Already failed your year’s resolutions? Here are other alternatives…

There’s a whole industry out there trying to convince you that the new year is the year of a new you. As they try to shove yearly planners down your throat and sign you up for a whole year of gym membership at a 50 % discount, it’s very easy to be carried by the wave. If you really think about it, they should verify the famous slogan to, “New Year New You with a More Famished Wallet.” Despite all that hype, only 8 % of people keep their New Year’s Resolutions – statistics which make one wonder why the 92 % even bother.

Making NY resolutions tends to be more of a procrastination strategy than a personal development one. The idea that you’re supposed to wait for a certain time or date to begin something makes it easy to procrastinate on important life decisions. Decisions you know would make you slightly uncomfortable.

“I want to eat healthy, but maybe next year I’ll add it to my New Year’s Resolution list.”

“I want to read more, but maybe next year…”

So the obvious solution to that is to implement a good idea the day you hear it, regardless of whether it’s New Year’s Day or Mid-April or the end of November.

A resolution is like a promise you make to yourself. The main reason promises find themselves broken like new toys in the hands of a toddler, is because the mindset breaking it is different from the mindset making it.

On January 1, it’s very easy to be pumped up and excited about our resolutions because many people are talking about it. You write your resolutions about losing weight, eating healthy, spending less on a large sheet of paper. Come Day 30 and that paper acts as a coaster for your ice cream tub. So an alternative to making this promise to yourself and then disappointing yourself continuously is to take stock of your life right now, and work on fixing it one small habit at a time. It’s known that drastic changes are hard to make because of our habits. We can say that we want to lose weight but as long as the cue-routine-reward cycle exists in our brain (as explained in Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit), it’s going to be tough.

So this is an alternative to making New Year’s Resolutions:

  • Know thyself. Identify your habit cycles and start breaking them down. The Power of Habit is a highly recommended read for this particular step.
  • Think in terms of forming habits instead of making individual goals. For instance, let’s say we want to lose 5 lbs this year; that’s a goal. We’ll always be in a state of disappointment until we reach that goal – that’s if we reach it. And as millennials we’re not so into long-term gratification. We want results like…yesterday! So instead of setting a goal that way, we can focus on making it a habit to take a thirty minute walk everyday or hit the gym three times a week. Taking that first step will help provide us with instant gratification, build our success spiral and all in all, make us feel good.
  • Link habits together to build integrated systems. This needs some thinking and tinkering but basically the secret is to link new habits with long-established habits. So if you’re used to taking a nap in the afternoon, and you want to start doing sit-ups for instance, link the afternoon nap with the sit-up to maintain consistency. The moment you pile habits together and build a system, it becomes this behemoth giant that’s hard to slow down once started.
  • Work from your personal values. I’ve written about this previously. A lot of times we just want to incorporate things into our lives because other people think it’s a good idea. But if it’s not a good idea for us on some deep personal level, then we’d lose traction faster than tires on black ice.
  • Reduce the inertia. We’re not big fans of change so the hardest part of starting anything is overcoming that initial inertia. Sometimes one needs to think of ways to reduce the inertia, for instance in the gym case, some people keep their gym clothes ready the night before so they can launch into their workout routine as soon as they wake up.
  • Experiment. Everybody’s system is going to be different and there’s no way of knowing what works for you until you experiment. Some people get stuck in the idea collection stage without executing anything but until we try we never know what’d work. The secret is to work on your own personal project and have fun doing so.
  • Last but not least, just start! Today. Not tomorrow. Not January 1. Not May 25. Just start today.

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4 Books to Read and Give

So imagine you’re reclined on a favorite couch, reading, when you suddenly come across a sentence so profound you just need to sit up for it. Soon enough – after highlight that sentence of course- you realize you can’t read anymore because the gears in your brain just won’t stop turning. Finally you decide to stop reading and do something about that idea; write it down, talk to someone about it…etc.

Books are powerful weapons. So if you need recommendations on books to read – or give as gifts – so you and your loved ones can enter the new year with new ideas and a whole new mindset, check the list below.

1. A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future

a whole new mind

Even though recent research has debunked the idea that logical, methodical, analytical people use their left brains preferentially while the creative types are right-brain dominant, Dan Pink argues that sparking our creativity is essential as we approach the end of the knowledge worker’s era and the beginning of the creative worker’s era. With material abundance, technological advancement and globalization taking over the business world, workers would need to rely on creative thinking skills to really stand out. He goes on to speak in detail about the six senses; Design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning.

This book really challenges many assumptions made in our societies. Creative people are usually looked down upon. The starved artist is quite the cliched character, so children from a young age are encouraged to suppress their creative side. A talk that goes in line with the topic is Ken Robinson’s famous TED talk on how schools kill creativity.

2. So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love

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Everybody keeps on talking about how you have to follow your passion and then the money would follow. This books consoles those who don’t break free from the corporate cubicle to pursue their passion and argues that passion isn’t everything. Instead the author talks about how one must build his career capital by obtaining skills through hard work in order to achieve mastery, autonomy and mission. Again, whether you agree with it or not is irrelevant; the book will make you think. I’ve written about it in a previous post.

3. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

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This is a personal favorite. It’s on my TBRA (To-be-read-annually) pile. Susan Cain has given voice to the millions of silent and misunderstood introverts who get energized by staying alone. Every time I read it I discover something new in it.

I personally wish I could distribute this book in our society because introverts get a bad rep as anti-social. Sometimes other people fail to realize that our own company is the best company we seek and it really has nothing to do with them. It’s definitely a topic for conversation during family reunions this holiday.

4. The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun

Gretchen Rubin

This book was a pleasant surprise. At first, I didn’t think that the details of someone else’s personal happiness project could be relevant to my life, but the book was filled with so many good ideas, it rendered my highlights section pretty useless as there are so many highlight, I might as well read the whole book again.

So which books have you read already? And which ones are you planning to read next? Leave your comments in the section below.

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7 Things I Wish They Taught us in School

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“Is this going to come in the exam?”

It’s a famous question the answer to which usually cues to whether somebody nods on or nods off.

There’s a lot of pressure on students nowadays to perform well academically and return home with perfect scores so they could get into good colleges. However, good degrees no longer guarantee great jobs, and great jobs no longer guarantee job security. Having experienced both the academic and corporate world, it’s easy to put together a list of necessary life lessons school syllabi tend to overlook;

7) Failing is good. To some extent. The academic system conditions us to hate red crosses on our papers so we try hard to stay within our comfort zone without attempting new things lest we fail in them. This realization hit me once during an acrylic painting class. We started with the background – a twilight scene – and then were instructed to be creative and draw whatever it was we were comfortable with. I wanted to copy my friend’s swan but stopped because I was too scared to ruin the whole painting so I ended up painting grass as it was well within my comfort zone. The world is filled with mottos such as “Fail Forward” for a reason. While failure is never fun, it’s sometimes necessary as a teaching tool. Of course, JK Rolwing says it best,

“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” Tweet this

5) Ask a lot of questions. If you’ve been in a classroom setting then you’ve probably heard someone ask a question that others sniggered over. Maybe you were the one asking or the one sniggering. However, asking questions is another life skill that people need to master because how else would we learn?

6) Break a few rules. Have you ever been rebuked for coloring outside the lines? Innovators go against the norm when it comes to their work. If Steve Jobs had gone with the norm, we’d still be using phones that have a keypad. Breaking a few rules can be uncomfortable, disastrous, but it can also teach you a couple of lessons and it can give you a good story to tell. Just because I’m counting down doesn’t mean that the numbers need to be in order.

4) Daydream. During classes, teachers tend to pick on the daydreamers, with the question,

“Am I boring you?”

Now you can have a science-backed comeback.

“No, I’m just doing my best creative work.”

In a discussion about his book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer discusses the importance of dedicated daydreaming – letting your mind wander, while maintaining enough awareness to recognize insights as they come.

3) P.E. is not just a class. I hated Physical Education (P.E.) in school. I spent it mostly sitting down. Apparently sitting is the new smoking. It’s well known that walking for even thirty minutes every day can tremendously improve one’s health in the long-term, but physical activity is also important for the brain as it boosts memory and thinking skills.

2) It’s not about the grade. Okay, so maybe the grade is an important aspect of one’s academic life because higher education depends on it. But grades are not the be-all and end-all of school. What it is about is life-long learning and exercising your creative and cognitive skills to solve real life problems. Though that sentence might sound like it came from a glossy brochure, do ask yourself everyday – even if you’re out of school – ,

“What did I learn today that I didn’t know yesterday?”

“Am I thinking for myself or just acting as an echoing chamber?”

“Did I exercise my creativity?”

1) Not all dreams come with a syllabus. As students we’re conditioned to ‘stick to the syllabus’, but the well-defined syllabus of “Go to school, get one job and retire at 65” is outdated. The work landscape is changing so rapidly, careers are no longer linear; career changes – aka pivoting – have become the norm. There’s a whole new movement on the quarter-life crisis. The place to start is to know yourself, know where you are (A), know where you want to be (B), and find your path from A to B.

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6 Lessons Learned During my Foray into the Real World

1-cToH9hwD0DVEVte4_hND3wWhen I graduated with a degree in Chemical Engineering, I was so full of optimism. According to word out there, the world was my oyster. I was ready to grab the bull by the horns. Yada yada yada. The only thing I seemed to be doing was overuse cliches and mix metaphors.
It didn’t take long before I was looking into better options, but since I had debts to pay, I had to suck it up for some time. Here are a few things I learned from the experience:
1. It’s not Rocket Science. I was pretty disappointed by that. After having my intellect challenged for so long, I didn’t get too excited about plugging numbers into spreadsheets and typing up other numbers into reports. In one assignment, I was supposed to run a Macro on Excel and transfer the result from one location to another. I called my Partner-in-commiseration and said, “I feel like a finger. All I do all day long is click, click, click.”
2. It pays to have a Partner-in-commiseration. My friend and I worked on the same design project during our senior year in uni, and then we landed jobs in the same company, so she naturally became my Partner-In-Commiseration. Commiserating together made the whole experience more bearable, because no matter how bad the day went, there was always lunch time.
3. You’re in charge of your own learning. In school, we got inundated by information. Come the Real World and people kept their knowledge to themselves. What made it worse was the fact that the economic crisis hit 4 months into our jobs, and people were too scared of losing their jobs, they clammed up double hard in case they let something slip.
4. Office culture is more important than you think. Enough said.
5. Nobody really cares about what you know. What your boss really cares about is the bottom line and how what you do is going to help it. That means shredding 98 % of the knowledge garnered during four years of study using a garburator, and using an excel sheet to calculate the remaining 2 %.
6. Soft skills do matter. What mattered more than doing good work was showing the world that you did good work. Five years after quitting my job, a friend told me, “You would never have survived the corporate job, even if you had stayed. You’re too quiet.”
It’s good I didn’t wait five years to figure that out. It took two years for my debts to clear and I was out of there. Like a flash.

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7 Tips to Make Life After Graduation Awesome

Right towards the end of any college semester, an underlying feeling of anxiety starts to wave its way under the feet of graduating students. You learn never to ask one of those what they’re planning to do after graduation…of course, despite knowing you shouldn’t do it, you end up doing it anyway. The typical answers are, “Get a job”, “Go to Grad School” and “Get married”.

While there’s nothing wrong with those options, they hint at something that’s very typical of us millennials — we like structure. We leave a structured system just to jump back into another structured system. We need runway edge lights in our lives, and that’s the way we’ve been raised. So until we get that job or get accepted into that grad school or get a suitable proposal on shadi.com, we spend the nights playing PS3, we sleep in late and we fight with the family members in whose basement we live.

Get a job. Go to grad school. Get married.

There’s only a slight problem with these options. The only slight problem is it’s what most new graduates do, and if you want to know where you stand,China alone is expected to spew out 7.2 million graduates into the market. And that’s just one country. So if you’re graduating soon you’re just a droplet in a very wide ocean.

So what should you do to stand out and become awesome?

1. Wake up. A loafer’s life might be pretty appealing, but until you’re making one million dollars in your sleep, you can’t be a loafer just yet. Just because you don’t have school anymore doesn’t mean you should be glued to your bed. And since the automatic thing is to find yourself a new structure trough job or grad school, you would need to do some work like throwing your CV everywhere, and checking for companies on line in search for talent like yours. And for that, you really need to wake up – and get out of bed.

2. Find out what your unique gifts are. This transitory stage is the perfect time is to get to know yourself; your strengths, your weaknesses, your passions…basically, everything I’ve outlined before here, here and here.

3. Build your skill set and add value to the world around you (even when you’re not getting paid). It’s very hard for us to do something unless we’re getting something in return. Think of the feedback loop that exists when we go to school. We study and then the grades we get at the end of the semester closes the loop. We get into a job, then we get paid and that closes the feedback loop. But in a structure-less system, we have to close the feedback loop yourself since (surprise!) there’s no structure. So the best question to ask yourself every night is, “Am I better today than I was yesterday?” And the main areas you might want to focus on are; intellectual, spiritual, mental and social.

If you’re gaining so much weight and can feel your neurons fizzling away then you’ve got an obvious problem. Whether you watch inspirational TED talks or enroll in an online Coursera course, do not waste your transition period. And I say this because a time will come when you wish you had the energy and the time to actually pursue the things you want to pursue but because your time gets sold for money and by the time you return to your apartment your brain’s too fried to focus on anything but cat videos…make the best use of your post-commencement-ceremony-before-first-job period. 

And you never know. You might end up stumbling on a million dollar idea (read the story behind AirBnb.com). Whatever you do, with the technological advances, you have more opportunities now than before to tap into a hidden market.

4. Get a menial job. So that Fortune 500 company hasn’t called you back for that interview yet? What about helping your uncle deliver milk to his customers. Many university graduates look down at menial jobs, and of course let’s not even start talking about the social implications…”He got a Master’s degree and decided to work as a farmer?” But you know what, if you really think about it farming is a basic life skill and it does build your character by teaching you patience so it can’t be that bad. 

5. Read, read, and read some more. Not just comic books. Not just fiction. Read biographies and other nonfiction books. Universities are supposed to instill in us a love for life-long learning but between the eight o’clock powerpoint slide lectures and heavy textbooks, that becomes quite challenging. But pick up a book. Your brain cells will thank you for it.

6. Travel. This is not always possible because of the $$$ limitations. However, if you have a sense of adventure, you can google traveling hacks and plan for a trip without hurting your wallet too much. If you’re like me and lack that sense of adventure, then you can explore the area you already live in. Travel before you’re sucked into a job that binds you to a desk for a third of a day, inspires you to glue yourself to a couch the second third of the day, and puts you to sleep for the rest of the day.

7. Give back to society. Let’s take some time to appreciate the gift of education that has been bestowed upon us. As we speak, the war in Syria is keeping 2 million children out of school. It’s mind-boggling to multiply that by the number of troubled and poor countries where children just can’t afford to go to school. It’s quite heartbreaking to think that while the internet has made knowledge accessible…its access still doesn’t reach everybody. So give back to society, in whatever little way you can think of.

Whatever you do, make sure you’re sharing with the world your unique gifts, make sure you are adding value to the people around you, and work on paving your own path and remember the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson,

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail. Share on Twitter

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Should you Follow Your Passion or Not

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The good thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with career advice. The bad thing about living in our age is that the internet is filled with contradicting career advice.

The economic crisis happened the year I graduated, which meant I didn’t have to look far and wide to discover that “Go to school, get into a good university, get a good job and you’re set for life” no longer applied. All I had to do was go to work one day and see the empty desks around me. Apparently our peers in the Western world had discovered that a bit earlier but living in the Middle East, someone seemed to have missed the memo. 

So at some point in your life, it’s 6abee3i jiddan (natural) to type into google, “I hate my job wh…” and google totally gets you. The trick is to somehow find your way through the 264,000,000 results that come up.

 

Some people will tell you to follow your passion, and again, if you live in the part of the world where you’re branded an engineer or a doctor from the day you’re born, then there’s a high chance your passion is very much different from what you’ve studied. However, the main risk connected with following your passion is you’ll be broke — for a very, very long time — and following your passion — or doing anything in fact — is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.

“Following your passion – or doing anything in fact – is pretty difficult when you’re broke and hungry.” Tweet this

Then Cal Newport entered the scene with his message, “Why ‘Following your passion’ is bad advice,” in his book So Good they Can’t Ignore YouHis advice focuses on how passion comes after working really, really hard on something, and being really good at it.

Personally, I support the second message, because of a few truths:

  1. Not everybody knows what their passion is
  2. The world might not be willing to pay you for your passion

So let’s say you’re really passionate about counting baby coconuts. The most that someone might pay you for counting coconuts is a free baby coconut drink. But the world might not be ready for your counting-coconut-services, so following your passion happens to be really really really bad advice.

So let’s say you’re one of those people who doesn’t know what their passion is.It’s very easy to read all this stuff on the internet and get pretty pumped up about quitting your job and hitchhiking around the globe to discover what your passion is. It’s easy theoretically, but pretty hard practically (read $$$$).

But here’s one thing to know about those successful ‘follow your passion’ stories on the internet. To each one, there are probably five failure stories that don’t get reported.

So before quitting your job, find out exactly what’s bothering you. You might not be having a passion crisis. Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you get intellectually challenged at your job?
  2. Are you building your skill set?
  3. Do you enter a state of flow while you’re working?
  4. Is the world ready to pay you for your services?

If the first three answers are no, then those might be your reasons for ‘hating your job’ not that you’re not passionate about it. Maybe if you find something else in the field that intellectually challenges you then you might throw those ‘Malaysia, truly Asia’ brochures out the window.

If you do know what your passion is, and really want to make money out of it, then work at monetizing it before you quit your day job. Ask the world if they are ready to pay for it and don’t be like that coconut-counter.

The trick is whatever you do, do not make rash emotional decisions based on one bad day at work. Even people who follow their passions will tell you it’s not always good in the ‘Living My Dream’ world. There are difficult clients, and tasks they hate doing but have to do it anyway. And if you’re not really convinced, read Cal Newport’s “So Good They Can’t Ignore You”. He definitely does a better job convincing than I do.

Image: Google screenshot and unsplash.com

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Your First Step to Being a Renaissance (Wo)man

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Leonardo Da Vinci was a Renaissance man. His interests spanned a wide range of topics; from engineering to cartography (=map drawing, in case you were wondering ‘what is cartography?!’). But you know the most fascinating thing I find about Da Vinci; his notebooks. Some may consider his notebooks as pieces of art in and of themselves. They recorded the man’s thinking and his fascination with nature. So your first step to being a renaissance (wo)man is simple; Start a Journal.

Journaling helps you learn more about yourself. It helps you disentangle your thoughts. Sometimes you can’t figure out why you did something until you adopt a third person’s view of it, and sometimes you can’t do that until you write about it and read it later.

Journaling can be cathartic; the pen providing a valve through which you can relieve all of your personal frustrations.

Journaling can also help you harness your creativity. Whether it’s through creative writing or drawing sketches, an empty page can both be thrilling and scary.

You can also use your journal to collect quotes, mementos from moments you never want to forget so when your fickle memory becomes unreliable you have something to remind you of the good old days. It’s always a good idea to capture specifics while describing bits and pieces of your current life because things change so quickly.

A beautiful example of presenting specifics can be found in The Unabridged Journals of Sylvie Plath,

“I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent setting strawberry runners in the sun, a glass of cool sweet milk, and a shallow dish of blueberries bathed in cream. When one is so tired at the end of a day one must sleep, and at the next dawn there are more strawberry runners to set, and so one goes on living, near the earth….” Tweet this

It’s easy to take one look at Da Vinci’s notebooks and have such a high standard for a journal, but let’s be honest here, as much as I encourage you to be a renaissance (wo)man, you are no Da Vinci, and most likely, nobody’s really going to care about your journals so as Gretchen Rubin advises, sometimes to get things done you’ve got to lower your standards. Another sage advice she’s made popular is,

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Share on Twitter

In other words, open your journal and scribble about mats or cats, cars, or Mars. Let your tears smear the ink on the page so every word is illegible. Use the paper bag that came with your samosa as a bookmark so there are grease splotches everywhere. In other words, Wreck your journal!

After all, there’s something amazing about writing for yourself; it’s liberating not to have someone judge you for your ideas. The only trick, especially in our Kemeni culture, is to make sure your journal doesn’t look fancy. It shouldn’t be leather-bound or have a lock or pink feathers, because it might attract the wasabasi (nosy) people in your lives. Get one of those kasuku notebooks and let it meld in with your other school/work/recipe notebooks.

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If you’re always virtually chained to your laptop, you can keep an online journal on penzu.com. There’s also the iphone app called ‘Day One’ that’s becoming popular nowadays. For other platforms, Evernote is another good example. The best thing about personal journals on your computer is the control+F function.

So are you thinking of starting a journal? Leave a comment below telling me about the type of journal you’d like to use and/or tag me on twitter (@ahscribbles) with hashtag (#journaling). What’s your first entry going to be about?

Feeling uninspired? Try answering one of these three questions in one of those inconspicuous kasuku notebooks;
1) What would I do if I knew I couldn’t fail?
2) What advice would you give your fourteen year old self?
3) If you had a million dollars, how would you spend it?

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