was not to me, and since I started repairing stuff, I have been looking at my belongings, objects, and the world around me in a different way. Better late than never.

Repairing has a strong transformative power on the individual and has proven not only to resonate with broad audiences but also to bring people together and connect them through its profound and deeper meaning.

Look at what Dave Hakkens can pull off with Fixing Fashion. Remarkable.

I want to keep exploring this topic, both in my personal and professional journey as I strongly believe that it is an underrated domain of knowledge that can inspire and catalyze change from within in audiences that have lost touch with materials and daily “survival” crafts.

The Meaning Crisis

Over the last weeks, I also had a chance to join a workshop organized by my friend and ex-Protein Governance teammate Artem Zighanov.

Artem thinks deeply about governance models and has already unlocked many doors that sent me down deep rabbit holes. He organized a workshop with Ted Rau, a governance researcher who gave a presentation about "Building wiser organizations". Perfect timing, linking to Hotpot issue n.4.

Butchering his presentation and decontextualizing one of his slides, the following three shifts sort of resonated with me. Especially the middle one.

  • From Alignment To Attunement
  • From Purpose To Meaning
  • From Belonging To Interconnectedness

Ted’s work is inspired and influenced by John Vervaeke, a cognitive psychologist who is fun to listen to.

John says: We (we as modern human beings) have separated thinking from experiencing and lost meaning.

Ted says: We (as members of organizations) have separated decision-making from doing and lost meaning.

I got curious and, while mending my old broken garments, I put Vervaeke's YouTube playlist "Awakening from the Meaning Crisis".

While the title sounds rather heavy, and the 1 hour-long 52 episodes are going to take a long time to watch and lots of mending to go through while listening, the first few episodes are incredibly intriguing to me and I recommend listening or watching.

Why not have a chat?

If you have been reading along the past few Hotpot issues and would like to connect, exchange ideas, and share your stories, why not have a little chat? It would be a great opportunity to get back in touch or meet each other for the first time.

Feel free to shoot a message to hotpot@andreabrena.com and we can arrange something.

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Thank you for your continued support.