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.”

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.

 

 

Ego, social media, and bodybuilding

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I am just a little under #4weeksout of WNBF Singapore, after battling bouts of high and low days, I am feeling better this week, I am feeling excited that the show is just around the corner.

I have planned everything that I needed to plan at the moment, there is some other details that I need from the show organizer, but at this moment, I feel prepared.

Everyday, I’d open up my journal to this page that reads “I am absolutely capable of fullfilling anything that is asked of me ; I have all the knowledge that I need to do this already inside me ; I am fully resourceful and able to rise to this challenge.”

What do I do without quotes…

I have just came back from KK (Sabah), and before I write about my thoughts on Ego and bodybuilding, I have to admit this blog post is inspired after being at a powerlifting event. I have flown there from Sibu to be with my best friend Dorothy (a Sabah native, but currently working and living in KL) as her entourage. There is a similarity with both powerlifting and bodybuilding, powerlifters and bodybuilders often don’t see eye to eye, bodybuilders tend to see powerlifters as being egotistic, and powerlifters just think bodybuilders are a bunch of narcissistic vainpots.  If only we could see how similar we all are,  infact, this similarity is consistent amongst all the different pursuit of sports.

Something Mike Tyson said on Joe Rogan’s podcast a while ago has stuck with me, about how he doesn’t lift weight anymore because he finds that it inflate his ego. A light bulb went off in my head, I then thought about my ego, my addiction with social media, narcissism, my constant craving for attention through either bodybuilding or powerlifting, I question my motive, when it comes to the hobbies I pursue, are they in control of me, or am I in control of them? Am I really doing it for self growth, or simply feeding my ego?

I will always be a great fan of both sports, and there’s a beauty in both the pursuit of strength and physique that captivate me. But with the rise of social media, so much of this has become about social approval. By focus my attention on pursuing it for self growth, I have gained a much deeper insight in the process. What was I looking for by posting my “progress” anyway ? Does it help me, or more importantly, others? I was clueless, I was simply a sheep in a herd, following what everyone else is doing.

I have battle with myself more times than I can count this prep. I have found great satisfaction in acknowledging my shortcomings and overcoming my challenges, all without posting or complaining on the social media. I do admit sometimes I slip, and let me emotions drive my actions, with that, I realize I need to safe guard my behaviour and never let my attention slip, because it is too easy to fall back into the rabbit hole.

There are many elements that makes a human being thrive : bodybuilding, powerlifting, or just lifting in general,  it is only a very small part of my self development journey. With bodybuilding, I understand it’s imperative that I use it to improve myself, let it build my character instead of the other way around. Bodybuilders aren’t egotistic, but physique and strength sports tends to attract egotistic people, keep ego in check, and it will nourish you.

 

 

Prep Journal : Reset your mind and change your mood

Some personal observation and experiment in regards to changing my state of being.

I am about a month into my contest prep, most of my musings tend to revolve around dieting, it’s definitely difficult to not be food focus while you’re in a dieting phase, for me, it is a requirement. However, most of these strategy are effective and can be apply to many aspects of our lives.

As I am still not tracking food at this point, when it comes to dealing with hunger issues, I have to rely heavily on internal cues. There is also a difference between emotional hunger and physical hunger. I have realized I deal with physical hunger much better than emotional hunger. Currently, the cue that I give myself is, “If you still feel like you want more food after your meal, then you’re in the right place, stop right now.” At a surplus or a maintenance phase,  I simply just add more food, there was definitely more flexibility.

Change your environment

Walking away from more food doesn’t come naturally for me. The strategy I use currently is immediately clean up after my meal, (make dish washing/cleaning up part of my eating routine.) And I would often walk right after my morning and evening meals. I am rather inspired by Stan Efferding when it comes to implementing walks or activity around meal times, as it improves digestion and insulin sensitivity. As soon as I move away from my dining table, clean up, then proceed to my neighbourhood stroll, my urge of wanting more food is greatly reduced. Switching up the environment definitely helps.

Use music

Sometimes when I’m feeling abit down, I listen to happy, upbeat music. I find that music is quite powerful when it comes to picking me up, this is why I tend to avoid moody music (especially love songs about heart breaks) I appreciate sad music definitely, but I find that it does nothing for my mental well being. So most of the time, I gravitate towards happier tunes.

Change your physical state 

Our physical being has alot to do with our mental well being, as soon as I get up and move, I feel my mood is instantly lifted. This ties in with walking, as soon as I pick up my feet and starts walking outside, I can feel my entire being switch. Movement is medicine.

When distraction doesn’t work

I hear people say the best thing we can do when we’re trying to change our mental state is get distracted, this has never worked well for me. With distraction, I find that the underlying problem will persists and haunt me whenever I have down time. I realized sometimes I just need to face my problem head-on, a form of mental training almost, to “grind through it”. Whether it’s hunger, or certain habits that you try to eradicate, you just have to “get used to it”, putting in the reps, until you’re not as effected by it anymore. This is a learning curve for me definitely.

Nature is your best friend

I am fortunate to be in the tropics, where weather is good for daily walks and activities. I used to be a hermit, my days were mostly screen-filled, indoors. I now enjoy a myriad of outdoor activities, on most days I start and end my day with a walk, and whenever we travel, I try to include an outdoor activity which we both can enjoy. Being outside alone, helps tremendously with mood and depression. It is not a coincidence that more people are diagnosed with depression these days : people are less inclined to go outside due to technology. Sunlight and nature is incredibly healing.

I work hard on making these habits sticks, putting in the reps day in and day out, untill this comes naturally for me.

#17weeksout

 

Digital minimalism : Becoming the person I like

I’ve been enjoying going through all the blog posts about digital minimalism, I find it comforting knowing so many people are struggling like I do, and it’s inspiring that people are so self aware : Self awareness and self reflections are the antidote to the struggles we face.

Like most people, I have tried to take social media off in the past. My work is deeply intertwined with my personal life, people I meet from work often adds me on facebook or instagram, clients follow my personal account…and so on. For the longest time I didn’t know how to separate the both, I’d go on my personal instagram, then toggle to my work instagram, then I get on my facebook account, then manage my facebook page from there….I could list so many examples, but you get the idea.

Turning on the screen time was definitely a huge turning point for me, at the time, I was averaging at 3-4 hours a day…to say I was shocked is an understatement. From then on I started become more mindful of how much I use the phone..and still, it always comes up to about 2 hours daily. By this time I was researching on how I can be more efficient with social media for work, I started using planners, and only work from my browser. Once I developed a flow, I started working on my personal account…which was much harder than what I anticipated.

Most of the people I admire aren’t even on social media. I remember how agitated I feel whenever someone picks up their phone obsessively when I sit across them, sometimes I look around during red lights, and I swear, almost every driver I see are looking at their phones, if that is not an addiction, I don’t know what is. I self reflect alot, what am I doing? Do i want to become this person that I hate? Irritable, anxious, constantly looking for entertainment after entertainment, mindless scrolling and browsing, posting every food that I eat, I couldn’t concentrate on reading my book because I have this fucking urge to take a picture of the book and post it to instagram to show people that I am “well read”. I would take intermittent breaks, but I always go back. I’d justify my behavior by saying things like “I’m just going to use it for the information.” But who am I kidding? Out of all the posts that I see, perhaps 10-20% are actually useful to me…compared to the harm it causes me, it just makes no sense to keep using it.

In just a week, I’ve listened to more podcasts/audiobooks than I’ve had in the past few months combined. I read, I write, I invested time in my swim practice, I am much more focused and relaxed and I am actually pretty happy being bored. I only have to charge my phone every 2-3 days, and my screen time is reduced to under 30 mins a day…slowly, I am becoming the person I like, the person who is confident, productive, and not constantly comparing herself to others. I used to look at older folks and admire how they’re able to just sit and do nothing at parks (which is a rare sight these days), and slowly, I am becoming one of them. (Well…not as old, yet)

This is a learning process for me, and I am just getting started, I strive to do a little better everyday.

Meditation : Day 3, 30 mins a day

Some observations regarding my meditation practice.

Everybody practice meditation for different reasons, I have to quote Haemin Sunim again : I don’t have big ambition, I simply want to be able to enjoy my breaths.

Throughout this whole process of trying to better myself, it is very important for me to observe myself empathetically, free from any judgement.

It is no surprise that google is monitoring my every behavior, as this video of Nathaniel Drew pops up on my youtube feed, and it got me thinking, maybe I should set aside a time for my practice. Prior to this, I already meditate 10-15 mins daily, I do this rather aimlessly, I’d look at my clock before I start, and again after I finished. While setting a time goal may seem rigid to most, I think it will help me cement the habit. 30 minutes seem reasonable, so on Monday, I began.

5.30am, turned on the timer on my phone. 30 minutes countdown, and I began.

Instead of the seiza posture Olivier has taught me previously, I sat instead. I supinated my palms and layer them on my crotch. I have no idea what I was doing, I was simply trying to find a comfortable position.

Again, drifting, drifting,drifting, from thought to thought. Alot of re-routing my attention to my breaths. I’d drift then I’d tell myself to focus on my breath. Inhaled and exhaled slowly. Soon, agitation begin to set in, my legs are feeling numb, I felt like I was slouching (It would be fun to do a timelapse video sometimes, I am sure I wasn’t really sitting quietly) It is at this point that I began to tell myself, “Maybe I didn’t set the timer, this felt like forever ! I am sure I’ve passed the 30 minutes mark.” I tried to persevere, “Just hang on a little longer, I am sure you are getting very very close now.” And in the end I opened my eyes before the timer went off, and I always do so as if I have just emerged from the water.

Kinda funny if you think about it, this defeats the purpose of meditating, it was supposed to help me feel calm but towards the end I lost it. It was like Game of Thrones in my mind (I’ve never watched the series LOL)

Subjectively speaking, I did rather well

Monday : 2 minutes short of 30 minutes

Tuesday : 5 minutes short of 30 minutes

Wednesday : 3 minutes short of 30 minutes

My legs were so numb that each time I come out of it, I’d lay on the floor and close my eyes, and continue to focus on my breathing until I feel “recovered” from it.

Side note : I’ve just listened to this podcast by Sigma Nutrition, and Nick Gant, (he’s the director of the Exercise Neurometabolism Laboratory at the University of Auckland)

When asked what is his one advice to improve our cognitive function, he answered :”Just do one hard thing everyday.” And he briefly mentioned how meditating can be that hard thing that challenges our cognitive function. It really resonates with me. Sure, it gets easier with time but it simply isn’t human nature to sit and think about “nothing”. But I think, it is one thing that men perform exceedingly well, this explains why most monks who meditates are men. I am certain if my husband meditates, he will definitely do better than me.

 

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Haemin Sunim : Author of The Things you can see only when you slow down. Image credit to Penguin Books

 

Physical degeneration and mental health : I’m gonna kill myself

Yesterday, there was a little commotion going on at our neighbour’s.

Apparently he locked himself outside of his house, and he didn’t have a phone with him. So he went over to my mother in law’s house (which is right next to our house) to have her call his wife, I don’t want to go into details, in the end everything was resolved because apparently, his son was inside the house.

He was frantic, and angry, and he couldn’t control himself. He was cursing and saying things like :”How could this had happened, I’m gonna kill myself !” My mother in law was shocked upon hearing that, according to my mother in law, he is mentally unstable, so she was concerned he was really going to kill himself.

I am certainly aware that many seniors are suffering from some form of mental illness, and it certainly makes me think alot about how our physical degeneration, is interlinked with our mental health. It’s just hard to feel good if you are suffering physically.

Yesterday, I had a toothache. I don’t want to know what is it, and I’ll never find out, since it has subsided today. I had a wisdom tooth pulled out very recently, and I’ve sworn to never go back to the dentist again…even if the dentist is as hot as Chris Hemsworth. I even read Dr.Weston Price’s book (Nutrition and Physical Degeneration) to get a better understanding on how to improve dental health. The pain started early morning, I was still feeling fine when I was having my breakfast, by mid noon, it has escalated and quite literally, I felt like killing myself. My mood has gone sour and I started behaving like a little kid towards my husband. I forced food down, chewing meat with the other side of my mouth (a true meathead is ingesting protein every couple of hours no matter the circumstances) by evening, it was so painful that I had trouble concentrating, by this time, I started treating my husband like a punching bag (figuratively speaking) . I certainly had alot of internal dialogues with myself, still, I couldn’t control my behaviour because of my physical pain.

I gave in and had 2 panadols last night, the pain subsided.

This little incident reminds me how we need to first take care of our physical health, and once we have establish a good foundation, then, we can only improve our mental well being. Both cannot be separated.

I feel pretty bad for lashing out on him, but when I woke him up for panadols last night, the look of genuine concern on his face really touched me. My health has improved so tremendously that, he no longer has to take care of me like he did, and it was nice to be reminded that he cares for me deeply. Perhaps this isn’t such a bad episode after all.

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