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.”

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.

Master the art of showing up

“Be silent and listen_ have you recognized your madness and do you admit it_ Have you noticed that all your foundations are completely mired in madness_ Do you not want to recognize your madness and welcome it in a f

The novelty of my swim practice has wore off, I’m on my 7th lessons, still trying to learnt the basics of freestyle. I am starting to feel the deficit and I am feeling pretty beat up on most days, and these days, I look forward to my rest days more than anything.

Despite not “feeling like it”, I still make myself go regardless of how I feel. As I understand the importance of showing up, regardless of the quality of the effort I put in. I will show up, practice and go home, and this is usually after a training session, 3-4 times weekly. I am also currently weaning off my coffee consumption, and I definitely feel the coffee withdrawal symptoms : migraine, low energy level, bad mood..it’s crazy how when you use it everyday, you don’t notice any effect it had on you. It’s only after I took it off completely, then I notice such significant difference.

The beginning is always the hardest, and I am mastering the art of showing up. I replaced my morning coffee with half cup of orange juice, salted with gelatin, and I do have some tea as replacement (but I’m also very aware of not abusing it) . Regardless of how tired I feel, I dragged my feet to the public pool and let Connie make me swim laps. I still enjoy it, as problems fade away as I dip my head under water.

I shall report back on my coffee abstinence…’till next update.

 

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.