At an existential level, climate change is surely one of the greatest challenges we face as a species. And surely, our modern consumerist culture has to shoulder a big part of that blame.
At a more basic level however, there’s a greater but less visible problem that modern consumerism engenders, and it is affecting our ability to both thrive and live to our fullest potential. What’s that, you ask?
Problem Statement: We simply have too much to deal with
Too many things, and too many distractions.
If you’re not convinced, let’s start off with a few observations:
We have so many things to keep track of, that we end up keeping endless to-do-lists.
We are finding it so difficult to live in the present, that we read books and take courses on mindfulness.
We’ve got so much to do, that we need countless apps to aid us in the area of productivity.
We’ve got so much we WANT to do, that we turn to time management apps to help us micro-schedule our day.
We’ve got so many choices and options available to us, that we constantly suffer from paralysis by analysis.
We are consuming so much by way of things, entertainment and food, that we have to ‘declutter’ our homes, our minds and our tummies.
In a span of less than two centuries (a blip, historically speaking), we have gone from having too little, to having enough, and now towards excess on many fronts.
We are now so well-informed, well-fed, well-connected and well-entertained. Yet at the same time, we’ve never been so stressed out, distracted, time-starved and unfulfilled. Click To Tweet
The Problem with Having Too Much
Earlier this year, Netflix aired an original series that took the world by storm and sent everyone into a spring cleaning frenzy. The premise of this series was simple — tidy up your space and change your life.
Following the airing of the first episode, social media circles and various media outlets worldwide exploded with reports of individuals suddenly throwing out things that did not ‘spark joy’ within them, with further photo evidence of piles of neatly folded clothes arranged sequentially by color. Thrift stores were suddenly flooded by a wave of donations, and it could yet be brisk business for them for a while to come.
That series is none other than — yup, you guessed it — ‘Tidying Up with Marie Kondo’.
But Marie Kondo is not the only person advocating paring down your belongings in order to lead a happier life. The hosts of one of my favorite shows, ‘Tiny House Nation’ have been singing the same tune since 2014.
In every episode, a family downsize from a normal-sized home to a smaller, haulable custom-built abode usually no larger than 500 square feet. In the process of downsizing, every family on the show has to consolidate their entire family’s belongings such that it fits no more than one or two large boxes. Usually, it is this task of deciding what to keep and discard that couples going tiny struggle with.
Fortunately, ‘Tiny House Nation’ host John Weisbarth is always there to guide the family on this pivotal exercise. He describes the process best here:
“The best way to do that is to identify a few things that you truly love, the activities that feed your soul but you never have time for, like music or art. Figure out what those things are, then get rid of everything else. Congratulations, you just created room in your life to do the things that bring you happiness.”
In a sense then, there’s nothing that Marie Kondo can teach that these tiny homeowners don’t already know.
What are we to make of all this, exactly? Why is it that we are now trying to live ‘smaller’ and have less as opposed to more? What could the KonMari and Tiny House movements be hinting to us about the way we are living our modern lives? Why is having too much a problem?
Chances are that we are all aware of the leading causes of stress including money, work and health issues. Increasingly though, there are studies that point to an overlooked but significant source of stress and anxiety: our clutter.
Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter explains that “Clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important,”.
She also warns that creativity and productivity can be curbed as a result of clutter, which “[invades] the opens space that allow most people to think, brainstorm, and problem solve”.
Given that the average household has 300,000 items in it, that is a lot of clutter as well as stress to contend with.
Unfortunately for us, household items, while traditionally the source of clutter, is not the only thing of excess we have to deal with.
There’s all forms of entertainment from video games, television, Netflix, YouTube, social media and in general the black hole that is the Internet.
Imagine how many things are competing for your limited attention at any one time. There’s always more to watch, to view, to read. Is it then such a surprise that attention spans are getting shorter; goals are getting harder to reach; we are becoming more forgetful and just can’t seem to focus?
Guess what though, the amount of noise out there is just going to increase. Consider these numbers:
Every year, there are over 30,000 new products introduced, more than 1,000,000 new published books (including self-published books), and Netflix alone produces original TV series in the hundreds.
Each day, there are in excess of 2 million new blog posts.
That my friends, is the kind of consumerist world we live in, and there must be something we can and should do to ensure that we don’t drown in our own junk or get lost in the escape from reality that entertainment offers.
Perhaps in addition to junking things, we can also Marie Kondo our way out of entertainment.
The Problem with Doing Too Much
Alongside having too much is the equally problematic issue of doing too much.
Work, work, work
The problem of having too much to do has traditionally been seen in the context of work. Long hours at work that then bleeds into working from home as a result of technology, our 24/7 plugged-in lifestyle, demanding bosses or clients or simply both.
Companies push us to do more even as they scale down the workforce. Cost pressures, they say. Productivity, they preach.
As if this top-down pressure isn’t enough, we pile the heat on ourselves as a combined result of the fear of losing our jobs, the desire to move up the proverbial corporate ladder, to advance our skill-sets as quickly as possible — all these feelings lead us to push even harder and deeper into our work.
Over time, all this not only has implications on our overall health and stress levels, but also adversely affects our other spheres of life apart from work.
Relationships with family and friends suffer while loneliness and depression ensue. Absorbed in our work, we gradually lose sense of culture and community. We end up divorced from our passions and scarcely have the time to actually live life the way it’s meant to be lived — the way our parents told us we could live.
Vicki Robin, author of ‘Your Money or Your Life’, examines our history of work in this piece. She notes that we have in essence devalued leisure while elevating the value of work. She further contends that the growth of advertising also “[creates] a populace [that is] increasingly oriented toward work and toward earning more money in order to consume more resources”.
Working more, to consume more — a vicious cycle that is inherently devoid of any real value to an individual who craves love rather than status, true relationships rather than hierarchies, health over wealth, the joy that life brings over the joy that objects bring.
Pressure from all quarters
Even though work is a chief contributor to our predicament of ‘doing too much’, it is by no means the only contributor. There’s also increasing pressure to do more, specifically to be more ‘productive’ with the hours that you have. And who are the culprits leading the way in this regard?
Social media, and the self-help industry
If you scroll through your Facebook or Instagram feed, odds are that you have at least one ultra-successful, high-achieving friend who seems to have more than the 24 hours a day handed to us mere mortals.
You know those types — they go in and out of multiple and varied projects (all successful); preside as heads of their local or business community; attend high-profile functions with the who’s who of anything that matters; are semi-professional athletes in two different sports; cook up Michelin-starred meals at home on a whim and yet still have time for a two week jaunt to the slopes of Niseko with their beautiful spouse and angelic children (on first class no less).
Many of us look at their feeds, are awestruck and tell ourselves there’s more that we should be doing in our own lives to achieve that same level of success.
Then there are also those of us who, in the face of such outward displays of success, just convince themselves that they are woefully inadequate. They have predetermined and prejudged themselves to be undeserving of such similar achievements.
Therein lies the power of social media — it manages to reflect and amplify our emotions back onto ourselves —negative ones included.
“They’re stressed because they were taught, ‘If I’m not busy all the time and pushed to the max, then I’m not successful because there’s more that I should be doing,’”
Of course, the self-help industry, as benevolent as its overarching mission is, is sometimes of no help.
What ‘Getting Things Done’, a book on productivity by David Allen started, has evolved into a mini-industry of its own.
Productivity is a favorite topic of self-help gurus, touted as one of those skills that, over time and with consistency, can springboard you into the big leagues of success.
As I hinted to in this piece though, an over-reliance on productivity for its own sake can have unhealthy repercussions on individuals.
A 2018 study commissioned by Everyday Health found that Gen Z-ers appear to be the most stressed out of all groups, which in many ways can be attributed to narratives about productivity within social media and from the self-help industry.
“They’re stressed because they were taught, ‘If I’m not busy all the time and pushed to the max, then I’m not successful because there’s more that I should be doing,’” observes Rachel J. Simmons, director of the Phoebe Lewis Leadership Program.
Then there’s the pressure we lay upon ourselves
The amount of time we have in a day has not changed since the beginning of well, time. Yet, we are filling up that same amount of time with more activities.
We want to learn how to cook and code, pick up a new language or skill, take a multitude of courses and participate in numerous clubs and associations. And we wonder why we don’t have time to just sit and do nothing for a while.
How do we move forward from here?
Don’t get me wrong. Like many out there, I believe there hasn’t been a better time to be alive. As I alluded to earlier, we are better informed, fed, entertained and well-traveled than any generation before us.
Yet at the same time, we’ve never been so overwhelmed, so malcontent and stressed. It really begs the question – is our modern way of living sustainable for the average individual?
It’s high time we reclaimed back some of our personal space, time and attention.
Decluttering is certainly one way to go about it, but not just with things.
Declutter the number of activities or projects you’re involved in. Keep only those that you are truly passionate about. If possible, focus on one thing at a time.
Declutter your entertainment options. Cut down on the number of shows you binge watch.
Declutter your friends list. Say goodbye to your toxic friends and keep those that accept you for who you truly are, not how you desire to be seen.
And guess what, you don’t have to be productive with the time you save from all this.
It is perfectly fine to savor life at a pace that you define, not a pace which some productivity experts would have you believe is the recipe towards success.
Who knows, you may even end up being more productive than you ever were.
5 reasons behind the rise of the anti-self-help movement
My friend James held up a copy of Simon Sinek’s book “Start with Why” that he grabbed from my table and remarked matter-of-factly, “You still read this self-help garbage?”
James’ isn’t alone in feeling this way. Self-help has gained somewhat of a bad rap in recent years and I can kind of see why.
The rise of blogging platforms, video-sharing websites like YouTube, self-publishing services, and the availability of online marketing funnels spawned a whole new generation of self-help “gurus” rushing to get their names out there in order to package and sell their expertise in the form of $3000 seminars.
Many of them deliver unique insights and wisdom harvested from years of struggle, research, and experimentation. Others simply parrot what’s already been repeated a thousand times in the market and sell it to you as fresh, life-changing advice.
But setting aside whoever’s delivering the message, is there a case to be made that self-help is more often than not, of no help?
Here are 5 reasons why the self-help genre sometimes suffers from this perception, and how you can make self-help work for you instead of letting it lead you by the nose.
1. It can make you feel worse about yourself
Self-help is supposed to motivate you and give you the tools to do better, think better, look better, relate better. But for some people, it can often yield the opposite effect.
You read Steven Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”, only to realize you are currently highly ineffective.
On YouTube, self-help experts exhort you to:
“Spend 10 minutes meditating when you wake up, or your day won’t begin on the right note,” and to “surround yourself with 5 successful people, or risk being forever mediocre.”
Everything you read or watch guilt-trips you into feeling as though if you don’t do anything to improve yourself or your situation, you’re shortchanging yourself.
And the more you read and watch self-help content, the further your “ideal self” seems to be getting away from you.
You very quickly feel overwhelmed with all the self-help techniques needing to be implemented to get your life “back on track”. You get all hard on yourself for being imperfect and begin to entertain the thought that you’re a loser.
At its best, self-help can inspire you to transform your life. At its worst, it can lead you to new depths of self-condemnation.
What to do instead
“There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement, as long as you recognize that at some point you’re going to have to accept yourself in all your imperfect glory. What’s wrong with liking yourself the way you are?” ― Jessica Zafra
Are you into self-help because you want to reach your full potential, or are you doing it only because everyone else is into it and you have FOMO?
If you’re the former, it is important to remind yourself that you’re fine, as Bruno Mars pleads, “just the way you are.”
Learn to practice self-acceptance and self-compassion because if you don’t, you can very quickly become overly critical of your progress. Remember that self-improvement is a long-term process.
If you’re the latter, figure out if the type of self-help you’re about to engage in is even right for you to begin with.
As an example, don’t get sucked into the 101 advertised ways to become rich, happy and successful if you don’t even care about being rich, and your idea of success and happiness is the ability to stay home and play with your two French Bulldogs.
Pretending to be someone you’re not makes you miserable very quickly. Only engage in areas of self-help that align with who you are and what you value.
2. It distracts you from actually pursuing your goals
Watching self-help videos delivers huge shots of inspiration and dopamine. That’s why we find it difficult to stop at one.
You feel like you’re constantly learning and improving yourself with each video watched, book read or podcast listened to. In reality, however, you’re not getting anything done because you haven’t taken any meaningful action. It’s like slamming your car’s accelerator pedal only to wheelspin.
I’ve known my fair share of self-help junkies who hop around from seminar to seminar, loading up on new skills and techniques, only to never apply them.
Why is this the case?
If you think about it, most of us don’t really want to get out of our comfort zone. We say we do, but when faced with a decision to take real action, we hesitate to pull the trigger.
Instead, we convince ourselves that we already took action by going for all these seminars and reading every available self-help book.
What to do instead
This is an easy fix. Entrepreneur and motivational speaker Gary Vaynerchuk dishes out perfect advice when he says:
“You can only read so much and at some point, you just have to do.”
Realize that you’re not going to change anything by loading up on motivational self-help videos, books, and podcasts alone. As the saying goes:
“Knowledge is power but knowledge without action is useless.”
The ability to reach your goals very much depends on your willingness to take consistent action toward them.
3. It overly fixates us on the opinions of “experts”
We tend to revere self-help experts because of their larger-than-life personality and reputation.
As author Mark Manson points out in an article critiquing the self-help industry, self-help is a “market-driven, rather than a peer-reviewed industry.”
It is market-driven in the sense that the popular “self-help experts” may not necessarily be the ones that know more, but the ones that market themselves the best. And often, these “self-help experts” are the ones teaching lessons that they most need to learn themselves.
Michelle Goodman, author of “The Anti 9-to-5 Guide” provides insight into this phenomenon in an article where she states, “I’ve known dating advice columnists who don’t date.”
Even experts don’t always have their shit together. They are only human after all.
When we listen solely to the opinions of self-help experts, we end up losing the ability to figure things out for ourselves. We also fail to tune in to how we really feel and what we really desire.
We make the arbitrary goals that these experts set as the standard to be met, without first filtering them through our own values.
Maybe we tend to do so because listening to self-help experts allows us to be less committed. They’re not going to care if you don’t improve. There’s no accountability. If you screw up, they’re not going to call you out on it.
What to do instead
Sometimes, you don’t need to look further than your spouse or best friend to tell you what it is that “needs fixing”. They can see your blind spots. They know your strengths and weaknesses. They tell it to you as they see it.
If you’re interested in becoming a better person, simply ask them how they think you can improve. Of course, it hurts us to hear critique from people we love, no matter how constructive the advice.
But remember that they love you and are personally invested in seeing you grow as a person. No self-help expert can be that involved in your life.
4. It focuses on the outcome rather than the process
A lot of self-help is predicated on helping people achieve results — do this to achieve a better body; do that to achieve wealth and success.
This creates a life where you’re always chasing something, a process that could actually make you miserable. Take for instance our twin pursuit of happiness and success and how it plays out:
Unhappiness from non-attainment of goal→
Happiness from attainment of goal→
Happiness fades when sights are set on a higher goal→
Unhappiness from non-attainment of higher goal→
I call this the “success-dependent happiness” loop. It demonstrates how trying to achieve an outcome or result is a never-ending cycle that if you’re overly fixated on, leads to ephemeral bursts of joy followed by longer lasting periods of chronic discontentment.
What to do instead
“Don’t aim at success. The more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.” — Viktor Frankl
Treat self-improvement and personal growth as a process, not a goal.
Enjoy seeing the fruits of your labor but above all, learn to love the process of growing, because that’s where you’ll spend the most time.
When you learn to love the process, your goals will, like Thanos, become inevitable.
5. It sucks the joy out of life
We are increasingly optimizing every aspect of our lives.
What time you wake up. How you spend your most productive hours. How you make the most of your morning commute. What you do between 8 to 10 pm after your kids are asleep to ensure you keep the “hustle” alive.
Nothing is free from self-help’s scrutiny.
It’s all about utility, efficiency, and productivity these days. Sometimes it’s as though we are trying to be finely-tuned robots rather than human beings.
We’ve even resorted to cutting off lifelong friends just because they don’t fall into Jim Rohn’s definition of the 5 people we should be spending time with. Just because they aren’t as ambitious or successful and may occasionally be a bit melancholic, doesn’t mean we should drop them like a hot potato.
The real irony here is that in our haste to design a better, more well-lived life by turning to self-help, we may end up failing to appreciate and enjoy life itself.
What to do instead
Before you engage in self-help in its various forms, ask yourself this question:
“Am I doing it because I want to? Or because it’s what everyone else around me is doing and I feel pressured to do likewise?”
Self-help is only helpful if you believe it enables you to achieve the life you desire, a life that is in line with what you value.
Practiced the right way, self-help can allow us to unleash our latent potential and pave the way toward stronger relationships, greater career prospects and better habits.
On the other hand, jumping into self-help just because it’s the “right thing to do” and without the right mindset can quickly work against a person, leaving him or her feeling overwhelmed.
Remember that each of us is unique. We all have different values. We desire different things. We are at different stages of life and work. All this makes self-help difficult to apply indiscriminately with a broad stroke of the brush.
If you want to practice self-help, do it in a way that makes sense for you personally. Don’t force it. If you treat self-help as a game to be mastered, it might end up playing you instead.
You’ve got it all planned out. You have this great vision of how success looks like to you. You know what needs to be done straight out the gate.
You even have a poster on your wall of a Mark Twain quote that reads:
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.
And yet, no matter how hard you try, you can’t seem to shake procrastination off long enough to get started on your goals.
If this describes you, know that you’re not alone. In fact, according to one research, a shocking 92% of people that set New Year’s goals don’t actually achieve them.
If we know that nailing our goals leads to positive outcomes, then why aren’t more of us actually working on them?
Procrastination is, of course, the most obvious reason.
It is often said that being aware is half the battle won. And if we don’t know what procrastination looks like, how can we be aware we’re even procrastinating in the first place?
Taking a look at the definition of procrastination, it is simply defined as, “the action of delaying or postponing something.”
Definitions are good and all, but in this case, it doesn’t really tell us what procrastination looks like, or even whywe delay or postpone doing something we know is good for us — things like losing weight, studying for a test, or (note to self) finally writing that book.
Why do we procrastinate?
A common misconception is that procrastination is primarily a byproduct of laziness. While it’s an easy target and surely explains why some people procrastinate, it doesn’t quite paint an accurate picture. Even intelligent, normally hardworking people procrastinate from time to time for reasons other than laziness.
Another misconception is that procrastination boils down to poor time-management, and if only we carved out more time for ourselves by unsubscribing from Netflix and deleting our social media apps, we would finally get down to doing what we need to. I’ve had free time on my hands in the past while simultaneously having many unchecked items on my to-do-list, and still chose not to work on any of them.
In an article by Charlotte Lieberman for the New York Times, Lieberman — citing research by Dr. Tim Pychyl and Dr. Fuschia Sirois — argues the case that procrastination is really about an inability to properly manage our emotions instead of our time.
Lieberman explains that we procrastinate in order to cope with task-related, negative emotions such as “boredom, anxiety, insecurity, frustration, resentment, self-doubt and beyond.”
That makes a lot of sense given that on many occasions, whether or not we decide to do something is governed by how we feel rather than what we think. This human tendency to be led by our feelings— and to be affected by the accompanying emotions —is what distinguishes us from the robots after all.
Take the example of a bad breakup experience.
Rationally, you know the last thing you should be doing is moping around all day feeling sorry for yourself. Yet your default response to concerned friends inviting you out for a drink is, “I really don’t feel like doing anything right now.”
Procrastination is the bad breakup equivalent of saying “I really don’t feel like doing [insert task you’re putting off] right now”.
Procrastination and its THREE disguises
It’s not always easy to identify the emotions holding us back from working on important tasks, but based on research and personal experience, I identified three main emotions responsible for our procrastinating ways.
Each of these emotions is well-disguised and not immediately obvious, which explains why many of us don’t even know where to begin when it comes to addressing our procrastination problem.
These are the three main emotional “disguises” that procrastination wears.
1. Procrastination disguised as fear and doubt
Fear is a crippling emotion. It prevents people from ever taking action. The list of fears here include:
Fear of the unknown — “I don’t know what the exact outcome will be. That uncertainty unnerves me and I don’t want to deal with it.”
Fear of failure — “There’s a chance that I will fail anyway, and I can’t risk that.”
Fear of success — “I’m afraid that success will bring with it a new set of circumstances that, although positive, I don’t have the energy to deal with.”
Fear of being judged by others— “If I do this, others may not approve of it and even ridicule me.”
Fear of inadequacy — “I just don’t think I have it in me to get this done right,” or more commonly, “I don’t know enough to get started on this.”
Everyone experiences fear in varying degrees. What we need to be able to discern is whether such fear is trying to protect us — as is the case when you’re trying to figure out whether a potential business partner will screw you over — or, as in the case of procrastination, hinder us from actually progressing on our goals.
2. Procrastination disguised as perfectionism
Anyone who takes pride in their craft wants to put up good work, which is great. What is not as great is insisting that everything must be perfect.
Procrastination can be seen as a symptom of a perfectionist streak in some people. In essence, perfectionists fear being unable to finish a task perfectly, and their natural response is, therefore, to put off the task indefinitely until they believe they’ve got it fully figured out.
Perfectionists also tend to get all their ducks in a row before embarking on anything.
Take setting up a website for instance. A perfectionist will read 15 blogs on the best hosting plan, another 10 comparing the best website builders, and spend days if not months agonizing over that perfect domain name. That’s even before generating any website copy (add a couple more months here).
I think you can guess what happens in many of these cases. Absolutely nothing.
How do I know? Well, it once took me a year to go from purchasing a domain name to finally launching my website.
I’ve personally had a lifelong love-hate relationship with perfectionism. It has spurred me to aim for excellence but has also on more than one occasion tripped me up when I most needed to perform.
When I was 18, I sat for my ‘A-level’ examinations, the British equivalent of America’s Advanced Placements. I remember being so stressed out about wanting to achieve perfect grades that when it became apparent I wouldn’t do well for my first paper, I simply didn’t show up for the rest.
The perfectionist in me ensured I didn’t graduate. That’s the “all or nothing” world of a perfectionist for you.
Truth is, outside of surgical procedures that determine life or death, or the design of an aircraft’s safety system, perfection is rarely required in our normal day-to-day working and living.
3. Procrastination disguised as your ‘Present Self’
Did you know that all of us have “split personalities”?
Well, while not quite the disorder itself, behavioral scientists have theorized that we have two personalities when it comes to procrastination — a present self and a future self.
The present self seeks pleasure and comfort. All it wants is to feel good. This is the self that tells you, “I wantto sit on this comfy couch and binge watch Netflix.”
The future self, on the other hand, is driven by a sense of responsibility. It has your best interests at heart and wants you to make choices that lead to long-term benefits. This is the self that says, “I should go for a run now instead of being a couch potato.”
Naturally, procrastinators tend to prioritize their present selves over their future selves and immediate pleasure over long-term gain. Netflix 1 — Running 0.
So…how do you overcome procrastination?
If procrastination is an emotion-regulation issue, it stands to reason that if we properly manage the emotions responsible for our procrastinating, we should be able to beat it.
Here are three simple (but not easy) ways we can deal with the various emotions that hide behind procrastination’s three disguises mentioned above.
1. Take a teeny-weeny step
“Fear isn’t the enemy. Waiting to stop feeling afraid is.“
— Marie Forleo
Let’s be real. You will never stop feeling afraid. Successful people have the very same fears you do. The difference? They charge ahead in spite of those fears.
In his book ‘Originals’, organizational psychologist Adam Grant writes:
“[Originals’] inner experiences are not any different from our own. They feel the same fear, the same doubt, as the rest of us. What sets them apart is that they take action anyway. They know in their hearts that failing would yield less regret than failing to try.”
If you think about it, it is often more exhausting to stay afraid and delay doing something than it is to actually do it.
One great way to overcome fear is to lower the perceived risk of doing something. The lower the stakes, the easier it is to mentally commit to a course of action. All you need to do here is to take the smallest of steps in the direction of whatever you wish to pursue.
In episode #357 of “The Tim Ferriss Show”, author Susan Cain recalls how taking a series of small steps helped her overcome her fear of public speaking.
In the very first session of a particular public speaking seminar she attended, Cain was only asked to stand up, say her name, sit back down and “declare victory”. The next week, she would take the next small step by standing on stage, flanked by others so she wouldn’t feel uncomfortable.
I imagine the following weeks proceeded in a similar fashion until Cain became comfortable speaking to an audience. Today, Cain speaks to large audiences around the world.
Figure out what the tiniest step is for the thing you’re procrastinating on, then go ahead and do it. Do this repeatedly and you’ll find yourself falling into a groove that outpaces your fear.
2. Start before you’re ready
“Done is better than perfect.”
— Sheryl Sandberg
Perfectionists will never feel ready. It’s hard for them to feel like they’ve got a good enough plan to move forward with. And they want to be sure that certain success awaits them when they do. This fear of failing is strong within perfectionists.
Author of ‘Atomic Habits’, James Clear suggests in this article that one way to overcome this mindset is to start before you feel ready. Clear details how entrepreneur Richard Branson lives his life with a “Screw it, just get on and do it.” philosophy which saw Branson dropping out of school to start a business, and chartering a plane without being able to pay for it. The latter stunt would go on to lay the foundations for Virgin Airlines.
Clear also believes that even though we may feel uncertain, unprepared, and unqualified, whatever we have at present is enough to get started. I can’t help but agree. But if you’re still not convinced, then remind yourself of this question: “If not now, when?”
Start before you’re ready, but as suggested above, take small steps until you put together enough momentum to “go big”.
3. Using fear to fight fear
“ 以毒攻毒, Use poison to fight poison”
— Chinese proverb
When you’re struggling to listen to your future self telling you to start exercising, what can you do?
Similarly, if you’re still afraid and can’t get past your perfectionist tendencies even after attempting the first two hacks, what else can you do?
Can you, as the above proverb suggests, fight fire with fire?
Scientific studies seem to support such an approach. Behavioral psychologists researching the role of regret on various behaviors have found that if you believe you will come to regret not doing something, you are more likely to form an intention to do it.
This is what scientists call the “Theory of Regret Aversion” or “anticipated regret”.
In one such study, researchers asked two groups how many times they intended to exercise over a two week period. However, the experimental group was asked the additional question, “Would you regret it if you did not exercise in the next two weeks?”
What researchers found was that the experimental group which was asked this additional question formed an intention to exercise almost twice as frequently as compared to the control group. All because they were made to think about the possibility of regret.
Many of us fear missing out on the pleasures that our present selves often direct us toward, but we have an even greater fear in the form of regret. By adopting this clever hack called anticipated regret, it is possible to spur ourselves into action.
The next time you feel like giving in to your present self’s desires or are simply too afraid to do anything, ask yourself this: “Can I see myself regretting it deeply if I didn’t do [insert activity]?” If the answer is yes, get your butt moving.
The next time you begin to procrastinate, try asking yourself which of procrastination’s three emotional “disguises” is responsible. Is it fear, perfectionism or your present self pulling the strings? After all, understanding the cause of your procrastination puts you in a better position to address it.
Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones. By taking tiny steps towards your goals, starting before you’re ready, and using the fear of regret to spur you into action, you can finally turn procrastination into progression.
What other emotions do you think are responsible for your own procrastination? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.
Your attention is a limited resource that you’re probably giving away far too easily these days. Similar to financial capital, the ones who allocate their attention strategically usually improve their odds of getting a better return on investment in themselves. I was reminded of this when I visited Dubai’s world-famous souks.
Nestled along one end of the Dubai Creek in Deira, is a cluster of old souks (traditional Arab marketplaces) that are a hive of activity. Its vendors hawk all manner of wares from gold, spices, perfumes, and hand-woven textiles, to other less exotic Arabic housewares.
The crowd— tourists traveling from far and wide soaking in the sights and sounds of what a traditional Arabian bazaar might have looked like in the time of “1001 Arabian Nights” and before the discovery of oil which, of course, forever changed Dubai’s fortunes and landscape.
Except, any semblance of Arabic tradition is all but drowned out by the cacophony of vendors’ cries for “THE HUSTLE” — to make that quick sale to any unsuspecting tourist brave enough to walk, nay, venture a glance their way.
The first thing that grabs your attention isn’t actually the items that are on display, rather, it’s the way the vendors call out to you, beckoning you to inspect their wares or step into their “web”. The more aggressive vendors even tug at your arm, physically corralling you into their stores.
Once the vendors have your attention, that’s where the selling begins. Even if you didn’t think you needed anything before you entered their “domain”, it doesn’t stop them from convincing you that you do.
Vendor:“This Persian silk scarf is one of a kind.”
Me: “I don’t need one.”
“Buy it for your girlfriend.”
“I don’t have one.” (Though truth be told, I did)
“Buy it for your mom then.”
“My mom is allergic to silk.” (Though she really isn’t)
“How about a relative?”
You get the idea.
Getting into a store is the easy part. Leaving it however is another story. Sensing you’re about to leave, vendors immediately direct your attention to anything else they sense might interest you, hoping to get you to linger just long enough for them to close in for “the kill.”
Some even try to emotionally blackmail you into buying something, anything as compensation for the time they “invested” in you.
This charade plays out at a couple of more stores and before you know it you’ve run out of time, energy and (uh-oh) money!
By the end of this exhausting experience, you conclude — if only I had paid more attention to my actual wants, needs, and desires, I wouldn’t have gotten hoodwinked into buying a bunch of useless fluff.
Is your daily life one big souk-y experience?
Many of us live our lives as if we’re wide-eyed tourists being lured into Arabian souks against our better judgment. We wander around aimlessly each day, allowing strangers to tell us what we should be paying attention to, where to focus our energies and how to spend our money.
If this analogy is not clear, I’ll attempt to portray the main actors and the objects (of the Souk) as represented by familiar objects in our everyday lives.
The souk = your smartphone
The first thing you do when you wake up each morning is to enter the souk. You do this by grabbing the smartphone that sits on your nightstand.
Vendorscalling out to you = your smartphone notifications
In a manner of speaking — vendors call out to you in the way of push notifications that fill up your homescreen.
And in today’s world, this is how an individual’s attention and focus becomes exposed to Big Tech’s machinery. The culprits? Notifications from platforms owned by companies like Google, Facebook, and other social media apps.
54 emails received overnight in your Gmail.
10 Twitter alerts.
15 Facebook updates.
20 Instagram notifications.
They’re in your face, begging you to step inside their “web”— the apps — so they can carry out their programmed intentions, further robbing you of your time that you could be spending in a more purposeful manner.
The store= your inbox, social media platforms, and other apps
The notification trap has now ensnared you. Your attention is firmly mired in these apps and your day has only just begun.
You enter your inbox and are immediately surrounded by unread emails. Now, this is very much like the analogy of making a souk purchase. You inspect the item (email), ask about its price (how much time you will need to invest in it), and whether you need to purchase it at all (decide whether to delete, delegate, defer or do based on the 4D’s of effective time management).
You open Facebook and Instagram and are hit with all forms of content as you scroll through your feed. Each piece of content demands that you pay attention to it. Along with the time spent with every piece, you place a value on each one. You look out for more of the same content if it captures your attention the first time around.
As you’re about to leave, something else grabs your attention — a link to a BuzzFeed episode of ‘Worth It’ where they compare a $4 burger to a $777 dollar one (great series by the way). One video doesn’t quite do it, so you head over to YouTube to watch entire seasons in one sitting.
Very soon, you’ve interacted with almost EVERYTHING the store has to offer, and you’ve spent the better half of the day doing it, ugh!
Items in the store= any written, audio or visual content
As you’ve probably already figured, every item in the store is a piece of written, audio or visual content that captures your attention which then causes you to engage with it.
Living without purpose often leads to a misallocation of attention
“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.” — Jose Ortega y Gasset
When you have a purpose to work towards, all of your attention is directed towards achieving that aim. You’re not easily distracted by the whims and fancies of the day. You consciously choose what to interact with — physically or online, to see if that will aid or hinder you in the pursuit of your purpose.
You may even borrow actor Robert Townsend’s mantra for that purpose when he asks:
“Is what I’m doing or about to do getting us closer to our objective?”
If on the other hand, you lead a life without intention, that is — without a sense of purpose, you will always be that tourist who ambles along the narrow aisles of the souk, defenseless against the smooth sales talk of the vendors (your notifications) amidst the allure of their shiny wares (social media and other apps).
Your attention will be directed and captured by actors and forces other than yourself. You will be led by the nose, susceptible to shiny object syndrome, and easily distracted into giving up your time, energy and money toward endeavors that are not rooted in purposeful goals.
Set purpose-driven goals to reclaim your attention
“People with goals succeed because they know where they’re going” — Earl Nightingale
The best way to guard your attention is knowing what to say no to. In order to do that, you need to be very clear what it is you want and do not want.
While most of us are pretty clear about what we do not want, less of us are clear on what we truly want to achieve with our lives — our purpose, if you will. It is this purpose that will ultimately direct your goals and with it, yourattention.
If you desire to take back control of your life and attention, you need to find a purpose to dedicate your efforts towards.
When you know what it is you’re working towards, it becomes easy to form goals that will allow you to get there. These purpose-driven goals will not only provide direction but also serve as motivation for the long road ahead.
What a day at the souk looks like when you live with purpose and intention
“He who every morning plans the transaction of the day and follows out the plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the labyrinth of the most busy life.” — Victor Hugo, French poet
If Victor Hugo thought that life in the 19th century was a labyrinth, he’d be absolutely dumbfounded to see the way we live now. But his sage advice remains true and especially relevant today as we continue to be overwhelmed by a surge of demands on our attention.
When we have a game plan for each day that aligns with our purpose-driven goals, we are more intentional in how we approach every interaction.
We guard our resources of time, energy and money better.
We end up allocating our attention more efficiently.
Imagine walking through the souk knowing where you will exit it. Imagine knowing exactly which store you will enter, and which items you absolutely need to purchase. You confidently reject random vendors trying to pull you in, and don’t spend more time than is necessary at each store.
That’s what happens when you live a life of purpose and intention.
Of course, every once in a while, you’ll be tempted to stroll into a side alley in the hopes of discovering something new, or just to take a break. That’s perfectly fine, as long as you’re doing it on your own terms.
I’ve always considered myself to be of above-average intellect, but I found myself questioning that long-held belief back in 2011 when I was scammed to the tune of USD20k.
8 years ago to this day in June 2011, I received a random phone call while at work one evening from a guy named Guy (pronounced ‘Gee’) who claimed to be a partner for a successful Luxembourg-based investment outfit.
Speaking in a baritone but crisp English-accent, Guy exuded and inspired confidence with his well-thought analysis of the markets, specifically the commodities market which he specialized in helping his clients trade.
It took him a couple of weeks to persuade me to invest with them, but against my better judgment at the time, I decided to place my hard-earned savings in their golden hands. After all, this wasn’t a Nigerian prince asking me to transfer an ungodly sum of money to receive an ungodlier one.
This scam was as elaborate as they come. There was a secure website with a long enough history, in-depth market analysis offered over the phone and through email, anti-money laundering statements and tons of legitimate-looking paperwork to clear. It felt safe enough.
A couple of contracts of coffee and cotton later, the phone calls and emails from Guy ceased. I had been duped, my pride wounded and my bank account drained.
I offer this story because it fundamentally changed the way I looked at investments. Bear in mind this episode also happened not too long after the Great Recession of 2008 during which the financial markets were absolutely pummeled.
Nobody goes into an investment expecting to lose money, and most certainly not all of it. So when I did, it made me ask:
“What is the one risk-free investment I can make that generates a return higher than any other asset out there on the market, that is not also subject to forces totally beyond my control?”
Sure, there were government bonds, fixed deposits and other financial instruments that were relatively risk-free, but none of them offered a return that beats inflation.
The answer wasn’t immediately obvious, but in time I came to realize that the best investment wasn’t a financial one. Rather, it was a physical asset that had nothing to do with real estate and God forbid, commodities. It’s also an investment which returns aren’t always quantifiable.
The best investment anyone can make is the one they make in themselves.
It may sound fluffy and even trite to some of you, but here are 3 reasons why this approach trumps every investment out there in the market.
1. It is impossible to generate a negative return on investment.
The fear of potentially losing money is what causes many people not to invest in the first place. For a period of time after losing that $20k, I certainly entertained that fear.
“The best investment you will ever make is in yourself. It’s a-no lose deal. It will always give you a return. Nobody can take it from you. It’s yours.” — Grant Cardone
When it comes to investing in yourself, it is nearly impossible to achieve a negative ROI, unless your idea of investing in yourself is downing kegs or binge-watching Netflix without end.
Of course, there is an element of self-improvement involved here. And when you improve yourself by investing in your learning, relationships and physical, spiritual and mental well-being, the returns, though not always quantifiable, can be tremendous.
“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”—Benjamin Franklin
When you invest in habitual learning, you generate a positive return on knowledge that compounds with time. Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah are all firm believers and practitioners of this.
When you invest in building relationships, you increase the strength and reach of your network, creating your very own version of a network effect. As they say, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” When you have a large Rolodex of individuals, each one of whom you’ve built a strong relationship with, you will be amazed at the number of opportunities that open up to you.
And if you put what you know and who you know together, you’re sure to be a force to be reckoned with.
Finally, when you invest in your physical, spiritual and mental wellbeing, you make it possible to continue making every other investment, including financial ones.
Investing in yourself is never a losing proposition.
2. You are 100% in control.
Can you think of any investment which allows you to be in full control a hundred percent of the time?
Sure, with most financial investments you have a semblance of control in the sense that you get to pick and choose which instruments to invest in, when to invest, how much to invest and for how long.
But even such control is rendered illusory when you consider that every financial instrument is subject to economic and market forces beyond the control of any one individual, company or even government.
Economic cycles and political tugs-of-war cause markets to move in ways that cannot be predicted, much less controlled. When such forces cause the markets to react negatively, whatever control you think you had over your investments is effectively surrendered.
When you invest in yourself, you’re in full control. You dictate how and to what extent you will grow your investments in knowledge, relationships and your overall wellbeing.
The best part of all this? Nothing can cause you to lose the returns from any of these investments, even if you tried. Sales trainer extraordinaire, Grant Cardone even once joked, “the government can’t tax my improvement.”
And if you’re currently worried about the impending wave of artificial intelligence threatening to render your job obsolete, rather than focus on what you can’t control, focus on what you can —investing in learning new skills and fostering the right relationships. Doing this will put you in good stead when that day arrives.
As Gary Vaynerchuk mentions in this video, he has zero sympathy for truck drivers who, after being warned for 20 years (just his estimate) that self-driving trucks were coming for their jobs, decided not to pick up other relevant skills to insulate themselves from the event.
Whatever your industry, don’t let that ‘truck driver’ be you.
3. It allows you to bring more value to the table
In a 2016 live Q&A on Business Insider’s Facebook page, Tony Robbins offered a slew of great life, money and career advice to viewers.
But one particular piece of advice really stood out to me. Right around the halfway mark and in response to the question, “What advice do you have for people struggling to find a new job?”, Robbins recalled what his mentor Jim Rohn once told him:
“Your worth in the marketplace is based on your ability to add more value than anyone else.”
He goes on to add, “If you can find a way to do more for others in your company, more for the employees, more for the clients, than anybody else, your gifts will make room for you. But in order to do that, you’ve got to build skills.”
Robbins then gave the comparison of a worker at McDonald’s earning $15 an hour, and a hedge fund manager he personally knew who earned $4 billion one year and was projected to earn $5 billion the next.
Whereas the fast-food worker had an unsophisticated skillset and whose job was heavily aided by equipment, the hedge fund manager owned a skill set that enabled him to generate 40% returns for his clients in a year.
That is to say — the amount of your income is proportionate to the value you provide to others. And to increase your own value proposition, you first need to improve your skills and knowledge. In other words, you need to invest in your own learning.
Grant Cardone did just that when he first started out in sales. In his book “Be Obsessed or Be Average”, Cardone recalls: “I committed to learning everything I could about sales and the automobile industry…In the first year I probably spent seven hundred hours just improving myself as a salesperson.”
We shouldn’t be surprised then, that Cardone ended up doubling his income in that commissioned job.
Investing in yourself ultimately allows you to create a value proposition that appeals to other individuals and organizations, who will then be willing to pay you an amount that reflects how much you’ve grown as a person.
As investors, if someone offers us an instrument that comes with 100% guaranteed returns at a rate that beats inflation, we’ll take it any day.
If you know that investing in yourself has the potential to give you an exponential return in the long run, give me one good reason why you won’t make that investment.
Besides, unlike financial resources which can vary widely from individual to individual, we all have the same amount of time (as a resource) to direct towards investing in ourselves. This immediately levels the playing field for everyone so much so that you no longer have any excuse not to get down to it. This is one market that is definitely not rigged nor one that is zero-sum.
We’ve established that you have everything to gain from an investment in yourself. We’ve also established that you’re in full control of such an investment. So, what are you waiting for?
Had I invested the time to learn how to make sound investment decisions, that $20k might still be in my pocket today, or better yet, parlayed into a series of learning seminars that might have returned 10x or more in value.
By the time the sun goes down today, you’d better be laying that first brick. Not for me, not for anyone else but yourself.
And no, we’re not talking about the kind of bricks that some NBA players throw up.
First of all, I hate that saying
I genuinely get cheesed when people throw up the phrase ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ in my direction, especially when it is said as a convenient excuse for work progressing slowly or not at all.
There’s a backstory to this.
When I first started out in the family business some 8 years ago, I was raring to go. I saw myself as the 4th generation savior that would transform the business and all its rusted parts.
I wanted to change everything — the physical environment, equipment, sales processes but more importantly, peoples’ mindsets and attitudes, including and especially of those sitting above me.
I started off pumped up at work every day, eager to make a difference. I took apart and dissected every aspect of the business to see where the inefficiencies lay. I uncovered our corporate culture in an attempt to see the underlying causes of our dysfunction as a unit and as a company.
I was shocked by what I discovered, and not in a pleasant way.
Everywhere I looked, I saw post-apocalyptic corporate zombies — individuals who came to work just so they could collect a paycheck at month’s end. Individuals who had checked out, even before they checked in to work. They were without emotion, without a care for the work that they were doing.
Worst of all, I saw the look of helplessness and hopelessness in people’s eyes. A look that could only have arisen as a result of years of neglect by the company, but in equal measure, of their own accord.
I was determined to put a stop to the state of helplessness, to the drunken stupor that had enveloped the business.
I didn’t know shit from shit. I was a law graduate who knew next to nothing about running a business, managing people let alone myself.
Life is funny that way isn’t it—you find yourself in places you never thought you would end up, often without a clue what do to.
Indeed, sometimes the greatest mystery in life has nothing to do with the purpose of our existence, but rather, where life will take us next.
What do you do when you don’t know what comes next?
Do you let the feeling of uncertainty take over and immobilize your thoughts and actions? Do you say ‘I’ll let fate take its course in my life’ and do nothing as a result, because you feel a situation (bad or otherwise) you know is better than the one you don’t?
Do you erect an invisible wall in front of you and tell yourself that things are out of your control, that whatever those sitting above you say are what will be, end of story?
Or do you tell yourself that whatever the outcome, you will at least try — that a step taken is better than standing still.
Fortunately for me, I decided very early on that doing something was better than doing nothing. So I laid my first brick, first by streamlining our shipping desk operations which I was in charge of. Then I laid another and yet another, in any area of the business that I could meddle in, building momentum along the way.
If you’ve ever stepped into a traditional family business, you would know that you’ve got to bide your time before changing something as mundane as the brand of copy paper.
In my case, it took me more than a year to convince my boss (my uncle really) to switch out our ancient bubble jet printers for a multi-functional one. Nobody thought they would see the day.
Ditto for the legacy DOS-based (hands up if you have even operated one) enterprise software that we finally had a quiet funeral for in 2012.
May it rest in pieces.
Alas, after about 3 years in the family business, I hit a wall. I had made all the changes I could, operationally speaking. I had however not made any strides in effecting a serious change in the culture of the company and in the mindsets of our employees.
As a company, we were directionless. We did not have a purpose or a vision to rally around. We existed, and that was all there was to it. The world around us had changed, and we were quickly being left behind.
So bold in spirit and vision, I made my way into the matriarch’s domain, a paper-strewn landscape notorious for being a killing ground for one’s career hopes and aspirations.
My Matriarch’s Chambers in 2012
Under the intense glare and scrutiny of our 93-year-old matriarch, I made my pitch for a complete overhaul of the way we conducted our corporate affairs and provided for the basic needs and growth of our employees.
‘We need to provide access to clean drinking water for our employees’, I said.
‘We have to treat our business partners with some basic level of respect’, I followed.
‘We need to start doing something to ensure the survival of our family business into the next generation’, I ended.
‘Rome was not built in a day’ was the singular uttered response.
It was as though whatever I said had fallen on deaf ears. She was 93, but certainly not deaf. Another uncle of mine often asks her, half-jokingly, for a Bugatti (which by the way costs a cool US$2.1 million here in Singapore). Oh, you can see it in her expression that follows that she hears him.
I would have felt fine hearing the phrase if there were actually things being done, bricks being laid. Problem was, I was probably the only one doing anything. Everyone else had, for good reason, simply given up.
‘Alright then matriarch, when can we start building?’, I asked in return.
I heard the answer loud and clear in the silence that was her response.
No one was going to do anything.
I felt deeply frustrated, like I was wasting my time, energy and breath on a fruitless quest. I had left a lucrative career in legal practice with grand visions of revolutionizing the family business. I had great plans and couldn’t wait to make my mark on the business and in time to come, the industry at large.
I could have given up there and then. I’ll be honest, I thought seriously about it.
The irony is not lost on me, but sometimes you have to tear some walls down in order to start the process of building up, or in this case, to lay your first brick.
The two most important walls to tear down, as I have alluded to above, are:
The walls you have set for yourself — the voices in your head that tell you you’re not good or intelligent enough, not young enough, not resource-rich enough, not qualified or experienced enough and the list goes on.
The walls that others have set for you — by virtue of their position or influence in your life whether they be your bosses, parents or friends, what these individuals say can have a great impact on how you view yourself and your potential. Don’t be limited by what they think you can achieve. They are not you after all.
Once you have demolished those imaginary walls, it’s time to do the real work of bricklaying.
Take Action and Do Something
I recently stumbled across this tweet by Gae-Lynn Woods which captures what I think is the ultimate kind of action we should all take.
It is the type of action that scares us and takes us out of our comfort zone. It is the kind that challenges and changes us, both positively and permanently.
How many of us are afraid to take action because it scares us — be it due to the act of doing itself, for fear of the results, or worse still, for fear of the opinion that others will hold of us?
Last year, I began laying my first brick by publishing my first piece of work.
The process of writing and publishing this first piece scared the living crap out of me. Not only was I exposing myself to the world, I was potentially exposing myself to self-critique. We are often our own harshest critics, and I am no exception.
Was I willing to subject myself to my own feelings of inadequacy, writing in a Medium (pardon the pun) that hosts plenty of real writers gifted of prose and verbal pageantry?
Sometimes, the real victory lies in the doing and not in the result.
It is deep in the process of laying that first brick that you discover who you are and what you can do. Especially if you have the sun beating down hard on you on a 50 degree-Celsius day, or people shouting at you while you go about laying your foundation. Interpret the metaphor however you like.
These are my bricks
I laid my first brick in the family business 8 years ago. Today, I haven’t quite built a palace. I’ve constructed a small home, but one that I’m proud of no less.
A new home for the family business — I almost teared.
More recently with my first published article on Medium, I also laid my first brick on my journey to becoming a thought leader in the personal development and entrepreneurship space.
What are you doing to develop your real estate? Have you begun laying your first brick, on whatever new journey you may be on?
Some of you might have already read about ‘The Four B2S Principles’ briefly explained here on this website.
The Four B2S Principles form the crux of the Big to Small Thinking Framework, so if you are not familiar with it, I would highly encourage you to give it a quick read. Besides, it will give you a greater appreciation for the contents of this blog post.
All caught up? Good. Let’s dive in.
You may be wondering, how exactly do these principles play out in real life? How do they relate to each other? How do I know if I’m on the right track in the application of these principles?
Some months ago, I had an opportunity to interview Amanda Luketa, a freelance technical writer at thestemwriter.com who regularly posts her musings on Medium.
I was looking for some feedback on the Big to Small Thinking Framework — more specifically someone who could try the framework out for themselves. Following the interview, one thing stood out to me: whatever Amanda was doing already exhibited many elements of the framework.
Here is my transcribed interview with Amanda, segmented according to 3 of 4 of the B2S Principles.
Principle 1 — Identify Your Big Picture
The Big to Small:Are you aware of your purpose in life, your values and strengths? When was the last time you thought about these things?
Amanda Luketa: Yes! My purpose in life is to be happy and fulfilled, and through this I can serve others. I think about this on a near-daily basis in the context of contemplating and planning my big goals for the future. I also know that these goals will change naturally as I progress, which I’m cool with because this just means I’m gaining more clarity as I move forward.
I value kindness, peace, and love (other things too, but these are the big ones). My biggest strength is the ability to creatively problem solve. I’m also pretty good at communicating and articulating concepts, both written and verbal.
Are you happy with your current job, and why?
Super happy. I wouldn’t consider it a “job” — I quit that about a year ago. I was working professionally as an engineer, after going through a ton of schooling for engineering, and always knew that the traditional 9–5 world wasn’t a good fit for me but did it anyway because that’s what you’re “supposed to do.” I quit to start a freelance writing business, with a sprinkle of web design on the side. I see this as the foundational first step in achieving my big goals, and the first step in a 5–7-year timeline to get there.
Is there something you feel like you should be pursuing, but don’t? Why?
Not really. I feel like I have a very clear idea of the specific actions I need to take to get my business off the ground, and a good roadmap of what to do in the coming weeks, months, and years.
Principle 2 — Master Your Mindset
Do you get the feeling that you’re holding yourself back in any way? If so, why?
The closest thing to this would be that I know I need to start sending cold emails to generate leads and clients. It’s taken me a while to warm up to the idea of doing that. It’s not that I feel anxiety over it, it’s more like it’s outside of my comfort zone and is something totally new. My brain hasn’t developed the pathways so see this as a thing that I “do.” So I just need to do it, and I’m sure after even the first one it’ll feel much easier and more comfortable.
How often do you feel overwhelmed by life and why do you think that’s the case?
The closest thing to feeling overwhelmed was by the amount of debt I’ve incurred in getting to where I am now. You read my post about my $12k credit card debt — it’s basically all that. I realized though that in the big picture, none of this matters. What actually matters is that I stay the course and don’t quit, because I will persevere and I will succeed.
I think the root of this overwhelm is due to the fact that I was raised to be very financially smart & conscientious.
For example, I’ve only ever owned one car, and it’s the one I bought used from my mom back when I was 17 back in 2007. It’s still running but is a total piece of sh*t. I never bought a new one because unless I could pay for it comfortably in cash, it didn’t make financial sense to me. I still have a vehicle that can get me from point A to point B, which is what matters. But, I feel like I’ve recently worked through this issue and currently feel very comfortable with what I’m doing and where I’m at.
Are you frustrated with your own progress (in whichever avenue), and what do you think can help accelerate your progress?
No. I’ve learned to accept where I’m at and be patient with myself, because I know I will succeed. There’s no other option that makes sense. I also know that progress isn’t linear. Once I send my first cold email, for example, I’ll be able to send the next ten in the same amount of time. I’ve also learned that I can’t hate myself into performing better and treating myself with kindness and compassion is the only way that I’ll allow progress to flow.
You know, I think I would have answered pretty much the opposite to every one of these questions even as little as six months ago.
Principle 3 — Simplify Your Approach
What changed from 6 months ago when you didn’t quite know what you wanted? How did you work through that?
I think the biggest thing for me that marked the point of change was getting to a really low point in my relationship to success. I hit rock bottom, you could say. I wasn’t making progress and was instead allowing myself to stagnate and live in this fantasy world where I believed that everything would work out, but without having taken the actions necessary to back up that belief.
It was sort of a do-or-die moment. My options were to actually work on my goals — knowing that with persistence, I will succeed no matter what, or go out and apply for jobs — knowing that I’ll get one, and I’ll hate it.
What’s the point of existing if you’re stifling your own potential, or not taking action toward your dreams?
Sounds a little serious, and that’s because it is. I guess I had a really powerful shift in perspective. Now motivation and doing the work doesn’t seem hard at all. I have zero desire anymore to waste time by watching TV or getting lost in social media. I’m on a mission.
-End of Interview-
Your Big Picture forms the basis for everything you do
Amanda is keenly aware of her purpose, values, and strengths, which helps to explain why she has such a clear vision of her goals and has even crafted a roadmap to achieve them, inclusive of the specific short and long term actions she needs to take. Such clarity can only come about when you understand your Big Picture. After all, how can you plan your journey if you don’t know where you’re going?
But as Amanda pointed out, your goals are not set in stone. They are fluid and can change based on your circumstances. I would even go so far as to add that your purpose or your ‘Why’ can change too. You can even have more than one ‘Why’. What matters is that you are constantly attuned to what those goals and purpose(s) are, so that you can organize your life around them. And this can only happen if you take the time to discover what they are in the first place.
Your circumstances can quickly change for the better if you adopt the right mindset. That may mean abandoning what you previously held true.
At some point in time, Amanda realized she was not doing what she wanted to do, but what she was conditioned to believe she was supposed to do. She was living under the illusion that since she was doing what she was supposed to do, everything would work out, just as society told her it would. It wasn’t until she decided to prioritize her desires and dreams instead of convention that everything changed.
Society — our family and friends often set the parameters of what we should be doing with our lives, along with the standards we should live up to. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s often the safest road to take especially if we don’t know better. The real struggle comes when what we desire for ourselves is fundamentally at odds with what society tells us is normal. It’s a conflict that can only be resolved in one of two ways.
You give your desires a chance. If it works out great, good. If it doesn’t, you would have lost some time, but you would have gained valuable insights in return. You would also have kicked regret out the window.
You stay in the path that society tells you is safe, have a reasonably comfortable existence, and end up wondering “what if”, or “what could have been”.
Amanda chose the former, and what struck me was how resolute she was about persevering and succeeding. Even if you have a strong purpose, sometimes you won’t begin to pursue your goals unless you sort your mindset out.
The only way to get past doubt and uncertainty is through action
Even the best of us suffer from some level of doubt and uncertainty. And as Tony Robbins once said:
“The quality of your life is directly related to how much uncertainty you can comfortably handle”.
All we have to do is to look at successful entrepreneurs to see the truth in this statement. Entrepreneurs merely reap the rewards of the uncertainty they dealt with in the early days of their companies.
I find that the best way to overcome uncertainty is not to think your way out of it, but to do so with action. Recall Amanda’s initial hesitance to send out cold emails. She acknowledged the need to just go ahead and do it anyway, with the understanding that it will subsequently become easier.
So it is with everything we do for the first time. We often find that our fear of doing something subsides alongside with the increased regularity with which we do it.
Purpose is a strong motivator and helps you focus on the necessary
Having a purpose not only serves as scaffolding to build your goals around, but it also acts as a powerful motivator for the road ahead. It provides an added spur for when you don’t feel like doing something.
In Amanda’s case, she likens her purpose to “a mission” and when framed as such, purpose has the power to change behavior previously thought unchangeable. Even watching TV and social media doesn’t appeal to Amanda anymore. What this demonstrates is the idea that when we identify what’s important to us, everything else becomes unimportant (and therefore unappealing) by default.
Amanda Luketa is a freelance writer who can be found at thestemwriter.com. She offers technical writing services that help you grow your business, win more customers, and establish authority in your industry. She also regularly publishes her thoughts on Medium which you can read here.
“Show me a successful individual and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in his or her life. I don’t care what you do for a living — if you do it well I’m sure there was someone cheering you on or showing the way. A mentor.” — Denzel Washington
Mentorship has been a hot topic for many years now and this shouldn’t come as a surprise.
In a hyper-competitive economic environment where those in the upper echelons of their respective industries reap the most rewards, everyone is looking for the one thing that will allow them to leapfrog others in their climb towards the top.
Mentorship is just that thing.
Mark Zuckerberg had the benefit of Steve Jobs’ insights. Celebrated author and poet Maya Angelou journeyed with Oprah Winfrey through many of her life’s milestones. Even those who we don’t think need mentors had mentors. Bill Gates for one, who credits Warren Buffett for teaching him how to think long-term among other valuable life-lessons.
“The fastest way to master any skill, strategy or goal in life is to model those who have already forged the path ahead. If you can find someone who is already getting the results that you want and take the same actions they are taking, you can get the same results.
Robbins wasn’t speaking in a vacuum. He had after all benefitted from the mentorship of the late legendary motivational speaker Jim Rohn, whose greatest advice to Robbins was for him to work harder on himself than on his job, in order to be in a position to create value for others.
No prizes for guessing whether Robbins took Rohn’s advice on his way to becoming one of the world’s most successful motivational speakers.
It doesn’t matter what your age, gender, or background is, modeling gives you the capacity to fast track your dreams and achieve more in a much shorter period of time.”
In other words, having a mentor shortens your learning curve and greatly reduces the time needed for you to achieve your desired results.
But the truth is, while I had always appreciated the benefits of having a mentor in a professional work setting, I never fully understood how having a mentor could be truly life-changing.
That is until I met Jessy.
A Life-altering Mentorship
Jessy is a property investor in her early 30s and a mom to 4 young children. While the rest of the world drags their feet to work in the morning, Jessy can either be found having a leisurely breakfast, working out, at a cafe sipping a fresh brew, spending time with her 4 kids alongside her loving husband Daniel, or responding to social media messages on the go.
She doesn’t have a boss barking orders at her, nor clients to respond to in the middle of the night. Her most demanding customers are her 4 starry-eyed, energetic and playful young children.
While certainly not in the ranks of “Crazy Rich Asians”, Jessy lives an above-average life in sweltering Singapore, where she zips around in an Audi A5 Sportback and owns a portfolio of 6 properties. By all definitions, Jessy has exited the stadium that hosts the perennial rat race.
But it wasn’t always like that barely a little over a year ago.
Having been stuck in a dead-end managerial job for 9 years, Jessy jumped around from one investment seminar to the next hoping to find that one system she could use to change her fortunes.
In March 2017, she attended a property investment seminar conducted by a renown Singaporean investor by the name of Eric Chiew. Attending that event would undoubtedly change her life forever, for it was where she met the man that would become her mentor.
*Spoiler*: It was not Eric.
A man affectionately known to his friends as “Marko” had sat beside her during Eric’s seminar as a fellow attendee. He promptly introduced himself to Jessy and offered to keep in touch with her after the seminar.
9 months after the seminar, Jessy found herself attending a 1-day “sharing-session” conducted by Marko in one of his industrial property units, along with 19 other hopeful individuals. She had no idea what she was signing up for but she went anyway.
As it turned out, Marko himself was already a successful property investor with more than 20 years of experience and had formed an investment system of his own by then. He just needed some individuals to share it with. Jessy was one of those individuals.
But what was remarkable wasn’t the investment system Marko operated (which I’m told is pretty good), but rather in the way he took Jessy under his wing and taught her everything he knew without asking for anything in return.
Spending time with her over a series of meals and the occasional casual conversation at his place, Marko taught Jessy everything he knew about the art of property investing. He walked her through her first property purchase in February 2018, ensuring that it proceeded without a hitch.
“My mentor said, ‘Let’s go do it,’ not ‘You go do it.’ How powerful when someone says, ‘Let’s!’” — Jim Rohn
However, their mentoring relationship wasn’t all about property investing. As an individual who was actively invested in his own growth, Marko would seek out personal development courses to attend and invite Jessy to join him at them.
Jessy soaked it all up. She learned everything Marko would come to teach her about life and property investing and by April 2018, she had handed in her resignation letter with a huge dose of faith that everything would finally work out for her.
“A good mentor makes you feel safe”, she told me while flashing a self-assured smile.
She continued to explain, “Marko makes me feel safe, not because he protects me from failure, but because he’s there for me when I do”.
Jessy felt safe when she handed in that resignation letter, in no small part because of the way Marko believed in her. Her life too has since taken on an element of safety as she’s no longer at risk of being terminated by a company whose payroll has become too bloated.
“If you told me just a year ago that I would have 6 properties to my name, fully rented out at a good yield, with enough money to live comfortably and all the time in the world to spend with my family, I would not have believed it”, said Jessy with just a hint of incredulity in her expression.
But yet she does, and all because she found a mentor who took an interest in her and invested in her personal success.
What Marko’s mentoring relationship with Jessy taught me
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward
After reflecting upon Jessy’s account of her mentoring relationship with Marko, I came to some conclusions about mentorship.
1️⃣ You don’t know when a mentor will walk into your life, but when he or she does, you jump at the opportunity.
Jessy didn’t look at Marko and question who he was and if he was the real deal. She opened her mind to the possibility that he could offer her something valuable she did not yet have.
She faithfully soaked up everything he taught, went for every seminar he suggested and constantly engaged him with questions about life and investments.
A mentoring relationship can only happen when two things happen. First, you’re open to the experience of being mentored. And second, you remain both curious and teachable. Nobody wants to mentor someone who seems to know it all.
2️⃣ Mentoring is a two-way street
Mentoring involves an element of teaching, but the opposite may not be true.
In teaching, the emphasis is on the learner’s receipt of knowledge. In mentoring, there tends to be a two-way exchange that goes beyond knowledge.
Jessy didn’t just sit back and receive knowledge about property investing from Marko. It wasn’t mentioned above, but Jessy regularly volunteers her time to help out at Marko’s many seminars. She engages his audience and walks some of them through the investment process, similar to what Marko did for her in the first place.
Her positive and hungry-to-learn attitude also led Marko to believe that he had taken a chance on the right person, which gave him the confidence to share everything he knew with her.
If you want to get into a mentoring relationship, sometimes you have to be prepared to give just as much as you get.
3️⃣ A good mentor imparts life-lessons, not just professional advice
A common misconception is that a mentor’s greatest value is his or her doling out of professional advice that gets us to the top of our respective industries. Workplace mentorship programs certainly add to that perception.
But while structured career mentors provide great value, a true mentor is someone who walks through life with you and whose greatest advice goes beyond the context of work.
Recall that Jim Rohn’s greatest advice to Tony Robbins was for him to work on developing himself, not how to conduct the best motivational seminar.
A great mentor inspires us to get ourselves and our lives in order.
In focusing on the person rather than the financial or professional circumstances that surround them, mentors have the ability to bring out the best in a person. When that happens, the person’s financial and professional lives inevitably improve in tandem.
At the end of the day, maybe the value of mentorship isn’t in its ability to help you get ahead of others in the rat race. It shouldn’t be.
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” — Steven Spielberg
Perhaps the true value of mentorship lies in its ability to change you — your viewpoints, mindsets and personal values. It is in this change that the true magic lies.
For when you are changed from the inside out, everything else falls in line — your relationships, emotional and mental well-being, and eventually, your professional success.
My wish is for a “Marko” to waltz into your life, and for you to recognize him or her when that happens.