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One Year Later - Life Goes On (or begins once again?)

A year ago today my dad died. And most days since he died I would scream at myself for being slow, unproductive, unfocused and lacking the required discipline to get my business growing properly. And then, knowing that this beration is in itself unhelpful, I would then attempt to do some meditation to quieten my mind or I would remind myself that my experience of suffering is merely thought generated.

Late last night I finally really felt the irony of my frantic attempts to be stoic and zen. I'd been aware of the dissonance of anxiously wanting to attain peace and the hilarious futility of the approach. But it was merely a surface understanding that I would brush off - the way one would do with a fleck of fluff on a table - and I would return to berating myself for making excuses for my indolence.

The past year I have read books, watched lectures, attended seminars, listened to podcasts to learn more about the nature of thought and how to obtain clarity, partly in the hope that I would gain insights personally and partly to improve my training programmes on decision-making.

I'd taken time out to rest, I'd gone to spas, I'd taken up running (for crying out loud!), I had practised mindfulness daily, I had baked soft dinner rolls (mmmm delicious!) and then last night I recognised that I was doing what I always do when troubled - I was driving myself crazy with an overwhelming amount of activity/experiments/learning in pursuit of a solution to a problem.

In fact in writing the above sentence, I remembered that I wrote something very similar a few years ago when I attempted to fix my depression and the noisy battles in my head. It's funny, not haha, that when we are at our most vulnerable, we exhaustedly gravitate towards the bad habits that cause or perpetuate the very problem we are trying solve. And the deeper we are in the situation, the harder it is for us to see or feel things clearly enough to revise our behaviour.

Fortunately sometime after midnight last night, possibly almost exactly around the time that my dad died last year, the frenzied mental treading stopped and it finally felt like I wasn't in quicksand any longer. And in that (sadly brief) moment of clarity, I once again appreciated the dual importance of acceptance and letting go and the resulting peace that comes from not trying so hard.

And (miraculously!) I remembered not to whip myself for taking a whole damn unproductive year to get the above insight! (ahem).

If you're struggling and treading mental water too, just see what happens if you stop, you may find that the ground was right below your feet all along.

Anyway, I thought it would perhaps be apt to resume my personal blog today given both the insight last night and the occasion today. Here's to the beginning of yet another chapter of life.


The trouble is you think you don't have time.

Even though I've loved many of the places in which I've lived or been, I've somehow spent the majority of my life in London and Singapore (admittedly the latter was not by choice). Both cities brim with a sense of urgency; from Londoners tutting at slow-moving tourists to the almost ubiquitous pressure in Singapore to accelerate through one's career and accumulate, what the locals call, the 5 Cs as quickly as possible (cash, credit card, car, condominium and country club membership).

People in these cities stride as though they are purposefully heading somewhere important, both literally and figuratively, because they are never where they want to be right now. As if, in a time-bending way, the present somehow exists only as an afterthought.

I know these traits are far from exclusive to these two cities; in my travels I've met with reactions of disappointment, disdain or plain confusion because I hadn't achieved X by a certain age from people with different cultures. As if it were universally inconceivable that anyone would voluntarily step off life's conveyor belt towards the 5 Cs.

So in response, some of us try to squeeze more into our lives. More work, more promotions, more clients, more academic credentials, more professional qualifications, more awards, more cute videos of our children, more networking, more exciting extra curricular activities till we feel like we don't have the time to just sit and breathe.

The trouble is, the less we breathe, the more we feel suffocated by our lives.

The less we breathe, the more the hamster wheel of accomplishment becomes exhausting.

The less we breathe, the less we think we have the time to do anything significant or even that anything we do can be significant (see a previous post "How we change the lives of others without even knowing it").

The less we breathe, the less we realise that we only do half the things we do because someone else told us those things are important.

A friend and I came up with the analogy that we are on running on a treadmill in life and whenever we feel we are not enough, we turn up the speed of the treadmill by taking on more work, more courses, more projects, more fun activities and more socialising. We're still running on the same spot and not making any progress in life but now we're frazzled and getting increasingly deranged.

And perhaps all we need to do is (to allow ourselves) to slow the treadmill down, take a few slow breaths, get off the belt and simply walk, however slowly, outside. We risk feeling the full force of life but perhaps we could just trust that our legs are strong enough (especially with all the training we've already done).  

This year I've learned to take the time to breathe, consciously breathe. A recurring reminder is set to prompt me to take a few deep breaths a day during which I acknowledge what I've done and how life is progressing. I also find at least 10 minutes a day to meditate, it's amazing how a small amount of concerted focus on the present moment can help to clear some of the din in my head. And every weekday, my boyfriend and I email each other three new things for which we are grateful that day. 

And what a positive difference these rituals have made in my life.

This practice of being present, breathing, acknowledging and being grateful is age-old common sense and yet perhaps not practiced consciously (or practiced at all) by so many of us.

To be honest, I'm not quite off the treadmill yet but I've slowed it down considerably and in doing so I am able to see just how ineffective and wasteful of energy I was. I am now able to properly admit that I have the time to walk. And that I'm scared of stepping "out there" because I've spent all this time worrying about it and ashamedly hiding rather than just going out the door and experiencing whatever comes.

To give you a glimpse of what it is like in my head sometimes, I'll leave you with this animation.

Maybe, like Gary, it's time for me to get out. After all, I am enough and there's beauty and challenge awaiting beyond that door.

Previous post: The trouble is you think you have time.


Beyond Words.

Legend has it that as a baby I used to tell my dad lots of stories (in eloquent gibberish) when he came home after work each day.

The tumour pressing against my dad's brain has now reduced his speech to a jumbled mess of words, but he nevertheless wants to share his thoughts and stories with me.

One learns that life, and love, have a strange circularity about them.




Humourous talk on humour - New Yorker Cartoons 

After the darkness and gravity of the previous post, here's something a little lighter (both in content and length). Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor at the New Yorker, breaks down explains context, humour and what's makes a cartoon a New Yorker cartoon.



Do you have the guts to take responsibility for what you do? 


Chris Jordan's film Midway - Message from the Gyre is coming out later this year:

A couple of years ago I wrote about Chris Jordan's Midway Project in a post entitled,"Can you Stomach This?" I just watched the video from that post again and I've been reflecting on some of the words:

I have this message that I really believe in, that is, about facing the horrors of time, allowing ourselves to know the reality of the time we live in, however hard that is, however much it hurts or however much we feel grief or shame or anger or rage or whatever. I think we all have to face the reality of our times.

The impact that I hope that this work has is a kind of wakeup call, and it’s hard, because I know these images are really horrible to look at. And what I don’t want to have happen is for people to be traumatised by them, and to fall into feelings of paralysis, of despair, of hopelessness.

I know that when facing an issue like this, it is easy to go into overwhelm... It is easy to look at issues like this and feel those feelings of despair.

But what I really believe is when we begin to process those emotions, when we allow ourselves to feel despair, allow ourselves to feel grief or anger or rage about what’s happening in the me those are legitimate human responses to our times.

And once when we can connect with that, then maybe collectively we can begin to make new choices.


This isn't simply about the pacific albatross or environmental/animal welfare issues but rather this story acts as a canary in the coalmine of our consciousness. A wakeup call to face the personal, work and life issues that we have been avoiding.

It's a reminder for those of us who feel paralysed to take action because we've kept our feelings in a "safe" place to deal with (perhaps) at a later date.  

And in the same way as we often lose things that we put in "safe" places, some of those feelings that we've tucked away are lost right now. But those feelings are not completely lost, we can dig deep, take the time to search hard for them and allow them to surface no matter how uncomfortable and awkward it may be to have those feelings around.

They may interrupt our thoughts, our work, our television watching  or ruin our dinner.

But nevertheless we can feel and we can ask ourselves if our choices we make may be causing pain to others. We can ask how considerate we are being and if we have considered enough. This is tough to do especially when we are bombarded with so many choices each day and there's a myriad of things to prioritise and get done. I know I've failed to properly consider some of my actions and I've often had feelings of hopelessness and despair when dealing with the various problems around me.

But we can do better and maybe we should dig deep for the courage to do so.


Cracking the crux - Alex Honnold has given me another realisation.

Earlier today, when I was emailing an old post entitled Alex Honnold's epiphany-inducing climbing style, I clicked on the second video in that post, for 'ol times sake, and I had another realisation. 

Around the 2-minute mark in the video, Alex says (not word-for-word quotations in blue below as this is a hurried post but the statements are reasonably close):

You commit, you think I’m doing this, here I go. But then after a couple of hours of being all committed, you're I'm tired, and your mind starts to get a little bit tired. So I started to stall, and I started to doubt if I was doing alright. Why am I even here? Do I even want to do this? 


When I heard the above paragraph, I realised that I had been feeling that way for the past few weeks. It didn't help that I had a relapse of the physical malaise I experienced last year, except this time it was more intense and accompanied with somewhat painful spasms. But I could fight through the physical tiredness and pain, annoying but workable. It was the mental fatigue that really wore my spirits down.

I started to ask similar questions. 

I wondered if I had it in me to create the new products. I wondered if I was capable of making my business a success. I wondered if I was capable of making anything a success. I started to doubt if I could create anything useful at all.

And I started to wonder, "why am I even here?"

Then in video, Mark Jenkins says:

And then he overcame it, he didn’t work that route a hundred times, he just got up, looked up and believed, absolutely believed, that it was well within his ability.


I don't know if I absolutely believed (and I still have lapses of self-doubt) but anyway, I looked up and believed just enough in my ability to build this damn company that I got up and pushed on.

And I relate to the last statement too:

In the past few months I’ve sort of embraced the whole experience, embraced the unpleasant parts too, it’s kinda cool to just look around and enjoy the exposure and be like this is why I am here. This is awesome.


I think my newfound ability to embrace the crappy parts along with the good is perhaps what really sustained me last week. And it's continuing to get me through the tough days. Maybe the meditation that I've been doing every day for the past few months is paying off and I'm now able to look around, enjoy the exposure and appreciate the journey a whole lot more than I ever did.

And even with all the cash flow anxieties, the difficulties of producing stuff from scratch on my own and my struggles to clear my sometimes foggy mind, I'll admit that it is awesome to create and work on something you believe in.

This is why I'm here.


Bits and bobs and bowler hats.

Yesterday, the buzzer rang at my flat, which admittedly is not an unusual, or terribly interesting, occurance (and certainly not worth mentioning in a blog). But this time, there were two fit young men (which frankly is enough of a story in itself) who had come to hand-deliver the lovely bowler hat shown below (I live with a design journalist) as part of an invitation to some fancy opening at Harrods.

Anyway, speaking of a special delivery of news, albeit with just a picture of bowler hat...I now have a (work) blog! So if you're interested in how we make decisions or interested in psychology, behavioural economics and neuroscience in general, do check it out here:

The rest of the site will be up later in the year but I'll be blogging and reviewing/discussing books regularly in the meantime. Please do let me know what you think if you have a moment!

This blog will continue to have my random observations and ramblings so you can keep subscribing/coming back if you're still enjoying it.


Dove Real Beauty Sketches - You feel as beautiful as your mother made (makes) you feel?

You've probably seen the video below, or if you haven't actually watched it, it's likely that you've seen it shared in various places. This morning, despite my hesitance to voluntarily watch an advert, I decided the virus had won and I watched it too.

Even as a fairly cynical person, I thought it was quite nicely put together and the overall message is a pretty decent one. Sure, the artist may have, consciously or unconsciously, made the drawings based on the other person's description slightly nicer. And sure, it is quite likely that after a positive interaction with someone (as opposed to even a neutral one) we are likely to remember that person's physical features more positively. And even if we had noticed their less attractive features, the majority of us would be too polite to point these observations using critical words when asked by another stranger to describe this new person (and we're even less likely to do so with a video camera recording our descriptions unless perhaps we were on a reality TV show and wanted to get attention.

I do agree that women are possibly more critical of their own physical appearance (though both men and women in many cultures still place greater emphasis on a woman's appearance in terms of her desirability compared to a man's appearance and his desirability so maybe it's not that surprising this is the case).

I currently have orthodontic braces and a number of friends commented that they hadn't noticed my teeth being particularly crooked before and asked why I'd done it. And it's primarily because my mother* reminded me about my wonky teeth recently when I changed my Facebook photo for the first time in 6 years. And these wonky teeth had been commented upon all my life by a handful of people.

*who is otherwise a really generous and kind person

Perhaps, the other reason for my friends' surprise at my decision to have braces is that I'm not a particularly image-conscious or fashionable person; I very rarely wear make-up, my hairstyle is "wash-and-go" and I usually take as long as the average guy to get dressed and leave the house. 

Well, I was prompted to think this morning after I watched the video if one of the reasons why I'm uninterested in my appearance is because my flaws were frequently pointed out to me when I was young and so over the years in an effort to avoid literally* facing them, I reduced the amount of time that I have to look at myself to a minimum.

*I get excited when I get to use literally in a literal way

Of course, none of this might be the case and I've simply been an especially sensitive 'ol soul who lacked confidence as a kid and what our mothers say to us when we're growing up has little influence on our self-image. Nevertheless, I rather like this statement from the whole hearted parenting manifesto:


You will learn that you are worthy of love, belonging, and joy every time you see me practice self-compassion and embrace my own imperfections.


The beautiful magic of Ricky Jay - trailer of new documentary: Deceptive Practice.

This man's ability to "play" with playing cards is breathtaking. And his shows are almost like a play, in fact a number of his shows are directed by David Mamet. 

He also takes the act of practising and perfecting something to an inspiring level.

In the trailer above he says:

"The real key to learning is almost like the sensei master relationship in the martial arts. The way you wanna learn is by someone that you respect showing you something."

It's funny because this year I've come across so many things that have made some variation of that point to me. (Though maybe it's just the "red car" effect.)

His statement is particularly interesting because the other variations didn't mention "someone you respect" and I'm wondering if that bit is part of the missing puzzle why I sometimes learn better than other times. I suppose in terms of respect, I do have extra respect and admiration for people who are not only great at their amazing skill but can also explain how to do it plainly and simply because they've figured out all the component parts.

Anyway, I'm definitely looking forward to the documentary. Here's a much more in-depth article with some example performances as well.


How much does it cost to buy a car in Singapore in 2013? The permit to buy a car now starts at a surprisingly low price of £34000.

My previous post "How much does it cost to buy a car in Singapore? The permit alone costs up to £45,000" is one of the biggest draws to this blog (besides Tom Brady half-naked of course) so I thought I'd follow up with another post. (For readers who are new to this blog, my writing is intrinsically facetious so it helps if your reading voice has a tone of sarcasm/playfulness). 

I'm also inspired to write a follow-up because my parent's car is bound for the scrap-heap this year - it is, as with most cars in Singapore, very wonderfully maintained and working rather well. But the renewal fee (known as the Prevailing Quota Premium (PQP*)- a 3-month moving average of the premium for each category) - is simply not affordable. 

*As a general rule, almost everything in Singapore has a 3-letter acronym 

Here's an article from the main newspaper in Singapore on 27 March 2013: The Straits Times showing the history of prices.

Understandably there are reasons to restrict the use of cars, and yes sadly, there are Singaporeans (and expats) who bring to mind the Beverley Hillbillies, nouveau riche with more money than sense (or taste). For instance the apartment below that includes a parking space in your sitting room - video below if you want to see how you get the car into your apartment.

It's already quite odd to have your car parked almost next to your sofa (if you aren't forced to) but it's even more peculiar that if you choose this apartment you have to do the following: a) drive your car into a car lift, b) get out of the car and take a passenger lift up (hopefully not a communal lift because that would truly downgrade the exclusivity of the "batman" experience, wouldn't it?). You'd think the design would allow you to at least reduce the number of steps from your car to your armchair to a health-enhancing (and lucky) 8 steps, right?

But on the other hand, there are regular folk like my parents for whom a car is arguably quite handy* but are priced out of being able to keep their trusty vehicle. 

*My dad is very ill and needs regular access to hospitals and clinics. One solution would be to book a taxi each time they need to go any non-walkable distance from the flat. Even waiting for a taxi is not feasible given that the heat and humidity of the country can be quite harsh for frail people.

Otherwise, I think Singapore's public transport system is constantly improving and the necessity for a car is decreasing for any healthy, able-bodied person and so a luxury tax on owning one makes sense.

In any case, I'm glad that I have no need for a car even though London's delays-a-plenty transport system does make me tut now and again. Speaking of the 'ol Tube, here is a terrific page of new, old and wacky London Underground maps.