What a strange concept; reminding myself to breathe. It’s quite remarkable how often we forget to consciously take in deep breaths.
I want to use this post as a reminder to appreciate the little things in life that can make a tremendous difference, like your breath. It’s something to really be grateful for.
Mindfulness and dealing with emotions
Breathing is an act that truly grounds you. Not only is it a necessary component to survive (thank you oxygen), but it’s also something that maintains your equilibrium.
This time of the year can be particularly stressful, especially if you’re in your final year at university. The projects, the workload, trying to apply for jobs, figuring out what’s going to happen next year; it can get a lot. I’ve also had to attend a number of virtual interviews over the past few weeks and if I’m being honest, they can be nerve-wrecking.
I almost always feel anxious or nervous before the call, and I can feel the way my body starts to react. I start taking shorter and shallower breaths, I start overthinking, I start sweating and I feel a tingly sensation in my tummy.
Despite that, I somehow make sure I remain confident and feel prepared. So how do I make sure I’m level-headed and calm? By slowing down my breathing.
This works so well whenever I’m faced with a daunting task or feeling overwhelmed. Just breathe.
Now is all you have
It’s come down to a very simple philosophy, understanding that we only have the present moment.
You can’t breathe yesterday, later or tomorrow. You can only breathe now.
You’re reminding yourself that life is temporary. Things comes and go, just like the breath. It’s ultimately about appreciating each and every breath; you don’t know when it will be your last.
What you’re also doing here is conditioning your brain to focus on one thing at a time. It’s easy to lose focus when we’re anxious or stressed, because our thoughts are occupied with the past or future.
Breathing helps us remind our brains that the stories we make up in our heads aren’t actually real. They’re mental constructions that we’ve created.
We just need to constantly remind ourselves that. When in doubt, be grateful and focus on your breath.
Oxygen to your brain
There are even more benefits to deep breathing! This is so obvious but very often missed. When you breathe more meaningfully and consciously, you allow more oxygen to enter the body.
This further improves the circulation of oxygen entering your bloodstream and into your brain, which helps you focus. Spending some time in nature (surrounded by trees) can also really help with your breathing. The air is fresh and full of life.
“Everything will be okay in the end, if it’s not the okay, it’s not the end.”
This short post is a gentle mindfulness reminder. Life will inevitably bring pain, the suffering is up to you. Look at things from a perspective of growth and learning. Keep track of the way your body reacts.
Remind yourself to breathe more often. You will get through this. You will survive. It sometimes seems out of reach, the finish line seems so far away, but I believe in you. I think you should too.
Have you ever started copying someone’s behaviour subconsciously? How often do you learn just by observing? Do you think moods are contagious?
As most of you may know by now, I’m quite passionate about psychology and learning about the mind. Today I’ll be talking about a very interesting phenomenon called Mirror Neurons. I’ll run through what they are, how they behave, why we have them and some neuroscience behind leadership.
What are mirror neurons?
These are neurons in the brain that create a shared experience by detecting and then mimicking other people’s emotions. This is fired when you act a behaviour out or when you simply observe and imagine the behaviour.
It’s called mirroring because the observation behaves as if you performed the action yourself. A very similar reaction occurs in your brain.
Have you ever cringed by just watching someone do something cringe-worthy?
How do they behave?
Remember that we’re just a bunch of neurons constantly firing. This is essentially what neuroplasticity is all about. It’s how our thoughts, experiences and behaviours change the shape of our brain on a constant basis.
When we are actively engaged in visualization or observing other people in an activity, our brains actually change in structure. This is why we’re often told to become friends with those who are smarter than us or in sports with those who are better than us.
Being surrounded by those people actually have an impact on the way we think. That’s also why they say the company you keep is so important. It physiologically affects you.
Why do we have mirror neurons?
Our good ol’ pal evolution. The concept of mirror neurons has enabled us to better determine people’s intentions when they carry out certain behaviours. It is also what enables us to empathize so well with others.
Mirror neurons contribute to our understanding of other people’s emotions and how they’re feeling, by helping us put ourselves in their position.
I’m sure you’ve experienced being surrounded by someone who is distressed and then started feeling a little uneasy yourself too. This is also why they say that smiling is contagious. It quite literally is.
The Neuroscience of Leadership
Another remarkable concept that I’ll briefly go over is how mirror neurons plays a role in leadership. People who are charismatic and confident exude a certain aura that makes us feel comfortable and heard.
Empathy is a key skill for effective leadership, because you’re able to show others that you understand what they’re going through. Mirror neurons are also vital in subconsciously mimicking people we’re socializing with. We often end up copying certain gestures, phrases, behaviours and facial expressions to connect with those around us.
By understanding how these subconscious attributes affect our interactions, we can all actively engage in becoming better leaders.
This topic is still deeply under-researched and there’s a lot of work to be done in thoroughly understanding how mirror neurons work. The concept is extremely fascinating to me, even if it’s just at surface level.
I hope I’ve managed to intrigue your curiosity about neuroscience and how incredible our brains truly are. Our empathetic nature is highly-dependent on our ability to detect the emotions in other people and then feel them for ourselves.
Keep in mind that observational learning is a powerful tool that we shouldn’t undermine. Finally, surround yourself with people who are better than you to make a powerful impact on your subconscious.
These insights will definitely amplify your ability to become a life-long learner and a courageous leader. Stay strong, vulnerable and always curious. You are truly blessed.
Far too often we get trapped in our own little cycle of thoughts. Some are true, some are exaggerated, some are just unnecessary and some are completely wrong.
By now, I’ve explained how critical perspectives are. I’d like to help change your mindset towards a very common foe; stress. I shouldn’t be using the term foe at all, in fact it’s our ally more than anything.
Let’s unravel how building a relationship with stress, can boost our performance in pretty much every aspect of our life. And how our relationships can also help us better deal with it.
I’ll start start with a few negative aspects regarding stress.
The statistics are quite staggering. Stress is absolutely detrimental to your health. Here are a few of the risks associated with chronic stress:
Mental health issues
This isn’t meant to scare you (or maybe it is idk). I’m just trying to shed some light on a very common subject. The negative effects are associated only when you believe that being stressed is bad for you.So the aim is to try and optimize that belief.
But can a simple change in perspective really minimize the negative effects? -Absolutely.
Here’s a TED talk I highly recommend if you have the time:
You should also know by now that I’ve started to fall in love with questions. So what is stress?
“Stress is your body’s reaction to any change that requires a response.”
I quite like how brief that description is. We pretty much feel stressed all the time. It comes in various forms & at multiple stages, but it’s always somewhere there. It’s what forces us out of bed every morning. It’s what pushes us to study for our exams and get done with our tasks.
The key to problem solving, lies in having great awareness of the issue. This would also include having a good understanding of what you’re capable of doing. Largely, what we know about stress is that feeling when we have a substantial amount of work to do, and not a lot of time to do it. We get a little panicky, impatient, slightly (or highly) irritable.
So the first step would be to become aware of those feelings. Accept them as part of your body’s natural response. Don’t think about it as being bad for you.
The next question is: How much of stress do we need?
The mind works in marvelous ways. I’ve always been fascinated by how quickly we adapt to uncomfortable situations. There’s a very narrow gap between having just enough stress to be motivated, and that overflowing into stress that damages our health.
Each person works effectively under different circumstances. Therefore, there can’t really be a definitive answer to how much stress we need.
Identify it for yourself, through building some form of self-awareness. Determine how much stress pushes you to work, and how much stress pushes you overboard.
Think of stress as your back-up response. Your personal SOS. Your subconscious dial for 911. It’s your ally! It’s there to help you, as long as you keep it in check.
I love talking to people about perspective changing, because it’s honestly what has helped me change so much in my own life. Now, I’m going to ask another very important question: How do we learn to deal with stress?
The minute you start ignoring the signals your body sends you, that’s when stress starts getting out of control. A few key important steps:
Notice how your breathing changes (breathe in more deeply)
Be aware of your thought patterns (stay present)
Focus on the task at hand (back yourself)
Imagine the feeling of relaxation once it’s over (you will survive!)
Apart from the aforementioned points, immerse yourself in the present moment by practicing something you really enjoy. Clear your mind with exercise, watching a sunset, reading an interesting book, watching your favourite movie or just going for a stroll in nature.
The key philosophy I’m trying to get to is this:
Better awareness leads to better choices, which ultimately leads to better results.
Do you know what else works really well to relieve stress?
For those of you who don’t know what oxytocin is; it’s not a drug. Well sort of. It’s a hormone released in your body that’s associated with socializing. Also known as the cuddle hormone. Oxytocin is released as part of the stress response, to help you get along with other people.
Why would that help? Because we’ve evolved that way. The most effective way to deal with daily stressors is through seeking assistance. When you confide in others and find a helpful social structure, you mentally deal with the stress a lot better.
I really just want you all to realize that there are certain aspects of our biology that we can and cannot control. The most efficient way to live therefore, is to use what we can control, to help us deal with what we cannot control.
Stress is your friend. And your friends help you with stress. Life is a vicious cycle of paradoxes that don’t always make sense. That’s okay. We just have to follow our nature. Try our best. And ultimately realize that we’re going to die some day. None of this will really matter then.
“Live for the present like you’ll die tomorrow, plan for the future like you’ll live forever.”
One of the most profound quotes I’ve come across. I hope this message was beneficial. Please share it with those who could make use of it. The aim is to help as many people as possible live out their full potential.
The way you start your day, powerfully shapes how productively you’ll live it.
This post will be very closely linked to The Journey II. I’ll speak about the importance of waking up early and how a powerful morning routine can help you make everyday, legendary! As previously mentioned, this will discuss a lot of The 5 AM Club (5AC) by Robin Sharma, so it’ll be similar to a book review.
Essentially I’ll discuss the values I’ve found most useful and how it has truly helped me amplify my days. Through asking questions about why we should wake up early, then answering them by discussing the benefits, I’ll hopefully convince you to wake up earlier. Keep in mind that there’s no such thing as a ‘morning person’, you are what you do repeatedly.
Before I dive into the routine on how we can make the most of our day, I’ll talk about some of the wisdom I’ve learnt from the story in the 5AC.
Give more, take less. There’s just something profound about being generous or charitable, whereby the more you give the more you get. I’ve genuinely become a firm believer of that (a key pillar of Islam is to be charitable), and it’s emphasized quite a lot here. From my own experience, giving to those who are less fortunate or just being generous to those around you, instills gratitude.
When you’re grateful and content, you’re no longer chasing accumulation or greed. This is something I’m extremely thankful to my parents for, they’re genuinely the kindest people in my life. I know gratitude is repeated a lot in my posts, but there’s no doubt it’s one of the most important values to me.
Another piece of wisdom is being relentless in your dedication. The moment you feel like giving up and calling it quits, is the moment you should try your best to stay put and push forward. This teaches something called grit; that the ability to persevere and work hard outweighs talent. [Grit by Angela Duckworth is an incredible read for those interested in resilience and passion]
“The soreness of growth is so much less expensive, than the devastating costs of regret.”
The final point, is to just acknowledge that there’s more than just mindset to focus on. There are 4 interior empires to balance for success and fulfillment, which sort of relates to The Journey V. They are:
I won’t go into too much detail since I’ve already discussed it previously, but keep in mind that, starting your day by working on each of those components is key to having a legendary day, everyday.
Mindset would revolve around your self-talk and pyschology. Heartset is having the ability to be forgiving and compassionate to the world around you, as well as dealing with the traumas and heartbreaks of your past.
Healthset is ensuring you exercise sufficiently and stay in optimum health. Finally, soulset is about your ability to cultivate your character. Your authenticity, bravery and courage, what you stand for. So these are the four interior empires that we need to focus on each and everyday for longevity and fulfillment.
Let’s start with why? Why should we wake up at 5 am everyday?
1- Okay I’ll first start with something simple; it enhances the state of ‘flow‘. This can be considered the peak mental state where our perceptions become heightened, our originality increases and we’re able to access new levels of processing power. For me, this state is most easily accessed when I play soccer for example. It’s when you enjoy doing something so much (albeit challenging), that you forget about everything else, lose track of time and find an optimal way to focus.
2- Another simple reason would be to obtain a Gargantuan Competitive Advantage (GCA). Just think about all that you can achieve if you’re up before everyone else. I’ve been feeling like I’ve lived multiple days in one since waking up at 5 am. How does this give me a GCA? Well because I have time to focus on finding clarity within myself, before rushing and diving into the chaos & compulsion of daily life. Waking up at such an early point of the day, allows you to sit in stillness with yourself, plan for the day, focus on your core values and overall prepare before everyone else.
3- In case you still need another reason, it develops your willpower. We need to truly understand that willpower can be developed, like a skill, through relentless practice. Which is why I believe there’s no such thing as a morning person. The more you fight the urge to stay in bed, and get up at 5, the more you stretch the willpower muscle. This in turn, makes it easier for you to increase your self-control, and once the habit is formed, it becomes second nature. (Remember how I keep talking about cold showers? This is another reason why.)
“Consistency is the DNA of all mastery.”
General theory of self-discipline: To regularly do what is hard but important, when it feels most uncomfortable, is how warriors are born.
These are just some of the reasons why I think it’s absolutely critical to wake up at 5 am, let’s dive into how we can actually structure the morning to make the most of those early hours.
The 20/20/20 formula
Move (Intense exercise)
Grow (Read/listen to audio-books)
This technique is essentially the way to kick-start your day, by structuring the glory hour (first hour of your day) into 3 x 20 minute slots. For the first 20 minute slot, build up a sweat. Exercising releases brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), which is a protein responsible for growing neural connections. It essentially helps build the brain circuits, which allow hormones such as dopamine and serotonin to travel. Basically, the more BDNF in the brain, the better.
The hormone cortisol (which is responsible for stress), is also highest after you wake up. Therefore, starting your day off with exercise not only helps strengthen your neural connections, but also aids in releasing endorphins and other feel-good chemicals which help reduce cortisol.
The second slot should be used to reflect. Reflection in the sense of identifying your values, your core characteristics & your WHY. It’s also a great time to be thankful and to pray, as this develops contentment and happiness throughout the day. Meditating can also be done, focusing on the present moment and clearing your thoughts out early off in the morning.
Another thing to do would be to plan the day and visualize how you’d like the day to go. Journalling as I love to recommend, is perfect for this slot too, and you can check out the post I’ve already written on how to journal.
There a lot of things we can do during this period of reflection and I often spend more than 20 minutes on it. The point is to take this formula and maneuver around it, however you seem fit. It also doesn’t have to specifically start at 5 am, start slow at the hour you usually wake up and then work your way down.
Slow consistent steps, yield staggering results.
The final slot of the glory hour should be used to grow. The point here is to learn and gain knowledge. This time can be spent reading a book, listening to podcasts / motivational audios, or even reviewing your goals. This adds another aspect to the GCA, considering you’ll be progressing in some form each and everyday.
It’s also imperative to stay away from your phone during the first hour of your day, to avoid unnecessary distraction and stress. The next point will be discussing how to actually implement this habit.
The benefits of the glory hour are as follows can be seen the info-graphic below.
The habit installation protocol
The diagram below illustrates how the automaticity point of habits are formed. The first 22 days is called the destruction phase. This is essentially the phase in which an old habit must be destroyed to allow space for the new habit.
Remember: habits can’t be erased they can only be replaced.
The second 22 days is called the installation (or confusion) stage, this is where the habit is starting to settle in. This phase is also quite confusing because it’s still difficult to keep up with the habit and the urge to quite becomes stronger than ever. It’s critical to push past the mental challenge and keep going forward, as this builds on grit.
The final stage is called the integration phase. This is when things slowly start to make sense and the routine approaches automaticity. After 66 days (of continuous discomfort and resilience), the habit would’ve become second nature and comfortable.
It’s highly recommended, to keep at any habit you truly wish to incorporate into your life, for at least 66 days before calling it quits. This at least gives you the opportunity to truly see whether you’re capable of the change or not.
“All change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.”
“First you create your habits, then your habits create you.”
Once a habit is established, what next? Start with the next habit and keep growing! I’ll move onto the Islamic perspective for this habit.
Once again, there’s always an Islamic benefit to the habits I try to install. Waking up at predawn to pray Tahajjud before Fajr (the compulsory morning prayer), is an absolute game changer. Starting your day off with remembering God and being thankful, allows for you to experience a fulfilling and gratifying day.
It has been stated in many aHadith, that the rewards of praying at the earliest hours of the morning (or final third of the night) is especially significant. Specifically because you need to be in a state of Wudhoo (ablution), therefore it requires you to cleanse yourself. You would also need to pick yourself out of bed at a very difficult time, which is very rewarding. This results in piety and God-consciousness (Taqwa), which also leads to more discipline.
“Be vigilant in standing up [in prayer] at night, for it was the practice of the pious before you. It is a means of gaining proximity to Allah Ta’ala, expiation for transgressions and a barrier from sins.” (Tirmidhi)
I’ve hopefully managed to convince you after this lengthy discussion & the previous post, to take your sleeping and waking patterns more seriously. Some of the key takings from this post are: To give more and take less. Remember that joining the 5AC gives you a GCA, allows you to enter the state of flow more readily and teaches you grit.
The four interior empires need to be worked on each and everyday; your mindset, heartset, healthset & soulset. The 20/20/20 formula includes moving, reflecting and growing. That the habit installation protocol requires at least 66 days before automaticity. And finally, to understand that there’s an islamic benefit for waking up early to pray and remembering God, which has incredible rewards.
I’ll leave you with my favourite quote from the book:
Disclaimer: I just want to acknowledge that a lot of the content I produce is based off my personal experiences. This happens to be from a privileged background (which I’m extremely grateful for), and I understand that it may not be as easy for other people to follow. Just want to share what I’ve learnt and hopefully you can all gain something in one way or the other.
So in today’s topic, I’m going to discuss a few things which I’ve read about and that have helped gain a better understanding of passion. This is not to say that I’ve realized my life-long passion or anything, but writing about it just helps me better digest the concepts at hand. I’ll start with a wonderful concept called Ikigai, which originates from Japanese tradition. Then I’ll delve into comfort zone (once again), consistency, mindset, and how we can make practice perfect.
Let me first introduce a Japanese concept called Ikigai, which roughly translates to “reason for being”. I read the book last year by Ken Mogi and it definitely changed the way I viewed passion. It essentially boils down to 4 concepts:
What you love doing
What you’re good at
What the world needs
What you can get paid for
If you can find an intersection between all four points, you’ll ultimately find your ikigai. This makes sense, considering first and foremost, you need to identify what you love doing. This helps you get started, because you’ll obviously have an urge to do what you love. Then figure out what you’re good at, which you’ll probably already enjoy doing. The second 2 points are where things get a little trickier, and that’s because there’s a difference between hobbies and a passion. Hobbies are activities out of your general occupation, which are meant to be relaxing. Contrary to that, passions are meant to drive you and keep you going, no matter how exhaustive or overwhelming.
The diagram below illustrates just what I mean by that. What the world needs and what you can get paid for, are the final factors which would truly give you a reason to live. It isn’t going to be straightforward identifying an intersection, but having an idea of what you’re aiming for, definitely contributes to the journey.
Do more! Leave your comfort zone
There’s no way you’re going to figure out what you love doing, if you keep doing the same things over and over again. This relates to what I spoke about in The Journey V, whereby it’s a vital component to add some form of discomfort in your daily routine. For example, by taking cold showers regularly. This conditions you to leave your comfort zone, which is a holistic process. I say holistic because this helps you in every aspect of your life, it allows you to brave through your fears. Once you’re able to condition your mind in one aspect of your life, why not use that same theory in other aspects? Find more ways to regularly leave your comfort zone, and stay consistent with it, to strengthen those neural connections.
“How you do one thing, is how you do everything.”
Don’t be guided by fear! Explore that hobby you’ve been yearning to try, whether it be surfing, running, martial arts, drawing, writing or acting. Approach the person you’ve always wanted to speak to. Try out cooking using a new recipe for something you’ve always craved. Visit a new city or somewhere you’ve never been to before. If you can’t do that, just read about new places and things you’re unfamiliar with. The point is to keep trying new things out, because you’ll start to better identify what it is you enjoy and what you don’t. Here’s a great phrase a friend of mine recently told me: You Only Die Once. This obviously originates from the YOLO trend, but it’s a rather fantastic way to think about it. You truly don’t know how long you’re going to be here for. Don’t wait until tomorrow, you may not get the chance.
I know some of these topics are repetitive, but again, it serves as a reminder to myself and to everyone of you reading. Consistency requires you to remind yourself on a daily basis, of what matters to you. When you do little things over and over, it becomes a lot. The thing about consistency, is that you need to realize that you (probably) won’t become an overnight success. You need to work towards your goals everyday, regardless of your mood. Whether you’re tired, uninspired, bored or “just not in the mood”, you have to make sure you get a little done. This ensures that you’re always making progress, and after a few weeks, you would’ve achieved a lot more than you realized you could. The cool thing about this is, once the ball is rolling, you’ll feel inspired and have the urge to continue anyway.
Let me give you a classic example, for those who fail to finish books. If you dedicate a certain amount of time each and everyday to read, you’ll actually make a lot of easy progress. Instead of reading when you have ‘free’ time or you’re in the mood to get ‘woke’. This in turn builds discipline and allows you to make time for what’s important to you. The same works for any other activity you enjoy doing or want to get good at. The more you keep at it, the better you get. I’ll build onto that further below.
For those of us who are fasting this month , here’s another wonderful reminder which emphasizes consistency:
“You must only perform deeds you are capable of doing. By Allah, Allah will not withhold from you until you give up. The most beloved religious deeds to Allah are those performed regularly.”
and in another narration:
“The most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular and constant, even if it were little.”
Prophet Muhammed (Peace Be Upon Him)
Mindset / Intention
This links back to what I’ve spoken about again and again, your mindset. You need to believe in your ability to grow and find what you love doing. Work on your negative self-talk and on preventing saying things like ‘I’ll never be good at this’ ,’Some people are just born better / smarter’, ‘I’m not creative’ or ‘I’m just not talented enough’. This keeps you in a fixed mindset, which prevents you from further achieving your goals or exploring different activities. Always tell you self: ‘Not yet’! This keeps the space open for you to realize that you just need to put in more time and practice, in order to develop that specific skill-set. More importantly, you need to find your real intention behind what you’re doing, start with why.
We know in Islam, that actions are based on their intention. But that ultimately means, that what you do on the surface will never be as important as your reason for doing so. What was your intention for trying to do it? This brings me to another point of Ikigai; what the world needs more of. Having pure and authentic intentions, being honest and doing the uncomfortable work. Remember why you started, keep your intentions in mind, and always try and add value to the world around you! This can sometimes be overwhelming, because we know how large and diverse the world around us is, how could we try and make it better? By being the consistent change you want to see in the world. There’s one more point I want to add, to further make the most of that consistency; deliberate practice.
Deliberate practice makes perfect
This is where quality > quantity comes into play. You may have heard of the 10 000 hour rule, whereby the more you practice something, the better you get at it. As much as that is true, a vital element in those hours, needs to be “deliberate” practice. In essence, you need to focus on your weak points and find out where you can improve on a constant basis. This directly links to comfort zone yet again (which is why I mention it so often).
Regular practice involves doing something you enjoy, essentially staying within your comfort zone. Deliberate practice on the other hand, is constantly trying to leave your comfort zone; working on what you’re terrible at and accepting criticism from those who are better than you. Because if you only practice your strengths, how will your weaknesses ever improve? So as much as you enjoy practicing whatever it is you love, push yourself a little more each time, and work on what’s difficult. This allows for holistic growth, and can eventually make the practice perfect.
I know I’ve covered a bit of ground in this post, but I hope you can appreciate how it all links together. I’ve also repeated a few topics again, just to iterate how profound these concepts can be in your life. Once you start working on a certain aspect, it can ripple into every part of your life. It’s important not to try implementing several changes at once, and end up giving them all up. Start small and stay consistent with it. Then you can build on that once you feel comfortable with the habit. Keep in mind, that the more you’re able to condition yourself to leave your comfort zone, the faster you can grow and learn. Your intention also plays a big role, so don’t do things for the wrong reasons either. Be true and honest with yourself, as well as those around you. Ikigai may not be the easiest practice to achieve, but once you start identifying a few intersections, you’ll hopefully find something you can truly be passionate about!