Distracted

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Image by Lenus.me

Being constantly pulled into multiple directions seems like all we do these days, stimuli often fill in the gaps : whether it’s eating with our screens, listening to podcasts/music when we drive, juggling between a million browsers as we work on our computers…I can go on and on.

On our flight back to Kuching, there was a solo female traveler seated next to us, with a thick book sitting on her lap. Once the seatbelt sign is off, she put the book down, took out a sandwich from her bag, ate her sandwich, cleaned up, and continue reading again. I jokingly mentioned to my husband how the simple ritual of eating differs between this western girl vs us, the Asians, if you go into restaurants and cafes, you will notice alot of Asians tends to eat with the screens infront of them. Either that, or they’d take a million photos of the food untill they become cold and soggy.

Couple of months ago, I forced myself to eat without distraction. Force is a strong word, but that’s how difficult it felt to me. I held on to it for a long time. However, the deeper I got into my prep, the harder it was for me to stick to the ritual, even now, I am still taken aback by how much dieting has impacted my ability to concentrate and stick to my habits, especially towards the last few weeks of my prep. I do thrive on routines and months of habits tracking has built a pretty solid foundation for me, still, I have succumbed to the temptations a few times.

I think setting rules and boundaries for ourselves is so important, even thou these habits may seems frivolous to most, but they can train your discipline and they will add up over time. There are some non-negotiable rules I set for myself daily, such as no screens before 7am (since I wake up at around 5am daily), daily meditation is a must, and I must include a daily 30 minutes, stimuli-free walk outdoor (no podcasts and no music) daily. These small accomplishments serves as daily affirmations for me.

“A lack of self awareness is poison, reflection and review is the antidote.”

“By constant self discipline and self control, you can develop greatness of character.”

“The most powerful control we can ever attain, is to be in control of ourselves.”

Nancy

Of meditation and things 

While attending Claudia’s wedding last night, I was seated next to a beautiful lady. She gracefully held out her hand towards me and introduced herself : “Nancy”, her name. Petite, shoulder length hair, fit, looks to be in her 40s, (looks is deceiving after all, turns out, she’s in her 50s)

I learnt that she happened to be connected to Claudia through meditation. Vipassana meditation facility, specifically, which Claudia has recommended to me when I was going through a difficult time. I couldn’t commit to the 9 days program they provides, perhaps, commit is not the right word, I just wasn’t ready.

Thou I have cultivated a daily meditation practice, I have never been exposed to any formal teachings of meditation, which I think will benefit me. There is only so much you can learn through reading other people’s experiences, or watching Youtube videos. While enrolling into a program will be an ultimate goal for me (settling family and work commitments will be tricky), but sitting next to someone who has been actively practising meditation for 20 years was a good opportunity for me to learn.

As wedding program proceeds and dishes were served, I bombarded her with questions :

“Is using mantra a form of cheating ?” was the first thing I’ve asked.

While there is no right and wrong ways of meditating, I do like to know how to block my thoughts without needing to rely on chanting mantras in my mind. She briefly explained to me while using mantra can be effective for a beginner, but eventually, we have to learn not to use it as a crutch.

“Do you still feel agitated ?”

“Do you ever act out?”

“How about road rage?” (1.5 days with KL traffic was enough for me)

It’s obvious by now that you can get a sense of how I am with my emotions and impulses, and this is why most of my questions revolves around them. I’ll be the first to admit, I am often very impulsive and emotional.

It was certainly comforting knowing that Nancy, even after practising meditation for over 20 years, still feels these emotions on daily basis. She further affirmed my beliefs that as humans, we are emotional beings after all. When impulses or emotions arises, be aware of them, catch the thoughts and stay put, they’ll eventually subside.

When I can’t repress my feelings, I often feel like a failure. I can’t even keep track of the number of times I feel annoyed or agitated at something on daily basis, and when I feel the annoyance, I feel annoyed that I feel these annoyance. (And you’re the real MVP if you’re not yet annoyed by the confusing statement) I realise this is where I get it all wrong, I am not supposed to be emotionless, in true stoicism spirit, it’s how you react upon those annoyance that matters. We are the master of our mind after all, nothing can inflict annoyance on us except ourselves : our own thoughts.

The key to achieving a higher level of intellects and wisdom is no doubt self awareness, with self awareness comes self reflection, which is valuable in any pursuit of self development.

Unsurprisingly, Nancy is also not on any social media, except watsapp, which we exchanged our contacts and already I am formulating on inviting her for a cuppa to extend our conversations when I do visit KL again. Dorothy and I really enjoyed the conversations we’ve had throughout the evening. I felt lucky especially, that Universe (or Claudia, in this sense) connected me with the people that I needed to connect with.

PS : (Another beautiful lady, Lee Kheng, sitting at the same table also happens to be a volunteer at this other meditation facility called Kenchara Forest retreat based in Bentong, Pahang.) They offer short courses on introduction to meditation techniques, requires only 2 days. As I plan for my retreat I also like to share some information on meditation camps here based in Malaysia here.

Vipassana Meditation Retreat

Kenchara Forest Retreat

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 2 : Coffee abstinence, Deep work, time blocking method

I still can’t believe years of coffee addiction is eradicated as easily as sweeping the dust off the floor. Another week flew by without coffee, and I have never felt better.

I still need abit more time to see how my sleep pattern progress, the noticeable difference for me currently, is my energy level, as mentioned previously, I no longer experience the highs and lows, my energy level feel more stable throughout the whole day.

As with all other habits I’m trying to build, the biggest takeaway for me is to just grind through the beginning, cup by cup, day by day, use substitute if you need (for me, it would be low caffeine tea/cocoa drink), eventually the habit will stick.

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Time Blocking Method

I’ve had a pretty hectic week, Anya’s holiday threw me off my routine, and I thrive on routines. I had to learn how to adapt to not let it stress me out too much. I am also experimenting with Dr. Cal Newport’s “Time Blocking” method, where you schedule your day hour by hour, and I must say, I am enlightened how it has helped me to feel more centred, especially with my “deep work” time.

Everybody have different obligations to full fill everyday, and we each have our own preferred schedule. We can apply the concept to tailor to our own needs.

I want to share the example of my typical day.

If I am not out on the field on an assignment (which takes either half or whole day depending on the nature of the job), most days, my schedule is flexible, depending on how I arrange it. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed when you are a freelance worker like I am, as I don’t really have a rigid “9-5” working hour.

First, I decided to simplify my life into few sections :

 

 

Daily Tasks (this includes Anya, food preparation, eating, daily rituals such as meditation or walks etc)

Digital Tasks (emails, watapps, social media management, so on and so forth)

Deep work (I reserve this time exclusively to work on my personal project, which I will share in future)

Work (photo processing, client’s follow up, etc)

Family time

Reading. I have also included reading into my daily routine, and I even separated them into two categories : Leisure reading vs non leisure reading)

From 5pm onwards my routines is more clustered, but atleast I’ve planned out the bulk of my day.

I usually draft out my day the night before, or the morning itself. I do not do this everyday, especially over the holidays, and like today, where we spent the entire day just doing family stuffs.

Digital Tasks

There are certain things that I am not rigid, esp with watsapp messages. Sometimes I do reply messages, even thou I schedule my “Digital tasks” in the afternoon, before I start my work.

It’s still a struggle for me currently, separating my life away from “digital tasks” instead of letting it grapple with my attention throughout the day intermittently. I will elaborate more on my experience with social media addiction soon. (yes watsapp is a social media tool, alot of Asians don’t realize that, esp Malaysians)

I realize I don’t need to be 100% all the time, things comes up and schedule does changes, but atleast this gives me a sense of how I can spend my day more efficiently.

PS : After Digital Minimalism I went on to read Deep Work by Dr.Cal Newport. I highly recommend you to read both books, I am particularly grateful for all the practical tips that I can immediately apply to my life, and they have already improved the quality of my life tremendously. 

 

Animal Instincts

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I rarely watch movies these days, a while ago, I took netflix off because I find it was too addictive, I would much rather spend the extra time I have by reading or writing. If I decide I want to indulge in a movie, I either get pirated DVD locally (which you can still get in Sibu), or purchase from Itunes.

I watched “The Professor” last night, I was both amused and enlightened by it at the same time. It was a simple and short movie, and as always it’s delightful to watch Johnny Depp act, I thought he portrayed the character splendidly.

After learning he has six months to live, a college lecturer transforms into a rebellious party animal. To the shock of his wife and school chancellor — and to the delight of his students — he leads a crusade against authority and hypocrisy. “

It’s a very simple movie, after getting diagnosed with cancer, he decided to just “live life”. Where he took drugs, indulged in drinking, had affairs, (and even experimented with having sex with a man) , it was both hilarious but sad at the same time.
I get a completely different message out of it. I was reading “Socrates in Love” by Christopher Phillips, and I came upon this passage, in relations to Eros (The Greek, meaning “desire,” comes from “to desire, love”, of uncertain etymology)

“Eros is knowing what you should desire, and acting in such a way that you overcome all those other desires of yours that conflict with it, so you can come closer to realizing your “higher desire” 

Think about this, if we give into our impulses all the time, is it truly “living the life we want?” Is that the kind of life we aspire to have ? What sets humans apart from animals is we have higher thinking and we are better at controlling our impulses. It does get significantly harder these days, as we are constantly bombarded with stimuli and temptations.

Daily stoic

“A mind that isn’t in control of itself, that doesn’t understand it’s power of regulate itself, will be jerked around by external events and unquestioned impulses.”

“The most powerful control we can ever attain, is to be in control of ourselves.”

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