I was showering one day, and a bunch of ideas about the benefits of reading popped into my mind, which I thought would be useful to share. I’ve been a little neglectful in my reading this year (comparatively speaking), and as usual, I was starting to wonder what was the point of reading. Again, I was reflecting on the WHY.
Turns out there’s a lot more to reading than just telling people how much you’ve read. Your mental prowess is strengthened through the acquisition of knowledge (you get to learn sophisticated new words), your creativity expands profusely, and your ability to empathize is augmented.
Sounds cool right? Let’s get into it.
Acquisition of knowledge
This is arguably the most straightforward benefit and reason why people read. To acquire knowledge. Whether you’re reading from a textbook to prepare for an exam, reading an article on the Top 3 Benefits of Reading, reading an interesting post on Instagram, reading religious text for your spirituality or reading an ordinary non-fiction book, at the heart of it lies the acquisition of knowledge.
Whatever you read, whether you’re conscious of it or not, has an impact on your knowledge. Your mental prowess is arguably your greatest asset as well. You need to continuously invest in it so that it can continue to grow.
The remarkable thing is that the first Qur’anic verse or word revelated to the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) was “Read!”.
As I’m starting to remember that, the more motivated I’m becoming to continue reading. It can become less of a burden, and more of a priority.
Expansion of creativity
In addition to the knowledge that you gain, reading enhances your ability to think beyond your current mental limitations. The more you’re exposed to and engage with newer, abstract and unique concepts, the more creative you can become.
I always find it invigorating when I’m able to push my own boundaries because of something I read in a non-fiction book. When I read about self-development, what has been done by others or theories about the future, it enables me to also push beyond what I currently believe is possible within myself.
Additionally, unlike in a movies, fictional books also force you to use your imagination to picture the story you’re reading. I currently don’t put too much effort in being imaginative, but it’s definitely something I’m working on. The more you mentally engage with the stories, the more creative you can become in other aspects of your life as well.
Augmentation of empathy
The last aspect that I thought about was how it can develop your empathy. This is also more relevant to fictional books, as you have to take perspectives from different characters.
As with creativity, the more you read about stories from other people’s point of views, the more you’re able to feel what they’re feeling. As the characters develop, the deeper your understanding becomes of their own personality, how they relate to others, and what they want to accomplish.
The practice in this becomes how you put yourself in their shoes to make sense of the story. This can directly translate to your interpersonal relationships, as empathy is also a skill that can be worked on.
So when it comes to reading, my personal preference is to take a mix of fictional and non-fictional books. This gives me the right balance in acquiring new knowledge, expanding my creativity and augmenting my empathy.
The benefits of reading are definitely not limited to what I mentioned in this post. If you have any other important insights from your own reading experience, feel free to share it in the comments below! I’m also happy to engage more on this topic privately.
Welcome back to another episode of Memento Mori. Today we’re going to be talking about You vs You. What I want to focus on specifically, is how you can stop holding yourself back from moving forward in life.
I’ve been doing something interesting recently with one of my best friends, where I ask them to give me feedback on what I’m like as an individual. They were obviously quite hesitant and friendly at first, but once the ice was broken, I was surprised by what they had to say.
They identified common behaviours that I did quite often which I thought were okay, but actually made me come across as having a superiority complex. I dived deeper into it and found out that it had to do with how I always mansplain things, talk in a dominant tone, and act like a ‘know-it-all’.
Despite how difficult it was to digest initially, it made me a lot more aware of certain intellectual blindspots and helped me grow considerably. That being said, in today’s post, I’d like to talk about why we should constantly seek feedback from our friends/family members, how to digest their comments, and how to strive to continuously improve.
Constantly seek out feedback
The most obvious solution yet one of the most difficult things to do. In fact, it may even come across as being annoying sometimes. Once you get into the habit of asking for feedback, it becomes addictive. You constantly want to know where you’re falling short and how to improve. You also want to be told what you’re doing well, as the ego also needs a little petting.
The point here is that you should strive to ask people to point out areas of improvement. We’re all biased towards ourselves. We think we’re smarter, more competent, kinder, more caring, and more empathetic than we actually are. It’s easy to be blinded to our own fallibility.
Asking close friends or family members for constructive feedback can help you become a better person and also a better friend/family member. It’s a double win. Here are some probing questions that you can ask:
In what ways am I annoying?
How can I be of better help to you?
What is a behaviour that you would like me to change?
What behaviours from me do you like?
In what ways have I been helpful?
NB: If you’re the person giving feedback, please be kind and compassionate! Don’t just point out all the other person’s flaws. Make it clear that they’re also great in certain ways as well.
Accepting your flaws
This is even harder than the previous step. It’s one thing to ask for feedback, it’s another ball game to actually accept the criticism. As I mentioned already, we don’t usually notice where we’re falling short. Once that’s pointed out, it can be quite painful to realize that we’re not as perfect as we perceive ourselves to be.
Acceptance is a humbling solution to that problem. It’s going to hurt a lot of the time, but it’s the best way to move forward. When we acknowledge and accept that we have certain limitations, we already take a step in the right direction.
Acceptance, however, doesn’t mean much if we don’t take action to improve. That being said, when we incorporate a growth mindset into the exercise, we’re able to continuously improve.
After receiving feedback and accepting your shortcomings, the next step is to take action and make progress. We can do this by clearly articulating goals to strive for.
For example, if we tend to be impatient and always rush through things, an improvement goal can be to start slowing and be more present. The next time we feel like rushing someone, we should take a deep breath and acknowledge that it’s okay to sometimes wait.
That was just a high-level example. Another way of improving is to update your values according to the type of person you want to be. The same concept can apply to the previous example. We can try to incorporate ‘patience’ as one of our core values and continuously work on being calm and present when we feel the urge to rush.
The goal would be to identify the areas where we fall short and put a plan in action to develop. With the right mindset, we can continuously improve on all aspects of our life.
The point of this post was to show how we can move away from repeating annoying behaviours and stop holding ourselves back. We don’t often realize how our actions affect other people or even ourselves. It’s important to make a conscious effort into identifying them and move forward with those insights.
It might be tough at first and a little heartsore. But the more you do it, the more comfortable you become with yourself. Don’t be your own enemy. Keep pushing ahead. You got this.
I recently re-read one of my favourite psychology books called ‘Grit’ by Angela Duckworth. It’s essentially about why passion and perseverance are the keys to success. In other words, talent isn’t everything, it’s about the work and deliberate practice you put in.
When I think of a lot of people in my life, I notice a trend around complacency. Many people have ambitious goals and really want to succeed, but often fall short when push comes to shove. I’d like to use this post as somewhat of a ‘motivational’ speech.
Firstly, for myself. To remind myself of why I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. Secondly, because I want you to understand how important it is to be driven by something deeper than motivation. I think motivation is unreliable, but habits can last. Lastly, so that we can stop making excuses and avoid hiding behind the comfort of our complacency.
We come back to the concept of purpose. It always starts with your reason, your intention, your why. We’ve heard about this everywhere and keep seeing it all the time. But I want you to understand that you don’t necessarily just wake up one day and figure out your purpose. In fact, you may never figure it out. You keep striving towards something meaningful and enjoyable, then determine your why from there.
That’s the first misconception that I want to uncover. Purpose is not easy to find. You often have to chase things that are in your self-interest and don’t necessarily contribute to other people. Once you start developing a certain level of expertise in that domain, you can then try and look beyond yourself, and figure out how to make an impact.
Let’s use my blogging as an example. Originally, I started it off as a way for me to vent. I just wanted a space to share my thoughts with other people. Not for their sake, but for mine. I was never a reader or a writer, but a few years down the line, I started getting better at it. I started enjoying it. It became a habit.
I started writing more about life lessons, book, mindfulness and little tricks that I found really helpful for me. A few of my friends and family members then started telling me how helpful my posts were to them. That they were inspired in some way. That’s when I realized the potential impact I could make by writing more meaningful posts.
“Aspire to Inspire” became the motto, to try and help people reach their full potential by sharing the little nuggets of wisdom that I have. What started off as a venting mechanism, turned into something purposeful. That brings me to my next point, why motivation is not reliable.
Motivation is unreliable
Some days we wake up feeling incredibly energetic and ready to conquer the world. Other days we dread the thought of getting out of bed. That’s essentially the issue with seeking motivation, it’s temporary and subjective. What can we look for instead, to stay inspired?
This may sound annoying, but my answer is to form habits/routine/rituals! Remember this quote:
“First you create your habits, then your habits create you.”
It’s all about consistency and making things somewhat predictable. If you have a routine going, you try to stick to it irrespective of your moods. You don’t only brush your teeth when you feel like it, you brush your teeth because it’s a habit, and you know that it’s important for your hygiene. You don’t only go to the gym when you feel like it. You go to the gym because it’s part of who you are. You are someone who is dedicated to your physical wellbeing.
So think of it in terms of who you are as an individual, not just as an activity that you perform. Initially, it will take some motivation and some push, but once you have the ritual and discipline going for you, you flow into it.
That brings me to another really important point, stop making excuses!
Stop making excuses
The thing about motivation is that it can be used as an excuse. ‘I just don’t feel motivated today’.
What does that even mean? Can you pinpoint exactly what’s causing you to slack off? Is it mood-dependent? If there are genuine reasons why you cannot go after what you want, then so be it. But if the reasons are fluffy and intangible, it’s not worth it.
I want to make it clear that I’m not trying to force you to be more productive or to do more. I want you to help you identify the flaws in your own argument when you convince yourself that you’re incapable of achieving something. The quote that immediately comes to mind is:
“Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”
So if you need to take a break and if you really just need some time off, then do exactly that! It’s not about about toxic productivity and pushing yourself to the point of burnout. It’s about being realistic, ambitious and efficient. That’s my approach to life. Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.
Decide what you want, and pursue it relentlessly
The point that I’m trying to make in this post is that you should figure out what you want, then go after it. Relentlessly pursue your goals and ambitions. Why? Because tomorrow is not guaranteed. You don’t know if you’ll be here in another week, month, year or decade.
Given that fact, you should embrace the present moment but remembering the shortness of your life. Memento Mori. Your problems and challenges are there to fuel your journey moving forward.
Start deliberately practicing. Understand that the effort you put in is worth more than just talent. If you want to get better at something, put in the hours. Don’t wait for motivation, look at the habits you need to have in place. Stop making excuses and find ways to inspire yourself. Consistency is the key to mastery.
Who do you need to be, to achieve what you want to get done?
Here’s a topic a lot of people I know may be struggling with (myself included, lmao). In the age of working from home (WFH) and everything being done virtually, we seemed to have lost touch of boundaries that are typically associated with work-life balance (WLB).
Most of us are expected to be online till way past our ‘working hours’, just because we can be. The amount of work that we are required to achieve in a single day has increased for some reason, despite the fact that it’s not necessarily easier being at home.
In today’s post, I’d like to deal with quite a difficult concept: how to improve on our work-life balance. I’ll talk about the boundaries that we need to set, the objectives that we need to have on a daily basis, spending enough time with our family and friends, looking at the spiritual side of things, as well as making time to get adequate sleep.
My experience of this topic comes from the fact that I’m part-time studying and working full-time – mostly from home. So there’s a lot of effort that I need to put in place to ensure that I get enough downtime and rest.
Boundaries and rituals
The reason why I talk about boundaries being blurred is because many of us no longer drive to the office, we don’t pack up our laptops when we’re done and go back home, we don’t feel how late it can get compared to when we’re at the office.
Nowadays, we wake up and the first thing we check is our work emails, we jump straight into meeting (often while we’re still in bed), we stay up till way later to meet deadlines, and we struggle to meet our other obligations – all while we’re at home.
First thing’s first, we need to identify that not having boundaries is a problem. A lot of us get used to the intensity and almost accept it. But if we don’t look at it for what it is, we may not appreciate a healthy balance. Once you understand the need for boundaries, you need to find ways to specify and implement them.
This can be done by understanding your objectives, which I’ll touch on briefly after this. For example, you may want to exercise before/after the work day. Block off an hour in the morning/evening at a specific time and try to let your team know that this is necessary for you to be effective (ensure it doesn’t clash with meetings etc.).
Another way to try and improve your WLB is by setting a cutoff time for you to respond to emails/attend meetings. I know it’s not always possible when projects get intense, but it’s worth a try. The point is to look at what you need to stay efficient, and build rituals around that.
Your daily objectives should basically be aligned to your boundaries. Understanding what you need on a day-to-day basis will enable you to make time for those requirements. We all need to prepare for meals, get administrative tasks done, work on hobbies/side projects, maintain social relationships and get some exercise done.
By setting these objectives down at specific times during the day (with some flexibility), we can then incorporate those boundaries. The aim is to ensure that you sustain a healthy balance and attend to your personal matters too. That’s the whole point of understanding work-life balance.
Family/friends and alone time
This is an incredibly important component to me personally. I find that I need a recovery period with the people I love and cherish. There’s something about quality time that just recharges me. Without it, the balance starts to tip over.
I live away from most of family in Joburg, so I don’t get to see them as often as I’d like. But I still try to video call them often and then make plans with people that I’m close to here.
I also found that I need quite a decent dose of alone time to let my thoughts settle and to make sense of everything that goes on around me. I need time to meditate, to walk in nature, to read, to reflect and to contemplate. It’s a different way for me to clean out my energy and bring more positivity into my work.
Another fundamental part of my life revolves around Islam and my daily prayers. This can mean different things to different people, but having a spiritual grounding is truly something I can’t do without.
It is the essence of my purpose in life and I find that I’m always calmer and more collected after I’ve prayed. What I love about the Islamic approach, is that you’re required to pray 5 times a day. That means you get 5 chances every single day, to reconnect to your spiritual side and stay in check.
Find what works best for you and ensure that you incorporate it on a daily basis; even if it’s just being grateful before you start the day.
Another critical aspect of a healthy WLB is getting enough consistent sleep. This is easily a challenge, especially when there’s so much that needs to get done. Setup a cutoff time for when you go to sleep and for when to wake up. The consistency makes it easier for your mind to settle.
The benefits of getting enough sleep should be really clear by now, I’ve written a post about it already. The takeaway from this post is to make sure you respect your body’s requirement. If you sacrifice a healthy amount of sleep for too long, the harmful effects can last a lifetime.
If you can, try to get at least 7 hours of sleep. 6 if you’re pushing it. Anything below that (depending on your sleep cycle) would be detrimental. Calm down on the coffee too, especially past 3/4 pm.
So, we’ve given quite a bit of thought to the concept of WLB. There are a lot of considerations to factor in, especially given how we’re all WFH. Make sure you understand your daily objectives so that you can set boundaries, figure out how much time you need to spend with family/friends or alone to recharge, find time to pray, and make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
There’s always going to be a lot to do. That’s the nature of life. But just as the birds and animals know when it’s time to rest, so should you. Follow your nature and keep doing your best. You got this.
We’re bringing back another episode of Mindful Monday! The reason I thought about this topic was because I’ve been personally been feeling a little disconnected lately. Sure, my habits are still in check. Still waking up before dawn, meditating, praying and journalling. But there’s an aspect of being robotic that I’m still struggling with, specifically when I’m eating, driving or speaking to someone.
I’d like to use today’s post to discuss aspects of our nature that we need to be a little more mindful of, striking a balance between automation and conscious thinking, breathing more deeply and ways of working from home.
When we should focus being mindfulof Things are that are closest to nature.
When we’re praying, when we’re cooking food, when we’re eating the food, when we’re watching the sunrise, when we’re in the shower, when we’re brushing our teeth, when we’re working out, when we’re spending time with family, when we’re out with friends, when we’re about to fall asleep or just after we wake up.
It’s incredible how often we tend to be on our devices when we’re doing any of those things. It seems like we are starting to lose the essence of our senses. We no longer pay attention to what we look at with our eyes, what we listen to through our ears, what we eat in order to taste, the way we look after our body, and what we talk about with other people.
When we aren’t being mindful of those aspects of our nature, we stop living in the present moment. We forget to be grateful. We forget to be thoughtful or appreciative.
What we need to do is be stricter with ourselves when it comes to our focus. We should start making the most of the time we have right now. We need a balance between doing things on auto-pilot and consciously living.
The balance between manual thinking and automation
It’s something I’ve thought about and discussed here before… How do we find the right balance between doing things on auto-pilot vs. using conscious energy. There’s definitely an efficiency trade-off to think about, specifically looking at what actions are worth putting in genuine effort.
We’re lazy beings. We always try to find the shortest way to get something done, which typically makes sense. That’s why our brains do the same when it comes to consistently repeated habits. We eventually end up training our subconscious to ignore being present.
We should probably look for what we find valuable and spend more of our energy being attentive to it. The last thing we want to do is allow ourselves to get complacent.
I know I know, I talk a lot about breathing. But you need to understand how fundamentally important it is. It affects every aspect of your life. From your ability to deal with anxiety, stress, fear, joy, happiness, to when you’re preparing for an interview, working out, walking up the stairs, and even having a cold shower.
All these activities require us to have a consistent influx and outflux of air. Well tbh, you need it all the time. But your ability to manage your breathing in those situations will allow you to perform much better than uncontrolled breath. It’s interesting how we often ‘run out of breath’ not because we need to inhale oxygen, but because we need to exhale carbon dioxide.
That’s besides the point. My point is, focus on your breathing more often. It’s easy to forget this little habit, because the body does it automatically. But it will truly make an impact on your health and ability to deal with challenges. I’m not saying that you should consciously breathe every second of the day, but when it’s necessary and when you can remember to.
Another consideration is how to stay mindful when we’re (working) chilling at home all day.
Working mindfully from home
Whether it’s studying, working or anything else that relates to being at home for most of the day, we tend to lose our touch with the present moment. In a way, we are less exposed to usual array of stimuli from being outside. That being said, we can often ‘forget’ to be as mindful when we’re working from home. Not that being in an office/classroom all day is any better, but the moving around is what makes all the difference.
When go outside for a quick walk, stare out the window for a bit or just decide to chill in the garden, it allows us to get some exposure to the natural world. I repeatedly talk about the benefits of spending time in nature, and it’s because of the way it forces you to be mindful. Even if you can’t go outside, find ways to focus on nature within your home (this could even include being more attentive when you eat or speak to friends).
What we should try and do if we can leave the house, is focus more on the leaves of trees and how their colours change, the clouds and the way they dance across the sky, the birds and how they sing to each other, the lil insects and bugs that are always flying around, or even the way the earth feels on our feet.
Giving our senses that stimulation will snap us back into the present moment; which will make us feel grounded, grateful and more energetic. If we take short 10 min breaks from our work and do this regularly, it will have such a significant impact on our ability to push forward. Go outside right now and try it out if you can. The world is yours for the taking.
A lot of you seem to dislike the concept of sleep. A lot of you absolutely indulge in it. Today’s post is going to be another book summary on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker. All I have to say is that we need to start taking naps more seriously.
The book is broken down into 4 main parts. I’ll briefly touch on the first 3 sections in more detail and talk about some of the ways we can improve our quality of sleep.
This Thing Called Sleep
Why Should You Sleep?
How and Why We Dream
From Sleeping Pills to Society Transformed
This Thing Called Sleep
Have you ever thought to yourself “I’m just really not a morning person”? Well, apparently that could be true. We can divide people into more or less 3 categories; ‘morning larks’, ‘night owls’ and a combination of the two. Morning larks account for 40% of the population, night owls and the combination account for 30% each. This is known as a chronotype and it’s heavily determined by genes.
From an evolutionary point of view, it kind of makes sense. We needed people to stay up late at night to defend the tribe. If everyone went to bed at the same time, it would increase the risk of being vulnerable and getting attacked. However, in this day and age, being a night owl isn’t necessarily as advantageous. The systems and work schedules we have in place are biased towards the morning larks. This needs to change to accommodate those who are naturally inclined to work better at night.
So how does your body physically know when it’s time for bed? Melatonin. This chemical is released after dusk indicating to your body that it’s time to get ready for bed. It should be noted that it has little influence on the generation of sleep. It just informs your mind that it’s night time.
What actually does influence your tiredness and ability to sleep is a different chemical called adenosine. It essentially accumulates in your body from the time you wake up and increases your desire to sleep. This is known as sleep pressure and is what makes you feel sleepy.
How have we managed to overcome this urge for slumber? A lot of you might be familiar (and perhaps addicted) to the answer, caffeine. Just so you know, caffeine is classified as a psychoactive stimulant. It works by blocking the adenosine receptors; diminishing the sleep pressure. The problem is that the amount of adenosine in your system will continue to rise. So once the caffeine wears out, you often feel even more tired. Caffeine also has a half-life of around 6 hours. This means that after 6 hours, 50% of it will still be lurking in your system.
Your sleep can be categorized into 90 minute cycles of rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) which occur one after the other. This can be seen in the Figure below. REM sleep has similar brainwaves to your waking state. It’s essentially your dreaming state – where you’re temporarily paralyzed (if you ever sleepwalk, there’s essentially a disruption during your REM sleep). It’s also when you’re able to integrate your memories and solve problems. The NREM cycle is when you’re in a more logical, slow-waved and reflective state. It’s when you save memories and make sense of your experiences. Both cycles are extremely important and can only be utilized when you sleep for over 7 hours sufficiently.
Why Should You Sleep?
To be a functional human being and contribute to society
To remember stuff
To help your body recovery – especially if you’re active
To solidify your immune system
To get smarter (problem-solving and creativity)
To control your body weight
To enhance your social awareness (and emotional intelligence)
I could honestly keep going on…
I’ve gone into the previous chapter in enough detail. The abovementioned bullets provide enough evidence to support the claim of requiring at least 7 hours of sleep. Everything in moderation, obviously. Don’t go for more than 9-10 hours of sleep (if you’re a young adult).
The rate race will tempt you into sacrificing this invaluable coping mechanism. It’s not worth it. Find the right balance.
How and Why We Dream
It’s quite incredible how similar the state of psychosis is to dreaming, considering that you were:
Affectively labile (extreme swings in emotion)
And suffering from amnesia
These are normal biological and psychological processes that we experience when we dream. REM sleep specifically is associated with the active, conscious experience of dreaming.
We don’t just dream about the events of our day, but rather, the emotions that we’ve experienced. This allows us to effectively keep our mental health in check, alongside many of the other benefits I mentioned previously. The problem-solving and ability to form logical connections all occur during our dreaming state.
“Dreaming takes the approach of interrogating our recent autobiographical experience and skillfully positioning it within the context of past experiences and accomplishments, building a rich tapestry of meaning.”
Tips for getting better sleep:
Have a consistent time to go to bed and to wake up
Keep away from blue light at least 30 minutes before you sleep (don’t get into the habit of staring at your phone as you’re trying to sleep)
Keep the room temperature relatively cool (around 20°C)
Cut out your last cup of coffee more than 6 hours before you plan to sleep
Exercise regularly (not too late in the evening)
To summarize everything I’ve learned from this book: If you don’t get enough sleep, you will literally die. I’ve barely gone into the same level of detail as the book, so I highly recommend you give it a read for yourself to truly maximize the benefit you can gain from understanding the importance of sleep.
Moving forward, we need to really start appreciating the impact a consistent amount of good quality sleep can have on our lives. If you know anyone who argues against the requirement of over 6 hours of sleep, please recommend this book to them. More often than not, they haven’t done adequate research.
Every year tends to bring with it a new chapter. A new beginning. A new adventure. The concept of novelty is highly sought after, despite how terrifying it can be. We’re creatures of habit, but we also get bored very quickly.
Life can be quite painful. We encounter tragedy at every corner. It’s essentially inevitable. What we have control over is our perception, reaction and ability to adapt. Let’s talk about accepting change, becoming resilient and seeking novel experiences.
To really understand why it’s so important to accept change, I always think about this quote:
“Change is inevitable, resistance is futile.”
It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Nothing stays the same. All you can do is prepare and become receptive to the disruptions that are inbound.
I recently talked to a friend of mine about the concept of being in a cocoon. We start off being little caterpillars, content with our leaves and staying on the same branch – immature. Then life gets a little trickier and we decide to engulf ourselves in a chrysalis. It feels safer, more comfortable and we don’t have to deal with the external world.
The initial discomfort is a crucial step in the metamorphosis. It catalyzes our transformation into the best version of ourselves. Once we’ve adequately accepted the change, we start evolving into a butterfly and break out of the cocoon – matured. This is the point of escape; from limitations, negative self-talk and denial. We fly into the world stronger, faster, braver and more beautiful than ever.
What we don’t realize is that the difficult and new circumstances were a critical aspect of the transformation. We require novelty and a certain degree of hardship to grow.
And so, when we learn to continuously embrace challenges and try to overcome them, we become resilient. The reason I love talking about resilience is because it’s at the heart of learning.
When we experience change or disruption, we’re forced to adapt. When we learn to continuously adapt, it becomes easier for us to deal with more unprecedented changes. The cycle essentially feeds itself. We need to approach our fears with courage and prove to ourselves that we truly are capable of overcoming them.
Resilience allows us to try again. It allows us to keep pushing. It prevents us from giving up because deep down we know, we can do it.
If you really want to observe resilience at its best, just spend time in nature. Watch the trees and plants. Notice how they have absolutely no control over their environment, yet they find ways to thrive. Follow your nature and embrace the inevitable changes that are coming your way. In fact, you should go out of your way to face challenges that you’ve never experienced before.
Seeking Novel Experiences
Instead of waiting for changes to come your way, why don’t you go out to face them instead? I don’t just mean trying out a new restaurant or hotel, but I mean actual adventures that require some form of courage and dedication (I can see how you could argue that for restaurants or hotels, but you get my point here).
What I want you to understand here is that you can mentally (and I suppose physically) train yourself to get used to adapting. Not just to survive, but to get the hang of it and thrive. You prove to yourself that you’re capable of overcoming the discomfort, difficulty and uncertainty. The more you leave your comfort zone, the more you’re exposing yourself to growth.
The point I’m trying to make is that we’re always going encounter unfamiliar situations. It’s going to be scary, overwhelming and challenging. What we can control is our approach to and perception of those situations. We can look at the circumstances we’ve overcome in the past and utilize the same skills again in the future. We can turn those challenges into opportunities to grow.
If you just reflect over the past few months, you’ll realize that you’ve been remarkably resilient. You’ve endured an incredible amount of hardship and suffering. Yet you’re still here. You’re still fighting. You’re still giving it your best. Don’t give up when it’s hard. Smile and embrace the challenge. It’s going to transform you into the beautiful butterfly that you’ve been destined to become.
Flight or Fight!? How often do you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or relentlessly chasing deadlines as if your life depended on it? Let’s talk about why stress has low-key been the reason we’re achieving our goals and why we need to form a healthier relationship with it. I’ve talked about this before in the first post on make stress your friend.
Today, I’ll dive a little deeper and refresh our memory on this. I’ll speak about what stress is, how it’s released, why we need to manage it and how we can acquaint ourselves to it. Nature has a remarkable way of pushing evolution forward, it’s our responsibility to learn how these innate responses affect us.
What is the stress response?
The flight or fight response is part of the sympathetic nervous system’s reaction to emergencies that you experience. This is what happens when you’re being chased by a lion, have an approaching assignment deadline or feeling sickly. The subconscious response is both physical and emotional, to optimize your reaction to the given situation.
This can work for you or against you, depending on how often you’re confronted with situations that trigger this response. The neural connections formed over the past several millennia don’t adapt quickly enough to our modern-day problems. We now experience the same stress response for much simpler issues; like not getting enough likes/followers on IG, being subtweeted or even worrying about your feed, which could start getting unhealthy.
Chronic stress is when you’re repeatedly exposed to situations that trigger the release of stress hormones in your body. This can be detrimental to your health for several reasons. Let’s discuss how the body releases those hormones and why we need to manage them adequately.
How is stress released?
Once you start thinking about all those deadlines (or when you’re faced with highly stressful encounters), how does the body react?
There’s quite a complicated process that goes on in your brain, specifically within the hypothalamus. Here’s a brief overview of what happens:
Epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol are released.
Heart rate increases.
Blood sugar is released, increasing energy.
You become much more alert and vigilant.
This process is programmed into our subconscious mind and has proven to be an invaluable evolutionary asset. But what happens when the response becomes chronic?
Why we need to manage our levels of stress
Understanding the physiological response is critical in being able to make better decisions for your own mental well-being. The constant surge of epinephrine can become very damaging after a prolonged period of time. It damages your blood vessels and arteries, which increases your blood pressure and chances of having a heart attack/stroke.
The constant release of cortisol also increases your appetite and decreases the activity in your digestive system, since your body is using up the energy reserves. This is probably the reason why people often ‘stress-eat’ and indulge in junk food when they’re feeling overly stressed.
Thankfully, there are ways for us to combat these issues and maintain a healthy outlook on the stress response.
How can we become allies with stress?
Exercise or go for a walk
Speak to someone
Acceptance is always the first key when tackling a problem. Acknowledge and be honest with yourself about it. If you’re someone who tends to get stressed more than is necessary, notice the changes that happen in your body and don’t judge yourself for it. It’s part of your evolution.
The perspective you should embrace is that of kindness. Look at stress through a positive lens and that will change your outlook on it. It’s there to help you adapt, to effectively deal with changes, to energize you, to boost your body and to get you to focus. It’s also what motivates you to get off the couch and get some work done.
Breathe. This is honestly one of the best ways to calm your body down. Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious, focus on taking in deep conscious breaths to the bottom of your abdomen. Don’t underestimate how effective this simple technique is. It will help ground you.
Here I am speaking about journalling yet again, what a surprise… It serves as an incredible outlet for you to let out emotions and clear your mind. This will help you assess the problem much more realistically and will reduce the chances of you lashing it out on others.
Exercise or go for a walk – preferably in nature. Sometimes a healthy distraction is all you need to get a grip on your thought patterns. Releasing the energy through physical exertion will certainly help calm your mind and body. Going for a walk in nature is particularly useful to gain a more philosophical outlook on the problem(s) at hand.
The last recommendation is to simply speak to someone. If you have someone that you can confide in and discuss your issues with, raise it up with them. Be wary of the energy you bring to the table, you don’t want to make them feel overwhelmed either. A great approach is to ask:
“Are you in the right emotional state to listen to what’s been stressing me out?”
Don’t bottle things up, just be considerate to others. If you’re struggling with chronic stress and feel like it might burden those you care about, consider therapy. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You’re just speaking to someone who can guide your thought patterns into something a little healthier.
I know stress is not easy to manage and it can become very overwhelming when you have several responsibilities. Keep in mind that this is all part of your journey and that it’s all contributing to your growth. Focus on having a growth mindset, find tactics to keep you grounded and always remember to breathe. Stay present, you got this.
How often do you feel like there are too many options to choose from? Couldn’t figure out what to watch on Netflix? Got stuck deciding what outfit to wear? Couldn’t pick a restaurant to go out to with your friends? Struggled to pick a meal once you were at that restaurant?
We’re living in an age where we have more choices for pretty much everything than ever before. We tend to think that our freedom lies in having a variety of choices, but there’s a threshold before those choices become taxing.
I’d like to use this post to discuss a very interesting phenomenon; the paradox of choice. This post will serve as a summary for the book written by Barry Shwartz, but I’ll talk about other relevant ideas too.
I’ll also talk about a concept called decision fatigue, how unlimited choices affect us psychologically, the contribution of capitalism and how to move forward.
Why more is less
As previously mentioned, it seems like having too many options is paralyzing us, instead of liberating us. We don’t realize how when comparing so many choices, it often leaves us with a sense of regret.
I should’ve ordered the usual. We should’ve chosen the first hotel. We should’ve watched the other movie. I should’ve joined the other course.
“Instead of increasing our sense of well-being, an abundance of choice is increasing our levels of anxiety, depression, and wasted time. “
According to Barry Shwartz, good decisions usually involve 6 key aspects. As you’ll notice, the more options that are available to us, the more effort will be required to make a sound decision. Here are the 6 steps:
Identify your goal or goals
Evaluate their importance
Array the options to achieve them
Evaluate how likely each option is to meet your goals
Pick the best options
Modify your goals based on the outcome
You can see from the list above, if firstly, you don’t have a clear idea of what you’re trying to achieve, you’re going to have trouble making a decision. Understanding how important your goal is to you also plays an important role, because it allows you to sort through the options more effectively.
“Nobody makes plans because something better might turn up, and the result is that nobody every does anything.”
Let’s see how trying to sift through several options affects our ability to further make decisions.
You have a certain capacity for the amount of good decisions you can make in a single day. Essentially, your willpower diminishes and the quality of your decisions decrease based on the number of decisions that you make.
The graph below shows what I mean by that. It clearly illustrates that the quality of your decisions are higher, when you make less decisions. Why is understanding this useful? Because it allows us to focus on making our decisions earlier and on what matters.
Let’s think about the first hour of your typical day and how many decisions you make before leaving the house. Okay in this case we’re not leaving the house anymore, but until you start being ‘productive’ at home.
You’d usually start on auto-pilot; snoozing, then brushing your teeth, making the bed, stretching a little, maybe even scrolling through your phone (terrible idea btw).
Then comes breakfast. What do I eat? What should I drink? What should I prepare for lunch later? Then you need to get dressed. What should I wear? When should I shower? Should I exercise now or later? Then you have to prepare to do work. Which assignment should I start with? Should I respond to these emails now? Why won’t these people leave me alone?
You get my point. Before we can even start making any important decisions, we’ve already exhausted a handful of our will-power’s supply.
This essentially means that we should make the most important decisions early in the morning. Start planning for your daily activities in advance. Choose your breakfast and your outfit the day before.
Reduce the amount of decisions you need to make per day and you’ll clear up a lot of cognitive space.
The psychology of unlimited choices
When you make a decision that doesn’t turn out well and then find better alternatives, how does usually make you feel?
How does regret play a role in our decision making? There are two main forms of regret, namely: post-decision and anticipation.
When things don’t go well after a decision is made, that’s called post-decision regret. When we anticipate that things aren’t going to go well before even making a decision, it often leaves us feeling anticipatory regret.
Having an enormous amount of choices leads to constantly evaluating “What if”. That is called counterfactual thinking. When we ponder over scenarios that could’ve been. That often leads us to appreciating what we have less and therefore, we derive less satisfaction from our decisions.
Being aware of these psychological consequences is actually a great way for us to overcome the paralysis of over-stimulation. We can identify more clearly our objectives before making a decision, we can learn to accept “good enough” and learn to focus on the few options that meet our standards.
“What looks attractive in prospect, doesn’t always look so good in practice.”
We need to decide when choices really matter and focus our energy there. We tend to believe that the choices we make are a reflection of who we are, so we spend more time than we realize evaluating them.
The root of all evil. I’m kidding haha. I won’t dive too deeply into this, just needed to share some of my thoughts. It seems that the ever increasing number of choices for everything, is rooted in modern consumerism.
Capitalism has bred this kind of thinking in several ways. By making people believe that their sense of value is determined by their net worth. By creating a culture of social comparison, where everyone’s ego is on the line. By creating a ‘satisfaction treadmill’, where we continuously chase the latest products and trends, thinking that we’ll get satisfaction from it.
We might not be able to change the way the system runs on our own, but we can learn to better maneuver through it. We can become aware of how it influences us and our ability to make decisions.
Great question. Here some of the points the author mentions that are imperative for us to remain satisfied with our decisions.
Choose when to choose
Be a chooser not a picker
Make your decisions non-reversible
Focus on your blessings and be grateful
Regret less through acceptance
Curtail social comparison
Learn to embrace constraints
We need to realize that we often try to make decisions based on the objective experience it will provide. However, what’s actually important to us, is often the subjective experience. How we feel about it.
Being a chooser entails understanding what is important to you and how that aligns with your values. Being a picker means just ‘going with the flow’ and picking anything. By making your decisions non-reversible, you’d spend less time ruminating over the other choices. Having an “attitude of gratitude” is pivotal to appreciation and also helps with overcoming regret.
We’re hyper-adaptive beings. We need to keep in mind that everything that was once novel, will become ordinary and comfortable after a while. We need to manage our expectations more realistically in order to avoid disappointment.
Curtailing social comparison is essentially not worrying about everyone else. You’re living your own life, based on your circumstances and your life goals. Don’t worry about impressing other people or missing out based on their experiences. Finally, embrace constraints. Manage your options by limiting them whilst maintaining your standards.
“Choice within constrains, freedom within limits, is what allows us to imagine a host of marvelous possibilities.”
Do you want to find peace of mind and learn how to deal with disappointments?
I hope by now the practice of mindfulness is becoming an ingrained aspect of your life. I’ll keep talking about the different ways in which I calibrate my mind to stay present and the thought processes that help me get going.
In today’s post, I’ll run you through certain aspects of our thinking that we should try and take control of. This includes dealing with expectations, disappointment, hope and forgiveness.
Make sure your life vest is strapped on, it’s about to get deep.
It’s almost impossible not to have expectations. It’s an evolutionary advantage to some extent. The key then, is to be conscious of those expectations and understand when they might be flawed.
Whether you agree with me or not, you’re constantly expecting certain things to happen. When you’re hungry, you expect yourself to get food. When you’re tired, you expect yourself to get some rest. When you’re out with your friends, you expect yourself to have a great time.
Issues arise when our expectations don’t coincide with reality.
More often than not, that’s exactly what happens. The food we ordered didn’t taste as lekker as we thought it would. We couldn’t fall asleep because our minds were restless. We didn’t enjoy our outing with friends because of complicated dynamics.
Our projection of reality is a direct reflection of what’s going on inside of us. The more we’re able to accept the fact that life is unpredictable, the better we’re able to expect morerealistically.
Why then, do we get disappointed so often?
When our minds aren’t calibrated to the way reality functions, we constantly expect outcomes that aren’t feasible. I’m not saying don’t be a dreamer or don’t have ambitions beyond your current limitations. All I’m saying is that you shouldn’t allow yourself to fall prey to the mind’s illusion.
Disappointments are essentially a result of our expectations not being met. That is completely in your control. Who else made you expect that?
It’s infuriating yet absolutely liberating. We have control over our thoughts (to a certain degree). We therefore have control over our expectations. Which ultimately means, we are in control over our disappointments.
The more we expect, the more false hope we have, the more we’re disappointed. We need to constantly bring ourselves back to the present.
What is life without hope? Despair and despondency are satan’s allies.
When life gives you lemons, you squeeze the hell out of them and make something delicious. Then, you take the seeds and plant more lemon trees, giving you more lemons to squeeze. Thanks life.
Our minds are like gardens. Every thought is a seed that will eventually bloom. When we plant seeds of hope and positivity, it results in a plethora of beautiful flowers. Hope gives us something to look forward to.
As always, we need to acknowledge the fact that now is all we have. The way to utilize hope is to take action now. Be conscious of the seeds that are being planted in your garden and put in the effort to remove thoughts which aren’t serving you.
Hope is just another form of expectation. It must therefore be realistic for it to serve you.
Do you want to know how to remove weeds from infecting your mind’s garden? Through forgiveness.
Possibly one of the best things you can do for yourself. It’s a concept that absolutely develops your characters and allows you to become a beacon of mercy. When we’re able to forgive others, regardless of all the wrong they’ve done to us, our gardens start to flourish.
This is not to say that we should ignore those faults and allow people to step over us. But let go of the mental baggage. Let go of resentment. Let go of the hate, envy, grudges and toxicity.
The mental clarity and relief you obtain from forgiving others is like no other.
Keep in mind that forgiving yourself is just as crucial. You need to accept the mistakes you make – you’re only human after all. Love yourself by being kind enough to forgive yourself. Make a definitive plan to move forward and learn from where you’ve messed up.
By now, you should see the point I’m trying to make. Most us don’t take time out to mow the lawn or get rid of alien plants. It’s up to us to take charge of our mental garden and look after it. The thoughts we have directly influence our behaviour. Our behaviour ultimately influences our mood and emotional state. This cycles back to our thoughts.
By being realistic in your expectations and understanding that life is full of disappointments, you should find solace in maneuvering through your thoughts. Hope and forgiveness are key aspects of acceptance, don’t let go of them.