READY TO LAUNCH: Comprehensive Guide To A Fulfilling And Meaningful Life For The 20 To 30-Something [INTRODUCTION]

Note: I had started on writing a book a while back, but had not prioritized completing it for the longest time. After much deliberation and soul-searching, I’ve come to the conclusion that now is the best time to accomplish this. I expect this book to be completed and published by the middle of next year. This is the introduction to the book:

INTRODUCTION

I remember being depressed when I was 20 years old. Like many others at that age, romantic relationships formed a big part of my life experience. Upon a traumatic relationship breakdown, I went through months of feeling helpless, hopeless, and incompetent in handling myself. I wasn’t a happy person, and had no clue on how to get out of that deep hole that I was in. As a result, I wasn’t keeping up with my studies, suffered with my health, and neglected the existing relationships that I have in my life. I was merely surviving, barely scraping through the day just to live another day. It was a mess.

At this moment of writing, I am filled with an odd feeling of gratitude. Things are different now. In the past decade, I have been investing a lot into figuring out myself. More importantly, I have been learning the tools necessary for me to have a happy and joyful life. I now remember that event as the beginning of a long journey towards personal development. I’m happy to see a significant progress towards being empowered to make the necessary changes in my life, to live according to my values, to have a clearer sense of purpose, and to develop meaningful relationships and career. It has been a fulfilling journey thus far.

Being happy and fulfilled is one of the most important and sought after experiences in life. It is the foundation to the “why” in our actions. It is what gets you out of bed in the morning. It fills you with passion for experiencing life. There isn’t a reasonable person who would want to perform a routine without believing (which may be different from the outcome) that it will provide them with happiness, or at the very least, some relief. In an ideal world, every person deserves to be happy.

However, reality tells a very different story. In 2014, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that about 1 in 5 adults experienced a mental disorder in the United States during that one year duration itself.1 In Malaysia (where I am from), the figure for “mental health problems” rose from 10.7% in 1996 to a shocking 29.2% in 2015!2 That is 1 out of 3 persons in my country experiencing some kind of mental health concern, commonly depression and anxiety.

That is indeed a very worrying number.

That same concern applies to the way we work. For the most part of the urban population, we will be spending at least 1/3 of our lives doing work (measured in hours of the day or years in our lifetime). Considering how much valuable time we are investing into this portion of our lives, I’d think that it is vitally important that work is done in a way that fulfills us. But, the percentage of employed working-age adults across 155 countries who are engaged – meaning they are enthusiastic and very involved in their work – stands at only 15%3.

These numbers show that a significant amount of people in the world are living a life that is unfulfilling, unproductive, and unhappy. Why is this so?

That is the same question that I have been asking myself in the past decade. What started as an inquiry for my personal development also then grew to become a subject for academic understanding and career path.

Studying psychology as a subject matter and completing my undergraduate and postgraduate thesis in studies of happiness, sitting through hundreds of hours of therapy with individuals from all walks of life, and facilitating groups for personal development gave me insight into what people really needed in their lives to become the best versions of themselves. The crux of the matter is this: to live a fulfilling, productive, and happy life, what is needed most are skills to navigate through the seasons and challenges that we face.

As a 30-something who had gone through my 20s experiencing challenges faced by young adults for the first time, such as how to manage and grow relationships, finding a purpose in my daily actions and career, and how to regulate my emotions, I can understand how lost and alone it can feel to not receive the kind of support to know what to do in life. When I look around, it seemed like everyone knew what they were doing and what they wanted. But, hours and hours in therapy with clients tells a different story: while it may seem like things are in order, people are actually struggling with getting a grip on themselves. We are desperately looking for the support and guidance to live a fulfilling life, and for the most of us, we fail to find that holy grail.

The reality is, a one-size-fits-all approach to personal development is not possible.  There is no magic advice that can be given by a guru which will immediately transform your life. This is because we each have different strengths, aspirations, past experience, and chapters of our unique lives that have yet to be told to the world. What is very possible, however, is to bring awareness of the skills that can be developed and applied in your day-to-day life so that you are able to live a life that is to the best of your abilities. As a result, you’ll find that your individual potential can be realized, and life will be more meaningful, joyful, and fulfilled. That is the purpose of this book.

The material gathered for this book comes from years of experience as a psychologist. You’ll find that the skills highlighted in the book may come from empirically-driven approaches from existential, humanistic, and cognitive-behavioral psychology. It also comes from understanding the lived experience of the many clients that I’ve seen throughout my career. Lastly, as someone who is also in your shoes, I hope that my personal experience of living through this part of life can be useful to highlight that just like you, I too go through the same challenges, and that you are not alone.

I hope that you’ll get as much value reading through this book, as much as I did writing it. Let us begin.

Welcome to my 30s

There was contentment and fulfillment during the weekend that had just passed. I had attended an event to which I was hearing about ideas and experiences by many interesting speakers. I happened to be one of the speakers as well. It was exhilarating to maneuver through the speech that I had prepared. The next day was spent consulting clients, and having a hearty family dinner. I was then enjoying the after-effects of the weekend for the whole of Monday; feeling full, contented, and well-rested.

Went to a cafe after the event and met with this bundle of joy.

Being fulfilled and content can indeed be a pleasurable feeling. At the same time, it was a confusing thing for me to experience. It felt like there was nothing else that I could possibly want or look forward to. It was frightening to feel that way. If I do not want anything else, does it mean that I do not have anything to work towards in my life?

Since starting on my entrepreneurial journey, there has always been a kind of hunger within me. A hunger to achieve what I want and to start on projects that I find to be meaningful.  This drive of mine was fueled by a feeling of something being “incomplete”, like pieces of a puzzle that that needs to be put together. I explored, took risks, and at times felt like I had to brave through the consequences on my own. I felt that this experience developed perseverance and courage, which fueled this fire within me to soldier on. In a nutshell, what kept me going during the second half of my 20s was a mix of passion and angst towards the world, idealism over possibilities, and an undying need for learning and doing.

Which was why this feeling of fulfillment and contentment that I had was scary.

It took away the security of an identity that I had built over the past 3 years. Accepting my current feelings would mean taking away the idea of who I was and what I stood for. Instead of feeling like things needed building, I am to feel like things are alright; that I am good with where I am instead of having a destination to go to. I find myself clinging on to this idea of this hungry and passionate dreamer with a chip on his shoulder. I resisted the idea that I am possibly this person who is happy with who he is and how his life is. Essentially, I was afraid of youth, passion, and energy leaving my being.

This cafe was a pivotal point in my career development.

Coincidentally, a colleague had invited me to a men’s support group later that night. I was looking forward to this. I oftentimes felt like there was a lack of support or guidance in going through life and the mysteries that come with each moving step. Surprisingly, I received so much value from listening in on the experiences of others. It was rejuvenating to fell connected with other men from different age groups and different backgrounds. The only commonality we had stems only from being the same gender and experiencing that one life that we all have.

We spoke a lot about psychological shifts that needed to happen in order for a successful life transition to happen. We talked about how surrendering can be empowering. In the words of one of the men, surrendering oneself can feel like a newborn baby being held against the bosoms of the mother: a psychological state of relief, love, and belonging.

Holding on to an identity that no longer serves me was restricting and limiting to my personal growth. As I’ve developed that idea of self for the past few years, there’s some sense of familiarity and security that comes with it. On the other hand, embracing who I currently am can leave a whole lot of room for error. What is “right” behavior, and what is “wrong”? There isn’t a working template to refer to, and that can be anxiety provoking. At the same time, the only way to successfully transition to this developmental phase of my life is to let go and surrender to this experience, trusting that it will all turn out alright. It eases the tenseness, the stuck-ness, and the restrictions to me being my honest and true self.

I felt a deep sense of connection with myself since that group sharing. I’ve sailed past slightly troubled waters, and now feel the calmness of the sea, with the sight of a bright golden coastline. The warm sunlight with the sound of the waves and birds makes my skin reverberate with positivity and fulfillment. There is much joy in embracing who I am. I am now certain that I can enjoy the sweetness that my 30s will bring me.

Here’s to a decade of experiencing the enjoyment of just doing and being.

My thoughts after watching the new movie: Logan.

I appreciate going for a late movie, followed by the calm and stillness that the night could offer me on the way back home. I decided to watch Logan, which to me was rather different than the usual explosions and attempts at witty banter that such a “genre” usually offer. Instead, I was greeted with a rather depressing tone which touched on a variety of human experiences such as love, relationships, isolation, and death.

Prior to the current setting in the movie, Professor X and Logan had lived in isolation for the past year and had gone through some very difficult experiences. This had got both of them in a rather depressed mental state. There was this scene that had struck a chord in me. It was a scene of Professor X resting in bed at a family’s home who had welcomed them for dinner and the night’s stay. Professor X, being old, frail, and at times displaying dementia-like symptoms, went into dialogue that it has been a long time since he had last felt safety, comfort, and togetherness. He strongly suggested to Logan that he too, should take some time to experience this. “This is what life is about”, Professor X said.

Logan (Wolverine) and Professor X in the later part of their lives.

This scene of him lying in bed and communicating his feelings of safety and being loved was rather touching in several ways. I began reflecting on how fortunate I am to be able to fall asleep in a warm bed in my family’s home, knowing that everything will be safe and as is when I wake up the following day. As much as I may be bogged down by daily troubles or worries about the future, it is rather easy to be less mindful of the treasures that are here in the present. I dare say that a majority of the world would, in a heartbeat, be more than happy to switch life positions with me, just to experience simple pleasures that I have every single night: sleeping in a warm bed, being together with family, and knowing that everything will be safe.

Why do we suffer?

It is perhaps a great mystery that I will have no answer to for the rest of my life, on why some people are born or have to experience great difficulty or suffering in life, while some others may not. While I may comparatively feel more helpless in alleviating external suffering such as poverty, I have chanced upon meeting individuals from all walks of life sharing experiences of suffering from within. I have met strangers, acquaintances, friends, and clients, who have shared feelings of being unloved and unsafe, similar to how I have felt at certain times. Despite differing backgrounds, this is the common ground that I can share with others, and to which healing is possible.

There was one particular ex-client that had come to mind as I was reflecting on that scene in the movie. He had come to me presenting with a relationship concern, in which his ex-partner had displayed a variety of erratic behaviors stemming from feelings of deep insecurity. He had suffered in the relationship, and had since let go of it. A sturdy and independent man, he was involved in high profile dealings which may not be necessarily legal (details of which was not disclosed in session). Due to safety concerns, he had to distance himself away from family and have minimal contact with people in general. He was not able to enjoy social relationships due to his work’s demands, and will not be able to assume an identity in society.

It was clear to me as sessions progressed that he has moved on from the past relationship. It was also clear to me that he will be continuing in his life choices and has little motivation to do otherwise. It had come to a point in the consultations with him that I found myself to be of little help towards improving his well-being. Objectives have already been met in terms of his mental health. We came to a conclusion that it was time to part ways, and therapy ended.

As I reflect on my time with that client, I strongly believe that he would continue coming in for sessions had I not brought up the topic of ending therapy. We might not even talk about anything relevant towards addressing his life concerns. My feeling is that we could be just sitting there, not speaking a word, or just having tea, and he would still see the value in coming in for sessions.

We all need a safe space.

Just like the scene of Professor X resting in bed, this client too derived a feeling of belonging and safety during the therapy sessions. Due to his life choices, he could not afford to feel belonged to or safe in his day to day life, and our therapeutic relationship was his way of satisfying such needs.

Love, safety, and belonging is indeed a fundamental human need. While I take the time to appreciate the scene in that movie, I also wonder if I had ended the sessions too soon. On the larger scheme of things, with the world lacking so deeply in fulfilling such needs, in what way could I help better?

My name is Alvin, and I am lonely.

I was driving back home at 3 in the morning, and I felt alone.

It wasn’t the loneliest of nights that I have felt. But it felt lonely enough to have that bruised, sinking sensation in my chest. It’s the kind of loneliness where I feel drawn into the hollowness of my emotions. It’s like looking into a bottomless pit from above, deciding if jumping in would be a good idea. How deep can it go? Will I be able to reach the bottom?

The video that I had posted about being OK with being alone must have hit some raw emotions. Surprisingly, a few viewers had personally messaged me conveying their thanks regarding the video, in what I believe was an expression of relief that they are not in this on their own.

We were born naked into this world. And once our last breath has left the body, we are also leaving this world on our own. In our most natural way of being, we are both vulnerable and alone. Since when did the opposite become true? Is it really true that being alone or vulnerable is a sign of weakness? How was the narrative reversed?

You and I were born as social beings craving for deep, meaningful relationships. Somewhere through the passage of time, we experienced unfortunate events that bent our trust in the world. We no longer believe that the world is a safe place. We begin to separate ourselves from others, dividing one another through both concrete and psychological walls. What makes this more tragic is that there exists not only a barrier between you and I, but also a barrier between our inner and outer reality.

Over time, you and I no longer behave in ways which are connected to how we actually feel. We fear the consequences of embracing our vulnerability. We feel as if we are naked in a sea of clothed people. Others are social, and others are happy, right? Even if we are not social, and even if we are not happy, we should. Everyone else is. Or at least that was what we were made to believe.

The problem with this scenario is that it breeds a society that is divided and disconnected from one another, despite it being one of the most important human needs. We have settled with “good enough”. It is good enough that others acknowledge me for my accomplishments, but not my disappointments. It is good enough that I know your strengths, but not your weaknesses. It is good enough that you and I both know each other, but not on the finer details.

Is it truly satisfying to be living in this kind of world?

There is a solution for those who would want to be in a world where they are free from these barriers. It begins with knowing what is OK. It is OK to have “negative” feelings. It is OK to be sad, to be angry, to be disappointed, and to be lonely. It is OK to admit to these feelings and to live as authentically as your life demands you to. It is OK for others to have these feelings too.

When you are OK with your own feelings, you can also begin to understand that others share these feelings too, despite how hardened or desirable they are. The popular, the wealthy, the famous, the regulars, the socials, the loners, the downtrodden: deep down, we all share similar feelings. You know this because you too once played the game of being perfect.

Suddenly, you have much more in common with others than what you had previously thought. You do not feel as divided or distant from those around you. Your approach to life could be different. You are more forgiving of your feelings and the feelings of others. You are more intentional and genuine in approaching relationships. There is more room in you for love and kindness. You can live life with more courage.

Support group members oftentimes introduce themselves while also taking ownership of the concern that they are facing. This is a call to action to those of you who want to drop your act, live genuinely, and grow deep, meaningful relationships:

My name is Alvin, and I am lonely. Do you want to be in this together?

The Year That Was 2016.

2016 could have been a better year. Over hundreds of thousands of people are displaced from their own countries, in a desperate attempt to avoid persecution, famine, and war. To escape such horrible conditions, a lot of them ended up losing their lives, are stateless with nowhere to go, having no food, shelter, or appropriate clothing to brave the weather, and not an idea of what the next few days would be like for them. 2016 also saw the escalation of primitive rhetoric based around geographical location, race, religion, and gender, which stirred emotions of the masses and opened the floodgates to behaviors stemming from hate and ignorance, not fitting of this day and age.  In 2016, many people suffered.

2016: When happiness could have been found within the turmoil. Image from theatlantic.com

I am very grateful to be able to sleep on the same bed every night, safe within the four walls of my room, not needing to worry if there will be food to eat, or water to drink, or if I’ll still be alive. Despite the troubles that this part of the world is facing with the economy and rampant corruption, I am thankful that I have the ability to enjoy the next breath that I am taking, and to have the opportunities that presents itself to me at every moment. I am grateful to be living in a relatively peaceful neighborhood and country.

Despite this, suffering presents itself in many ways. From the people closest to me to strangers that I have met by coincidence, what became clear to me in the past year is that suffering is universal. Yes, they may be driving luxurious cars and live in big houses. Yes, they may be in good health and having enough rest and nutrients to be healthy. Yes, they have others around them to interact with and to go through these times together. And yes, they will still be very much alive in the foreseeable future.

But they are suffering. The unhappiness is clear from the frustration that they express. They believe that the story of their own lives are unique, that their suffering is something that no one else is experiencing. They believe that others often have it better, that what others are showing through their social media feeds, or from their brief exchange of pleasantries shows that life is great for everyone else. Everyone else but them. They feel alone in their own world of suffering.

How did we become so disconnected from others that we fail to see how others, too, are suffering? How did we become so unaware of our own blessings and instead blame or pity ourselves because of what we are lacking?

It seems that with advancement in how fast paced information could travel, and how much opportunities we have to consume new information, we started becoming greedy and impatient. Our greed and impatience caused us to consume knowledge of others in bite sizes, often wanting to only know what other people are like on the surface. We have many friends, but none that we really know.  Our greed and impatience caused us to fit in as many things to do as possible, in hopes that we could gain more enjoyment, but without having the time to do the heavy and time consuming stuff, like personal reflection, developing self-awareness, and addressing our insecurities. After all, everything is at the convenience of a click of a button, right?

In 2016, we started failing in understanding both others and ourselves. We end up covering a mile wide, and not a mile deep.

Did behaving this way bring us any happiness?

On a personal level, I am hopeful. I am currently in the midst of writing a book scheduled to be published by mid-2017 (fingers crossed). In my book, How To Live A Fulfilling LifeI hope to illuminate the fact and fiction of happiness, meaning, fulfillment, and the good life. Clearly, a lot of what we are doing are not working for our own good, and a lot of what we could do in order to improve our lives have not been done enough. I’m hoping that my experience in practice, the research that I’ve been doing to write the book, and my own understanding of human life thus far, could offer a small contribution in improving the lives of all of us who are suffering.

Although I am almost half a month late, I would like to wish all of you out there a happy new year 2017, and may the year bring you bountiful opportunities to grow happiness in your daily life.

Malaysians’ Mental Health According To The Health Ministry

New data by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia, revealed a shocking 30% of Malaysians experiencing some kind of mental health concern, such as depression.  These numbers even comes as a surprise to a mental health professional such as myself. Are you one of them? Do not suffer alone.

If you need someone to talk to, you may contact the Befrienders at 03-79568144 or 03-79568145.

Alternatively, you may drop me a message at hello@meetalvin.com.

Life is not meant to be lived in sorrow and anguish.

Time Management and How You Self-Sabotage In 3 Big Ways

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.
– Jackson Brown Jr.

We’ve all done it: We have used the reasoning of having “not enough time” as a “get out of jail free” card from some commitment we have made to our friends, family, or colleagues at one point or another. Perhaps it is bailing on an evening out with your friends whom you’ve not met in a long time and promised not to lose touch. Or maybe it is a family dinner that you’ve set on your Google calendar but can’t make it due to an overdue report. In our fast moving modern world, time becomes such a valued commodity that we can’t seem to get enough of it. There’s just not enough time.

Does this speak to you?

It can be a nightmare chasing after time, and in the case of this picture, to be chased by time (source: Google images).
It can be a nightmare chasing after time, and in the case of this picture, to be chased by time (source: Google images).

Being a person takes some hard work. There’s many aspects of our life to juggle: family, friends, career, health, solitude, leisure, love, and the list goes on. When one aspect of life has a sudden demand for more time, other areas suffer. And to a certain extent, that is accepted and understandable to most people. People would understand if you have just fallen ill, or that the machinery at the factory you work in has malfunctioned and require immediate attention. These are natural indicators of you needing to temporarily invest more time into it, and to take off from your more routine standards of behavior.

However, if having “not enough time” becomes usual (and expected) of you, then it is most likely a reflection of character rather than circumstances.

And here are 3 big reasons why this behavior needs to be addressed:

1. Your reputation suffers 

Nothing leaves a dent more to your reputation than when you are known as the person who is unable to deliver. When juggling multiple commitments at a single time, you become less reliable and your output wouldn’t be the best that you are able to produce. When something is required of you, the thought that might pop up in a person’s mind would be “Can *your name* be trusted with this responsibility?”.

Indeed, there will be times when you find yourself being placed in a position where expectations are beyond what you’re able to deliver. Be self aware of your own capabilities and circumstances to arrive at a decision to take steps in either improving your delivery or to understand if the external culture that you are currently in does not resonate with your abilities or your current position in life (and as such, perhaps warrants an exploration of a more suitable environment). It is better to be focused on less than to over-commit and compromise on your reputation.  This is because a loss of reputation is a loss of opportunities. 

2. You hurt others around you

Have you been in a situation where you’re feeling excited to meet someone (like a date), only to be stood up at the last minute? How does that feel like? That is the same feeling that you produce in others by trying to cheat time. What you’re essentially communicating to others, be it in your personal or professional life, sounds something like this:

“My time is more important than yours”
“I matter more than you”
“I prioritize my own interests than the commitment that I’ve made with you”

If the target of these statements are your loved ones, these only makes them feel small and unappreciated. If these are directed to your colleagues or superiors, then you’ll eventually get to know of how such gestures are not reflective of the real world (refer to point no. 1).

3. You are not at peace. 

How does it feel like needing to be at two places at the same time? Is your heart pacing really quickly? Are your thoughts scrambling about? Chances are, you’re feeling more stressed and anxious than usual. Not only does this have drastic effects on your health in the long-term, but it also significantly reduces your quality of life. If you think you’re achieving more by over-committing to your time, you are actually accomplishing the opposite. This is because instead of living in peace and happiness, you are behaving in ways that contributes to anxiety and dissatisfaction.

In a nutshell 

Although allowing the notion of not having enough time to define your character may appear to benefit you (especially in immediate circumstances), it is on the contrary a damaging attribute that does not help you in your journey of self development and success. The fact of the matter is, we are all governed by the same laws of time, and it is up to us to use it mindfully. More can be accomplished by being aware of our capabilities and to be fully present in the commitments that we make, than to be the boy who cried wolf. You never know when would be the next crucial moment when the help and support of others are needed, only to not receive it, because all along you did not have the time. 

3 Simple Steps to Life Mastery.

Hello everyone! This is my first attempt at recording a video of myself. I figured that this could be another way for me to put out helpful content, rather than just writing. I still have a lot to learn, but I’m pleased that I got around to doing it. Looking forward to putting out more videos!

5 Personal Lessons From 2015

Time is a great teacher, only if the student is willing to learn. 2015 hasn’t been an easy year, but many lessons were learned throughout that time period. Here are mine:

1) Always practice gratitude. There were many times when I felt like I do not have the necessary resources to go on. Whether it was resources (encouragement, understanding, finances, etc.) I felt I needed from my family, friends, business-related associates, or that I did not have enough money, network, mental and emotional strength (and the list goes on), I tried my very best to focus on the resources that I do have and expand from there. Every night, I review my day by being grateful about 10 things that had happened during the day. At times, I might practice this before I get started on my day. It helped me to move from perspective from a mentality of scarcity to an mentality of abundance. Believe me when I say that we often take very important things for granted, such as the air that we breathe, or that we’re able to sleep on a bed at night (these come up rather often in my gratitude exercises).

Despite having very limited resources, I managed to start up 1 failed business and 2 sustainable businesses in one year. Not too bad, eh? In fact, I’m rather proud of my achievement. The bonus here is that I live my days feeling rather positive and motivated, because I have all these awesome things in life to be grateful for. The air feels and smells great!

2) A life well-lived is a life of purpose and passion. A big lesson that I’m continuously learning is that life feels full when I am living it in accordance to what I believe is purposeful and what I feel passionate about. I have to be aware of this, and to maintain continuous effort to ensure that this holds true in my life. As of now, I do not think that I’m able to define which part of my day is work or leisure anymore. Life does not feel segmented in a way that I am supposed to dislike a part of it and to like another part of it. How I live daily is just that: I live my life. It doesn’t feel like work when I find a purpose from doing what I do. It’s instead a pretty awesome feeling.

3) Start doing, as the time is nowIf I had spent my time constantly building grand plans in my mind (which was a mode that I was in for a period of time), rather than to execute based on whatever little resources that I have (note: it isn’t as little as you think if you do practice lesson number 1), I would still be stuck earning a salary which will never be enough, not feeling fulfilled with my job environment and what is derived from it, living a cycle of workdays and weekends… basically, settling for crumbs in life.

They say the graveyard is the richest place on Earth, because in it are all the unfulfilled dreams, ideas, and plans, which are worth way more than what is actually available in the physical world. And the reason is this: Nothing was done about it. Nobody cares or puts value in an idea that is not executed. They certainly will not reward me, let alone provide me with an opportunity to sustain my livelihood, just because I believe I’m the next “big thing”. The only thing that matters is that I started. All others will follow.

4) Time is limited. If you had one day left to live, how would you live your life? This is the reality of the life we are living, except that our time to go remains (for the most part) unknown and perceived to be in the distant future. With every second spent on things that makes us unhappy, it takes away those precious seconds that can be lived otherwise. We will all eventually die, but very little of us take this as a definite fact rather than an abstract idea. We live in a constant slumber, as if life will begin some time in the future when our worries and goals are achieved, when actually, life has already begun, and it is waiting upon us to live it now. 

I find that living as best as possible in the present makes my time spent in the best way. The little conversations that I have, the heat of the sun, the gust of wind, the smell of coffee, the flickering of light from my laptop, the pleasure of trying something new… it becomes all the more meaningful if only I am present to experience it. As such, I prioritize and take active effort in managing the biggest life-sucker of the universe: worry. 

5) There will be resistance when moving forward. When practicing lessons number (2) and (3), there will be resistance to your effort. You may be surprised that this will come from not only strangers, but the people who are close to you. It is just the way it is, as people have the tendency to believe that their aspirations, dreams, and/or how they wish to live their life should also be reflected in how you live your life. It is a projection (onto you) of their inner desires and fear that maintains their own reality.

What I have learned is that practicing (2) and (3) requires me to be an individual, rather than to submit myself to a reality that I may not necessarily be comfortable with. Being an individual also means that I am unique. It means that I have to find my own voice and to live my own story. It requires me to practice (1) constantly. What follows is an indescribable feeling of satisfaction and fulfillment that money cannot buy.

Thank you 2015 for the many lessons that you have given me. Welcoming the new year with much enthusiasm!

 

How to embrace change and transform your life.

When this is, that is
This arising, that arises
When this is not, that is not
This ceasing, that ceases.

-Law of dependent origination (source: Buddhism)

When I was younger, I found it difficult to overcome the profound feeling of emptiness upon experiencing the loss of a romantic relationship. If I were to self-diagnose* (and to also subscribe to the idea of mental disorders as having an organic origin), I had went through two episodes of major depression, each lasting for a period of about 6 months.  During those times, there was a feeling of gloom that felt indefinite over the most sunny of days, in which I felt completely helpless over the situation, whilst having not a single ounce of hope for a favorable future. It didn’t feel like there was any other life beyond the misery that I was feeling during those dark moments.

Things were mostly fine when I was growing up. I was a person who possessed a satisfactory intellect, and was also fairly active. I did not have difficulties in relating to others, and was adequately liked among my peers. As life habits changed for the better and as I matured as a person, it became clear to me that despite having no significant cause for concern in my day-to-day life, the struggle that I was really having with depression was mostly contributed by the high amount of external validation and acceptance that I required in order to maintain my functioning as a person.  What better way to derive validation than to receive it in the context of a romantic relationship? However, once the relationship is gone, the crutch that I have in order to continue moving forward no longer exists, and as a result I cease functioning.

Much has changed since then, and I am quite satisfied with how much I’m utilizing my own inner resources to feel fulfilled as a person, and being better able to manage relationships more competently. That is not to say I do not feel negative emotions nor do I not engage in behaviors that in hindsight were not beneficial to me. However, life as a whole is more satisfying, even with the presence of life challenges.

So what actually changed?

In my pursuit of understanding human nature, I have come across differing educated opinions on what makes good mental health (“educated” because there is solid research evidence in application of such opinions) which are often times in contrast with one another. There was considerable debate on whether unconditional acceptance regardless of ‘problematic’ behaviors or a specific system of reward and punishment of behavior would lead a person to improved mental health. In both research and practice, both methods provided considerable improvement for clients experiencing emotional and behavioral difficulties. The list goes on with regards to contrasting methods of therapy, each “one-upping” the other in promoting it’s efficacy in treatment. It is unusual for proponents of a method to agree with a proponent of another.

In my own experience, what was most helpful for me were not specific methods towards good mental health, but an overall desire to improve (hence leading to improvement) of both internal and external processes. Yes, developing an understanding of how my childhood experience shaped me did help. So did developing more awareness and experiencing of the emotions that I’m experiencing. Cultivating positive behaviors helped me as well. So did investing in relationships. There was no one method that provided me with a solution. A change in behavior made changes in my emotions, thoughts, and relationships, while a change in thoughts was followed by changes in emotions, behavior, and relationships, ad infinitum. In short, any effort made towards change will lead to overall change, however minute that may be.

A spider web is often used to illustrate the nature of life: an interdependent system in which a small change in the web will lead to overall structural change.
A spider web is often used to illustrate the nature of life: an interdependent system in which a small change in the web will lead to overall structural change.

At the present moment, the habits that I have found to be most helpful for myself are meditation, physical workouts, writing (in a journal and now on a new blog), solitude, developing new skills, and nurturing relationships. It took me a while to find what were the behaviors that I would like to retain and benefit most from. I’ve come to embrace the belief that doing something about it, even with unknown results, is always worth a shot (most times, in the dark). There is no opportunity for any sort of improvement if there are no attempts to change. If you find yourself suffering from the pain of thinking that a change you want to make “will not amount to anything”, think of Nike’s slogan, and instead embrace the uncertainty with “why not?”.

Life is just too brief to stay unhappy.

*please seek professional mental health services with regards to diagnostics.