The Consequence of Insecurities: What's Not So Obvious

 
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Insecurities are a silent killer. It’s perfectly normal to have them and I have yet to meet anyone without them, so the presence of insecurities would likely not alarm anyone, nor I, but the more I observe myself, the more I see how normalized insecurities have become. Insecurities are what has hurt me in fulfilling my truest potential. Online resources and the billion-dollar self-help industry can attest to the prominence of insecurities, so I’ve never felt abnormal in possessing insecurities. In fact, psychologists can attest that insecurities are a normal part of human development. To some degree I would say yes, but what if insecurities are so inescapable that it inhibits one from moving forward with anything. Yes, humans are prone to insecurities, but the normalization of its existence is what had inhibited me to think there wasn’t another way.

For a while, knowing how normal insecurities are allowed me to let my insecurities dictate my life. What I didn’t think about was the degree of my insecurities and how it inhibited my actions. I used to think outside circumstances or the situation I am in was what was stopping me from being able to feel, be, or do certain things but I realize now that the contribution to these internalized limitations are in fact a mirror to my exaggerated insecurities. My limitations are not concrete. My limitations are not what’s actually stopping me from doing things, but rather I am harnessing unhealthy levels of insecurities which translates into fear and therefore inhibits me from taking actions. I therefore also have stopped myself from optimizing on my own potential. Doesn’t that sound silly?

Looking out from within, it’s easy to see why blaming external factors becomes the coping mechanism of choice (like blaming genetics or blaming circumstance); a sort of denial and aversion to accepting my own autonomy in my actions. Also, another convincing factor to blame something other than myself is that blaming something else shifts the responsibility away from myself. Of course, I am not saying that there aren’t realities that aren’t happening around me which are beyond my control, nor am I saying that there are certain unarguable limitations (like how humans can’t fly-- though humans did invent airplanes and rockets), nor is the outside world completely passive in shaping my actions. What I am highlighting is how I tend to only attribute limitations to external factors before giving room to contemplate my insecurities which are contributing to the limitation I encounter.

Most limitations, for example like “I can’t move to a new city” or “I can’t start a new routine” are all created limitations. It is not true that I can’t do either of these things if I wanted to, which is therefore different to how I can’t fly without a machine assisting me. This fact alone has been a monumental awakening, as I never thought the responsibility to breakdown these inhibiting limitations was within my autonomy. Upon closer observation, my conclusion is that most of the limitations I encounter are in fact created due to my own insecurities. I’ve somehow managed to go through life allowing these created limitations to trap me in my own reality. I forget that the truth of my experience lies in my mind and if I believe I can’t do something, then that’s the truth that will play out.

This is what I’ve struggled through over the years. I’ve struggled by creating limitations in my mind which aren’t actually true. I’ve struggled to take action because of these created limitations and when I look back at my life, I do admit, I sometimes feel regret at the missed opportunities I feel I’ve let gone by. I had allowed limitations and fear dictate how I lived my life and looking back, I no longer want to life that way. I still sometimes lie awake fearful of what tomorrow will bring. I am fearful that I will live a meaningless life. I am fearful I will miss critical opportunities in my personal and professional life. I lie in bed thinking about how insignificant my life feels today and how it may stay the same tomorrow. All these struggles are struggles I still live with, but what I’ve come to realize is how these limitations only exist in my mind.

The liberating truth about all the work that I’ve done over the years on myself and the research I’ve done on this matter is that I now I know that I have the power to change my truth. I have the power to change my reality. I have the power to breakdown my insecurities. I know that it takes serious effort to change and stop myself from inhibiting my own potential, but the light at the end of the tunnel is that I know I can change. That change is possible, that change can happen, that change is within my control, and that change is the responsibility I have to myself. My fixation on limitations due to my insecurities has held me captive for so long, but I now know it only has power over my actions if I allow it.

Jumping out off the corporate world and becoming a full time fitness professional and starting my blog was and is still one of the scariest endeavors I have undertaken. I have no idea where life will take me, but I am optimistic about what the future holds because I am now aware of the power insecurities has over my actions. I now place a lot of effort in debunking my own insecurities as I want to live a life free from regret and what ifs. I want to continue to take actions towards my dreams and ambition and I will continue to work on releasing myself from the captivity of my insecurities; that alone, I know, is a journey that’ll take a lifetime.

 

How to Facilitate Positive Changes on The Brain & Mind

 
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The most profound book I’ve read in my recent life is The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph. D and Sharon Begley. This book was my introduction into the current world of neuroscience and it’s dynamic advances since the time I last sat in a psychology class back in high school. The most significant finding, amongst many outlined in the book, is the fact that our brain has the capacity to continue to adapt and develop throughout all of life, known as neuroplasticity. This is in contrary to the past belief that the brain stops developing after a certain age. This book is my insight into understanding The Real Power Of the Mind and a catalyst to my now near obsession with the understanding and learning about the brain and its capacity.

I state time and time again that the mind and the brain plays a significant role in our lives. It is the core of our humanity; how we operate as human beings. Without the brain or the mind humans are nothing, which is why an understanding of the role the brain and the mind play in our life is important.

Therefore, now that we know about neuroplasticity, that the brain has the capacity for lifelong growth and development, it’s time to take full advantage of the advances made through neuroscience and start applying it. Now the question is, how can I improve my brain and mind?

NOTE: There is a plethora of information and ways to improve the brain and the mind, here I am focusing on methods I have so far adopted myself.

#1 - Meditation

Meditation used to be a space in which neuroscientists were afraid to engage with due to the fear of rejection from their peers. Before, studying meditation was seen as career suicide for neuroscientists. There was a lot of stigmas not to take these scientists seriously, but through the sacrifice and perseverance of pioneering scientists, the science can now confirm the benefits of meditation.

Davidson “found that each of us is… a unique blend that describes how you perceive the world and react to it, how you engage with others, and how you navigate the obstacle course of life.” His scientific journey, “has culminated in the studies on long-term meditators...showing that we have the power to live our lives and train our brains in ways that will shift where we” are. The liberating knowledge is that “you don’t have to wait until you are a meditation Olympian, with upwards of ten thousand hours of meditation under your robe.” Research has shown that even 10 minutes a day can significantly improve a person’s attention, focus, stress level, and general mental condition.

NOTE: There are different types of meditation out there. A quick Google search will be able to assist in outlining the types and benefits of different types of meditation.

"the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions"

#2 - Shifting Internal Dialogue

Davidson found that “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions…for example, when athletes engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike, the regions of the motor cortex that controls the required muscles expand. Similarly, thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits.”

If I’m being honest, how guilty am I of negative and self-defeating internal dialogue? It’s easy to forget the force the mind and the brain plays when it comes to life because although the brain and the mind are how we experience the world, it’s also an afterthought because my inner world is not what’s at the forefront of the experience. It requires a person to pause, to introspect, to look within, and to pursue one’s own internal world to realize the significance it plays in life.

# 3 - Practicing Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck, a professor who studies Growth Mindset at Stanford University outlines her magnificent findings on the real potential the brain has through her research on children in school settings. First, let’s define fixed mindset, a fixed mindset is the belief that one is born with a set of abilities and talents. Therefore, are static in their ability to learn, grow, and change. A growth mindset is the belief that one has the capacity to continuously develop and improve their abilities and talents through continuous effort and learning. Therefore, even when faced with failure, they understand that failure is only temporary; that there’s always the potential to improve.

This simple shift in mindset is what made the difference between underperforming students and students who excelled. The theory was put to test in underprivileged neighborhoods and school districts and found that “students who were not taught… growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades.” In another “study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, they can get smarter.”

I can relate to this story because back in middle school I went from a C and B student to a straight-A student, seemingly overnight. I even won the most improved student award back in 8th grade just because one teacher believed in me and took the time to tell me that he did. It’s not my abilities or skills that were the cause of this jump, it was the simple shift in mindset. Through my teacher’s belief in me, I understood that I had the capacity to learn, to develop, and therefore improve.

Although Dweck’s research presented findings in school-aged children, the development in neuroscience, which highlights neuroplasticity, a condition available throughout all of life indicates the human capacity for such improvements even in adulthood. The simple shift in the belief that even as an adult, I have the ability and capacity to reconfigure my brain through effort, learning, and knowledge is enough to propel me to invest in improving my cognitive world.

The lesson I draw based on all this information is realizing the brain’s lifelong capacity to grow and develop. That what it takes to improve the condition of my brain and mind is to invest time towards it. If I allocate time and effort towards improving my mental capacity and condition, then the evidence from neuroscience supports the claim, that I will see improvements. The science supports the claim that if I do the work to stimulate and improve my brain, the results will surely follow. That’s a guarantee I cannot ignore.

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Resources: 

Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

Let's Talk Mental Health

 
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Every time the term 'mental health' is said, one gigantic dark cloud starts to emerge in most people’s minds. The term conjures up negative connotations, thoughts of crazy people (i.e. people who are mentally ill or mentally insane), almost like a gag reflex or a jerk reaction to the sound of those two words said together; and literally, everyone freezes start to look down, and eventually move away from the conversation.

Here’s the truth. Mental health is exactly what it is. Mental health is about mental health; the health and condition of one’s mind. To be more specific, “mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life,” (www.mentalhealth.gov) but, I think even this is a limited definition as to what’s truly relevant when addressing the topic of mental health. I believe mental health should encompass the health of one’s brain too. The brain is the vehicle which creates the condition, the capacity, and the operations possible for mental health. The brain is the source of every person’s emotional, psychological, social, physical, and physiological health. Humans are nothing without the brain, so even more than physical health, mental health should be everyone’s priority.

"Humans are nothing without the brain, so even more than physical health, mental health should be everyone’s priority."

Let’s for a moment briefly define the brain and define the mind. The brain is an organ of collective nerve tissues which sits in the skull, while the mind is the intellect and consciousness of a person. In my opinion, when discussing the considerations pertaining to mental health, both the brain and the mind are necessary to include because a brain without a mind is not fulfilling its true capacity and a mind without a brain is impossible.

Think about it, without a brain I will be left lifeless, how will the heart know to continue to pump blood? How will I know how to contract and expand my lungs? I will not know how to operate my body. I will be absent from my operational capacity to live. Without a mind I won’t be able to know who I am, I won’t have a sense of identity, I wouldn’t know what identity even is, nor would I even know that I exist. The perspective each individual has of the world and of one’s own existence all exists in the mind. If I am absent of mind, then I will be absent of realizing I have a life to live for.

Let’s use the simple example of exercise and how when I exercise I can cause my brain to produce endorphins. Endorphins are what’s commonly known as ‘happy hormones’ and an increase in endorphins will also cause a feeling of elation and happiness. Think about this more clearly, the brain is secreting hormones that impact my mood. It’s not hard to see why I find the brain and the mind as a necessary pair in the consideration of mental health. Further, why I find mental health as a very important topic to be considered and talked about by everyone at every stage of life.

The breadth of responsibility the brain and the mind touch on in regards to human life is so substantial that it’s a surprise that it’s taken us this long to highlight mental health as an important matter to be considered by the masses. The biggest astonishment of all, of course, is the fact that the topic of mental health is still stigmatized. The positive move now is that more and more people are awakening to the realities of how important both the mind and the brain is, not just to enhance performance or to live optimally, but also in regards to the general health of the brain and mind; especially with the new research available through the advances in neuroscience (The Real Power of The Mind  and The Role of Change in Neuroplasticity & in Lifestyle). Though I would argue that despite the significance the brain and the mind play in human life, the majority of people and the collective attention towards mental health in the world today is still tremendously far from ideal. In 2018, we are still bounded by the taboos surrounding the topic, the social stigmatization, and repelled by the sense of embarrassment and rejection to address the issue. We are only just starting to wake up to the realities, but we’re far from an appropriate, accurate and critical consideration of the matter, especially in terms of the masses.

Everything about being human all stems from the brain and the operation of the mind so the term ‘mental health’ shouldn’t bring up negative reactions, rather it should be an area of attention and action. Mental health addresses the questions and the topics which pertain to the health of the body’s arguably most important organ - the brain!

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This will be a topic I will touch on a lot throughout, because further than just my unrelenting fascination with the brain and the mind, I find that the health of both of these are fundamental considerations to the existence and purpose of us as a species.

 

 

The Role of Change in Neuroplasticity & in Lifestyle

 

First, take a moment to watch this talk by Lara Boyd, a neuroscientist speaking about the discoveries of neuroplasticity at a TEDx event in Vancouver in 2015.

Listening to the talk by Lara Boyd opens my eyes to the magnificence of the human brain. As Boyd puts it, it’s an exciting time for neuroscientists as the age-old belief that the brain stops developing after a certain age is now a disproven fact. The liberating research on the brain reveals that in fact, the brain possesses a quality of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s constant and lifelong capacity for change. More specifically, “neuroplasticity is supported by chemical, by structural, and by functional changes, and these are happening across the whole brain… Together they support learning and they’re taking place all the time.” In other words, changes in the brain occur all the time.

This is a transformational discovery because what the science identifies is the brain’s real capacity and the human potential for constant betterment. Remember, the brain is where everything I do as a person originates from. The brain is what allows me to experience changes in the world, it is where I process my experiences of the world, and it is what helps me to function in the world. Therefore, if I want to change my experience of the world, if I want to change my perception of the world, and if I want to change my behavior and how I operate in the world, this change must therefore first occur in the brain. But Boyd also warns, that “neuroplasticity can work both ways, it can be positive, you learn something new, you refine a motor skill, it can also be negative, you forgot something you once knew, you become addicted to drugs, maybe you have chronic pain…[the brain is] being shaped structurally and functionally by everything you do and everything you don’t do.” This places the responsibility of the direction of the changes in the brain on the individual. Sure, there are of course things in the world that is beyond our control, like nature or other people’s behaviors, but when it comes to the things within my control, like my brain and how I experience, react, perceive, and operate in the world, science tells me that I am in control.

Further, Boyd’s research is a clarification on the power each individual has over their own lives. It’s an indication on the inherent human responsibility to guide these changes in the right way because if I am currently living a life that promotes unhealthy or negative habits, then the wonderful news is that it is in my power and capacity to change these habits. The way I choose to behave and the decisions I make are all processed in the brain, it is based on my past learning, my current exposures, and my willingness to act on the knowledge I possess. If the knowledge I’ve harbored until now is what’s limiting me from making better decisions, then it is in my power to find the right kind of knowledge that will help propel me to make better decisions.

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. Change is inseparable from time and from the realities of the world, but change is also directional. Change can either be towards progress or towards regression. Change can become an advantage or disadvantage. Now, as Boyd's research and science have proven, we know that change in the brain is possible. Therefore, change in behavior and habits are possible. For everything, I do originate from the brain and the brain indeed possess the lifelong capacity for change, therefore in order for me to change my lifestyle, I must begin from the brain; or more specifically, the mind.

I will have a follow-up post on how to facilitate positive changes on the brain and mind soon. Stay tuned! For now, here's an earlier insight I had on the mind, The Real Power Of the Mind.

 

Why Emotions Impact A Change In Lifestyle

 
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The common belief is that emotions are fixed and that most human beings experience specific emotions in more or less in the same way. Paul Ekman, a leading psychologist, and pioneer to the study of emotions identified ‘core emotions’ through his research as disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, anger, and sadness. Concluding that all human beings more or less experience these pillar emotions in more or less the same way. Ekman’s conclusion is an important pivot in the study of emotions as his work was then widely accepted as the basis to how we understand emotions and therefore how the majority of researchers after him studied emotions. But, can emotions and therefore human experience be generalized this way?

In a podcast I was listening to, titled “Decoding Our Emotions” (TED Radio Hour by NPR Radio), one of the most significant revelations was learning that some cultures are absent of certain emotions. That some languages in the world do not share the same ability to identify the emotions Ekman had identified as ‘core emotions’ applicable to all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a Harvard researcher, uses the example of Tahitians, who do not have a word for sadness or Russians, who have multiple kinds of sadnesses. Being bilingual I can relate to this experience, as there are feelings in Bahasa (the language spoken in Indonesia), that aren’t translatable into English. There are feelings in which I can express in Bahasa with one word, that I must dive into an elaborate explanation for when I am trying to explain the feeling to a non-Bahasa speaker. This highlights the subjective, contextual, and cultural boundaries in which emotions are felt, expressed, and identified. This also identifies the inherent boundaries language can create, as Barrett made the point that if an emotion is not available linguistically in the mind, then such emotion will be harder to surface due to the limitation on naming that particular emotion. Barrett concludes that emotions are not universal for all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations, rather emotions are subjective and contextual.

Barrett asks an important question: “does a human brain come pre-wired with the capacity to make anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and so on...the answer is no.” What is clear is that “there’s no single objective fingerprint, single objective measure for any emotion that holds across all instances, across people, across cultures” and that emotions are experienced by how the “brain is basically making predictions, guesses, that it’s constructing in the moment with billions of neurons working together.” In other words, humans have “the kind of brain, that allows us to transmit culture by wiring the brain of the next generation to make perception and experiences in the same way that we do, and so,...  emotions are real, they're absolutely real, [but] they're real in a very situated way, because we've learned and agreed on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.”

What’s significant about the learnings from Barrett’s research is the emphasis she places on experiencing emotions based on context, an individual’s brain, and the agreement and acceptance “on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.” What then, if a person chooses to disagree? Even if there’s a collective agreement based on culture, emotions, at the end of the day, are an individual’s autonomous cognitive appropriation of their reactions to context and situations outside the mind. What comes to light is the opportunity and autonomous potential each individual has when it comes to taking control of their own emotions and how they perceive emotions in others.

In conjunction, the rise of technology and the globalization of ideas exposes people today to higher variables of contexts (i.e. culture and language). Whether it’s due to moving around, mixed-race couples, or even through a hunger for knowledge (made widely available through the internet and technology), culture and context are much more fluid today than in previous generations. The connection I see between this research is how individuals today have more opportunities to take responsibility into their own hands by having more choice about what to agree on and what gets transmitted into the wiring of their brain.The liberating truth to realize is because emotions are fluid, not fixed, and not predetermined, emotions become an opportunity for change. Further, within the climate of today’s globalized world, the potential for each individual to set the context and culture in how emotions influence their life becomes greater.

If emotions are situated and contextual, then the decisions prompted by our emotions are also situated and contextual. The life we choose to live (i.e. whether it’s in the promotion of a healthier self or lack thereof) is dependent therefore on what we’ve learned and what we chose to agree on. The emotions which arise are fluid enough for us to take control of. If exercise causes rise to negative emotions, it is in one’s autonomous capacity (and I would argue responsibility) to change perceptions within their own minds in order to improve the emotional dialogue one has to something that’s meant to better one’s life. It is clear that the responsibility sits with the individual. What’s more important to grasp is how each individual’s unique context and culture (and therefore the emotions associated with healthier choices), are in reality non-universal and autonomous. Finding an individualized approach to achieving a healthier lifestyle becomes dramatically more important. There’s no denying the role emotions play on a lifestyle change and understanding that it is in my power to shape how I experience and express my emotions is a major key to helping me further my journey towards my healthiest self because it is in my capacity to reject any negative or resistant emotion which may arise to the positive changes I wish to embark on.

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The podcast featured more than one TED speaker, but I chose to focus on Lisa Feldman Barrett’s research in order to arrive and elaborate on my own conclusions about the relevance of how we understand emotions in relation to making a lifestyle change.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

 

 

Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important

 

There’s no questioning the role drive plays in our behavior. Drive is what motivates us to take actions, it is what pushes us towards decisions, and it is the momentum towards what we desire. Drive is a foundational element to how we behave. When it comes to working out, this pattern of human behavior is no different. I need to find what drives me in order to figure out what works for me.

Every person possesses free will and an autonomous mind, so no matter how much I try, I will never be able to experience or perceive the world in exactly the same way as another. The only fact is the shared experience all of us claim to share, but there’s no way to prove the accuracy of this claim. How I experience one thing may seem similar to how another experiences the same thing, but we can never experience another’s mind in first person. The mental dwellings in which drive resides is therefore unique to each individual.  

If I am free, autonomous and unique in this world, then what drives me can never be the same with another. There may be similarities in what drives us, but the reality of human existence is that we are unique (even when we are genetically identical, such as the case of twins). Our individuality is what dictates the uniqueness of each individual’s drive.

This is why identifying what drives us is critical to our success in life, and of course, in fitness. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you driven by statistics?

Are you someone who likes to see numbers? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment if you achieved a better score in something? Does things like, cutting down your mile time or seeing the number of calories you’ve burnt after every session satisfy you?

If you’ve said yes to all of the above, then you’re probably someone who loves numbers! Whether statistics helps awaken a competitive edge or whether statistics satisfy an admiration for numbers, if you’re someone who is satisfied by comparing and seeing numbers then this attraction for statistics may be your golden ticket to a successful fitness routine.

There are plenty of gadgets, apps, and gyms out there which can help with this. In the age of technology, there’s always an option which prides itself on numbers. Whether it’s a studio who has a live feed of statistics (like F45 or Orange Theory) or whether the gadget you’re wearing is tracking your distance and calories (like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch), there’s an option for you out there. Make collecting and comparing statistics a priority. Make sure to also set numerical goals for each session.

Are you driven by how you feel?

Are you someone who doesn’t enjoy counting calories? Do you prefer running as much as you can or running at a specific time and/or distance? Does the number on the scale matter to you? Are you someone who judges their health and athleticism based on reports or numbers?

If you’ve answered against numbers and statistics, then feeling is definitely your drive. I am in this category. I am less driven by statistics and numbers. I don’t even really pay attention to my weight unless I have to. I hate counting calories and when it comes to health and fitness, my decisions are driven by how I feel.

When I run, I run as much as I can until I feel like I can’t go any further. I never count calories, I eat what I feel is right at the time. If I’ve had a bad meal or a bad weekend, I will feel sluggish, so I will eat healthier the next couple of meals. Rather than going with statistics available through so many studios, apps, and machines these days, I track my effort by feeling. Do I feel exerted or do I feel I can give more? I also almost never weigh myself, I’d rather go with how I feel in my clothes or how I feel in general.

These are signs of a person driven by feeling. If you’re like me then the way to figure out what routine is best for you is by getting in touch with how you feel before, after, and during a workout. How does running make me feel? How does circuit training make me feel? Do I feel like I have more energy in the morning or at night? Go by what you feel and try motivating yourself by feeling. Think about how amazing and accomplished you’ll feel after a workout or think about how guilty you’ll feel if you don’t work out. Make feeling a priority.

I can sense all of you out there thinking, “what if I never feel like working out?” Well at the end of the day, whether you’re driven by statistics or driven by feeling there’s still a need to take the first step. If you want to see results, if you want to live an active lifestyle, then the first step is always to do something about it. Whether it’s to run, try out a new gym, hire a personal trainer, doing on online workout at home, the options are endless, but identifying drive is what will help direct you in your choices and hopefully help you stay consistent with your routine.

 
 

A Different Approach To Resolutions

 
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Most of us enter a New Year eager for changes, expectations, and improvements. A lot of us start hoping that this year is our year! This is the year I will have more time to read, be in the best shape of my life, skyrocket in my career, etc. There is an endless list of possibilities when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. With so much hope and aspirations, if you’re like me more often than not I arrive at the end of each year, for the most part, disappointed at my uncanny ability at falling short with my resolutions.

Now that 2017 is coming to a close, I reflect upon the goals and resolutions I had set for myself at the end of last year and realize something. I’ve miraculously dodged my almost routined disappointment and have surprised myself with my success rate this year. Although I didn’t 100% succeed in all my resolutions, I’ve done a lot better than in my previous years and here’s why:

Identifying & understanding my motivations.

Let me use a simple resolution and start by sharing how I used to approach it. I chose to focus my attention on the action and/or activity. For example, I always have a goal of reading at least four books a year. This may sound simple to an avid reader, but I am someone who I classify as a non-reader by nature. Reading a book isn’t something I do on a daily basis, nor is it something I gravitate to if an opportunity arises. Reading for me is something I consciously make an effort of doing because at the end of the day I love to learn and although audio books are an option, I still think there’s great value in reading books (well, my Kindle). Now, this may sound crazy to some of you bookworms out there, but this is the first year since my days in school where I’ve succeeded in this resolution. (Truthfully, I was a fan of SparkNotes!) Yes, that’s right I finally read four books in a year! MIRACLE.

The difference between this year from previous years is the question of why. I asked myself why I had set this as a resolution each year, why is this resolution important and what is my motivation and purpose behind this resolution. Let me share my answers with you:

Why is reading important? What is my motivation & purpose behind this resolution?

To learn. I value knowledge and continuous learning-- as Socrates had said “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” or in other words, the wisdom we possess is in knowing that there’s always room to learn more. The human brain has an insatiable capacity for knowledge and learning. Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Note: Worth noting that I pretty much only read non-fiction books

What was different about this year was that reading was my avenue towards satisfying my purpose to keep on learning. I was motivated simply by the fact that the reason I read was no longer just to read a book, but that I wanted to gain knowledge, continue to learn, and stimulate my brain.

There’s something powerful that happens when I attach a bigger intention and purpose to the goal I want to achieve. In previous years, it was hard to get myself to read because I viewed reading as a chore. Meaning, reading was a chore which took time away from doing other things I enjoyed. Instead, this year I focused my attention on the bigger picture and the motivation towards the action.

It sounds simple, but give this a go this coming New Year! Make sure to attach each resolution to a deeper motivation with a greater purpose in your life.

Here are some questions which might help:

  • Why is this resolution important to you?

  • What are the motivations behind this resolution?

  • What is the purpose of this resolution?

  • What are the positive impacts/changes that will result from completing this resolution?

  • What is driving you towards this resolution?

  • How will this resolution impact you and/or others around you?

  • Is this resolution for you or for someone else? If for someone else, who is this person(s) and why is this resolution important for them?

Cheers to a wonderful New Year’s Celebration! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

 

What I've Learned From Meditation

 
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Meditation and mindfulness feels like the buzz word in this era of wellness triumph. In our hunger for information, access to technology, and quest to better the world, we live in a time where self-betterment, self-empowerment, and in general taking care of the self is what’s trendy. There’s so much information out there on how to achieve greater wellness, but if there’s one thing I can highlight is how meditation has changed me.

Meditation used to feel like a distant spiritual achievement. Whether meditation is tied to a religion (like Buddhism) or whether it was possible to practice meditation outside of religion were stereotypes I never thought to question. It took several occurrences in my life to propel me into adopting meditation as a daily practice, but over a year into my daily (or I should say at least four to five days a week) practice I’ve come to appreciate meditation beyond its traditional definitions.

I now see meditation as an essential component of my life. The same as how I commit myself to a weekly routine of sweat sessions, meditation is now part of my routine. Meditation is an exercise for the mind and like any exercise, it is a practice which requires discipline and long-term commitment. Meditation demands priority and it is not a singular but a constant practice which requires a lifestyle shift. It may seem daunting, but here are some of my key takeaways:

1. The world is always changing and moving.

This seems like an obvious statement, but this simple understanding has helped me move through life with more acceptance of current circumstance. Whether life unfolds through events which cheers me on or drags me down, there’s more clarity in realizing that where I am right now is only temporary because no matter what happens in life, time will continue to unfold whether I’d like it to or not. Life is in constant motion, therefore how I am in the world is also in constant motion. With this knowledge, I am empowered with the power of choice within this constant motion. It’s a choice about how I choose to live out this moment right now to set myself up for the moment to come.

2. I can only know what’s happening right now.

What’s become very clear to me is how I am only in control of this present moment; and only moment by moment. I have no control over what’s happened already (the past), nor do I have control over what’s to come (my future). Therefore, I can alleviate any worry of the past or the future because all I need to be concerned with is what’s happening right now because this is all I know for certain.

This is not to say I am against planning because I am someone who likes to make plans for the week sometimes even the month or months ahead. What it does help me with is to let go of any worry about what might happen or what could have happened because both are outside my scope of action. My attention is then left to attend to what is in my control, which is what’s happening right now.

3. I am in control of my thoughts.

Meditation helps to create intimacy with my thoughts because I am choosing to take time out of my day to stop and pay attention to what’s going on inside my head. So often my thoughts are only the background to my life; realizing I forgot to water my plants or worrying about Christmas presents for the holiday season as I walk through the crowds at the train station. Thoughts tend to act as background noise, but meditation presents my mind as the main act. I am choosing to stop everything, close my eyes, and pay attention to my inner world. In meditation, I give myself the opportunity and the space to attend to only myself, my body, and my inner world. The world outside becomes the background noise.

How to start meditation practice?

I use Headspace the app and am a yearly subscriber. I found this is what worked well for me. It keeps me honest about how many days I’ve practiced and keeps me on track with the different meditation series to follow. This is not the only application. There are plenty of options out there to explore what works for you. Remember, there are also different types of meditations, so I encourage anyone who wants to try meditation to give yourself time to explore the varieties as well.

Other avenues to explore might be Youtube, Podcasts, or other applications. Find what works for you!

 

Am I Enough?

 
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Confidence, positive self-image, security, and contentment in myself is something new in my life. Where I am today is not where I was even a year ago. The power self-defeating thoughts had over my mind and my life had always been the larger struggle. The negative internal dialogue was sometimes crippling and I know is damaging. Where I have arrived today on my journey is somewhere that’s liberating. It’s a space where I am happy with myself and how I am. It’s a place where I am comfortable in my own skin. Finding this comfort is why I want to share my revelations because this way of living is so much more fulfilling.

The dominant damaging thoughts which sabotaged my life were:

“I am not skinny enough.”

Those who have known me all my life will tell you that I’ve never been overweight, nor have I ever been close to being overweight. I gained around 9 kg (approx. 19 lbs) in my first year of university in the US, but I never really struggled with being overweight. Then there was a time in high school when I was scary skinny. I was about 43 kg (approx. 94 lbs) with a height of 160cm (approx. 5 ft  2 in), this was a point where my friends and even my teachers were concerned. Yes, I’ve had my share of fluctuations. What is intriguing is the fact that even with no real concern of being overweight, I used to suffer from the perpetuating thought that always told me I wasn’t skinny enough.

A lot of reading has told me that this self-defeating thought probably had something to do with experiences in my past, whether it’s personal, due to societal pressures, influence from the media, or because of certain relationships, the reasons are complex. Whatever the cause though, it is troubling to remember the demons I battled when it came to my self-image. I wasn’t physically overweight, but my thoughts were so strong in their portrayal of my body, that I always felt that I was never skinny enough.

I can laugh about it now because I’ve finally realized something really powerful. In this self-damaging thought I had, who is the ideal I was trying to be skinny for? If I kept thinking, “I am not skinny enough,” the real question should be, “but for who?”

“I am not strong enough.”

There was a time in my life where I was intimidated and immobilized by challenges. I mean who isn’t, but I had an unhealthy relationship with my fears which led me to never take action or ever be willing to put myself out there to take a risk. The honest truth is this was one of the reasons why I never tried Barry’s Bootcamp when I was in the US. After hearing about how hard the class was, I was terrified at the thought of having to go into an environment I was not familiar with and risk failure (I am laughing at how silly this seems now).

The fearful voice inside my head refused to hear the positives about the class. All my energy was focused on the worst case scenario (i.e. I embarrass myself and am unable to complete the class), which ended up stopping me from stepping into an experience which I could have enjoyed. The voice inside my head stopped me from something I might have enjoyed, even without experiencing the class or knowing the real outcome. Sounds familiar?

“I am not smart enough.”

I remember moving to a new school and really struggling, especially when I moved into middle school. I had really poor grades. Cs and Ds were my friends. I remember feeling stupid, unaccomplished, and incapable, until one day in 8th grade one teacher who believed in me and suddenly everything changed. I became a straight A student that year and even got the most improved student award. From then on, I became an above average student. What happened?

That was a really long time ago, but this experience has stuck with me because anytime my mind goes into a downward spiral of thinking that my intelligence is lacking in some way, I think back to this moment in my life and realize that it’s all in my head. I mean I can never know everything, nor can I even try to know everything so lack in knowledge is normal and of course I am not speaking about technical knowledge, but what I am focusing on here is that feeling of not being smart enough for anything. What I remind myself now is that there’s always something I can do about it. Whether it’s to find books and read up on certain things, find a friend or a person who can help fill the gaps, or in some other way take action to minimize whatever gap I feel I have; there’s always a way if we’re willing to find a way.

“I am not enough.”

I struggled with this statement a lot more before. It’s something that rears it’s head here and there even now on some occasions, but I’ve learned how to handle such thoughts. When reality kicks in I realize something simple, almost obvious, but also powerful. All these self-defeating statements and thoughts are exactly that; they’re thoughts! They’re a created and sometimes imaginary perception sitting in my mind. The power it has over myself and my life is only as strong as I allow myself to believe in these thoughts.

What’s interesting about thoughts are that no one else, but I have the power to change my thoughts. My thoughts may be influenced by external things. My thoughts may be a reaction to external things, but ultimately the final decision about what I choose to think about, how I choose to think, and what lies in my mind is in my control.

Self-defeating thoughts exist in my mind. If I choose to believe it’s true, then it will be true in my experience of myself in the world. If I choose not to believe it’s true, then it will remain false in my experience of myself in the world. It sounds simple, but this is why acquiring a strong command of my mind is such a priority in my life. The strength of my thoughts is as strong as I allow it to be. At the end of the day, I am in control.
 

 

Intention Matters

 

Intentions are where actions and consequences (i.e. the ripples which actions create) are nested. Once an intention is set, a chain of thoughts, and sometimes also actions are propelled forward. The value of my actions rests in the intentions I possess because whether my action is good or bad if my action is led with poor intent, the action will, therefore, be flawed. The same action can begin from different intentions, but the significance of intentions becomes obvious through the ripples which follow. Actions are only as good as the intentions which drive them, which is why operating with the right intention is so critical.

Let’s think for a moment and compare this in real terms. If my intention to embark on a journey towards a “healthier self” is only driven by the intent to improve aesthetics and to lose weight, then the focus on health becomes secondary. The problem is, if my health journey is only driven by an intent towards aesthetic and weight loss, then I am not against actions which aren’t in the best interest of my health.

When I was younger I was so hung up on my weight that I did everything and anything I could to drop the weight. I didn’t think about whether my actions were healthy choices because the obsession over how I looked and the number on the scale inhibited me from placing health as my main concern. My focus was on the number on the scale and health became an afterthought. I fell into unhealthy methods for weight loss. I attempted week-long juice cleanses, and lemonade and cayenne pepper diets, only to find that I was only losing a few pounds of water weight. The moment I started to eat solid foods, my weight would climb back up. Mentally, I was also severe in my approach to myself. I got so angry at myself anytime I succumbed to my hunger and broke the liquid diet. I was even upset at myself when I felt nauseous and dizzy. I thought to myself why was I so weak-- “if others can, why can’t I complete a juice fast!” A big learning here is to listen to my body.

When my body was screaming in hunger, signaling itself through nausea and headaches, it should have been clear that what I was doing was not a journey towards a healthier self. My body was clearly alerting me to something else. How I felt should’ve been the best judgment, but what happened was that my faulty intention pushed me towards actions which prioritized not my health, but rather prioritizing on the aesthetic goal and weight loss. I, therefore, didn’t care to notice that my decisions were detrimental to my own well-being.

In my opinion, liquid diets, are what I classify as starvation diets. It’s a quick fix and does not prioritize the well-being or health of the individual. Yes, you may lose weight because losing weight is about a calorie deficit (i.e. you’re using more calories than you’re consuming) and if you’re only drinking lemonade for weeks you’ll certainly have a calorie deficit; but being healthy is so much more than just calories in and calories out. Health is also about the quality of the calories, amongst other things. Although I had lost a little bit of weight and may have achieved my immediate goal to lose a little bit of weight, the consequences on my well-being were much more fitting to judge the quality of my intention (I gained the weight back quickly too). From the nausea and headaches, it was clear that my health took a back seat!

My transformation began with a shift in intention. Once I defined my intention as a journey towards a “healthier self,” I now take actions which are in favor of my health. I try to eat healthier meals every day versus counting on temporary starvation diets. I am less fixated on the number on the scale and more focused on the quality of what I eat. I maintain and vary my fitness routine in order to promote my health; such as incorporating two to three high-intensity training sessions, yoga, and some steady-state cardio into my week. Even taking a step back sometimes. The liberation comes from the intention I operate from and how different the life I lead becomes. My decisions are no longer driven by temporary aesthetic or weight loss goals (although of course, these are still a bonus to my healthier lifestyle), my decisions are now driven by the long-term goal to be my healthiest self. This equates to a lifestyle change versus a temporary change and that’s where I have found success in achieving a healthier self.

The simple shift in mindset is what set me up for a different kind of process. With the right intention, the thoughts which come up and the actions which are catalyzed are consequently different because of the shift in my intention. It's a simple shift that's worth every effort! 





 

 

The Mental Game

 
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More, more, more, and more. We live in a world of more! More is better, harder is better, longer is better, etc. What’s left in the back seat is what seems to be an old age mantra of finding balance, whether in life or in the pursuit towards health and wellness. In the realm of more, it is important to highlight that fitness is not just about packing on the weights and clocking in more hours. Fitness is as much a mental game as it is physical. I believe the way to optimize the value of the journey towards a healthier self is to first outline a mental framework in which to operate from.

# 1 - The Give & Take Mentality.

The combination of life, humans, the world, the universe, and all else in it equals to a concoction of imperfection, but that’s what’s beautiful about my day to day. What I am sure of is that in my pursuit towards health and wellness, I can’t and never will be 100% perfect; nor am I trying or saying I am close to perfect. The only thing I hold myself responsible to is in being honest in my approach. How much am I willing to give and how much can I take?

The give and take mentality is like a pros and cons list for my journey towards health and wellness. This is where I outline (in my head-- but if writing down a list helps you, then go for it) the wins and compromises in my journey. For example, I know alcohol (as much as I wish I can)  is something that’s unrealistic for me to give up forever, but in contrast, something like sugary drinks is more realistic for me to give up forever. I almost never drink sodas (unless it’s the only drink available), I never add sugar to tea or coffee,  I never add sweetener to my morning smoothies and whenever I have a choice, I’ll go for the non-sugary mixer (like a vodka soda instead of a cranberry vodka). But, there are those out there, who will find giving up alcohol comes much more naturally. The point I am making here is, there’s no one solution fits all. It’s about being realistic with my choices because after all I still need to enjoy my life. What I keep asking myself is, what am I willing to give and how much can I take? There’s no point in going through life with an endless list of restrictions because that will drive anyone crazy.

# 2 -  Restrictions aren’t a way to live.

When we think of losing weight or getting fit a lot of people (I admit I was one of these people), gravitate towards rules and restrictions: “I have to cut sugar out completely,” “I have to work out at high intensities at least 5 days a week,” “I can only eat low sodium foods,” and let’s be honest the list goes on and on. If there are so many new rules to follow, then do I need to add, “remember to enjoy life,” as part of the guide to a better me? But, I hope to never get to a point where I need to be reminded to appreciate my life.

The bombardment of misleading messaging of more equals to better which is so prevalent in the diet and the fitness industries does leave a lot of confusion! The truth of the matter is, health and wellness is not about temporary unrealistic rules (that will only be kept for a couple months at best), rather health and wellness is about creating long-term parameters that will help steer life in a different direction forever. There’s a huge difference between saying, “I have to cut sugar out completely,” to “I will have less sugar by avoiding sugary drinks and sugary treats.” The difference is in the words and the specificity on how to frame the behavior.

Let’s dive into this a little more. “Cut out” versus “less” and “avoid” are similar, but very different words. The former is a strict command that leaves no room for error, while the latter two words allow for imperfection (i.e. allows us to be more human in our approach). It might seem like a small difference, but it completely changed how I responded to slip ups. Rather than feeling guilt and blaming myself for not sticking to my rule, I respond with a lot more understanding and an attitude that’s more forgiving like, “do better next time.” The unexpected reality was how once I alleviated the restrictive mentality, it was much easier to make better choices for myself.

What’s ironic about how my mind operated was that the more I had a hard no and restricted myself, the more I thought about it and the more chances I relapsed. But, when I shifted my thinking to a more forgiving space, it was much easier for me to follow the ‘rule’.

# 3 - Listen to your body

This might seem obvious, but working at a gym and also going through overtraining syndrome myself woke me up to how difficult it actually is to listen to my body. The prevalent culture in today’s fitness world encourages us to work harder than ever before, this is why the phrase “no days off” has become so popular; with over 4.5 million hashtags on Instagram. The truth of the matter is, rest days are so important to our fitness journey because at rest are when muscles grow and regenerate. Without rest, muscles will be fatigued and development will either be slowed or halted.

What I need to remember to do is to ask myself: how am I doing? If the answer is, I am tired because I didn’t get enough sleep or I am a lot sorer today than I usually am. That’s a good indication that it’s time to listen and take a step back. The integrity of this decision really lies in me and is there a point to cheating myself? What’s important is to be reflective and honest about how I feel and decide what is the appropriate level of activity for that day. Whether it’s to reduce the intensity of the workout, opt for a more low-impact exercise like yoga or pilates, or to actually take a day off and maybe even get a massage. There are plenty of appropriate ways to take it easy. Again, it’s about an individual choice, you’ll know what’s right!

# 4 - Health & wellness is a lifestyle choice.

The theme of all the above is health and wellness is in my hands. There’s no one that’s going to make the hard decisions for me. It’s about looking at my life and deciding what are the realistic changes to make. It’s about understanding that this is a long-term commitment versus a couple months before my beach getaway. There’s no one that’s really going to monitor how I choose to live. It’s about taking charge of my own health, wellness and destiny!