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Reflections on Living

Tag: behavioral change

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. 

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

 

Creating Movement in Your Life: Put Your Horse Before the Cart 

People often mistake that

  We need to feel confident in order to do something with competence;

  We need to feel loveable in order to love;

  We need to feel good before we do any good;

  We need to know before we act, and

  We need to find the passion before we become good at a something.

It certainly helps if we do. But often, we are mistaken. We have put the carriage before the horse.

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Often times,

  We simply need to become competent at something in order to build confidence;

  We need to give love in order to feel love;

  We need to do some good before we feel good;

  We need to act in order to know, and

  We need to follow our curiosity before we find our passion.

In this case, we have put the horse before the carriage. And this allows movement.

screen-shot-2016-10-01-at-8-59-28-am

We are to learn not just to think on our feet, but to think with our feet.

There is wisdom in our feet. We are not designed to be sedentary creatures. We are designed to grow, and growing takes place when we move, both in our inner lives and our mortal flesh.

I look at my 3-year-old daughter. She thinks with her feet by trying things, even if it means that she might get a scolding or two for testing our limits.

Composers, movie directors, performers, writers and storytellers know the importance of creating dynamic movement in order to an experience to come alive.

We are designed to move and be moved. No horse with the carriage in front is going to get very far.


 

footnote: I gave a shot at drawing. Not the best, by I hope it does the job. 

Act-in-Order-to-Know (Not the Reverse)

Beyond Comfort Zone

“A man who fails well is greater than one who succeeds badly.” -Thomas Merton, no man is an island, p.127

My profession is guilty of adding to the problem. We continue to propagate the notion that we need to somehow figure out our lives before we act. Otherwise, God forbid, we act rashly without much thought.

Certainly, some major events in life, like making a decision to getting married, making a huge financial investment, moving to a new country and the like, requires some forethought. But for the majority, we want to stray away from “Analysis-Paralysis”, that is, thinking so much about something that we become crippled by the fear of making a wrong decision or failing. Others might argue that we should at least “think” about it before we act on a decision. I agree on this point. But after working closely with people for some time in therapy, I realise that the problem in life are often not because people don’t consider the pros-and-cons before they act, but rather people slip into the pit-holes of one of the following:

1. Analysis-Paralysis, leading to symptoms of depression and anxiety;

2. Catastrophising (i.e., projecting the worst about future outcomes), leading to symptoms of anxiety;

3. Self-blame (for past mistakes), leading to symptoms of depression.

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