Full Circles

Reflections on Living

Author: Daryl Chow, MA, Ph.D. (page 1 of 3)

Information is Not Transformation

If information is all we need, everyone would have become billionaires, with perfect six-pack abs, so says thinker, writer, and entrepreneur Derek Sivers.

Information ≠ transformation.

We spend a lot of our time consuming information, in hopes that we can be transformed. What if we spend our time making attempts at transformation, and then, seek to fill the information gap, when we need it instead? 

Gathering information is makes you feel smarter, but no less closer to what you want. Attempts at transformation is almost always risky. Because we might fall flat on our face. But I think it’s worth it.

Watch this video.

On Suicide: “Do Not Make a Permanent Decision…”

Do not make a permanent decision

Image by Pablo Heimplatz

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm.

 

This is one of the most compelling argument I’ve seen on the topic of suicide. This is from the poet, philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Hecht makes us rethink from a nonreligious perspective our cultural position on suicide as moral freedom:
“One of the arguments I hope to bring to light is that suicidal influence is strong enough that a suicide might also be considered a homicide. Whether you call it contagion, suicidal clusters, or sociocultural modeling, our social sciences demonstrate that suicide causes more suicide (emphasis mine), both among those who knew the person and among the strangers who somehow identified with the victim. If suicide has a pernicious influence on others, then staying alive has the opposite influence: it helps keep people alive. By staying alive, we are contributing something precious to the world.” ~ from her book, Stay, A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It.

Ripples

The evidence is clear that suicide impacts not just loved ones, but people around us. This is not to put people on a guilt trip. Instead, the empirical findings point towards reality, that we live in a web of relationships. Even a celebrities suicide has a ripple effect on others (e.g., Robbin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell).

Hecht goes on to make an important point: “Your staying alive means so much more than you really know or that anyone is aware of at this moment.”
Though suicidal ideation is different from attempting suicidal (The evidence is clear that suicidal thoughts are more common than we realise, and thoughts about suicide isn’t predictive of suicide attempts). If you are feeling vulnerable to suicide, or know of others who struggle with this, I highly recommend you check out the following, in order of priority:

1. 10 things I wish people understood about suicide

2. An interview with Jennifer Michael Hecht, on the renowned podcast and radio show, On Being with Krista Tippett

3. A short essay On Suicide 

Stay

Here are two points that stand out:

1. Staying alive is a life-saving social contribution.
2. We need to consider the rights of our future selves.

 

Here’s my plea to you: 
1. You matter more than you will know at this point.
2. Let’s figure out a way to end your problems, not your life.
3. Living is your right. You have a right to Life.

A recent Canadian study based on 2,884 people uncovered a really hopeful piece of information. Suicidal people are 7 TIMES more likely to recover completely from their mental health concerns when they have SOMEONE TO CONFIDE TO. [1]

Do not make a permanent decision in a temporary storm. Stay.

Blessings,

Daryl

~

Footnotes:
1. Baiden, P., & Fuller-Thomson, E. (2016). Factors Associated with Achieving Complete Mental Health among Individuals with Lifetime Suicidal Ideation. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 46(4), 427-446. doi:10.1111/sltb.12230

2. I am a psychologist, but I’m not your psychologist. This short article should not be used as a substitute for the advice of a mental health professional. Please seek professional help if you are at-risk, or contact your local helplines to connect with someone. The first step is to step out, because isolation hurts.
 For people in Australia, here are three helplines:
Lifeline
13 11 14 – www.lifeline.org.au – A crisis support and suicide prevention service for all Australians.
Suicide Call Back Service
1300 659 467 – www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au – A free service for people who are suicidal, caring for someone who is suicidal, bereaved by suicide or are health professionals supporting people affected by suicide.
Kids Help Line
1800 55 1800 – www.kidshelpline.com.au

Teach Me…

Teach Me-3

image by Aaron Burden

I woke up this morning with these words ringing in my ear, “teach me.”

Maybe it was because our almost 3 month old daughter was screaming for her feed at 4 in the morning.

But it struck me that as parent, we ruminate about how we are going to raise our children, and what we’re going to teach them.

What if we turn things around?

What if we see our kids as our teachers, not our students?

What if we see events as doors for learning, and not just a stimulus as we mindlessly react?

When something goes wrong, our default reaction is, “what’s wrong with me?”

Instead, we can turn things around and ask ourselves, “what can I learn from this?”

A Redemptorist priest I know used to share an antidote about Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist who survived the brutality of the concentration camp in Auschwitz. Dr. Frankl noted, “It’s not so much about what you ask out of life, but what life asks out of you.

At this moment, what does life asks out of you?

I know that I’ve got to learn strip things down. Why? I need to be a better husband, father, and a son.

Teach me, teach me….

One Powerful Question to Ask Each Other

what's on your mind jonatan-pie-353191 copy

 

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)

 

Notes:

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

Photo by 
Jonatan Pie

In Praise of The Nurturers of The World

MOther and Child Painting

To the Nurturers in our lives, I thank you. You are a gift to this world. You are gift to others. Without you, we’d fail to thrive and grow. 

From the words of Fred Rogers, 

 

“Think of those people who loved you into your being.” 

 

These people belong to the universal Nurturers of the world. Nurturers have a special role in the grant scheme of things. They bring a piece of heaven on earth.

 

To you, dear Nurturers, you are part of someone’s life. Like a gardener, you have sown the seeds for the flowers to grow, tend to soil, and water the plants; the work never ends.

 

Nurturers give. Like my mother, like my grand auntie, like my wife—mother to my two children, like many carers I know from my work with individuals and families. 

 

I heard a story from one my clients. He is a father of a five year old, fighting for his dear life to have shared custody of his child. He wants to be part of his child’s life. He divorced from his wife, but not his child.  He wants to be present. He wants to be a Nurturer for his daughter. It’s an upward battle.

 

Nurturers sometimes give all of themselves away. They forget that when they neglect themselves, they have nothing left to give. Dear Nurturers, please don’t forget about you. Because you are a precious gift. Treat yourself as you would to a beloved. What would you do to nurture that person?

 

A true Nurturer knows how to give AND receive. There is a gift in giving, and there is also a gift in letting others become a giver. By learning to receive, we allow others to feel the blessing you’ve experienced in giving.

 

Because of you—and those before you—a cascade is happening. Passing on love, from one person to the next, one generation to another. The passage of transmission is indeed unpredictable, but it’s also inevitable. It’s inevitable that you, dear Nurturers, have an influence on the one you love.

 

Once again, “think of those people who loved you into your being.” 

 

Take a moment to picture them in your mind as vividly as possible. Visualise them standing right in front of you. Now allow yourself to say a heartfelt, “Thank you.” to them. A mother, a father, an uncle, a teacher, a friend.

 

Better yet, say thank you to each of them.

 

Thank you, dear Nurturers. You have loved me into my being.

 

p/s: I try to remind myself to trade my expectation for appreciation of those around me. It holds an antidote to suffering.

Blessings,

Daryl

What is the Opposite of Play? (It’s not work)

The opposite of play, is not work. It is depression.1

When was the last time you allowed yourself to play?

Play is an antidote to feeling depressed. Play is fuel; without it, we run on an empty tank.

Play is a spark. Many of us need that to reignite our daily living.

Even dogs play.

Dog Playing

Work on play, and play at your work.

Related posts:

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

The Movement of Recovery: Love, Work, & Play

Note: I highly recommend Stuart Brown, MD book, aptly titled Play. See also his TED talk. 

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

Notes:

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

2. Greg Mckeown, Essentialism p. 101

When Someone Says “I Lack the Discipline”

 

traffic ariel view

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).

System

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


Structure

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

Here’s One Mental Model to Change Your Life: Press Play

 

play-pause-stop

We don’t stop playing because we grow old;

we grow old because we stop playing.” ~George Bernard Shaw

Mental models are powerful ideas to learn. They act like rules of thumb, that is, rough principles/heuristics  to guide the traffic of our minds.  The important criteria on whether to adopt a particular mental model is to evaluate, “Is this helpful?”

If you are in your thirties and above, you might recall the days of playing those bulky videotapes from a VHS machine. It requires manually forwarding and rewinding, until the tape head gets dirty and the visuals become blurry. Or you sit there, waiting for your favorite movie to play on TV, so that you can hit record (and pause when those crappy adverts appear), for many more hours of repeated viewing.

Here’s one mental model  based on this idea.


PRESS PLAY

When your life feels like is on pause, press play.
Play, do something fun, get down on the floor with a baby. Go to the beach, strum that guitar, or sing in the bathroom. tickle your partner.



PRESS PAUSE:

When life takes over and moves too fast like it’s flashing you by, press pause. Recompose, and study one frame of your life. Contemplate on it. It’s ok to take a pause.


PRESS FAST FORWARD:

When you feel stuck, it’s ok to press fast forward. Get out of the rut by stepping on the pedal to the wheels moving. Fast.


PRESS STOP:

(Ever heard a record player get stuck on the same groove on a vinyl and you just let it keep playing? It’s hypnotic).
When things play and replay in your head like a bad loop, press stop.
Then, change what is playing in the first place.

Have you ever feel like you are speeding to get to somewhere because you are late, only to meet with a red light? What do you do? You take heed of the sign, and stop. There are things not within your control. And realise the world is not about you.

Stop. Breathe. Re-treat, or just give yourself a treat.

PRESS REWIND:

Moments of transitions and change, or big events like Christmas, new year, anniversaries and birthdays, are a good time to press rewind.

Recall moments in your life that you were moved, touched and deeply grateful for. Look at pictures and journals. Put on that old song and indulge in the next few minutes. Go back in time. If you keep worrying about time, you lose time.

This is not simply nostalgia, but its a platform of creating self-continuity into your future. As the Japanese proverb goes, a good time to look at the past is on a summer’s eve.


PRESS RECORD:

Whatever the shit may be, don’t forget to press record. Then hit rewind, and play it back again. 
Learn to write things down. Date it, so that you know which time in your life you had this wisdom. To capture a moment, take a photograph. Not at yourself, but at the life that is in front of you.

Reflect:

Do you know what to press, and when?

No one strategy applies to all of life. Life has its platitudes. As the adage goes, if you hold a hammer, suddenly everything becomes a nail.

Play with this idea.

Where our attention is, that is where our life is.

Happy Christmas & a playful new year ahead.

Yours, 

Daryl Chow Ph.D.

29th of Dec 2016

 

Symptoms are Impossible to Ignore…Because They are Terrible Gifts

 

giftbox

 

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.

 

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