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“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”

The First Thing You Need to Do If You Want to Change Your Life

“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” ~Eckhart Tolle

There are two ways to live life.

One is a more reactive approach, where you fight back when you encounter challenges in your personal or professional life. The other is a more proactive one where you are mindful of the trends within you and around you and ready with your surfboard whenever a big wave hits!

The only difference between the two is awareness.

Awareness empowers you to make conscious choices based on an understanding of yourself and the situation, to notice what your choice created, and to then choose again. This is why awareness is powerful. By becoming aware, you are snatching control back.

Merely observing your thoughts and behavior can spur positive action.

Big words. How am I so sure?

Just by tracking my sleep, I was able to gain insights into what aids my sleep and what disrupts it.

When I started tracking my food, I realized calories don’t matter but macros do. I then changed how I consumed food.

Journaling allowed me to observe my mental chatter and learn from it. It made me aware that most of my anger and frustration stems from lack of sleep, food, or water.

Tracking my finances made it easier to make tough calls with my spending.

I didn’t make these changes overnight. They took days and months of being aware before the changes actually happened.

Awareness is knowledge. Knowledge gives you power. Power makes it easier to change.

In the absence of awareness, you react mindlessly to your surroundings because all you have is the movement of thought. Your reaction will then depend on your past experiences and conditioning.

If in the past, you dealt with stress by eating, you are going to reach for your favorite snack. If your past experience taught you to raise your voice to get heard, you will easily shout when you are being ignored.

You start to believe what you are experiencing is reality when actually you are experiencing the narrative your mind created as a reaction to what is going on around you. Without awareness, you confuse what is happening in your mind with reality. You are at the mercy of the conditioned mind.

“Awareness is all about restoring your freedom to choose what you want instead of what your past imposes on you.” ~Deepak Chopra

Most of us are clueless about why we do what we do, how we present ourselves, and how others perceive us. And we get stuck in negative patterns as a result.

Here are some ways you can improve your awareness so you can improve your life.

Practice self-reflection.

This allows you to take a step back and ask probing questions of yourself. As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Ask yourself: Why did I react this way? Why is this making me sad? Why am I so against this viewpoint? Where did this belief come from? 

Doing this will allow you to make stronger connections. It will make your convictions stronger and give you the fuel to argue your viewpoint in a civil manner. It will also make you aware of your bad habits and thought patterns.

For instance, self-reflection has taught me that I have a tendency to eat unhealthy food when I haven’t gotten enough sleep. I also have a tendency to shut myself off from people when I am angry instead of talking to them calmly. Knowing this about myself, I am able to catch these unhealthy habits and choose healthier responses.

Journal.

Journaling is a great tool for self-reflection, since it helps you understand and challenge your thoughts and beliefs, and it’s also an stress reliever. It acts as a brain dump. Think of this as a parking lot for your thoughts. Just like your back feels lighter when you take off your heavy backpack, your mind will feel lighter and less stressful once you dump your thoughts on a piece of paper.

You can do this once a week, once a day, or even once every fortnight. All you need is a diary and a pen to get going. Trust me, nobody is so busy that they cannot take five minutes in a day to journal.

Take personality and psychometric tests.

Whereas a personality test can give you insight into why you do the things you do, a psychometric test can help you asses your skills, knowledge, abilities, and characteristics. I am not a big fan of these, but there are scores of free tests available online. You might find yourself agreeing or disagreeing with the results, but they will give you some food for thought.

Since they’re all based on some sort of questionnaire that you answer, I would recommend taking more than one to get a broader understanding of your strengths, weaknesses, and behavior patterns.

Ask for feedback.

There is a catch to this one. You need to be willing to take the feedback someone gives you without being offended or getting into an argument. If you can ask probing questions from them to dig deeper, even better!

If you are uncomfortable with people pointing out your mistakes and shortcomings to your face, you can ask through email. This way you have time to digest what people write before responding and will be less likely to react defensively.

Step out of your comfort zone.

Once you become aware of your limitations, the next step is to push them and face your fears.

I used to hate talking to large crowds or presenting in front of people. Nothing made me sweat faster!

Since I was aware, I decided to tackle this by joining a student organization in college where my role was to go to different classes and present about the organization in efforts to recruit more students. It wasn’t easy, but within a year, I wasn’t sweating anymore!

For you, this might mean setting a boundary with someone after recognizing your habit of letting people take advantage of you or applying for a job you’ve been interested in after recognizing that you usually hold yourself back with fears of not being good enough.

This is how awareness changes your life: when you not only recognize what you’re doing and why but consciously choose to do something different.

Awareness makes you stronger. With awareness, you are able to bounce back faster after adversity. You are conscious of your insecurities and shortcomings. You have gone through the cycle enough times to understand what triggers them and how you can recover from them.

For example, in my case, when I am feeling sad and depressed, I know I can recover if I take a nap or go workout. It helps me shake off the bad mojo.

Awareness allows you to empathize with people. You can relate to the other person because you know the signs, having experienced them yourself. It becomes very easy to step into the other person’s shoes instead of judging them. In fact, it will come naturally after a while.

Your agility increases because of your awareness. You can pluck yourself in and out of any situation when you want and are able to adapt and pivot as needed on much shorter notice. In other words, you are able to move, think, or act quickly.

The pursuit of self-awareness also leads you to your blind spots. It uncovers the unknown and makes it known, so at least you are aware of it, even if you are not able to act on it right away.

When I look back, I have been blessed to have experienced many moments of awareness discovering things either by myself or because someone in my trusted circle caught it. I am pretty sure when you look back, you will also be able to spot those moments where your transformation first began because of the awareness bringing it to light.

The wheels of change begin to move with the first sign of awareness.

The Difference Between Happiness & Satisfaction: A Psychologist Explains

the-difference-between-happiness-and-satisfaction

Eleanor Roosevelt once said that “Happiness is not a goal; it is a byproduct.” As humans, we often believe that when we buy a house, or fall in love, or receive that well-deserved promotion at work, we will be truly happy. But why do we infer that happiness is only attainable through milestone events or achievements?

The reality of this tendency is that it may not be happiness that we are seeking and experiencing on a daily basis but instead satisfaction. Perhaps we live our day-to-day lives pursuing the things that make us happy, which then contributes to our overall sense of satisfaction.

If you look up happiness and satisfaction in a dictionary, the two definitions are quite similar. Both use words such as “joy” and “contentment,” describing a pleasant and delighted emotion. But why is it then that people often say, “Do what makes you happy” but never think to advise “Pursue what satisfies you”? It may have a different ring to it, but it is a good indicator of a different sense of contentment.

We reached out to cognitive behavioral therapist and clinical psychologist Jennifer Guttman, Psy.D., to better distinguish happiness and satisfaction.

The difference between happiness and satisfaction.

Research shows that the most frequent uses of the word happiness revolve around describing someone’s personality, as in being characterized as a happy person. It is also used in association with materialism and experientialism, conveying that when you purchase or experience something, you may experience happiness. Although definitions are vague and vary, happiness ultimately seeks to portray a moment of temporary bliss.

“Happiness is fleeting,” Guttman explains. “Happiness is a feeling someone gets when they experience something out of the ordinary that brings them joy. With that feeling, a neurotransmitter, dopamine, is released, which gives us an elevated mood state. However, this elevated mood state is not sustainable because it’s reliant on the release of this neurotransmitter.”

Satisfaction, on the other hand, is an enduring feeling experienced for a longer period of time, as a result of the collection of life events and feelings you’ve experienced. Guttman describes satisfaction as a more balanced, sustainable state because it’s not neurotransmitter-dependent the way happiness is.

Or as Daniel Kahneman, Ph.D., Nobel Prize winner and psychologistexplained in his TED Talk, we experience happiness in our lives as well as happiness with our lives. This latter principle is akin to the concept of satisfaction, which we experience more frequently and thus influences our attitudes and behaviors. Satisfaction is a better indicator of how content we feel toward our lives overall and may contribute to more mindful decisions that bring our lives meaning.

For example, you come home from a long day at work and are greeted by a package at your front door of a new pair of shoes that you had ordered a few days prior. At the moment of opening that package, you might experience excitement and happiness. The moment then passes, and you are onto your next activity. However, each day you wear those shoes, you are reminded of your purchase and are satisfied. Therefore, feeling satisfied has a longer-lasting impact on people’s moods, whereas experiencing happiness is an instantaneous, temporary sensation.

Which is more important?

Guttman describes satisfaction as a more long-term and tangible solution than happiness. “When people think ‘happy’ as joy or effervescence is attainable, it creates cognitive dissonance when that feeling is not sustainable,” she explains.

That said, happiness and satisfaction are intertwined, as “most people experience satisfaction on an ongoing basis, interspersed with moments of happiness,” Guttman explains. “They are both attainable, but satisfaction is more sustainable.”

Life satisfaction is often associated with positive mental and physical health and contributes to overall well-being. Other research also suggests that strong personality traits are linked to having high life satisfaction. Additionally, recognizing your feelings of satisfaction may contribute to a more mindful and positive way of living. These attributes may help shift your perspective on your own life and leave you feeling more purposeful and fulfilled.

How to get more satisfaction in your life:

1. Develop a strong sense of self.

“People become more satisfied by becoming more self-confident, self-reliant, by developing a strong sense of self, by developing a sense of their effectiveness in the world, and by believing in their inherent lovability,” Guttman says.

To strengthen your sense of self, she recommends finishing tasks (not just starting them), making decisions for yourself, facing fears, and avoiding people-pleasing behaviors. Facing your fears, for example, may not make you happy—but it sure is satisfying.

2. Write down at least one good thing that you experience each day.

As the saying goes: Every day may not be good, but there is something good in every day. Especially in today’s current climate, you may feel that your daily routine has become redundant and complacent. However, it is all about where you channel your energy and focus. Whether you meet an old friend for lunch or go for a relaxing bike ride, write it down. Those moments will turn into memories and will leave you feeling more grateful and optimistic in the long run, as you are able to go back and read them. The benefits of gratitude are all about creating a sense of lifelong satisfaction, as opposed to simply seeking moments of exuberant happiness.

3. Put yourself out there.

Some research suggests extroversion is associated with more life satisfaction and overall well-being. Despite this pandemic, it is easier than ever to reach out to someone and make a new friend. From becoming a pen pal with a patient in a nursing home to just messaging an old friend you’ve lost touch with, you may rekindle or create new friendships that could enhance your interpersonal skills and revitalize your daily routine.

The bottom line.

Making happiness your destination may cause you to miss out on this exciting journey of life, a journey that has many twists and turns, with new opportunities appearing each day. Recognizing what makes you feel satisfied, on the other hand, can contribute to a more positive attitude and outlook on life while feeling more fulfilled. By living through this lens, we can experience not just moments of happiness but a lifestyle that is enduringly satisfying.

Morning Habits, Jump-Start Your Brain For Success

Ever wondered why most successful people have morning habits? No, it’s not because they’re OCD or odd in any way. They develop habits for this one simple reason: to reduce friction in their lives so they can focus on what they do best. Makes sense, right?

“We first make our habits, and then our habits make us.” — John Dryden

Those who have tasted success, whether it’s big or small, will come to realise that time holds the most value in life — there is simply never enough time and there is always too much to think about. So, by adding, changing, or developing habits or routines will simplify our lives and save us time.

Here are a few questions to help you jump-start shaping your own ideal morning habits:

  • If I could plan my ideal morning, what would it look like?

Your First Minutes

About one year ago, I watched this YouTube video from Jim Kwik, Brain Coach, where he shared his morning habits on how he jump-start his brain for success, focus and productivity.

According to Kwik: “The first 60 minutes of your day can either set you up for maximum productivity and bring you closer to your long-term and short-term goals or cause you to lose another day to distractions and mental fog. Just like an athlete takes care of his body, we need to take good care of our brains to become who we aspire to be.”

And he’s right. What you do to start your day determines how the rest of your day will look like. Therefore, your morning habits are critical for lifetime success. Therefore, I started to change my morning habits bit by bit.

Do keep in mind that morning habits are different for everyone. For example, my morning habits usually take 120 minutes. Yes, that’s two hours. Knowing exactly how the first 120 minutes of my day looks like is powerful. It helps me feel in control, which in turn reduces anxiety and increases my productivity throughout the day.

Here are my top five morning habits to jump-start my brain towards success:


1. Remember Your Dreams

Often when you’re awake, you live your life through the everyday learning, facing challenges, and thinking about solutions and ideas in different aspects of your life. However, it’s not always the case that you find them in that exact moment of time.

So, when you’re asleep, your mind is still working on this search for solution and ideas. Did you know your dream could contain the very advice and insight you needed? Most of us don’t remember our dreams or don’t make the effort to remember them. When dreams are properly interpreted, they bring guidance to achieve what may seem impossible in the first place.


2. Brush Teeth With Your Non-Dominant Hand

This one is fun and challenging. Try to use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth. You will notice it is harder to be precise with your movements. When I first started to brush my teeth with my non-dominant (right) hand, it was hard to move my hand instead of my head.

Here is why it helps you jump-start your brain: Your brain is an organ that improves through mental stimulation, which adapts and rewires itself non-stop through the growth of new neurons.

Therefore, by using your non-dominant hand will support neural connections in your brain, and even grow new ones. Basically, it is similar to how physical exercise improves your body’s functioning and grows muscles.


3. Drink Up To Two Glasses Of Water

The recommended nightly sleep of six to eight hours is a long period to go without drinking water. Hydration is a must when it comes to daily productivity because your brain is made up of 73% water. So, staying hydrated is critical for maintaining optimal brain activity. Of course, it is a daylong process, but starting with a glass or two of water right away is a step in the right direction.

One of the biggest underestimated indicators of weariness or low energy is that you are dehydrated. Water helps in both body regulation and brain function. Also, it is closely related to balancing out our moods.


4. Hit The Gym

A recent study published in the journal Neurology: Clinical Practice suggests: “Exercise affects the brain in a variety of different ways, from preserving the brain’s nerve network that starts to decline with age, to boosting the function of neurons and improving blood flow to brain cells, as well as promoting the production of growth factors to help cells involved in higher level thinking tasks.”

Therefore, living an active lifestyle with regular physical activities greatly helps to keep every bit of tissues in your brain as young and active as those throughout the rest of your body. In fact, it seems to help slow or even reverse the brain’s physical degeneration over time.


5. Eat Healthy Brain Food Breakfast

Eating a healthy breakfast can jump-start your brain and boost your productivity and focus throughout the morning. Try combining these five “brain foods” in your morning meal to give yourself a mental edge.

  • Blueberries — These tiny berries are packed full of antioxidants that protect your brain from oxidative stress and reduce inflammation, helping to improve cognition and memory.

You can be creative in how you combine these five brain foods. Whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast, even if you’re short on time. By skipping a healthy breakfast, you might save some time but at the cost of your creativity, as well as problem-solving ability. So, head to the kitchen before heading out the door in the morning. Your brain will thank you.

  • What is your current morning habit?