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Reflections on Living

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One Powerful Question to Ask Each Other

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Maybe we need to find a way of having less things and have deeper connections with people.

Rather than trying to give people advice, we can start by asking each other questions.

Facebook got you figured out long time ago. In the opening of each potential news update in your profile, it asks, “what’s on your mind?”

Steal this question back from the superficials. We bias ourselves to share in a certain desirable light when we post on social media platforms. Instead, learn to ask the very same question “what’s on your mind?”  with people you love and care about, and people that you work with.

Go further, ask even the people you do not get along.

And it may help to follow-up this question with “And what else?”[1]

Be really curious with the people that you are asking. Question in order to listen, don’t listen in order to question further. Everyone wants their story to be heard.


Bless Your Minds,

Daryl Chow, MA, Ph.D. (Psych)



[1] I first learned this from an interview with coach Michael Bungay Stainer. 

Photo by 
Jonatan Pie

The One Thing You Can Do To Have More Time

Make Haste Slowly

Become less busy.

In our haste to do more, time speeds up.

In trying to go at the speed of light, we fail to live at the speed of life.

In our busy-ness to work hard and play hard, we make it hard to have a good time. Must life be this hard?

When we try to catch up with time, it slips us by ever more quickly.

Anxiety to do more and be more has it’s way of speeding up the clock. 

Urgent things are not like an urgency to go to the bathroom. The more urgent things, the faster time goes. 

Instead, by re-calibrating ourselves to the essential things, year after year, month after month, week after week, and each new day,  helps us synchronise with the steps of life.

Henry David Thoreau said,

“It is not enough to be busy. The question is: what are we busy about?” 

Perhaps the rhythms of our hearts determine the rhythms of time. 

Time ripples on, with and without you. Time exists in motion regardless of our opinions, delusions, and fantasies.

“Thus we are busy people just like all other busy people, rewarded for the rewards which are rewarded to busy people.” – Henri Nouwen1.

So make time, by becoming less busy. This is probably the biggest struggle I face in my life right now. But it’s a worthy challenge. 

Some might say, “But I can’t. I’m busy as hell.”

Can we afford to drown in the sea of busy-ness? Matthew Kimberley says that feeling overwhelmed is not necessarily a function of having too much to do but rather not knowing what to do next.

Lets make room to exist in time. 

Walk, slowly. Don’t gobble down your food. Don’t major in minor things. Figure out what’s vital. “Our highest priority is to protect our ability to prioritise.”2 


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?” 

~ Mary Oliver, From the Summer Day


1. Henri Nouwen, from The Way Of The Heart, p.22.

2. Greg Mckeown, Essentialism p. 101

When Someone Says “I Lack the Discipline”


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When someone says “I lack the discipline,” what they really mean is that they lack a system and a structure.

Too often we walk around with the dogma that everything depends on our willpower.

Truth is, willpower is a limited well. Our reserves are easily depleted.  (Listen to this compelling podcast episode from Freakonomics Radio)

What can really help? Instead of chastising ourselves with brute force to buckle up our willpower, we should find the discipline of using a system and a structure (S&S).


A system provides us a roadmap. Start with A, then B, and then C. Don’t start with B, and try to later on fill in A and B.  A system that is individualised accounts for your quirks and habits. For example, I have a system of booking my schedule using the following rule ( “x” event multiple by 1.5)1. If I have a 1-hour appointment, I make sure I have about 30mins after that, before I schedule the next event. This has been an important step for me, as I must confess, I often fall into a planning fallacy. I delude myself thinking I can squeeze in more that I can manage. The side-benefit of this “x 1.5” rule of thumb? I run late less often, and if I finish on time, I get time to breathe.

Another simple system: Write things down. Don’t over-tax your cognitive capacity. Put it in the calendar, to-do list apps (tons of this around), or simply, write it down on a sticky note. Let your mind get involved in more deep and valuable work. 

Most people get obsessed with goals instead of building a system. The thing is, goals perpetuate unhappiness while we try to achieve that goal. And after getting that goal, we are left with the feeling that there’s other goals to pursue. It’s insatiable. Famed cartoonist for Dilbert, Scott Adams notes, “My proposition is that if you study people who succeed, you will see that most of them follow systems, not goals.” He has more to say about Goals vs System:

“Goal-oriented people exist in a state of continuous presuccess failure at best, and permanent failure at worst if things never work out. Systems people succeed every time they apply their systems, in the sense that they did what they intended to do. The goals people are fighting the feeling of discouragement at each turn. The systems people are feeling good every time they apply their system. That’s a big difference in terms of maintaining your personal energy in the right direction.”2


While a system is a roadmap, a structure is a scaffold. We rely on it, develop it and not leave it to the moment to decide. For example, every morning at 9am, I do my best to write for 30mins to an hour. No more than that.  A structure is like leaving your office each day, and expecting your chair to stay in the same place. You rely upon it being there every morning you arrive at your desk. You don’t expect to go hunting for something to sit on every time you hit the office. Likewise, a structure helps to contain what most modern man/woman are plagued with these days: Too much work; too little time. You don’t want to be thinking about “Where’s my chair?” when you can be getting things done.

The combination of a system and a structure (S&S) “off-loads” our cognitive demands, and allows us to “automate” and rely on a pre-decided plan we’re committed to.  The S&S approach is like a rhythm that you keep at. Constant and engaging. Of course, you wanna build in time to slow things down.

And why we fall off the rhythm, don’t bash yourself. We fail all the time. The more we think we try to push for self-control, the worse we become at it (Here’s the evidence). But if you are doing and working on things that are truly important to you, you want to make sure you have a roadmap and a scaffold to rely on.

(Note: these are amazon affiliate link)

  1. I first learned about this from Cal Newport’s blog, Study Hacks. I also highly recommend his book Deep Work. It’s a must-read
  2. Check out Scott Adams book . How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. Also listen to an interview he had with Tim Ferriss where he addresses the issue of System vs Goals

Symptoms are Impossible to Ignore…Because They are Terrible Gifts




Symptoms feel terrible, but they are a gift.

We don’t ask for it (nor should we), but they knock on our doors. Psychological and emotional suffering such as anxiety, fears, depression, flashbacks, rumination,  compulsions, and voice hearing tell us something is happening to us. They are the sirens that tell us there’s a fire inside.

The signal is not the problem. The fire is.

For example, a woman who has been depressed for three years says that her problem is chronic low mood and lack of motivation. When in fact her symptoms of depression are a signal reflecting back to her a real problem of being in a domestic violent relationship.

Or a man in his forties who has been anxious all of his adult life. He was beginning to think that this was what normal modern day living was meant to be, only to find out once he began to listen to his symptoms, he realised that this was part of an unaddressed traumatic experience of being molested as a child by his uncle that he had burdened in him due to fear and shame. All these years, he had done his best not to talk about it, as he didn’t want to bring shame to his family members (including his Uncle).

Physical illness is easier to imagine than the metaphorical world of our emotions. Think of a person afflicted with leprosy. Renowned British surgeon Dr Paul Brand, who spent his life working in this area was the first to observe that leprosy did not cause the rotting away of tissues, but that it was the loss of the sensation of pain which made sufferers susceptible to injury. In other words,  the problem with  leprosy is the absence of the ability to feel pain. (See his book with co-author Philip Yancey, The Gift of Pain).

Perhaps what we first need to do is to take a stance of what Thomas Moore calls “Honoring symptoms as the voice of the soul.”

Even though the meaning of the word soul is illusive, we all know what it means when we say to lead a soulful life, compared to a soul-less life. Tending to soul means to lead a life that we are truthful. When we are truthful to our selves, we are truthful to others. When we are true to ourselves, we find God. Truthfulness enlivens.

Resist our natural tendency to eliminate psychological symptoms as the main problem. First, listen to what it’s telling us. Is there a fire?

In the words of Stephen Gilligan, symptoms are terrible gifts.

Put out the fire first, not the signal.

Happy World Mental Day to everyone!

Daryl Chow, Ph.D.

10th Oct 2016.


Three Surprising Facts About Psychotherapy You and Your Doctors Need to Know

boy hearing for the first time (w hearing aid)

With the help of a hearing aid, boy hears for the first time.

This is for those who are thinking about seeking help. Maybe you are wondering, unsure of who to go to and what to look out for. Or maybe you just need a reason to give a shot at therapy/counselling before you take a psychotropic drug for your emotional problems.

Click here to find out more: Three Surprising Facts About Psychotherapy You and Your Doctors Need to Know

boy with new pair of shoes_overjoyed

Boy overjoyed with a new pair of shoes

Like the images of the two boys, I hope you get the help you deserve, and experience a renewed sense of joy in your life.

Daryl Chow, PhD

You might also be keen to read

The Dark Side of Pursuing Happiness

Or from my other blog, Frontiers of Psychotherapist Development:

Why Our Self-Assessment Might be a Delusion of Reality

Clinical Practice vs. Deliberate Practice: Why Your Years of Experience Doesn’t Get You Better

The Myth of Doing It On Your Own


“Suffering is wasted when we suffer entirely alone.” -Thomas Merton, No Man is an Island, p.85

There is a myth in our modern culture that we got to make it on our own. A month ago, I was working with a bright young man in his early twenties. Tommy (not his real name) has  a passion for the arts and literature. He hasn’t been able to sustain meaningful employment. He was struggling with bouts of depressed mood, existential crisis, and what I would call “analysis paralysis.” We hit it off well when we started, as we shared our deep love for the creative field. But I had a sense that he wasn’t too keen to continue. I wasn’t the first therapist he has seen. It was under the insistence of his mother to seek help.  I broached this openly with him, asking if he would like to collaborate further in our work together to help him out of this rut, and he confirmed my hunch. He went on to tell me something important, that is pervasive in our modern culture: “Daryl, thanks, but no thanks. I think I got to do this on my own.” I began to understand that this wasn’t just an issue with not wanting to seek help in therapy, but rather, he was buying that myth of independence across all aspects of his life; he was alone. He had no help in guiding, coaching, and feedbacking with him in his literary work.  He had no pastoral or community to walk with him in his journey of faith. He has cut off from friends since his was bullied in secondary school.

I suspect that this notion that we got to make it on our own is fueled by what we read in self-help books, popular media, and maybe even in biographical accounts of iconic personalities. When we think of successful people in the limelight, we are enamored by their achievements. They make even inspire us to persist in our dreams and aspirations. What we fail to realise is that we often only see the fruits of their labor. We see their outputs and not their inputs. What we also fail to see is the community of others that has helped them to reach great heights. In turn, we begin to value the myth of independence.


What we fail to realise is that we often only see the fruits of their labor. We see their outputs and not their inputs.

~ Continue reading

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