Personal Change

Shifted my desert rose from sun to shade. It started to thrive.

Who would have thought when the seller at Chatuchat market said it was sun loving.

Relook assumptions of what makes you thrive. Have a supportive environment that believes in you.

Mastering Adulthood” by Lara Fielding, PsyD.

Mind Warps: Can our brains distort reality or as Dr Fielding calls them “thinking errors”.

Do you trust your thoughts? One of my clients is going through a “Nobody cares! Im alone in the world” moment. Dr Fielding recommends a Mindful Mastery practice to Validate, Check and Change.

Skill 1: Notice: mind warps (examples below), catastrophizing.

Skill 2: Ask: is the thought 100% true?

Skill 3: Compassionately reframe.

1. All or none, black and white thinking – She always gets all the rewards.

2. Blaming – Hold others responsible for something that went wrong. If not for you, I would have… its all your fault. You screwed up my life. My mom wont let me…

3. Catastrophizing – assume the worst that can happen. I recall a client who thinks the plane will crash when he’s queuing at the visa office.

4. Emotional reasoning – mistake feelings for facts. If I feel nervous, it must be bad.

5. Mind reading – assuming others are upset about you when you see them frowning. She thinks Im stupid.

6. Minimization or Magnification – That doesnt count. My parents taught me not to boast or show off. Afterawhile every time I get a “compliment” or positive feedback from a student, I think they want something out of me. I disregard all the compliments I get from my students. Result – burnout. I magnify all the negative comments from 1 student of a class of 45 or a cohort of 120 students each semester. Lol.

7. Overgeneralizing and time travelling – if it happened in the past, it will happen again. One of my clients who is in her 70s talks about being bullied by her mother in law who died 20 years ago. She talks about this everyday if she has nothing dramatic to complain.

8. Personalizing – why is this happening to me? Eg. When something breaks and needs repair. Rather than thinking, all things break.

Any of these mind warps are common traps for you?

Do pick up this very practical book. Dr Fielding has QR codes for more videos on the topic.

Reflect + Reset + Results

“Virtues and vices – like carpets and hats – obey the law of fashion, and at different times, society with infuriating inconsistency punishes or rewards the same trait.

What characteristic in Churchill, won him adulation and honors? The same characteristic that earned him censure: his love of war. He never changed, but the values of the world did.

And if the years before 1940 were a prelude, the years after the war were a long decline. In the 1945 election, even before Japan surrendered, Churchill was ejected from office. The public sensed in him the permanent relish for battle, and they wanted no more of it.

Ch13 Churchill’s Bellligerence, His Defining Characteristic from “Forty ways of looking at Churchill” by Gretchen Rubin.

Can our weakness be our strengths?

Is there such a thing as strength or weakness? Gretchen Rubin concluded Ch 12 with this observation “Churchill didn’t care what anyone else thought. He never shut up, he was rude, he was undignified. Churchill’s greatest fault was the fault of his greatest virtue. His disdain for other’s opinions gave him his own clear vision, and he saw what others missed. Willingness to consider all points of view can be a source of weakness as well as strength; in 1940, Churchill knew the true course and led the way without listening to anyone.”

Forty ways of looking at Churchill” by Gretchen Rubin.

My initial reaction to the PM’s announcement that the “circuit breaker” will be extended till 1 June 2020, was one of despondence. Failing to queue for my favourite bubble tea, I went to Chinatown to buy a box of plum wine roast chicken and Chinese roast duck. The food surprisingly tasted bland. The mind plays tricks on our desires.

Instead of mopping if an L shaped or W shaped recession awaits round the corner, what if I use the next 10 days as entering a meditative retreat, in my own home. Minus tv or news. Minus noise. Minus activity. Just deep breathing. Simple food. But

allowed to read and write.

allowed to walk.

allowed to listen

to me

Not judge.

Today, the government is serious, a fine of $300 will be imposed on anyone who defies safe distancing rules. I discover, during this period, that I’m a sociable Introvert. Telecommuting is not the heaven I imagine it to be.

In Singapore, we even have a dish that requires us to engage socially, the lo-hei, a raw dish salad dish that we toss and wish each other blessings. Networking is the oil which culture is passed. Covid-19 is spread across this networking.

I am digging up a book by Michael Lieberman, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect. Social anthropologists such as Dunbar have long hypothesized that a species’ brain size or its neocortex is a function of its social group. Most animals have brains in proportion to their body size – species with larger bodies often have larger brains. But humans have bigger brains, six times larger than that expected for our body size.

This has puzzled researchers, as the brain is draining resource – burning 20% of the body’s energy while accounting for only 4% of its mass.

As evolution tends to eliminate waste, how did humans evolve large, energy-consuming brains?

A dominant hypothesis suggests that challenging social interactions were the driving force. Ecological problems only lead to human-sized brains when individuals can keep learning hard skills as they grow. When individuals learn from allies their culturally accumulated knowledge, such as making fire. Mauricio González-Forero and those of others suggest that a hard ecology and the accumulation/ transmission of cultural knowledge socially could act in concert to produce a human sized brain.

Why do we need to connect? Whether you believe in evolution or are a creationist, research seems to point that human survival is wired for it.

There is a price tag on relationships. Studies on the brain’s reward center, which turns on when people feel pleasure, found that the brain’s reward centre was indeed more active when people gave $10 to charity than when they received $10.  Emily Esfahani Smith

But the law of nature demands that sometimes, we have to be alone. A caterpillar enters a cocoon stage before it transforms into a butterfly. To transform from the ordinary world to the world of adventure, a hero needs to cross the threshold of tension between safety and growth. There is an illusion of safety when we hold on the familiar. Or now, during covid-19 when being safe means to keep a social distance.

The path of transformation starts with recognising that the pull of the familiar which is no longer relevant.

  1. Know thyself. To embark on a hero’s journey of personal transformation, start with self knowledge. There are several tools you can try: Strengths based VIA, or Jung influenced 16 personalities. As Socrates puts it, “The unexamined life is not worth living”.
  2. Future Self. While most strengths based instruments look at your top 5 strengths, another use of the VIA, is to examine the bottom 5 strengths that are underutilised or ignored. In my case, it is “creativity”, “zest” and “leadership”. This period of isolation gives me the space to map out where I want to be one year from now and the road map to get there.
  3. Goal-setting. World renowned educator and business coach, Marshall Goldsmith, Career Coach suggests in “What got you here, won’t get you there”, that we ask 6 questions with our team, “Where are you going”, “Where are we going”, “What are some suggestions for improvement”, “How can I help”, “What are some suggestions for me to be a better manager”. Some goals to work on, could be to ask yourself daily questions. “Did I do my best today” to: be happy, have positive relationships, meaning work towards my goals. Take up courses at Linkedin Learning or learn UX at GA.
  4. Build Accountability. “In leading through relationships”, Leadership Imagineer,Simon Bailey suggests that you can either get a coach or an accountability partner to go on the journey with you on developing yourself. Meet via Skype or any technology platform.
  5. Virtual Watercooler. One of the things we miss about going to work is bumping into colleagues at the pantry, or popping into your boss office for a quick check-in. Or catch up on office gossip during lunch, or on the way to the washroom. All that is gone with WFH. Teams at General Assembly have moved their happy hours online, as that is part of social grooming which is a necessary part of working life and building company culture. Others have created online exercise time together.
  6. Transition. Before WFH, the commute time from work to home allows the brain to decompress and signal that we are entering a different space. With WFH, that demarcation is gone and the overspill can create some form of anxiety or stress. Go for a walk- with your mask on, or play some music. Visualise the evening or start a gratitude journal on how you’ve survived another day.

In the meantime, stay safe. Only two more weeks to go.

Photo credit: NL, Taxi drivers having a conversation while waiting for customers, Okinawa 2018

Paul wrote his epistles in prison

John wrote the book of Revelation isolated in Patmos caves

David wrote some Psalms while hiding in caves running away from King Saul.

The cave/ prison/pit isolation experience runs through the Old Testament and New Testament Bible.

Several of the world’s leading schools of faith record their founders receiving divine insights during periods of isolation/ retreat.

Shakespeare could have conceived/ wrote his major Tragedies between 1603 and 1613, when his powers as a writer were at their height. His theatre, “the Globe and other London playhouses were shut for an astonishing total of 78 months – more than 60% of the time. [“Shakespeare in Lockdown: Did he write King Lear in plague quarantine?” Andrew Dickson, The Guardian, 22 March 2020]

According to “Deng Xiaoping” by Ezra Vogel, Deng formulated plans how to reform China in his 3yrs, banished by boss to manual labor in the Jiangxi rural countryside. Deng, the chief architect of China’s economic rise, read late into the night, and worked in the factory by day, did housework in evening, looking after aged parents, crippled son and ill wife. He was 65 yrs old then, while younger men fell to depression.

President Nelson Mandela of South Africa spent 27 yrs in prison for protesting against apartheid, emerged to forgive those who put him there. “I found solitary confinement the most forbidding aspect of prison life. There was no end and no beginning; there is only one’s own mind, which can begin to play tricks.” He used the time as “university behind bars”. (Mandela death: How he survived 27 yrs in prision, Mike Wooldridge, BBC, 2013)

How will you emerge from the cave of covid-19 “safe distancing”?

“Your mind is the garden, 
your thoughts are the seeds,
the harvest can either be flowers or weeds.” Wordsworth

How to retyre, 7 May 2015

  1. Always make your future bigger than your past.
  2. Always make your learning greater than your experience.
  3. Always make your contribution bigger than your reward.
  4. Always make your performance greater than your applause.
  5. Always make your gratitude greater than your success.
  6. Always make your enjoyment greater than your effort.
  7. Always make your cooperation greater than your status.
  8. Always make your confidence greater than your comfort.
  9. Always make your purpose greater than your money.
  10. Always make your questions bigger than your answers.

I recently chanced upon the writings of strategic coach Dan Sullivan whose 10 laws of growth are so inspiring if you, like me struggle with how opportunistic networking can be.

If we know that networking is necessary, whats holding us back? Fear of rejection.

1. Courage to step out. Curiosity to acquire diversity of experiences.

2. Commitment to change

3. Capability – deep work

4. Confidence

Adapted fron the 4Cs of Dan Sullivan.


Even as tech conferences in the US are getting cancelled because of the coronavirus, others are debating the value of in-person conferences. Their utility is not just a way to exchange information on platforms. “There’s something about meeting someone face to face, and also the serendipity that can happen, that just can’t be replicated in a remote way,” says Guilherme Rambo, an independent app developer from Brazil. “When you’re at a tech conference, you’ll meet people who work for the companies you’re a customer of, the people who make the apps you enjoy using, and sometimes business deals . . . are made. [Quote from Fast Company]

What can I do with the downtime? Pause and rebrand. Are you ready to join me for a 30 day Networking Sprint?

Day 1: Come up with positive adjectives, strengths and weakness that describe me
Day 2: Draft my personal brand statement. Update my Linkedin account.

Day 3: Come up with 5 ice breakers. Identify an area of professional interest.

Day 4: Bring my closest friends to lunch and ask positive adjectives that describe me. Likewise, compliment them. Ideas Party.

Day 5: Start my daily list of 10 thanksgiving items. Creative positive energy. List causes* I may contribute to. (UN 17 SDG for 2030)

Day 6: List my rewards or motivators on challenge. (Positive energy)

Day 7: Rest Day, Reflection

Day 8: Write home call home (parents, siblings), plan next family gathering. If not convenient, send positive thoughts and thank them in mind. Send postcard. Show you care.

Day 9: Start my project of saying hello to a different colleague or classmate everyday for 30 days. Ask: what are you working on? What’s a trend that may bother you? What’s a skill you wish you had time to pick up?

Day 10: Update my Linkedin account.

Day 11: Join a public speaking group such as toastmasters in my area.

Day 12: Join a group in my professional interest. Bring someone.

Day 13: Deep Dive: Attend a class to learn new skill (physical or virtual). Bring someone.

Day 14: Rest Day, Reflection

Day 15: Identify a new person to start a personal friendship group. What help can I offer? Show you care.

Day 16: Deep Dive: Borrow and Read 5 latest books affecting my areas of interest, be it Professional/ Personal. (One new book a month)

Day 17: Coffee with former internship supervisor or colleagues. Thank them for helping you in the past. Show you care.

Day 18: Keep in touch with (one) classmate from past. Reminisce the happy moments. Repeat with different person next cycle.

Day 19: Sign up for a talk in area of interest.

Day 20: Join a group of personal interest, faith or hobby, eg. Mahjong or tennis

Day 21: Rest Day, Reflection – list 10 topics I have collected from conversations.

Day 22: Start a blog, write my first article. Share.

Day 23: Volunteer for a cause*. Teach a class probono.

Day 24: Congratulate a friend. Show you care.

Day 25: Rest Day, Reflection

Day 26: Publish my first post on social media.

Day 27: Celebrate friend’s birthday or anything worth celebrating!

Day 28: Compliment a service staff (stranger). Post it on company website.

Day 29: Celebrate with loved one! Care for self.

Day 30: Repeat cycle for next 30 days.


What’s your favourite app to locate networking events?

Recently, I met Mr Shuang at a leather crafting workshop. Discovered he was formerly an engineer and now hobbyist instructor.

He has a regular group who learn making leather crafts like wallets etc.

How did he become interested in leather crafting? Well, he was teaching balloon sculpting and wanted to teach something thats more permanent.

We all know the famous accountant turned wall mural artist.

The visual artist turned sand art artist. It seems the experential economy does have a place for those of us who want to pursue passion in our hobbies.

3D Latte artist I met in Penang. Although watching him make the 3D foams, I wonder how much of it became a routine, rather than self expression?