Developing a rigid reading habit

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I was never a reader. I used to be one of those people who buys tons of book, start, but never able to finish them. I couldn’t even finish a book in a year, now, I am on a somewhat rigid schedule of reading at least a book a week.

I didn’t want to commit to a rigid reading schedule, but now I feel like I am ready. We all have commitment issues, we don’t want to commit to a habit because when we fail to we feel bad about ourselves. I am definitely a realistic person, I didn’t want to immediately jump into it, so I ease myself into the habits of reading. English is not my native language, so I started with short reads, self helps books in particular, is rather easy to digest and understand, so I read tons of self help books. Alot of the topics in self help books are repetitive, but through them, I am able to understand the importance of being discipline, which really helps with my reading. Then, I also started following alot of readers, gathering tips on how to read more strategically (as I hardly know anyone who reads in my circle, social media has become a go-to source for my inspirations to read more definitely)

Day by day, my reading habit proliferates, even thou my speed is slow, I am able to dedicate between 1-2 hours daily to my reading, so my time make up for my speed. I love to read in the mornings vs evenings as I find that I am able to concentrate better. I prolong my morning walks just to squeeze in extra reading time, I bring my kindle with me everywhere I go.

I found these tips from Books Of Titan (by Erik Rostad) incredibly helpful :

  1. Pre-select a reading list
  2. Use a ramdomizer to help generate the order of your reading list instead of picking them by yourself (random dot org)
  3. Devise a daily reading schedule according to the pages (for my case, since I read from my kindle, I estimate the time required for each book base on the time prediction feature on kindle

Besides these reads for pleasure, I also have to do quite abit of reading for MNU study. I have prepared some study related books on the side as a “buffer”, but the rule I set for myself is I have to stick to the schedule and finish the book I’ve set for the week.

I am implementing what I’ve learnt from Books of Titan and came up with my reading list for NOV (generated by random dot org)

(I am currently reading Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman)

  1. The joy of half a cookie – Dr. Jean Kristeller
  2. Bad Science – Ben Goldacre
  3. A little history of philosophy – Nigel Warburton 
  4. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style -Benjamin Dryer (thanks to Phil Rosen’s reading reviews/recommendation)

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As you can see I didn’t set the order based on my preference, and even thou some books are quite difficult for me, and some of them are not the usual kind of books I’d read, but I always believe they can provide values.

Most mornings and nights, the moment I most look forward to is to retrieve to my room and read. As the end of the year approaches, I will pre-select 52 books in advance for the whole of next year, do you have any books recommendation for me?

 

Habits : Making things hard on ourselves

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Lately, there seems to be a trend on youtube, people mocking people who practices morning rituals which consist of the following : meditation, reading, or journaling. (may I add sheepishly..these are all the rituals which I currently enjoy). It seems to me that these days, people feel indifferent to making poor lifestyle choices, because it has become the new norm.

I hadn’t always be this way, waking up early, meditate, starting my day with a walk, cutting out alcohol…even thou I’ve been pretty consistent with these habits, but still, they don’t feel “natural” to me. A friend recently complimented me of the progress I’ve made, stating how difficult it is for her to change her habits. I wish I could explain, building habits is a lifelong journey, certain habits still takes tremendous cognitive effort for me to perform daily.

For example, even thou I have gotten used to the habit of sleeping and waking up early, there are days that I wish I can grab my kindle and indulge in my reading instead of getting the 30mins meditation in. (Both are good habits, nonetheless) While I generally gravitate towards healthy lifestyle choices, I still have a million other issues I’m trying to fix (particularly on my obsessive behaviours around food)

When life doesn’t challenge you, it’s very important that you challenge yourself. Challenges can come in many forms, I remember an interview I heard from Danny Lennon’s Sigma Nutrition podcast, featuring Nicholas Gant, the director of the Exercise Neurometabolism Laboratory. He mentioned how the simple ritual of meditation can be a good challenge for our brain to improve our cognitive function, and let me tell you, sitting still for 30 minutes does not come naturally for me.

Our day to day life can be rather monotonous, we perform our tasks intuitively without much effort. This is why I think imposing rules on ourselves, doing things we don’t feel like doing, can drive personal growth.

People often say it gets easier over time, that’s not the case for me, there are definitely impulses that I have to intentionally suppress on day to day basis, when I’m able to resists and reinforce good habits, it feels extremely rewarding for me. I want to end this post with a great passage from Ryan Holiday’s book, “Ego is the new enemy” which I really relate to :

“My friend the philosopher and martial artist Daniele Bolelli once gave me a helpful metaphor. He explained that training was like sweeping the floor. Just because we’ve done it once, doesn’t mean the floor is clean forever. Every day the dust comes back. Every day we must sweep.”

An update on Meditation practice

A compilation of my meditation practice back in 2017

When I first started this blog, I wanted to document all things personal development related, at the time, I was in a transition of building new habits, I was inspired after reading the book Digital Minimalism by Dr. Cal Newport, and James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

There were a couple of habits that I wanted to work on, social media addiction is one thing (there will be another update soon), but I want to write about meditation, for I find that it is the backbone of how we can be more aware of our behaviours, thus bettering ourselves in all aspects of our lives.

I am not a stranger to meditation. Back in 2017, I’ve hired an online coach Olivier Goetgeluck. He has prescribed daily meditation practice as part of the training program for me. I believe the Universe knew what I needed then, that’s why I was connected to Olivier. At the time, I had no problem adhering to all the physical training he has prescribed for me, but I struggled with the meditation practice.

I remember how anxious I felt each time I had to start meditating, thoughts were constantly running through my head, it felt as if I was having an anxiety attack, I remember I could barely sit for 3 minutes in the first 1-2 weeks.

I’ve made great progress overtime, I’d meditate for 20-30 minutes atleast 3/4 times a week, sometimes I even took my practice outdoor. I felt so proud of myself, it was even more satisfying that any fitness achievement.

After 6 months with Olivier, I eventually moved back into powerlifting/physique training, I tried to keep up with the practice, but I relapsed. I was doing it very sparingly, until I stopped doing it completely.

Fast forward to March this year, after reading Atomic Habits, meditation was the first habit that I wanted to cement. There are so many helpful tips from the book, but the three main points that has helped me the most was :

Master the art of showing up

Repetitions

Habits Tracking

To summarize the three points as listed above : I only have to show up, duration didn’t matter as much, with that, I’ve gained enough repetitions, which then help the habit stick. I’ve also used bullet journaling to help me stay accountable.

Referring to my blog posts on meditation, I’ve started back in early April, I’ve probably only missed 3-5 days since then. I prefer to do it first thing in the morning, before I even brush my teeth, for 20-30 minutes a day. On days that I have to go out early for work, I simply move it to the end of the day.

It is the single, most powerful tool you can use anywhere, anytime to improve your mental well being, better than any supplementation or medication intervention.

What are the benefits ? I didn’t really care about all the scientific research on meditation, although they may help further convince you to start. What I’ve noticed with myself is that, I am much more aware of my behaviour. Take driving for example, I used to be very hot headed on the road, other drivers used to piss me off easily, not anymore. I use to look for distraction (browsing on the phone…horrible, I know) with every brief stop in between traffic lights, I’ve stopped doing that either…there are many many other examples, but you get the idea.

That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated and angry. I do, more often than I like. It’s definitely much more easier for me to catch myself thinking certain thoughts, if I feel angry, I would be giving myself a pep talk, :”Why are you angry? It’s not going to help the situation.” By then, I would have already calm down. This has been incredible in terms of managing my emotional intelligence…thou I have to admit, I am forever a work in progress.

That’s the whole point, when we aim to become a better human being, there is no final destination, it’s a constant work in progress.

I will be going for a meditation retreat, probably not as hardcore as 10 days silent retreat, (I just can’t do that to Anya) but a weekend away just to learn to skill would be very beneficial for me. I feel I am finally ready.

And I hope I’ve convinced you to start.

 

 

Good habits are as addictive as bad habits

I drew alot of inspiration from Jame’s Clear’s book “Atomic Habits”. Despite my best effort, prior to his book, my attempt to build habits were futile, as I would always revert to my old ways. It’s a combination between his book and Dr. Cal Newport’s book “Deep Work” that has helped me cement alot of the life changing good habits that I currently have, and I am forever grateful.

I sympathise when people say bad habits are hard to kick, they are, but good habits are as addictive as bad habits. You can build a new habit to get rid of the old ones. I have found this strategy extremely effective, if you were to quit any habit cold turkey without finding another replacement, you are bound to relapse.

That doesn’t mean I don’t ever relapse, I do, but overtime, the frequency of these “relapse episodes” reduce significantly. Good habits are addictive, when you are able to set a rule for yourself and comply to them, you’ll feel really good about yourself.

A few tips that has helped me with forming good habits :

Bullet journaling

Never miss twice (if you miss once, just make sure you don’t miss it twice)

Master the art of showing up

This has been the biggest takeaway I got from “Atomic Habits”. Take my swimming practice for example. Some days I just feel so exhausted and tired and I don’t want to go, but I go anyway, even if I don’t intend to stay for long. I’d tell myself, you just have to show up. I apply the same philosophy to my daily meditation too, “I just have to show up.” Months later, meditation is now my daily routine, as intuitive as brushing my teeth in the morning.

From the Daily Stoic

What bad habit did I curb today? How am I better? Were my actions just? How can I improve?

Impulses of all kinds are going to come, and your work is to control them

“Whenever you get an impression of some pleasure, as with any impression, guard yourself from being carried away by it, let it await your action, give yourself a pause. After that, bring to mind both times, first when you have enjoyed the pleasure and later when you will regret it and hate yourself. Then compare to those the joy and satisfaction you’d feel for abstaining altogether. However, if a seemingly appropriate time arises to act on it, don’t be overcome by its comfort, pleasantness, and allure—but against all of this, how much better the consciousness of conquering it.”

Indulging might actually be worse than resisting, the urge begins to lose its appeal. In this way, self-control becomes the real pleasure, and the temptation becomes the regret.

Week 1 : Coffee Abstinence

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So I visit this coffee shop every morning, by coffee shop, I really mean Malaysian’s style “kopitiam”, where the lady boss uses cheap local coffee powder to make the coffee, with condensed milk. I like the ratio of the coffee with the condensed milk she makes, it’s slightly bitter (due to the acidity of the cheap coffee powder) but sweetened with the condensed milk. I am addicted to my morning cup of coffee, made by her specifically.

As if Universe wanted to help me kick off the addiction, this lady boss told me she was going for a week-long vacation, I  was disgruntled, I remember telling her :”How am I going to survive my week without your coffee ?”

I decided perhaps it’s time for me to take a sabbatical from my coffee consumption.

I’ve toyed with the idea of coffee abstinence in the past, but it has never worked out. Most days I do 2 cups, somedays I try to do one cup. The main reason I wanted to try it was to see how it’s going to improve my sleep, I do notice my sleep hasn’t been optimal since my deficit has started, and at this phase, I can’t afford to use more calories to support my sleep (which should be, ideally) , and I just wanted to see how it’s going to effect me in terms of energy level, too.

The past week has been interesting :

Day 01 : So I usually have my first cup of coffee (with my meal) between 6.30am-7am) and I started having migraine around this time, and it went on for the whole day. I can count on the number of times I have migraine…which is rarely. It effected my mood and productivity level greatly, I had a hard time concentrating throughout the whole day. My mood was foul.

I started googling…whatever they say about “coffee withdrawal symptoms” I clearly had it. I grind through the first day

Day 02 : I started using some tea…in limited amounts. Ice lemon tea (yes..sweetened as always), and it kind of curb the craving of sipping something in the morning for me. Migraine and bad mood persists, I was starting to think maybe I can do one cup…but I grind it out.

Day 03 : Migraine still in full swing. I gave in and took 2 aspirin in the afternoon. It brought relief, I felt better that day.

Day 04 : Migraine is gone. The withdrawal symptoms seems to have subsided. I feel good today.

Day 05 : No more withdrawal symptoms. I also notice energy level is more constant, instead of the highs and lows I experience throughout the day.

Day 06 : My sleep got better. Thou i still battle with nocturnal urination (something I continuously work on) .I was able to sleep. I woke up feeling very refreshed and energised.

Day 07 : Not going back to using coffee, atleast for now.

I have alot of internal dialogues with myself, obviously. I would say things like :”You can work on your coffee addiction later, when you’re done with the prep, not now, this can be a powerful substance to help you through these few months of deficit.”

Or

“Why add another stressor when you’re already stressed?”

The problem is it’s all correlated in some way, I need to prime my sleep for more efficient fat loss. And when my sleep is good, everything feels good. Perhaps if you’re metabolically robust, coffee would be a good “supplement”, unfortunately, not for me currently.

I do miss coffee thou, either a good cup of latte, or a cheap kopitiam kopi peng.

 

 

 

Atomic Habits : Meditation

These days, I really look forward to sitting down and writing on this blog, although I think I lack focus and my blog posts feels rather scattered, but these words, they represent a fragment of my present thoughts.

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Instead of a “tick”, I now use a rating system for my habits bullet journaling.

Progress on meditation 

I have moved up to tracking the quality of certain habits I’m trying to cultivate (such as meditation and reading), instead of just tracking the days I do them because I have been very consistent with them. Just weeks ago, I was struggling with sitting still for 5 minutes, these days, I start everyday with a 20 mins meditation and on days I feel agitated and flustered, I’d often end my day with a short 5-10 minutes meditation as well, even thou I am often interrupted by my lovely toddler Anya.

It feels rather vague, tracking quality instead of quantity with meditation, however, after weeks of experimenting with it, I am confident to say I can now distinguish between a poor session vs a good one. Some days I am simply “not there”, despite forcing myself to sit longer, while some sessions feels short but I am more present and focused.

The benefits I have noticed definitely motivate me to keep the ritual going : less anxiety, better concentration, better anger management, (if you have a toddler like mine, you’d understand) I just feel more level-headed.

Meditations comes in many forms, I particularly enjoy meditating in the car (eyes open, transfixed at one point, in between traffic light). I began enjoying walking and driving without any music or podcasts, I have gotten used to letting my mind wonder (content with being bored) instead of reaching for distraction every minute of the day. Each night, we’d sit in the park and watch Anya play, and we enjoy a brief conversations about our day without the distraction of devices.

I stop thinking about wanting to “fix” myself. I am a constant work in progress, but I am not broken in anyway.

“I like to think the best of me, is still hiding up my sleeves” John Mayer

 

 

 

Bullet Journaling : Building good habits

When I look at what people do with their journals…with all the fancy drawings, different types of pens, etc…I feel intimidated. This is why I often start and fail my journaling project, even thou I work in the creative field, I can barely write recognisable letters. Kind of like doctor’s handwritings, maybe even worse.

I got the idea of bullet journaling through James Clear’s book  “Atomic Habits”. The idea seem simple enough, you list a list of things you want to work on, you just cross them off daily, no fancy drawings needed. Then I went online and saw what people do with their bullet journals..and again, I was flabbergasted at first. There are some fancy people out there, doing very fancy things with their journals, but I realise I don’t have to be fancy, as long as it serves its purpose. After some browsing, I settled on making my list on a google spreadsheet. Printed and taped on my bedroom’s wall.

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It is the first thing I see when I wake up, and the last thing I see when I get into bed. A daily reminder or some sort. After a few weeks of experimenting, I can finally share some thoughts about my experience.

Does it work ? It’s a complicated question for me. I have listed 14 habits I want to build on my spreadsheet, and I rarely ever get the perfect score. Some examples on the list included : daily walks, daily meditation, reading, no spending, limited screen time, no junk food, no eating out…just to name a few. My average score is mostly between 11-12. Do I see it as a failure? Not really.

Perfection was never my goal, I wanted to be aware of my habits, and I want to put in conscious effort daily to build the habits I want to acquire. A life not examined is not a life worth living, here I am, examining my life and try to make improvements daily.

I am definitely so much more aware of my habits once I started doing this, and just before I wrote this blog post, I’ve just renewed my list, seeing how certain habits are now cemented (meditation, screen time, daily walks, reading), and I want to hone in on certain habits I have yet to build.