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.

 

 

How Long Did It Take?

 
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There’s one question that people ask me that gets me smiling (because it is a nice compliment), but at the same time also frustrates me (because of the myth that usually leads people to ask this question): “how long did it take you?” There are variations to the question people ask me. The most common of which is, “how long did it take you to get to where you are?”, “how long did it take you to get that body?”, “how long did it take you to get abs like yours?”, “how long did it take to get as fit as you?” and other versions of these. I don’t highlight this to show off the number of compliments I get, I highlight this point because of how baffling it is to witness the strength of this myth. People are led to believe that achieving optimum fitness and health can be done within a specified time frame, but this myth is what’s stopping so many people from achieving the body they want because reaching your optimum level of fitness and health is a lifelong endeavor.

Whether it’s a couple of weeks or a number of days, there’s a strong belief that to achieve health or some type of fitness goal I will only need to commit myself to ‘x’ number of fitness-focused and healthy eating days. Here’s where the confusion lies: health and fitness do not have a definite end.

Remember health and fitness exist within an indefinite spectrum that’s specific to each individual, so how long I take to lose ‘x’ amount of weight might not apply to another. The other issue with this is that a lot of the common ambitions aren’t specific enough, “I want to lose weight,” “I want to lose fat,” or “I want to be more toned and lean.” These goals, although relevant, are too generalized. Instead, state a specific weight you want to drop to or state the range of fat percentage to body mass you want to achieve (that’s within the healthy range). The goal can even be more related to routine, like how many sweat sessions clocked in during the week. The main insight to understand here is that health and fitness take thought and commitment. It’s not about setting realistic and individualized goals for yourself. When people ask “how long did it take you?”, for the most part, what they’re really asking is “how long will it take me?” I am here to tell you that that’s not how fitness or health works because, at the end of the day, it’s about finding a routine that works for you. Not for me or anyone else. It’s about finding what you enjoy, what works with your schedule, what works with your circumstances and once you find what sticks to commit to it for as long as you’re living, breathing, and are able.

This means committing to regular sweat sessions with varied intensities, listening to the body when it needs rest, dedicating enough time and effort towards proper recovery (yes, that means quality sleep as well), eating right (at least 80-90% of the time because we all know indulgence is just a fact of life sometimes) and understanding that it takes more than just a couple of weeks or months to truly be healthy. Health is a never-ending spectrum, we can either be healthier or less healthy but there’s no definite health which every person can strive towards in the same way. Health is an individual achievement that’s also dependant on so many other biological, psychological, environmental, and physiological factors which is out of most people’s control. Our task is to appreciate and value the body we’ve been born with, to care for it as best we can, and to elevate the body to the best potential it can reach. Overall the main thing to take away is not “how long will it take,” rather, the question to ask is, how much longer will I wait before I start to elevate my body towards its full potential?

 

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.

 

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.
 

 

What Is Certainty?

 
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What is life if not a constant cycle of change and unpredictable predicaments? There is never true certainty in life. What’s certain is 1 + 1 = 2, but when it comes to the determinants of events in the sequence of time in association to life, can we ever be certain of what comes next? Can we ever be certain that how I see yellow is how everyone else in this world sees the color yellow? Or does crossing the street feel the same to me, as to the person next to me? Certainty is a made up construct, whether in regards to the sequence of events within the confinements of time and space or whether in identifying an experience. When we move forward (whether physically or metaphorically), nothing is absolutely certain and that’s the beauty of life.

Walking through my day-to-day, I sometimes sit and wonder what it would be like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes. I wonder does joy and happiness feel similar between two people or are experiences of happiness exclusive to the definitions identified by an individual. If different, how different is the experience of happiness between individuals? Are the experiences dependant upon past experiences and environmental contexts? What if each individual experiences everything in entirely different ways? How then, within our human capacity, would anyone discover this distinction? How can I be certain that what I identify as happiness is exactly what someone else identifies as happiness? The truth is, no one will understand the intricacies and level of each individual's distinction of experience. Nor do I have the capacity to truly understand the consciousness of another. The acknowledgment of a shared experience is the only evidence I have to rely on, but certainty is inadmissible.

"...DO I HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF ANOTHER. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A SHARED EXPERIENCE IS THE ONLY EVIDENCE I HAVE TO RELY ON, BUT CERTAINTY IS INADMISSIBLE."

On this planet, we are made singular. Although the world has witnessed thecloning of a sheep, I side by the notion that even if genetically identical, an experience is still absolute. Meaning no two experiences are identical. An experience is experienced by an individual in a particular moment, in a very specific way that's unique to that individual's experience. Even in identical twins, how will each twin experience the world?  This also sets the stage for the debate between nature versus nurture, or maybe it is a combination of multilayered influences from both nature and nurture which shapes what we call human experience. The one thing that's certain is although explanations and observations can lend to an understanding of another's experience, the capacity to actually experience how someone else experiences the world is unachievable within current human capacities.

What I am pointing to is that I can never know whether Anna experiences eating oranges in the same way I do. I can say that we do. I can claim that I am tasting the same tastes, feeling the same sensations, and understanding different experiences in the exact same way, but I can never really truly know. Therefore, I am here to encourage every individual to take ownership of their life.

There’s no one else in this world that experiences life and the world in the same exact way as I do. There’s no one else on this earth that loves chocolate the same way I do. There’s no individual on this planet that loves yellow in exactly the same way I do. There’s no one on this living breathing planet that resembles me in the exact same way, so why let choices be held down by a world that I know doesn’t always understand everything in the same way I do? Why allow the doubtful voices of others (and maybe even my own voice in reaction to others) change the way I want to live?

This is a call to action, for myself (and hopefully for anyone reading), to stay true to the callings of the heart. This is a call to action to commit to the voice within. If there’s one thing I can boast about knowing, is the fact that I will only know how my life is and how I experience life because in truth the only thing that’s certain is that I am the only one that will experience my life and my journey.

 

How Do You Know If You're Doing Enough

 
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Here are some of the questions that linger in my mind after my sweat sessions: “how effective was my workout?” “why are things getting easier?” “why don’t I feel as challenged as I did a few months ago?” “why am I not dropping weight as fast as I was?” “why am I not seeing results as fast as I was?” Honestly, the whirlwind of unanswered questions used to multiply in my mind when it came to evaluating the effectiveness of my fitness routine.

Like most people, I am eager to see results and keen to feel the difference the next time I workout, but what I found challenging was how to evaluate myself because I’ve always been active all my life. I never lost my fitness routine, even after my days as a high school athlete, aside from when I was ill or injured. Measuring effectiveness became an afterthought (or sometimes not a thought at all), because what I knew was that I was meeting the minimum recommended hours by health experts. All I thought about was as long as I am working out and sweating I am improving my fitness. Not until my education in personal training do I now understand some of the important principles to think about when evaluating the effectiveness of my routine:

#1 - Progression

What’s important to consider in regards to progression in fitness is, “how am I progressing my fitness?” or “how am I progressing the challenge I place on myself?” As humans we tend to complain about boredom when things get too ‘routine’, but the truth is we are also uncomfortable with change (whether mentally, physically, or in other aspects in life).

In fitness, it is important to keep the body challenged. The body naturally adapts to exercise, think about doing your first push up (or lack of ability to do a proper one), then think about the progression between the first attempt to the most recent attempt (that is if you’ve been working on them of course!). There’s a drastic difference in ability thanks to our body’s ability to adapt!

This is why progression is important, without progression, the body becomes stagnant. Progression is the key to improving our level of fitness and this can be done is so many ways, but here are some tips:

  • Increasing repetitions
  • Increasing weight(s) used for a specific exercise (e.g. I can complete 12 repetitions of chest presses with two 7kg [approx. 15.4lbs] dumbbells, therefore I can induce progression by increasing my repetitions or to increase the weight I lift).
  • Increasing frequency of training (e.g. instead of twice a week move up to three or four)
  • Incorporating new workouts (e.g. if you’re a yogi, maybe adding a circuit class into the week would be handy)

#2 - Regularity

It is important to maintain regularity in training routines because any progress made or any physiological adaptations the body makes is impermanent. Yes, you heard me right! What’s at play here is the principle of reversibility and the principle of diminishing returns. In simple terms, these two principles outline the unavoidable physiological truth in which the body operates with; adaptations can happen positively or negatively, it is part of the body’s natural state of development.

This is why I advocate for fitness as a lifestyle choice rather than a method for weight loss because the strength of the weight loss industry tends to cloud this distinction.

#3 - Overload

Overload identifies the specific need in strength training to increase the weight load or resistance in order to maximize the capacity for strength development. This is important because not everyone does strength training, especially as a female in Asia, there’s a certain taboo to the idea of strength training.There’s a great fear in getting too big or too muscular, but the reality is in order to achieve more strength and get stronger, strength training, whether with weights, body weight, or resistance is important (remember: the more muscles we have the more calories we burn at rest). There’s a whole lot to gain with weights and strength training in general, but the main benefits are to assist in progression and more importantly the health and physiological benefits which come with it; like an increase in bone density.

There are plenty of reasons to train and sweat but having a better understanding of the full scope of the benefits which go along with training is also beneficial in helping to create longevity in routine. These guidelines helped me to understand the value of getting comfortable in discomfort. Following the same routine is always what's comfortable, but it’s more important to challenge the body in order to catalyze positive development in my health and fitness. We all want to make all our efforts count, so it’s time to stay conscious about what we do!

 

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!

 

My 3 for 3 Rules & Principles for Fitness

 
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If you read my posts, there’s a recurring theme to the message I advocate for: health and wellness is a lifelong journey! Here are the rules (some slap in the face truths):

  1. There are no shortcuts.

  2. There are no quick fixes.

  3. The length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result

Here are the key principles to understand:

Principle #1 - Reversibility

“The principle of reversibility pertains to the losses in function experienced after the cessation of a training program. Regardless of the gain in fitness achieved through a regular exercise program, those improvements will be reversed to pre-training levels…”

This is why when someone tells me, “Oh I used to do HIIT sessions 3 times a year ago” or “I used to run everyday a few years ago” becomes-- within the context of fitness level-- becomes insignificant. The good news is, our muscles do have muscle and motor memory, so people who have done some type of training or was an athlete in their younger days will generally fare better in terms of movement compared to a complete beginner, but in terms of fitness level, unfortunately (depending on how long you’ve stopped) you might be back to square one!

Principle #2 - Diminishing Returns

First and foremost it’s important to realize that fitness is a personal journey. From birth, we possess a unique genetic makeup which are factors to our fitness journey and potential. Furthermore, the combinations of these factors, like resting metabolic rate, muscle to fat ratio, and so much more are attributed to the individual. Here’s the truth: no two persons are the same. There’s no way two people can react in the same exact way to any exercise or nutrition program. There are common goods which are shared, but ultimately health and fitness is an individual journey, in which “performance outcomes among various exercises are highly individualistic.”

“The principle of diminishing returns suggests that the rate of fitness improvement diminishes over time as fitness approaches its ultimate genetic potential. The response to physical activity is not only associated with heredity but is also highly influenced by an individual’s current level of fitness,” because the capacity to improve also depends on the starting point. This means two things. One, what were gifted with at birth is a major component to the rest of our fitness journey. The reality is that there are just some of us who were born to be athletes and some of us who aren’t.

Secondly, although our genetic basis matters, training, in general, is proven to improve overall health for everyone. The only real reality to face here is that the more fit a person is the smaller the window of improvement is versus someone who’s starting from sedentary. In other words, the beauty is that no matter where you are, there’s always room for improvement! (Unfortunately, it just doesn’t mean we’ll all be the next Usain Bolt by committing to training).

Principle #3 - Specificity

First, of, it’s important to understand that in regards to the energy used during exercise, the body relies on three energy systems: phosphagen, anaerobic glycolysis, and aerobic glycolysis. For the current purpose, I will only go through the latter two very briefly. In simple terms, anaerobic means producing energy without the need of oxygen, while aerobic means requiring oxygen. The reason why this is important in regards to training programs equates to how the body uses energy through different training programs. “The principle of specificity explains the outcome of a given type of training program such that the exercise response is specific to the mode and intensity of training. In other words, only physiological systems emphasized during a training program will improve.”

Why does this matter to this discussion? The principle of specificity really emphasizes the three points above: there are no shortcuts, there are no quick fixes, the length, consistency, level of effort and commitment will likely match the result. If I want to train for endurance, I need to put in the work and hours that will help my endurance. If I want to train for strength, I need to commit to the right kind of training to achieve strength. If I want to work on getting bigger (i.e. aesthetically increasing the size of my muscles), I need to train in a specific manner to focus on muscle hypertrophy.

What I am trying to highlight is what the health and wellness journey really requires. There’s no such thing as minimal effort to produce optimum results. The real questions are on understanding what do I desire, what is my goal, what is realistic, and how much commitment am I willing to put in?

Source:

Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council on Exercise, 2012.

 

The Real Power Of The Mind

 

The following commentary is part of my series of reflections after reading the incredible book The Emotional Life of The Brain by neuroscientist Richard J. Davidson and contributor, science journalist Sharon Begley. I am mesmerized by the profound truths discovered through Davidson’s thirty-year commitment to understanding emotions and personality through his work on the brain. What’s even more exciting (at least for myself) are the revelations which support the importance of the mind in relation to the brain.

Davidson's research agrees with a hypothesis I have always believed and try to advocate that my attention is due to how my mind operates because thought alone is enough to change how I experience the world; and even more compelling, how the brain functions. What I found so fascinating about this read is the deeper education I received in expanding my understanding of the brain.

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The newer findings in neuroscience prove just how powerful the mind is in relation to the functions of the brain. The research revealed in The Emotional Life of the Brain confirms the heightened connection between the mind and the brain. Therefore, the attention given towards the well-being of the mind is even more important as research points to the significant implications of the mind over brain function, as “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

Dated neuroscience dogma falsify the widespread understanding about the connection between the mind and the brain. The problem which has permeated through the decades is that most are uninformed of the specific advancements in this field, “the decades-old neuroscience dogma” promoted “that the adult brain is essentially fixed in form and function,” but the latest research confirms that this “is wrong.”  (The last time I learned anything about emotions – in a textbook and classroom setting, was back in high school and there was no mention on how the brain is involved because the research was dated).

What’s accurate to say is, that “the brain has a property called neuroplasticity, the ability to change its structure and patterns of activity in significant ways not only in childhood, which is not very surprising, but also in adulthood and throughout life. That change can come about as a result of experiences we have as well as of purely internal mental activity—our thoughts.” This is an incredible departure from the past understanding of the brain and of mental activity. The profound discovery is in how the brain is constantly able to change and adapt “throughout life.” That in itself is a riveting truth!

The adaptive capacity of the brain is illustrated by how the brains of people who were blind from birth was able to adapt, despite a lack of sight. For the blind, reading braille, “the writing system based on tiny raised dots that the fingers slide across,” is an experience which witnesses “a measurable increase in the size and activity of areas in the motor cortex and somatosensory cortex that control movement and receive tactile sensation from the reading fingers.” From the deprivation of sight, the brain adapts its functions and the blind’s “visual cortex—which is supposedly hardwired to process signals from the eye and turn them into visual images—undertakes a radical career change and take on the job of processing sensations from the fingers rather than input from the eyes.” Who would’ve thought that no part of a functioning brain will go to waste despite other functional misfortunes. If it’s a working brain, it’s smart enough to adapt use its capacity for worthwhile and significant endeavors.  Even more so, the adaptive capacity of the brain is influenced by more than just sensory stimulations.

What the book goes on to clarify is how “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally—in other words, our thoughts and intentions.” The example used in the book is how athletes are able to “engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike,” can cause “the regions of the motor cortex that control the required muscle [to] expand.” This is a tremendous shift in my understanding of how the brain works, because this validates the strength of the mind’s influence. Further, how much value and importance is necessary when considering my mind and how it impacts the quality of my life because, “thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits that underlie psychological illness.”

If thought alone can create such an impact, then doesn’t the quality of thoughts matter more than ever. If thought alone can influence change my brain’s networking, then isn’t investing more time and energy to devote to my mind’s well-being become even more significant. Paying attention to mental health—or the health of our mind (which I feel is an underrated topic)— is paramount. Investing in our mental state is a worthwhile endeavor.

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Resource: 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.

 

Proximity Of Life

 

Roaming through an old city like Rome and realizing the speck in time I exist in, I reflect upon the significance and short lived reality of my life (don’t worry, what comes next won’t sound so depressing). Although a lifetime feels like a lot of time, within history's context, my lifetime is nothing more than a mere speck-- nearly invisible amongst the decades of generations prior and amongst the decades of years to come.

Rome’s grand Coliseum is a memory in history left in ruins, but to those who lived it I am sure it was so much more. Not just for its scale— what I mean is size in this context— as that is still somewhat evident in the ruins left behind, but imagine the scale of what the coliseum once was in terms of the experiences which surrounded it—how the Coliseum was in operation in its glory days. The rampant activities back in the day, the thousands of people roaming in, out, and all through its grand structures. How much more was the experience of the coliseum back then? How different was the experience compared to the millions of tourists pouring in today? For the record, I am pretty sure a typical summer’s day wasn’t as smoldering hot as the one I experienced today. To that I say global warming is a very real thing, but that’s a topic for another time.

In my jaunt through Rome’s historic cityscape I reflected upon its history and my relevance within this wider context. I find myself asking questions. Questions with extreme relevance in my own consciousness, but within this new perspective, becomes such a minor consideration. Questions about how should I live this life? What am I destined or made to do in this life? What legacy will I leave in this world (or maybe none at all)? What is the meaning of my life? Such big questions tends to dawn on me, yet again such questions seem so small when placed against the true extent of history and time.

The question of scale then comes into question. Right now my life and my reality really only exists in my world. What I mean by that is my context of living. That is where I am in the world, what I do, my friends, my family, my environment, and all the components of my life which make it mine. Right now, it’s my travel to Europe. Another day it’s my life in Singapore and another elsewhere. What becomes clear when I interact with the idea of history is how small I am amongst the enduring length of history and the future. The questions then becomes: what is my life within this expansive context? What is the significance of my life with this perspective?

My answer is simple, what life is to me and how I live life then becomes even more important. How I see the world and value the world through my eyes becomes so critical to what’s significant in this moment in time. My eyes alone is what will see my life from a magnified perspective. Everyone else outside of myself will only see me as a speck in history, as a part of something much larger. I alone is what experience my life in the most immediate and intimate sense. No one else can understand the proximity of my life but me, so what is the point in living a life that's not mine? What's the point in living a life that belongs to someone else? How do I want my life to be within my proximity?

 

 
 

The Transformational Power of The Mind

 
Malibu & Agoura Hills, California

Malibu & Agoura Hills, California

There’s something about committing myself to making an effort on bettering myself that’s remarkably transformational.

I first encountered this phenomenon in a pretty dark period in my youth. Like a lot of teenagers, I went through a rather turbulent self-discovery period (turbulent also for my inner circle). It was a time of great self-discovery, of intense desires to retaliate, and an undying mandate to carve out who I am as an individual in the world. Yes, those days of turbulence and satisfyingly rebellious achievements back in my teenage years (probably a common experience for most) was when I learnt something very important.

Transforming my life starts with the attitude and mindset I manifest within which will then shape who I am and how I am in the world. I can’t recall what elated me to this epiphany, but from that day forward this truth has never left me as I continue to navigate this unpredictable life I live. What’s transformational was the idea that the quality of my thoughts will impact how I behave, how I speak, how I react, and how I am in the world. If I think positively, positivity is what I am returned with. If I think negatively, negativity is what I am returned with.

Awakening to this understanding and knowledge allowed me to empower myself to dig deep and force myself to think positively. In darker times, I forced myself to look optimistically at my future even if it felt hopeless at the time. In darker times, I forced fed all the positivity I can muster and handle. I told myself how wonderful life is (even if I didn't believe it quite yet). The life changing learning was realizing I was in control.

I realized that no matter how I was or how my mind reacted, life will keep moving forward. The world is not going to check in on how I am doing, the world isn’t going to tell me what I allow into my mind. The world will keep going and time will not stop.

The moment I committed my mind to a positive and optimistic attitude was life changing. A lesson which has stayed with me all these years and one that has taught me never to let my life slump so low. I am the owner of my mind. No matter how I react or what I think about life will keep moving forward, the world keeps going, and time will never stop. The world will never pause to console me. It’s about the choices I make about how I react to the world and how I think about it, which will manifest into the life I live (even if it means force feeding positivity from time to time).

 

The Danger on Focusing on Yourself (I Rarely Hear About)

 
Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Half-Moon Bay, California, U.S.A

Working on yourself is a great thing, but when focusing on the ‘I,’ ‘Me,’ and ‘Mine,’ don’t forget about the people around. Remember to continue to love, care, and set time for others too, especially with friends and loved ones.

It is a hard pill to swallow when my imperfections are highlighted. It’s normal to go into self-denial and maybe even anger or feel insulted when someone feeds me a dose of truth about myself that I don’t like to hear. It’s hard to sit still and take it in, especially if I am in the mindset of the victim and in the mindset of being attacked. Naturally, if any living thing feels like they’re being attacked or threatened, our innate instinct is to protect ourselves; even plants have immune systems to protect against pathogens and bacteria. It is in our instinct to protect ourselves in the way we see fit.

Here’s where my hard truth hit me. If I take the time to consider the perspective of the other person, if I take the time to see things through another’s circumstance and place myself in their shoes, then I will realize and empathize with the truth of their circumstance and how they are experiencing things. Coming out of denial is an incredibly hard but humbling task, especially when leaving denial meant facing my ugly truth and admitting I was wrong.

In my experience, it is important to realize where these truths are coming from. If it’s said by a negative person or an enemy of some sort, there’s probably little truth to what they are saying. But, in my case, when I paid attention to the source of my truths, these truths were said by those who love me most. Accepting these truths was my wake up call.

In my precision and focus to find happiness in myself, to improve myself and my life, I had completely lost myself in the ‘I,’ the ‘My’ and my world of ‘Me.’ I neglected to take notice of everyone else around me. I didn’t even considered what their experience was like on the other side. It was about what I want, how I’m feeling, how I’m doing, and nothing about what they want, how they're feeling, and how they're doing. There is a level of danger in magnifying the self and here is my reminder to myself.

Everyone has problems of some kind or another, everyone has a world of considerations, thoughts, emotions, plenty of experience, suffering, and unexpected turns thrown at them, so don’t think for once that I am the only one going through something because I am not. Especially when going through something with others, remember to look up, look around, and consider what other people are going through or what they are experiencing because maybe listening to what others are going through and finding the shared experience in whatever it is I am dealing with is where happiness in myself, happiness in relationships, and happiness in this world is found.

 

 

Life Is Full of Imperfections

 
Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Tegalalang Rice Terrace, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Living in a world where we are bombarded with messages, visuals, and the demands for perfection, it is easy to forget that nothing in this world is actually perfect and that all things are imperfect in one way or another. If we observe the world truthfully, we will see that reality is far from perfection and that the world is inhabited by imperfection.

If life was perfect, change becomes unnecessary. If life was perfect, there will be no reason to grow, learn, or improve. What is even perfection if in absence of that which is imperfect?

Life is imperfect for a reason. Imperfection rewards me with the space to continue to strive for better. Imperfection leaves me room for change, to better myself and my situation. Life is not static.  

In the acknowledgement and acceptance of imperfection, what I am left with is a decision about how to interact with the imperfection. If my imperfections take form in a mistake, then what are the steps I take now in realizing my imperfections.

What's important in life; which I seem to lose sight of, especially in troubling times, in the face of challenges, or when encountering pain, is accepting the reality of the imperfect world we live in. Imperfection is what makes me human and it is what makes the world unique. Mistakes are part of the standards of imperfection. Mistakes is what can catalyze positive change. Mistakes is what can help me accomplish my mission towards the best version of myself. 

Whether mistakes were made, whether wrongs happened, whatever my past holds, there’s no way to change what has happened. Imperfection is a reality to embrace, as perfection in this world is impossible. Even with the conflicting messaging culture and society glorifies, being a perfect human all the time in all situations is an impossible task. The good news is there’s a lifetime of opportunities to improve from the wrongs of the past.

 

What Self Work Is Like

 
Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Aboard Le Pirate Explorer somewhere in Komodo Islands, Indonesia

Self work (or working on yourself) is easier said than done but to me it is about making a conscious commitment to myself, to devote my energies to my well-being, and to strive towards a goal to develop myself in the best way possible. I believe self-work takes a level of isolation as I am the only person in this world who is truly in touch with my own self and if my goal is to arrive at the best version of myself, most of the work I do for this journey should be done alone.

I aim to get to know myself as much as I can so that how I value myself, how I see myself, and how I think about myself is not dependent on other people. The extreme is where I am completely confident in myself and are so sure of who I am, that no one and nothing can change how I see myself; but of course this is an unhealthy extreme if attained. The people around me, my ever changing circumstances, and my ever evolving life should make different impacts along the way, whether positive or negative. My main objective here is to remember to look inwards amongst the commotion in order to have the space to develop myself authentically as an individual.

My aim is to get to a level of certainty and confidence in my own self, to a point where I know what is right and what is wrong devoid of the people and circumstances around me. What I want is to be able to stay true to who I am as an individual despite what the world throws at me. I liken this goal to an immovable water buoy, I may sway with the currents and be changed by the winds but no matter how turbulent or strong they pass through, my core values, vision, and self remains.

I don’t believe there’s a way to short change this, if I want to know myself, I must know who I am when I am alone. I must understand what drives me, what discourages me, what distracts me, what brings me a sense of adventure, or as simple as what do I want to do in my spare time. Sure, I can learn a whole lot from friendships and relationships by understanding how I am in the context of others, but I see these learnings from others as indicators not as what defines who I am.

What I think is paramount is to first understand myself without the disruption of the needs, wants, and desires of others. Only then can I give back in a healthy way into my friendships and relationships, which are crucial to our very human need for social connections.

 

 

Remembering The Authentic Self

 
East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia

An important realization came about when I was reading a chapter from the The Artisanal Soul by Erwin Mcmanus. The message I took away from the book is tremendously logical, completely obvious (if paid attention to), but mysteriously out of mind. The book goes in depth about why finding your authentic self before being able to explore the creative genius waiting to be unleashed inside of you is crucial to our purpose as humans in this world. The key assumptions delivered in the book (and which I want to focus on) is to never doubt that there is creativity in all of us; a creative expression waiting to be materialized into existence.

It is not just about finding inspiration from the world, rather it is about finding yourself in the world and drawing from who you are and your unique intuition to create for the world. This is a simple, but significant shift in the habits my mind defaults to.

With the access and abundance to information I have access to now, the ways of the world tends to overcrowd my own voice. The reality of being swayed by everyone else and how society moves is much more apparent in today’s world than in previous generations. If I live in the modern world, it is hard to silence the over-stimulation and escape the bombardment of information on how to just be - what’s cool, what’s in, what’s not, and the list continues to what seems like infinity. Where it’s easy to fault is to think I am already living a life of my authentic self.

What I need to remind myself is not to fall into the trap of thinking I am already and always living as my authentic self. Rather it is more important to be realistic about the weight of influence society, culture, circumstances and others have and to remind myself to take time to take a step back to reflect who I really am. What are my qualities and characteristics which are truest to who I actually am versus those which are only a reaction or a reflection to the world around me.

To lose myself amongst the rambles of this world is easy. To maintain my most authentic self is the challenge at hand. What is important is to know who I am if everything else around me doesn't matter or does not exist. It is important to consider how I will be if I am free from society's verdicts, free from the demands of others, free from conformity, and to ask myself who is my authentic self?