Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Dealing with Set-Backs

Even though we expend effort on being happier, it’s expected that we will encounter set-backs. Some may be major such as a death of a loved one and some may be fairly minor. Since we are only human, we can expect our emotions to dip at these times.

Yesterday I had a bad day. Quite a few things went wrong and I had to do the final piece of work that I hate in order to hand over everything while on medical leave. All of them dragged me down. What was interesting, however, is that by the end of the day I didn't feel terrible. Even though I had an altercation with my six-year-old, there was no shouting or taking it out on her. If I had a day like that a few months back, I would have been unable to shake my irritation and that would have negatively impacted the people around me.

During the day, just after something bad happened, I found myself mulling it over again and again. I actually found myself saying ‘Stop!’ in order to halt the rumination. I thought it a good idea to watch something very funny on TV and I laughed heartily. I also remember thinking that this will not matter next week so I should just let it go.

And the interesting part is that I only realised I was taking steps to mitigate the unhappiness at the end of the day, not really while it was happening. It seems that I've been programming myself to be happier and it was quite natural for me to take measures to not let things get me down.

We must be clear that any happiness-enhancing strategies need to be practised regularly, just like exercise. You can’t expect to remain fit six months after quitting exercise and the same applies with happiness. It takes commitment and practice and if you’re like me, you might need to set yourself reminders or a roster.

People cautioned me with my self-care roster that I developed, telling me I’m putting too much strain on myself with expectations etc. It can also become overly routine so the roster needs to vary things and introduce different strategies at different times. I think I know my limitations at the moment. I know that I can only accommodate five outings a week. I am building that in and will ramp things up as I have more energy. I only plan four weeks in advance in order to learn and refine and to adjust as my health improves.


I’m conscious of the fact that my self-care roster is easy to maintain now that I’m at home, recovering. It will be a much bigger challenge once I’m back at work and I’ll have to make appropriate adjustments. When training for big races, I set up a training plan with scheduled rest days and cross training. I monitor actuals against planned training and check it every day. I know that I’m disciplined and it fits my style. In the same way, I think I can keep up a happiness regimen as I have no doubt that I’m a happier (and healthier) person than a few months ago.


Monday, 30 March 2015

What is Your Contribution to this World?

Many have identified that contribution greatly improves the quality of our own lives. Robin Sharma, in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari’ says ‘The quality of your life ultimately comes down to the quality of your contribution’. Tony Robbins identifies the fact that contribution-related goals, are the ‘most inspiring, compelling goals of all’.


This blog is about finding my life passion. In looking at all aspects of my life, most areas already bring me a great deal of joy. The area that has always been a source of stress is my work life. I'm wondering if I followed the right path to begin with, since success doesn't necessarily equal happiness. I know that my focus needs to be on aligning my work with my passions, and this blog is documenting the journey to a future where I'm fully recovered and living my career passion. 

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” - Confucius

For some, work is not the path to happiness. There are those who don’t have formal employment or a career to speak of. But that does not mean you can’t have a life passion. At some point in our lives, we begin to wonder what it’s all about. Why are we on this Earth and what is our purpose? Some may have a calling that has always been obvious. Some have been really smart and aligned their work with their passion. Some people are committed to raising their children to be responsible, independent adults with strong values. Some focus their efforts on their church and in improving their community. I believe the important thing is that we know what our purpose is, and that we are living it. Without that, it’s hard to have a truly fulfilling life.

I don’t want to wish for retirement. Not wishing time away is a fairly large challenge for me at the moment since my new life can’t begin until I’m well, and of course, until I've figured out what my new life looks like. But I do know that I want to savour each day and want to enjoy the journey towards my end. And I want to make a difference, leaving something of value behind. 

If we're focussed on becoming wealthy but are not contributing in some way, or doing something meaningful, that can be quite empty. I left the corporate world because I felt that there was no meaning in the work I was doing each day. I wanted to be in a place where I could effect positive change in people's lives.

One of the strategies to help us identify our passion is to think about our legacy. What will you be remembered for? I’m not so good at charity so my contribution will be different. Being a good parent is a large part of what I’d like to leave behind. And another part includes being an advocate for living your passion. The quality of our lives can be so much improved if we are enjoying what we spend the majority of our time doing. Typically a by-product of enjoying what we do is making a difference to someone in some way. And that’s good enough for me.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Nutritional Focus

To remind any readers who are not regulars, I have Graves’ disease which is an auto-immune attack on the thyroid, induced by stress. So I’m changing my life to make sure it’s aligned with a happy healthy future.


I’m quite focused and when I apply myself to something, I really do a thorough job of it. Granted, I'm focusing my energy to avoid going mental from cabin fever as I have limited my outings to five per week. I believe that it’s insufficient to merely take the drugs and carry on, expecting to be fully well. So I am doing the following in addition to the medical treatment:
  • Homeopathic medication that is supportive of the standard medication
  • Alternative healing methods such as reflexology, Reiki, Applied kinesiology, Emotional Freedom Technique (tapping), meditation and mindfulness so far.
  • Understanding my strengths by doing various assessments and reconnecting with things I’ve enjoyed in the past. Methods have been STS Brain Profiling, Gallup’s Strengths Finder, various exercises in forgiving others, recovering from past traumas, following creative pursuits.
  • Reading and research on subjects such as introversion, happiness and restoring health. I’m investigating what my future career path looks like in order to avoid the same stresses that caused my health condition.
  • Implementing my own self-care roster to ensure I track my progress, get adequate rest and look after my health in an organised way.

I’m open to trying a variety of things in order to find something that may work. Some of the things I've tried have been less powerful than others, but I maintain that exploring is part of the journey. If I’m incapacitated and unable to work, I might as well find things that can help me be fully well as quickly as possible. I have not been able to implement much exercise such as yoga and Nia, but I will do so once I have adequate energy.

The aspect that I have not yet tackled is nutrition. I was feeling so bad towards the end of last year that I was ordering things like pancakes for breakfast because I thought that I might as well enjoy my way out of the world. That was not so wise in retrospect since weight loss was probably the one symptom I didn't experience.

Many people have asked me whether I should be on any particular diet for Graves’ disease. There is no defined diet that I could find but there are foods that are to be avoided and those that support recovery from both Graves’ disease and a weak immune system (stress-related). 

The foods themselves are probably not of much interest to you but the process is something that may be of interest, if you have any major medical condition. No Earth-shattering revelations but my approach is usually research, document and implement. I searched the Internet for any articles I could find that made recommendations in terms of foods to avoid and foods to include in my diet. I’m a big fan of Healing Foods by Margaret Roberts so I made sure I included her recommendations as well. I listed all the foods in an Excel spreadsheet and categorised them into Good or Bad and the types of foods e.g. protein, vegetables, fruit, grains, dairy etc.

It is interesting to note that there were some contradictions such as eggs and chicken, so I’ll just keep an eye on them as I go. I have sorted the list into the various categories and I’m going to ensure any meals I order at restaurants are focused towards the healthy foods for me. I’ll also ensure that the foods are on the shopping list. Some of the items are quite new to me and I have never cooked with them or eaten them before. But I am on a learning path so I’m open to trying new things. I do need to balance the needs of my family as well in that the kids are quite fussy and I married a veggie hater!

I have considered visiting a dietitian or nutritionist but I’m pretty sure I’ll get advice that goes something like “fresh fruit and vegetables, no caffeine or alcohol, no sugar, no dairy, no wheat”. So I’ll just wing it myself for now and as long as I’m eating well and avoiding the danger foods, I should be helping my recovery by my intake.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Perseverance is Not Always the Answer

I enjoy reading entrepreneurial books and articles. I have a fascination with people’s passions and what makes them do what they do. I’m also a fan of research and while running a business I wanted to know more and to ensure I was doing the right things. I remember reading some quote about how success is just on the other side of feeling like giving up. Reading that advice was really detrimental for me, in fact. You see, I’m not a quitter. I persevered so much that my health collapsed. To be fair, I didn't heed the advice in the same articles of weeding out toxic elements and doing what you love.

Just searching for quotes on perseverance, you will find hundreds of examples encouraging people not to give up. My husband and I have similar values and we are both ultra-marathon runners which, by its very nature, requires perseverance. We promote this value a lot in our household and we encourage our kids to keep trying. Perseverance is a major force in my life.

In 2008 my husband and I took a trip to Japan. We ran the Tokyo marathon together and it was an amazing experience, really different from what we are used to. We are from a culture where people bail a race if you’re not fit enough or injured. Sure, you have to face the consequences if you do, in that the other runners will not let you forget it. But most people exercise common sense when it comes to their well-being. And of course there are those who just don’t have what it takes to get through the mental struggle of an ultra-marathon. I say mental because it’s not your body that fails you towards the end of a hard race.


We found it really funny to read the race guidelines for the Tokyo marathon. Several times, it was emphasised that it takes courage to quit. The cultural difference was so striking to us. And it is true, that there are people who would rather kill themselves than fail or be seen as a failure.

I inherited an ailing business that was really too far gone. I struggled through it for almost five years, while running ultra-marathons and parenting two small children. There were a number of conditions which set me up for failure but my ingrained refusal to quit pushed me so far that my own body turned on me. Of course, internalising everything did not help but you can't change your nature. I should have changed the conditions and opted out earlier. 

One of my parenting challenges is to observe when my children are in flow and to encourage more of it. And another is to make sure they don’t overdo the perseverance. If they already have inborn and value-enforced determination, pushing them to never give up is not always the answer.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Focus on Strengths, Partner for Weaknesses

I was recently reminded of an exercise I did in around 2009 when I was struggling to adjust to having a child and a career. It’s called Gallup’s Strengths Finder. I bought the book, did the online test and digested the findings eagerly. According to the test, your main strengths don’t really change over time. So revisiting them now was quite meaningful. These were my top five:
  • Harmony – finding consensus, creating a peaceful environment, the mediator
  • Input – collecting information, sharing insights, learning
  • Focus – prioritising, then acting
  • Discipline – creating structure out of chaos, being efficient
  • Intellection – intellectual processing, introspection, analysis

How often to do we focus on our weaknesses and try to compensate or improve them? What I like about the Gallup approach is the focus on your strengths. Isn't it just spectacular that we are all built so differently?


Some of the advice on the action plan for my strengths is about making time to think and write. How interesting as that is something I've neglected for years. I had a chuckle about the advice to be patient with those who are not as efficient. I’m a whirlwind in my kitchen. I calculate what takes the longest, get it going and whiz around getting a bunch of things done simultaneously. So it’s not surprising that it boggles my mind when my husband takes twenty minutes to make tea!

I wasn't surprised about the discipline and focus although it is a seeming contradiction for a right-brained person. But I know that I’m a goal-driven person and I’m good at keeping meetings on track and making sure there are action-items instead of just rambling. I love to research and gather information and I’m using my blog to share insights in line with this strength. Having a medical sabbatical from work I’m able to rest and to spend a lot of time processing the reasons for my health collapse. I am focussing on not over-thinking as I’m prone to do so, especially with time on my hands.

In terms of Harmony, I’ve always been the one in my family to mediate between the feuding parties. The saddest thing for me is that I’ve had to cut people out of my life for my own survival. For me to do that is drastic, considering that harmony is my top strength. Rayya Elias talks about always making sure your side of the street is clean. There comes a time when you realise that there’s nothing you can do about the other side of the street.

I’m a strong believer that we should not focus on our weaknesses and try to make them better. Rather, we should accept them for what they are and find other people to support us who are strong in these areas. For example, I would need a business partner who doesn't mind admin and who can jump through the many hoops of bureaucracy that banks put in place in the process of ‘helping you’. I also know that there are certain types of people who I can’t lead and I simply won’t accept any future positions where I’m expected to do so.

A life without a fulfilling job is torture for me. I’m considering how to use my strengths in finding future roles that are suitable for me. I've said it before, but knowing yourself helps you make good choices about your future. And good choices lead to a happy life. 

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Laughter as Medicine

It is well-documented that laughter is good for you. In fact there seems to be quite a movement to stimulate laughter as a mechanism to reduce stress. I met someone once who conducts team workshops to laugh together for this very purpose. In my research on methods of healing, I've also come across Laughter Yoga, some sessions of which end with ‘laughter meditation’. I understand the benefits of laughter, but I also know that this is just not for me. Just as some people simply are not interested in meditation or a gratitude journal, forced group laughter is just something I can’t bring myself to do.

I am fortunate, however, to have two young children at home who bring sincere laughter to every day of my life. Sometimes they just have no idea why I’m laughing and other times we laugh together. I find that tickling them releases the most intense and cute laughter of all, and I end up laughing along. Once my oldest daughter, at around three years old asked me “What’s this terrible fish?” and I answered dryly, “chicken”. The thought of her assessment of my cooking, and what I’d have to do to the fish to gain that consistency, sent me into hysterics that she struggled to understand.

Another incident that still makes me chuckle, about 20 years later, is from university. I had a very special friend Mark who is also Catholic and pretty close to perfect. He was a star academic achiever, tidy, fun, responsible and really popular. We went to mass at the local church and on one occasion, he dropped the communion and it rolled like a coin on its rim across the alter while time seemingly stood still. He ran after it crouching over, grabbed it and put it into his mouth. He was, of course, mortified by the fact that he had dropped the Body of Christ on the floor! He showed the priest it was in his mouth by pointing dramatically and repeatedly before swallowing. Because church is such a serious place, it made it even more conducive to hysterical laughter under the circumstances. I think I laughed more on that day than in the rest of my 20s put together.

Towards the end of last year my health was at its worst. I struggled to find the joy in anything and I was really struggling to cope. In the Christmas holidays, with my kids being home, I was under quite a lot of strain. I had not yet started any medication to alleviate my symptoms. In order to escape the mayhem of the house, I went into my study and I watched dozens of short clips on YouTube. I really enjoy British humour and I am a big fan of David Mitchell. The clips of That Mitchell and Webb Look are so funny that they really did lift my spirit at a time when I was feeling physically terrible and very down as a result.


There are many people struggling with depression, ranging from minor to serious and for a variety of reasons. I would encourage you to find things to laugh about, even if you have to Google them. You are the best investment you can make in your life. Remember that if you’re happy, those around you benefit too.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Challenge vs Skill

In Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow, he describes the how the optimum flow experience can be gained if we can balance our skill level with the challenge of the activity. If we are doing something that is well below our skills and the challenge is low, we are bored. If the challenge is too great in that we don’t have the adequate skills, we can experience anxiety. There exists a sweet spot where our skills and the challenge mostly matched, with the challenge being slightly greater. This is when we are in flow.

Skills vs Challenge

There are many opportunities for us to be in flow, be it in our work or leisure. My focus currently is to ensure that I create a future career around my flow experiences. For too long my work centred around tasks that drained my energy and frustrated me. In the next few months while I recover from my stress-induced condition, I’m trying to find flow experiences that are not too taxing. I've been told that the brain relaxes while doing creative activities so I've been drawing and trying to find ways to express myself creatively.

I bought a second-hand piano a while back, and while I played as a child, I’m quite rusty. My energy levels are too low to commit to a regular lesson right now, but I've been downloading some sheet music. I know that my skill level is very low at the moment, but I know that I can work at it to become more skilled. As my skills grow, I can increase the challenge by trying more difficult pieces. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book ‘In this growth of the self lies the key to flow activities’.

It is enthralling to know that within me lies the opportunity to play beautiful music. It’s something I’d love to share with my children. At the same time it is a little daunting but I think that is the fun of it. Nothing that is worth anything comes easily.

In the long term my work needs to centre around flow activities. I know myself well enough to know that I get bored not achieving things. That can be an impediment to my recovery so I'm occupying myself with things that can help me recover. I'm finding flow activities that may or may not be part of my long term career or leisure. 

What talents from childhood or your past have you forgotten about? What have you always wanted to try? It’s important to note that passive activities like watching TV are distinctly not being in flow. How much more can we get out of our lives if we focus on flow activities that indeed make us more skilled and happier people?


Passengers on the journey

Passengers on the journey