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How to Cultivate Yourself (Like a Blackberry)

In my last U-pick adventure, I came across some Triple Crown blackberries. I instantly noticed the abundance of huge red and black fruit hanging from the bushes. If you were holding one between your thumb and index finger, you would notice the little round obsidian seeds, that look much like grapes in a grapevine. When ripe, they are deeply sweet and juicy with a tart kick—which is typical of a blackberry. However, Triple Crowns have an even bolder, more intense flavor packed into their fruit. What makes the Triple Crown blackberry so unique are the three attributes for which it was cultivated: flavor, productivity, and robustness. This makes me wonder how the once small and scattered wild blackberries turned into the modern Triple Crowns. What can we learn from this process? And how can we learn to cultivate ourselves?

What does cultivation mean?

For thousands of years, humans have been learning to cultivate crops. To be able to settle and establish agriculture, we had to know which wild plants were edible (0.1 percent of the biomass on an acre of land), and how we could cultivate them to produce food. We discovered merely by accident that we could domesticate the wild plants that were growing in compost piles. In time, we picked those with desirable attributes and cultivated the best seeds into crops. This process, which was mainly unconscious, took centuries until we could rely more heavily on domesticated crops. Hunting and gathering appeared to provide more immediate food, and agriculture required a lot of upfront work for a delayed—but eventually observed—gratification. This resulted in a more dependable and ample source of food. Today we still rely on agriculture, and we continue to develop new cultivars. So how can we develop our own attributes?

Choose three personal attributes you wish to cultivate.

What are three important skills you could be cultivating that would have the biggest impact in your life? Modern agriculture focuses on identifying key attributes from different species to produce new and more attractive cultivars, like the Triple Crown—prioritizing qualities like size, nutrition, vigor, and taste. Which three things do you most wish to cultivate? Write them down. At the Insightful Bean, you’ll find that the last three attributes I have been (and still am) cultivating are:

  • A growth mindset (trying to understand time and effort)
  • Initiative (and how to be more productive)
  • Finding and being my best self (to hopefully create a positive impact)

Create a list with ideas to cultivate them and take action.

First, come up with as many ideas as you can to cultivate the attributes you chose. Then, make a detailed plan listing step-by-step all the tasks that you will need to do to accomplish your goal. Write it all down. Do it. This will make it real. The power behind any list is that by writing it down, it demystifies the potentially fearful and resistant thoughts into concrete and clear tasks to do. And finally, start! Consider Thomas M. Sterner’s “four S” words in The Practicing Mind and keep your actions:

  • Small and consistent
  • Simple with only one task at a time
  • Short and focused 
  • Slow and enjoy the learning process

Approach it like you would grow a crop: invest time, effort, and nurture to develop your qualities. Try to register for a class, find a mentor, and go meet like-minded people. Be considerate with yourself and others when making mistakes—assist and be assisted. Find ways to cooperate and help others in this cultivating journey.

When you cultivate yourself and take action, you begin to believe in development: you tweak what you do, you try new strategies, and you learn new skills. You adopt an agricultural mindset. It would be silly to rush a crop, or to judge it. Instead, you water and nourish them to develop the qualities that you want—and so should we. The Triple Crown blackberry portrays just how abundant any situation can become when you learn to cultivate hard work, in a nourishing and persistent manner. These prickle-free blackberries are a reminder of the potential you have to develop, if you clarify what you want, write it down, and take action. Cultivate yourself like a blackberry! What will your triple crown be?

Juan F. Diaz

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