Run the marathon, but do not lose sight of the goal.

Do you find yourself feeling tired and questioning what you’re doing with your life lately?

I’ve met with the ups and downs of entrepreneurship since getting into it about two years or so ago. There were times when motivation was soaring and I believed that I could completely achieve what I’ve set out to do. And there were times when I doubted my abilities in continuing. I’ve come to know from experience that the latter happens far more frequently in the realm of doing business. In recent times, this is what I have been experiencing.

What I’ve learned along the way is that having the purpose to doing something is far more important than any other resource that a person could have. This is true not only in business, but also in all areas of our lives, such as relationships, health, and so on. It’s fairly common to observe how two people could feel the total opposite about the same jobs that they are holding, despite being from the same family and financial background. With similarities in external resources, this could only mean that the difference in how they feel stems from how they think.

Many clients share with me about the struggles that they have in their careers, relationships, or health. Building skills is one way to deal with these struggles. However, one very important aspect of overcoming challenges is finding the purpose in going through with it in the first place. There is no other way to this. Whatever it may be, or wherever the inspiration may come from, nobody else can arrive to the answer of my purpose but me.

Keep the fire burning. Source:https://static.pexels.com/photos/21462/pexels-photo.jpg
Keep the fire burning. Source: https://static.pexels.com/photos/21462/pexels-photo.jpg

It is much harder to hold on to that something when the going gets tough. It is very easy to stumble when taking the hits. I couldn’t have asked for a better team, who have been completely dedicated towards reaching our desired goal. Seeing the fire and determination in them made me question myself. Do I have that fire in me?

The truth is, I’ve been taking the hits for the past two years. Just like a tired fighter in the boxing ring, he has to keep himself from falling, and to focus on delivering one hit at a time. And the only way to keep that focus and for that fire to keep on burning is to purposefully and repeatedly discover why I chose to be in it. Constantly rediscovering my purpose is what will keep my anchor within arm’s reach and to keep me grounded during all the times when the soul is weary.

As a personal reminder: run the marathon, but do not lose sight of the goal.

Where is the humanity?

It was two in the morning, and I had typed hi to an old acquaintance over Facebook. I was asked in return on how I’ve been doing. My response was that I’m not complaining, and that I’m learning to be more appreciative of what I have. As I stopped browsing my phone, finished my meal, and headed out of the place, I reached into my pocket and found a serviette which was given to me earlier. It felt rather warm to put it over my mouth. A certain kind of comfort.

It reminded me of this video that I had watched of an orang utan that was shackled and caged it’s entire life. All that it had was a small piece of cloth that it held on to in it’s palm for that little comfort that it could afford. That is all there is to give any meaning to it’s existence. Completely trapped and all alone as the days go by. One small piece of cloth.

An ethical question that I often ponder and debate about is the extent of how I am serving humanity. What I’ve learned from working, doing business, and generally learning about the aspirations of others is that it is never enough. There is never enough money in the bank, or the luxuries and comfort in life. Ask a person who engages in corrupt practices on why he or she is willing to put others at a disadvantage for personal gains, and listen to him or her legitimize such actions on the basis of survival or needs, even if it’s in excess of millions or billions of ringgit.

As much as I would like to make personal gains for my own comfort, it is very difficult to not feel morally responsible in finding a meaningful and helpful way of making such gains while serving humanity at the same time.

As I reached to the front of my home, I decided to take a walk. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to take a walk just for the sake of walking. Just sitting and just walking was a major component of my personal healing some years back, and it felt so familiar and so soothing. I remember learning through those periods of healing that in order for the world to be a better place, it starts with being a better self.

As I write this, it becomes clear to me that no matter how strongly I believe that I do not have enough, it is a way of thinking that will not go away even if I am living in excess. It is a projection of an instinctual human desire that is unquenchable. And it seems to me that the only way to ever make any progress beyond this self-serving instinct is to always be in touch with my humanity in the present moment.

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 new social media page

I just noticed that I have not been sharing videos that I have posted on my social media page. In this video, I talked about being alone. Much more regular content to come, so please follow my social media page and let’s connect!

Being Happy Alone

ALERT: BOYFRIEND FOR RENT. SERIOUS INQUIRIES ONLY.There have been viral posts circulating on guys offering themselves to be temporary boyfriends during this Chinese New Year. While it is entertaining to read, I'm also hearing of genuine concerns with being a single adult. Do you want a happy and successful relationship? Never want to feel lonely again? It might be worth your time to listen to this!

Posted by Alvin Tan, Psychologist/ Entrepreneur on Saturday, January 28, 2017

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!