It’s not me…it’s you

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Me with Claudia, (right) and Dorothy (left)

There’s a Chinese idiom that says “出淤泥而不染”, loosely translated, it means “The lotus remains pure and untainted growing out of the mud”, but we are human, not lotuses, we are as easily tainted as a drop of ink on a pure white blouse. (In my case, it’s more like a drop of chocolate sauce)

We are protective of our body, we don’t allow people harass us physically, what about our minds ? We should protect our mind just like how we protect our physical self. I always think about this passage from the book “The Monk who sold his Ferrari”, it says, “To live life to the fullest, you must stand guard at the gate of your garden and let only the very best information enter. You truly cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought – not even one.” If certain individuals elicits negative feelings and emotions in you, limit as much contacts as you can with these individuals.

It often surprises me whenever people tell me “I don’t like so-and-so…all so-and-so does is gossip or trigger me…” As you can imagine, there are many other scenarios…but the solution is often simple : Stop hanging out with so-and-so. It’s more complicated If it’s a family member that you simply cannot live without, then it’s best to have a sit down conversation with them, tell them what they say or do that trigger the negative emotions in you, as it will deplete you eventually.

It is a constant struggle for me. As a people pleaser, it’s hard for me to let people go and I invest extra effort and time to cultivate a relationship. As I age, I simply realize instead of trying to be nice and personable to everyone around me, I need to be selective with who I allow into my life.

You’re the average of the 5 people you hangout with.

I dislike myself, atleast not yet. I am a constant work in progress, but at the same time, I have no choice, as I need to be with myself. I seek to improve myself because I like to become the person I like to hang out with. They say you’re the average of the 5 people you hangout with, the people we connect with plays a part in shaping our characteristics, and this is why we need to be selective.

It’s not technology that’s scary, it’s what it does to human relations. – Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance 

Being a millennial, this means not only I have to be mindful of the type of individuals I choose to socialize with physically, it also includes online interactions, who I follow on social media, etc. Technology is valuable to me because my best friend, Dorothy, lives away from me and we rarely get to hang out physically, however, we send each other letter format texts (I know…we are ancient) and I’m very aware of keeping in touch with her because i feed off of her energy, she reminds me of the type of person I want to be become: empathetic, patient, kind….I can go on and on about her.

Cultivating a relationship takes time and effort, and you want to be selective with who you want to invest your time and energy in. As an emotional person who tends to follow her intuition all the time, I realize my intuition is often wrong, I realize I cannot be a dumpster, there’s a limit to my mental capacity and I cannot afford to keep investing time in people who are on a completely different orbit than mine. The more energy I invested in the wrong people, the less reserve I have for the right people.

And when you find someone worthwhile, someone who influences you to be a better person : go above and beyond to nurture the relationship..whether it’s a friend, a mentor, a colleague, a boss..whoever that maybe. Your investment (time and effort) will pay off eventually, it is an incredible blessing to have people who pushes you to become a better self.

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.”

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.