It’s amazing how we can adjust to a new cultural environment when we are motivated. Since moving to Germany I have transformed from a chronic J-walker (voted most likely to get in an accident) into a light-abiding citizen with weeks. As a person who suffers from “hanger” and attachment to an early bedtime, I have been able to eat dinner at 11 PM when in Spain. I think for me it is the excitement of novelty that gives us the mental fuel for the effort. It is also out of respect for other customs and our hope to be able to fit in. In such a phase of learning and growth we are 100% present and attentive.

The analogy here is the honeymoon period of a relationship in which each partner first sees each other’s differences as attractive and admirable. In the same way that traveling often seems so romantic when we appreciate the differences about another culture. The idealized image does not last however, and we begin to complain about what is difficult or we get Giardia. In a partnership both sides are a bit more adaptable and open to negotiation, however in a new culture, we can only change ourselves. This is a perfect model for coaching, as in coaching we are only able to change and coach ourselves—which then in turn has an impact on the world around us—but we can not change anyone else, especially a whole other culture!

I have looked at German punctuality and rule-enforcement and decided for myself what I think. Upon first moving, I followed their example out of a fear of being scolded and proving a poor representation of Americans in general. Since then, I have been able to look at why I run late, for example, and see how this really works for me and the people I impact. I realize my tardiness is because I am (unintentionally) valuing my time over that of others. I simply don’t like it when I’m not able to get everything done or when I feel like I am wasting my time. Which inevitably makes me late and I wind up wasting someone else’s time. Thus, despite many failures and complaints, I have brought punctuality and attention to laws a bit more into my practice, as I see them now as part of my values. This allows for German systems to run much more smoothly in general and I think I have become more respectful of others and of the example we set for children who are grow up being told to wait at the light.

After the novelty of a move, a relationship or a job wears off, how to we tap back into that excitement and motivation to try new things and adapt? Jon Kabat-Zinn describes the “Beginners Mind” in which we practice seeing everything as if for the first time. When we step back from our expertise and ideas, we allow ourselves to be open to possibilities. We can see each moment or environment as exciting with something new to appreciate and something to learn. I find that I can be energized and motivated as long as I can tell myself that I am learning. For this, moving to a new country is ideal, but not necessary. We can take a beginner’s mindset even when we walk the same street to work each morning.


Listen to Jon Kabat-Zinn’s explanation of Beginner’s Mind:

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