Building Mental Toughness for Your Next Ultra

In my latest ultra – The North Face Malaysian Mountain Trail Festival, I ran the 55km race which involved a climb over the giant mountain of Maxwell Hill in Taiping, Malaysia. The 55km route featured a giant climb with a whopping 1200m elevation gain at one go. It was a relentless climb mostly up all the way to the peak of Maxwell Hill. I remember vividly the difficulty of powering up the mountain trail step by step. I wasn’t even running and I couldn’t even if I wanted to due to the steepness.

The North Face MMTF 55km Elevation Profile – Not for the faint hearted

It was hard and the suffering was real. The climb was a never ending torture. My quads screamed every step I took. I was like moving in slow motion. Progress was painstakingly slow as my muscles were beyond tired. I would have bailed out if I can be somehow rescued and transported to the finishing line. That wouldn’t be possible in the jungle and giving up means walking all the way out, which is what I am doing anyway. So I soldiered on without a choice.

Long story short, I eventually reached the peak, took a 15 seconds breather and started running down the hill as the trail switch to tarmac. The descent took us through a service road all the way down to the bottom of the hill. Surprisingly I was able to actually run down despite coming close to almost giving up a few minutes earlier. My legs were not as wasted as I thought it was. My quads now seems fine with just a tinge of soreness but nothing major.

This made me realised that my physical ability was not the limiting factor to my performance on that way up the mountain. My mental toughness was equally, if not, more important in determining whether I carried on to the finishing line. My mind kept telling me that I had enough and maybe I should just throw in the towel. It kept suggesting to me that my legs had had enough and they would give up any minute.

Post-race I started reading up on the mental aspect of trail racing. I found out that performing to your best in an ultra-race depends more than physical ability. It is also suggested that the longer the race, the more mental (and less physical) it becomes. The most successful competitors at a long distance race are often not the quickest but those who are able to keep on going when the going gets really tough. Looking back and judging from my personal experience, I believe this to be true.

In an ultra-distance race, you would have undoubtedly trained hard physically and built a good running base to your best ability. What we often missed is training and preparing our minds for what is to come. Ultras, especially the trail ones, come with whole lots of challenges like steep climbs and drops, rugged terrains, thick vegetation and sometimes scorching heat, on top of the longer than marathon distance to be covered. In some races, you will race through the night, struggle in the dark, cross muddy rivers and if you are lucky, get pounded by the rain. Sleep deprivation and tired muscles make it even tougher on you mentally. What differentiates those who do well is their mental strength and the ability to deal with the lows. Many drop-offs in long distances race do not come from injuries or an unbearable source of pain. Rather they come from within the runner, slowly talking themselves out of the race.

So, what is mental toughness and how can you build mental strength?

Mental toughness is an important skill for an ultra-runner. Mental toughness is less of a talent than it is a skill. The good news is that it is something that can be learned and improved. However it should be an ongoing practice which must be cultivated over time. You are never done in developing the mental toughness just like you are never done with workouts, long runs or recovery runs in your training. Your mental toughness can grow or whither depending on your training.

The toughest part of mental toughness is the positivity. It is the undying believe of your ability to give your best effort despite any setbacks encountered along the way. Staying positive is the important element of mental toughness. It means that the little voice in your head is your cheer leader and not your critic.

Mental toughness is not grimacing, clenching your teeth or beating your chest before a race. This is putting on a mask to conceal insecurity. Real toughness is the ability to stay mentally engaged in a race and giving it your all. Real toughness is staying positive when it starts to hurt and finishing strong despite the challenges ahead. Race conditions may not be ideal and things can go all wrong but you are still going to stay positive and calm and focus on producing a peak performance in yourself.

Runners without high level of mental toughness are going succumb to distraction, imperfect race conditions, inconveniences and feeling of discomfort that comes with ultra-running. Mental toughness, in my opinion, is one of the keys to success in long ultra-races. There is no shortcut to get there and mental training is one to be undertaken with deliberate intention.

From my research I have read that mental toughness is about how you would respond when you begin to feel uncomfortable or encounter a challenge. At the core, there are two key factors that contribute to mental toughness: willingness and optimism.

Willingness – refers to how inclined you are to endure, whether in accepting intensity on a physical level, or being determined to maintain your effort level across a given time or distance. Willingness is having the self-determination to stay in the experience without backing down or giving up.

Optimism – on the other hand, is a positive belief about a future state or desired outcome. Optimism helps you bridge the gap between what you are currently doing and how that relates to achieving your goals. Believing that your current effort will help you become stronger, fitter, and faster aids your willingness to maintain that effort during training.

I would add a third factor to precede willingness and optimism, and that is preparedness.

Preparedness – is the work you put in to train your mental toughness and making sure that you are in the best possible readiness long before the race. It is the effort you put in day in day out as you build your confidence to tackle the challenges ahead.

Let’s look at some of the ways mental toughness can be cultivated and how you can prepare yourself sustainably.

The first thing that you have to understand is mental toughness training is an ongoing practice that must be cultivated over time. Just like consistency is the secret sauce to successful running, training your mental toughness requires consistency as well. To develop mental toughness you have to be ready to simulate difficult situations that are going to test you. Your training should incorporate a certain amount of physical and mental suffering, which will prepare you for race day.

In short, we must practice being miserable. There is no escaping this one. Think about it, at many point during a long ultra, you will feel miserable. You will likely be in pain and want to stop. The only way to prepare for this is to practice being and overcoming miserableness.

Here are 10 ways you can incorporate “misery” into your life by training to get stronger mentally and physically at once:

  1. Set the alarm and get up really early to train. It may be 5 or 3am depending on the distance you want to cover. Getting up from the comfort of your bed is tough. If you are able to overcome the snooze button and walk out the door to run again and again, that is evidence of your mind conquering your body.  
  2. Stick to your training plan and schedule even when you do don’t feel like it. Making yourself complete it against your will is a good way to master over negative thoughts and excuses not to train. Feeling mentally drained after a long day at work? Good, all the more you should practice overcoming the weariness and train. Mental toughness is the grit to train when you don’t want to.
  3.  Train with elevations. Unlike road races, most trail ones come with drastic elevation changes and uneven terrains. Running and climbing up hills with steep incline sucks. There are no shortcuts. The only way to get used to climbing and running on uneven rough terrain is by doing it, loads of it. So try to hit the trails as much as you can. Go for steep incline repetitions. Yes, make the session as miserable as it can be. You will be grateful later.
  4. Train when you are hungry. Put in a session first thing in the morning before you eat anything. Stretch the session longer and deprive yourself more as you progress. Teach yourself to run without fuel in your stomach and even with limited water supply. That way if you are beginning to bonk but still far from the next checkpoint, your mind will be ready to handle the remaining distance with an empty stomach.
  5. Simulate race condition and train with the elements. Go out and run in the middle of the day under intense heat. Hydrate yourself well and be generous with the sunscreen. Run in the rain. Get used to being drenched and running in soaking wet shoes. Some ultras takes you through the night, so go deprive yourself of sleep and try running throughout the night. It takes actual experiences and a certain amount of repetition for you to be mentally prepared for it.
  6. Remind yourself to remember why you are running in the first place. List down your rational for finishing each training and race. A strong list of why will help you to combat the inevitable negativity that may confront you. Practice positive self-talk. In the midst of your hardship, you will need to tell yourself to keep moving when all you want to do is stop. Speak to yourself even during trainings. Find out what mantra works for you and practice using it.
  7. Sign up and run races. Racing is perhaps the most stressful thing we do as runners and the repeated exposure to stress and challenges help us build coping strategies and mental toughness. Increase your race difficulties in terms of distance and elevation progressively but in a sustainable manner. Make sure you are training for the progression and allocate enough base building and resting time in between races.
  8. Run hard workouts. Get into the anaerobic zones. Just like with racing, a good hard workout is a source of stress you must regularly experience. It is no point doing easy runs after easy runs without putting your body to a new level of fitness. The weekly high mileage might just be purposeless junk miles. Without getting comfortable of being uncomfortable we will not be able to build mental toughness.
  9. Commit to the execution of progressively more challenging training over the course of years. Meaning you should strive to improve your ability consistently over the long run. Do not stay in your comfort zone or continue with easy workouts. Focus on the process of training year after year with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve. Be patient. Patient to respect the process and to train intelligently.
  10. If you are side-lined by injury, mental toughness is about proactively and successfully managing the injury that may take weeks or months to heel. Do not focus on the setback and inconvenience of being injured and feel sorry for yourself. Approach your injury rehab in the same zeal that you have for training. It is the humility to know that you cannot take shortcuts and work is the only sustainable way to achieve your goals.

As you can now probably deduce, the mind and body are interlinked. You will struggle to complete your big race without having both in shape. Just because you can physically run a certain distance, it does not mean you will unless your mind is prepared to push your body. But if you are physically not fit enough or have never accomplished near a race distance or elevation, no amount of mental power can force your legs and lungs to take you to the finish line. One without the other means you are setting yourself up to fail.

12 Life Lessons We Can All Live By

Recently a friend forwarded me a list of catchy liners that are meant to be good lessons for life.  While some are comical and others dismal, I found in the list some simple truths that are worth being reminded off for our benefits.

You don’t have to wait till midlife and learned these life lessons through own experiences. The advantage of youth is that you have the time to apply these lessons early to reap the maximum benefits in your happiness and well-being.

Taking cue from others’ list of life lessons out there, I have modified and compiled my own favourite list of 12 life lessons I want to live by. I hope you will find them relevant and benefit from them too.

1 – Take care of your body

You might live a long life, or you might live a short one. Nobody knows. Either way, you’re going to wish you took better care of yourself in your youth. So eat and exercise like you’re a diabetic heart patient with a stroke – so that you never actually become one.

2 – Treasure your family

The most important person in your life is the person who agreed to share their life with you. Treat them well for they are a part of you. And children grow up way too fast. Make the most of the time you have with them. What matters most are the people in our lives.

3 – Build real friendships

A true friend will come running if you call them at 2am; everyone else is just an acquaintance. Don’t let your friendships fade away. Friendships need time and attention. Nurture them well and they will pay you off well.

4 – Work your vocation

Conventional wisdom says that you should get a job doing what you love! But that isn’t the best advice. The right job is the job you love some days, can tolerate most days, and still pays the bills. Almost nobody has a job they love every day. So give your best work while you can.

5 – Work in moderation

Nobody ever dies wishing they had worked more. Work hard, but don’t prioritise work over family, friends, or even yourself. You can never finish your work and work will always be there.

6 – Worry changes nothing

Most of the things we worry never happen. No matter how much we worry, it won’t change anything. Even if what we worry happens, they are rarely as bad as we fear they will be. Worry is useless unless it leads us to a solution. So learn to manage your worries.

7 – Seek experiences over things

Stuff is just stuff and things gather dusts.  Don’t hold onto material objects. The less stuff you have, the freer you are. Purchase mindfully. Hold onto time and experiences instead.

8 – See the world

Travel expands you. Go places. Do things. Be enlightened. It will make you more interesting and insightful. It is a pursuit well worth saving for. Pack a bag and go wherever you can afford to go. Don’t just buy stuff. Go discover our beautiful world.

9 – Keep on learning

There is so much to learn and so much to explore. Take time to learn every single day. Challenge yourself to acquire a new skill, read something different, or take a class. Learning keeps our minds engaged and sharp, even into old age.

10 – Take courage and overcome

You have more strength and resilience than you think you have. Whatever circumstances you are at or trial you are facing, it won’t last forever. You can handle it. The pain is temporary. Time heals. Things change. It will pass. You will get through it and survive.

11 – Appreciate small things

Be present in the moment and appreciate the small things. Little things matter. Don’t just look at the big wins or great accomplishments of others. Instead work to achieve and accumulate the little things that bring life’s joy and meaning.  Think of the special time with your kids, the smile on your spouse’s face or the important tasks you managed to complete.

12 – Live your life

We have limited time on earth. Don’t wake up one day in your old age and realise you haven’t done the things you dreamed about. Life is short so enjoy it. Don’t make things more serious than they have to be. Create more fun in your life. Make every day count.

Do This ONE Thing Daily

What is the one thing that can help you to press towards what you want in life and be more successful?

Align your daily habits with your long-term goals

Sounds simple? But just how many of us are aware of our daily habits and how these habits are contributing positively towards our long term goals?

Billionaire Warren Buffett, the chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway, is 87 years old and has in his wisdom said that chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken. He understands that innocent habits which seem trivial in our daily lives can actually make or break us in the long run.

All of us aspire success, but how many of us really take stock of our daily habits? If you take a hard look at what you do and work on daily, you may be surprise to find that unknowingly you are engaging on counterproductive habits. It can be a dread to identify and change these habits, but once you start to replace them with productive habits, positive results will start to follow.

Here are a few counterproductive habits that I find “sneaky” as in you may already be so good at them that you don’t realize they are actually holding you back towards your long-term goals achievement.

1 – Taking it Easy

The number one sneaky demon habit which I face every day is getting comfortable and taking things easy. It is very natural for us to gravitate towards things that make us feel comfortable. After all who in the right frame of mind wants to experience discomfort, uneasiness or pain? It is always easier to play it safe and avoid new challenge that is necessary to take us to the next level.

Like it or not, life’s challenges and hard things are the ones that force us to learn and grow. For example, you cannot build muscles without resistance work or training. Our body is naturally lazy and will only develop enough muscle to deal with the loads placed upon it. So to develop more muscle, you have to work out hard and then let your body repair damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle strands.

If I want to run a marathon convincingly, I cannot just take training easy and run whenever I feel like running or stop whenever I start to sweat. I have to align my daily habits towards the goal of running a 42km race. That means I have to eat correctly, train consistently according to a structured program and rest sufficiently, every day if possible.

Similar with physical growth, we cannot progress effectively in other areas of our life without going through targeted resistances and challenges that are relevant. If I want to build a thriving and profitable stocks portfolio, I have to dig in to analyze financial reports, learn technical analysis and research businesses and markets. It is going to take time and sacrifices from other areas of my life and there is no short cut or easy way to it.

The road to success is often paved with trials, disappointment and even failures. But it is these challenges that will force you to get out of your comfort zones and elevate you to greater heights. So don’t get too comfortable. Move towards your goals daily by keeping an open mind and staying hungry for opportunities that will stretch your limits.

2 – Saying Yes to Everything

We are all guilty of this. We say YES, willingly or unwillingly for a variety of reasons. Fear of offending someone, fear of missing out, try to be everything to everyone, not having our own decisions.

If you are somehow a super being having the ability to cope with everything and everyone’s expectations, then this is not a problem. The reality is that we have limited time and resources. Saying yes to one means you are unwittingly saying no to something else, and that something else may be more important.

Recently I was invited by the Parent-Teacher Association of my son’s school to join their committee. Being human, I felt honoured and was very tempted to say yes to the position thinking I can contribute to help make the school better. They were persuasive and I am always keen on leadership positions.

But after thinking through the offer, I realized that taking up the position will inevitable take up my time with my boys. Serving in the association may help improve the standard of the school my boys are studying in, but it comes with a price of having less time to nurture them personally. Putting it this way, it just makes no sense and I am glad I said no.

Your success lies in your ability to distinguish the tasks that are important to your goals from the ones that screams urgent or non-essential which you can either delay or delegate. Choosing to work on relevant and important tasks will allow you to focus on what is truly essential for your future success.

Warren Buffett is legendary in ways not so much about what he has done; rather it is what he hasn’t done. With all the demands on him every day, Buffett learned a long time ago that the greatest commodity of all is time. He simply mastered the art and practice of setting boundaries for himself. He is famous for saying that the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.

So, remember, don’t say YES when you really want is to say NO.  And it is really ok to say NO.

3 – Repeating same Mistakes

I read somewhere that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different or better result. Don’t laugh. Thank goodness this is not the correct definition or else I should be considered insane for being guilty of making the same mistake many times over.

Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over? If we are not careful, making the same mistakes repeatedly, no matter how trivial, is a damaging habit that can delay us from achieving our long-term goals.

For a long time I battled with anger issues. I get angry easily and this affected my relationships with my spouse and boys. Sometimes I would snap and get upset with my boys over small things. Whatever reasons I may have, this is not right and I should practice more patience to understand them, instead of letting my mood dictate my temper. I have since identified anger as a problem that I need to address. I cannot afford to repeat the mistake of losing temper because it takes me further away from my goal of building a supportive, caring and loving family.

To stop repeating the same mistakes, we need to be able to identify the underlying problem. What is not going well in your life right now? Are you overeating? Maybe smoking or drinking more than usual? Are you spending too much time at work instead of being there for your family? Are you spending more money than you can afford? Whatever it is, you will need to name it before you can start to deal with it.

Mistakes are the best teachers. Of course it would be better if we can learn from other people’s failures, but it gets seared in more firmly when they are our own. Learning from our mistakes is important, however, we must be careful not to continually dwell on our past mistakes. We can never turn back time and undo what is done.  There is no point living in the past so we might well maintain a forward-looking perspective and do better next time.

Treat mistakes as learning experiences that make you stronger and better as a person. Your best successes will come on the heels of failures.

Usain Bolt’s incredible power and speed wouldn’t break the 100m record if he wasn’t sprinting directly towards the finish line. In the same vein, our effort in getting things done will not do us much good if those tasks do not bring us towards our long-term goals. One way to ensure that we work on the right tasks is by aligning our daily habits towards the achievement of what is important to us.

Benjamin Franklin is famous for asking himself every evening, “What good have I done today?” Asking that question does three crucial things. First, it makes you review the actions you have taken and evaluate the effectiveness of it. Secondly, it helps you to realign and resolve to plan better for the next day. Lastly and more importantly, it makes you aware of the progress you’re making towards your long term goals.

The journey towards success is challenging and long. There is no such thing as an overnight success. The secret of success actually lies in the little things that we do regularly. This is where our daily habits count. Align your daily habits to your long-term goals and you will find yourself progressing towards success. Take it one day at a time. It may be slow but you will surely reach where you want to be.

2 Shocking Insights from the Principle of Compounding

Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it.  – Albert Einstein

Compound Interest – is this the greatest mathematical discovery in human history?

Einstein once declared that compound interest is the “most powerful force in the universe”. This may be an urban legend but this is one financial motto that you and I should take seriously.

In financial terms, compounding refers to the process of earning return on principal (the original amount you invested) plus the return that was earned earlier.

Compound Interest is Powerful

It is a simple principle but one that we must understand, embrace and live by it if you want to achieve financial freedom. Compounding is the essence of wealth creation.

In order to harness the power of financial compounding, we need to look at three components:

  • Capital (Seed money)
  • Time (Period invested)
  • Rate of Return (% per year)

To illustrate how these three components of the power of compounding come into play, I like to use the example of three investors:  Amy, Brian and Caleb.

Say Amy invests $1000 a year for a total of 10 years from age 21 to 30. After the age of 30 she stops investing. Brian on the other hand waited till his older thinking that he can invest more when he is ready to start investing. So from age 31 he started putting in $1500 a year for the next 10 years. Lastly, Caleb only woke up and realized that he needs to save at the age of 41. Trying to catch up, he puts in $2000 a year for 10 years, believing it is not too late to catch up.

For this example, let us assume that Amy, Brian and Caleb were all able to invest at a compounded return of 10%. The results of their investment when all three of them 40 years later, when they are ready to retired at age of 60, can be shown in the table below.

Table – Net return based on principle of compound interest at 10% over a period of 40 years.

As you can see, the difference in net returns from our three investors is astounding!

Amy only invested a total of $10,000. Her return, minus of her investment amount is $295,908.

Brian invested a total of $15,000. For that his return minus his investment amount is $161,911.

I don’t have to tell you how miserable Caleb’s net return is even though he put in the most money.

Let’s look at another illustration. How much money do you think you will need to save each month if you want to retire with one million at the age of 60? Let’s assume this time that you are able to obtain an annual return of 6% consistently each year.

Graph – Monthly savings required at different age so that you can have $1,000,000 for retirement at age 65, assuming that you are able to get 6% annual return each year.

As you can see, when it comes to savings, time is really your best friend. If you have started saving at 20, all you need to put aside is $361 a month. This translates to a total of $194,940 put in savings over the course of 45 years and compounding interest tops up the balance to give you a total of $1,000,000.

On the other hand if you only start at 55, you will need to save about $6,072 monthly just to end up with the same $1,000,000 at 65. The difference is you would have put in close to $730,000 in that 10 years just to enjoy that same million. Ouch!

So, from the two simple illustrations we can draw two very valuable insights:

1 – When you start investing is more important than how much you save.

Amy started investing young. Even though the amount she saved each year is lesser than Brian and Caleb, she eventually emerged the winner with the most net return.

What this tells us is that we should not wait to have more before we start to save. We must start to save now, regardless the amount in order for us to have more later.

2 – You have the power and ability to benefit from the principle of compounding.

The beauty of the compounding lines in the ability for us to control the above three components to our advantage.  You can decide how much money you are going to invest and how long you are going to stay invested.

We cannot specifically control the rate of return on the investment; however we do have a choice in choosing from different investment vehicles that will offer different rates of return, depending on our risk appetite.

The working of compounding interest is indeed powerful. No matter where you are financially today, put this principle to good use and you will surely reap the rewards in the years to come.

Aspire more today!

When Life Throws You a Curveball, Have a Cup of Coffee

I can still remember that fateful day. It was early in the morning and I had just arrived at the office. Grabbed my cup of coffee and fired up the laptop when my hand phone rang. It was my wife, and she was crying.

“The biopsy result is out, I have stage 2 cancer”, my wife told me in between sobs.

Everything stopped for a moment. I was out of words. I was shocked. The moment I tried to say something assuring, she broke down even more. After listening to her for a minute or so, I eventually mustered a feeble “we will pull this through together darling.”

After hanging up, I sat at my work desk, stunt. Yes, cancer is not uncommon. We have all heard of a family or friend who has or has someone that is affected by cancer. But like everyone else, I thought that cancer only happens to others. I have never thought it would happen to me. Why my family? Why my wife?

Fast-forward three months and to cut the story short, my wife underwent surgery to remove the cancerous lump, followed by reconstruction on the affected area. The healing process was slow and painful. When her body was strong enough, doctor prescribed chemotherapy plus radiotherapy. She is now onto her third of total required six doses but more to come in the form of radiotherapy.

Life has thrown us a curveball. We were all well. Now we struggle to live back our normal lives. I was in and out of the hospital and my career is taking a beating.  Our two boys are still young and require attention and care. They will be entering elementary school next year. I have to shoulder extra responsibilities at home while managing work in the office. With my wife focusing on recovery, it can be tough and tiring at times.

As the head of the family I may put up a brave front. But I have my moments of pain. I have been impatient with my sons and I feel horrible every time I lose my temper on them. It is never their fault and they are just being active and playful children. At times I am less kind to my wife. I get upset when she complains and when she makes a fuss. She struggles with the side effects of chemo and we all feel the brunt of it.

The road to recovery is certainly not easy. I struggle. I fail, over and over again.

One day when I was feeling low I chanced on this story about a carrot, egg and coffee bean. I thought it was an interesting perspective and hence I am sharing it with you here.

If you are also currently going through a rough patch, I hope this story can encourage you to be of courage and stay strong. There is always something to be learned from adversities. Don’t let it kill you and you will always emerge stronger.

The story goes like this:

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved a new one arose.

Her mother took her to the kitchen. She filled three pots with water. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil without saying a word. In about twenty minute she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me what you see?”

“Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.

She brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. She then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, she asked her to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled, as she tasted its rich aroma.

The daughter then asked, “What’s the point, mother?”

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity… boiling water – but each reacted differently.

The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.

The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior. But, after being through the boiling water, its inside became hardened.

The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.

“Which are you?” she asked the daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg, or a coffee bean?”

Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity, you wilt and become soft and lose your strength?

Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did you have a fluid spirit, but after a trial, become hardened and stiff? Does your shell look the same, but on the inside you are bitter with a hardened heart?

Or are you going to be like the coffee bean?

The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like a coffee bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around me.

Interesting perspective on the coffee bean indeed!

How do you handle adversity?

When the hours are the darkest and trials are their greatest do you elevate to another level? I believe all of us can learn to behave like a coffee bean.

So the next time life throws you a curveball, remember this story and have a cup of nicely brewed hot coffee!

Why Relationships Matter More Than You Think

The relationships we foster in life, whether intentionally or unintentionally, matter more that we think. The people that we connect with will affect our destiny – positively or negatively. Who we run with will determine how we run, the direction we run, how fast we run and how far we run. The people we associate with actually plays a major role in our lives.

I am remembered of the story of a corporate CEO and his wife, travelling by car and they stopped for refuelling and to get something to drink. While the husband went inside to get a cold drink, the wife was actively engaged in conversation with the pump attendant. When the husband got back into the car and drove away, he asked his wife what was all the talking about. The wife said she had dated this guy in high school. Hearing this the husband boasted that ‘I am sure you’re glad you marry a CEO instead of a service station attendant.’ But the wife said to him, ‘No, I was thinking that if I had marry him instead of you, he would have be the CEO and you would be a service station attendant!’

The people we choose to relate to determine who we becomes in life. Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm – Proverbs 13:20. Never underestimate the power of relationships.

According to a Harvard Medical School article, your relationships are more important to your long term physical health than the food you eat or the sleep you get. The article highlighted a study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that the lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%. Apparently this can add to the mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

Harvard Health Publishing:  The health benefits of strong relationships.

Now we must remember that we are not where we are today because of ourselves. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Everyone has got help, be it families, friends or acquaintances. We have benefited from the relationships we foster and grow along the way. No man is an island.

The challenge is then how we manage the relationships around us. How do we ensure we get the best out of relationships? Not every relationship will be good. If we are not careful, bad relationships can eat us away.

Earthquakes, hurricanes and fires get more publicity than any other national disasters. But the fact is termites cause more damage to earth every year than all the natural disasters combined. But termites don’t get publicity because they just take a little bite each time.

Bad relationships do that as well. Just a little bite at a time. Some relationships should be totally avoided or disconnected. They hinder us, suck us dry, pull us back and destroy your life. These are the toxic relationships in your life.

In general, everybody you meet in life will fall into one of these four categories:

1- People who ADD to you. They leave us better than when they met you. They inspire you. They encourage you.

2- People who SUBTRACT from you. They drain you. They sap your energy away and leave you frustrated. They always have a problem.

3- People who MULTIPLY you. They increase you. They help push you up to another level in life. They make you better, play better when you are around them.

4- People who DIVIDE you. They create divisions. Their very nature separates the best of friends. In your life, in your team, work or business, they always create division. They make your life difficult.

Assign these categories to everybody you meet. This alone will tell you immediately how close you are going to let some people come into your life. Of course we should be courteous to everyone but we need to be selective about who you are going to let close to influence you.

Some people we cannot completed avoid. Co-workers, employers, students in your class, teacher or relatives at home. While we cannot totally avoid them, we can control the influence they have in our life. How? By controlling the time we spend with them.

Learn to identify people who adds value to your life. Arrange your life in such a way that you can spend more time with these people. Even a little time spent these people can bring significant positive impact to your life.

So, take stock and have a look at what type people you have been spending your time with. Continue to build good relationships from people who adds and multiplies you. Stay clear of those that subtracts and divides you.

I would like to end by sharing a TED video featuring Robert Waldinger titled – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. In his talk, Waldinger shares three important lessons learned from a 75-year-old study on adult development, based on unprecedented data on true happiness and satisfaction. Needless to say, his research found that the number one ingredient that keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life (warning, spoiler alert) is meaningful relationships.

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. There are three big lessons derived from the study.

1- Social relationships are really good for us

Loneliness kills. People who are socially more connected to families, friends, and to the community are happier and live longer than people who are less connected.

2 – The quality of your close relationship matters

It is not just the number of friends we have or whether or not we are in a committed relationship. Living in a good and warm relationship protects us. People who are most satisfied in their relationships turn out to be the healthiest.

3- Good relationships don’t just protect our body, they protect our brains

It turns out being in a securely attached relationships in your old age is protective. Our memory stays sharper and longer. And those people in relationships where they cannot count on the other, they experienced earlier memory decline.

We can continue to desire and go for fame and wealth and high achievement, thinking that these are what we need to get a good life. But studies have shown again and again that people who fared the best are those who have lean into relationships, to families, friends and community.

The good life is built with good relationships. It is a lifelong endeavour and it never ends.

Get the good stuff from Waldinger’s talk here.

The World is Waiting for You

The only things you regret are the things you don’t do. – Michael Curtiz

The Man who Stayed in the Cabin

There was a story about a man who saved for many years with the dream of moving to America, the land of opportunity. It was in the early nineteenth century, so times were hard. But the time came when he finally saved enough money to afford passage on a large ocean liner. Because he had very little money, he stayed in his cabin most of the time, rationing food he had brought on board with him. On the last day of his journey, he decided to splurge on a meal. He showed up for the final banquet buffet and timidly asked the waiter how much a meal like this would cost. He braced himself for the bad news, and the waiter responded in surprise. ‘But sir, didn’t you know? All of the meals are included in your ticket. You can eat as much as you like, for free!’

Don’t you think life is sometimes like that? Most people live their lives unaware of the incredible opportunities that exist all around them.

Have you been seizing the opportunities available to you? How many times have we look back and wished that we have done this or that? Fret not, I have not heard of anyone who can say that they have make use of every opportunities.

How then can we capitalise on opportunities?

For that we must first be able to identity what opportunities look like. The opportunities around us are different for everyone and for every season. What is an opportunity for one person could be a distraction to you. Therefore the key is to know what are opportunities to you. You must understand what you are looking for and be prepared to pursue it. You will not be able to identify the opportunities if you don’t know what you are looking for in the first place.

Next we must understand that every opportunity comes with risks. I believe risk is the reason why most of us do not pursue the opportunities that come before us. After all, pursuing an opportunity may take you to a road less travelled. It may get uncomfortable and you may have work harder. That opportunity may even turn out to be a mistake.

But consider this, life is a series of calculated risk.

A palliative nurse who counselled the dying in their last days revealed the most common regrets they have at the end of their lives. Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives.

Ware shares of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. She asked her patients about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently.

What she found was that five common regrets surfaced again and again:

  1. They wish they had the courage to live a life true to themselves, not the life others expected of them.
  2. They wish they hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. They wish they had the courage to express their feelings.
  4. They wish they had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. They wish they had let themselves be happier.

According to Ware the first regret is the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled.

That first regret is about not taking the necessary risk for your own sake. We conform to others’ expectation and society’s pressure instead of pursuing what’s important for us.

So what are the opportunities available to you today?

Is there a passion that you want to pursue? A calling that is nagging you to explore? Are you happy in your current job or is there a different career or company that you need to consider? Making a move is sure risky but not doing anything may be more detrimental in the long run.

Is there a family member or friend you need to reconcile with? Is there a someone you want to express your feelings to? Whenever there is an opportunity to do so, grab it. Don’t put it off, nobody knows the future, whether there will be another opportunity or not.

Are you spending enough time with your children? Are they being nurtured and led to grow up well? Remember, you have the opportunity to shape them and help them grow up better.

Are you taking care of your health? Have you been exercising and eating well? Have you been investing in your personal growth? Don’t give yourself the excuse of not having the time. You are in control and have every opportunity to live healthier. Ignoring your health and growth is only short changing yourself.

Ultimately you are in charge of creating most of your own opportunities. Your next break may just be out there waiting for you to make the first step. Put yourself in a position to say yes.

I will never want to be like that man who stayed in the cabin. There is just so much to life. So much to see, to do, to experience, and to live for.

I want to see what is out there, what is available to me. I want to ask, because I will never know the answer if I don’t. I want to strive, otherwise I won’t really know what I am capable of. I want to push my self to the limit, then I would know that i have done my best and make peace with myself.

Aspire more today.

Finding That Happy at Work

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. —Steve Jobs

I bet you have struggled to find job satisfaction one time or another. I know, i have been there, many times. Finding long lasting happiness at work is indeed rare. The scary fact is that most people (80% according to a Deloitte’s Shift Index survey) are dissatisfied with their job.

Yet if we look at how many hours we will work in our lifetime and how many hours we will commute for work, we will realise that it is a lot time to be spending on some thing that we are not happy at.

While some unhappy employees may muster up the courage to change careers, others (in fact, most) will likely suffer with it for the sake of job security. So what has happened to us along our career paths? Why do so many of us struggle in finding happiness at work?

Ask any boys of girls about their ambitions, they will give you a variety of interesting answers. Fireman. Dancer. Football player. Astronaut. Anything is possible. We may discount them for being young and naive and that they don’t know the struggles of life. Can they really be a successful dancer, football player or even an astronaut? Do they even know the risks that come with being a fireman? Cringe as you may, but their answers are actually guided simply by what they thought would make then really happy. There were no limits.

Now take a look at ourselves, the adults. There may be a determined few who have never lost sight of their aspirations to do and be what they wanted to be. But I suspect for the rest of us, we have forgotten our ambitions and and allowed our dreams to be washed down over the years. We begin to settle for jobs and compromise for the wrong reasons. We accepted the notion that it is just not realistic to pursue our passions and still make a decent living. Many of us have started on this path of compromise and it doesn’t look like we will ever going to make it back. This is sad mainly because we are likely to be spending more than a third of our lives working. And this compromise will slowly eat us away.

So what can we do to find happiness in our work?

Frederick Herzberg published a breakthrough article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of motivation theory, also known as the two-factor theory. He pointed that the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous scale – from very happy at one end to totally miserable on the other extreme, is flawed. Instead, happy and miserable at our jobs are separate and independent measures. That means it is actually possible to love your job and hate it at the same time. Hmmm…

Herzberg’s theory identified two different types of factors when it comes to finding satisfaction or happiness at the work place – Environmental Factors and Motivation Factors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are things like compensation, status, job security and work conditions. It matters that we receive fair compensation based on the market rate, given a certain status or title to operate in your role in a company that is generally thriving. It would even be better if our office setup is conducive and our supervisors do not treat us badly. Bad environmental factors can cause dissatisfaction. We have to actually address and fix the environmental factors in order just not to be dissatisfied or unhappy with our work.

Interestingly according to Herzberg’s research, even if we work hard at improving the environmental factors of our job, we are not going to suddenly love it or be truly happy with it. At best, we just won’t be unhappy or hate it anymore. You see, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction. It is merely the absence of job dissatisfaction. The absence of job dissatisfaction is not the same thing as job satisfaction or happiness at work. 

It is very important to address the environmental factors, but these alone are not going to get you very far when it comes to finding that happy, that job satisfaction that we seek.

Motivation Factors

How then can we truly be happy and satisfied with our jobs? This is where Herzberg provided insights on another set of factors that are more important in helping us achieve the satisfaction we seek. He calls them “motivators” or motivation factors. The intangibles such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth are examples of motivators.

Motivation factors are less about what we see in the outside, but much more about how it impacts us in the inside. Think about being in a job that emphasises on work that is meaningful, that is challenging yet interesting, that provides opportunities to increase our responsibilities and that allows us to grow professionally. These are the factors that will motivate us, to cause us to love what we are doing, to make us truly happy at work.

You can read more abour Herzberg’s research published in an article in the Harvard Business Review here.

It is easy for us to be mistaken that the tangible trappings of career success will always make us happy. Higher salary, more prestigious work title, bigger office or company car. After all isn’t these what our family and friends see as signs that we have “made it”?

However, as soon as we are drawn by these tangible aspect of our jobs, we risk getting enslaved with what pays rather that what makes us happy. We start to chase a job satisfaction or happiness mirage. The next pay rise, promotion, we think, will be the thing that will finally make us happy.

You see, beyond a certain point, environmental factors such as compensation, status and job security are actually by-products of being happy with a job, rather than the cause of it. Realising this can free us to focus on things that really matter.

Again, Herzberg’s theory of motivation suggests that we need to look at our careers from a different angle, asking ourselves totally different sets of questions.

  • Is this work meaningful for me?
  • Am I entrusted with increasing important responsibilities?
  • Am I learning new things or skills?
  • Is this job helping me to develop professionally?
  • Will I be recognised for my achievements?

These are the things that will truly motivate us. When we get this right, our focus on the tangible trappings will start to fade in importance. We are then on our way to finding happiness in our work. And when that happens, we will never work a day again in our lives. Yipeee!

7 Skills Set to Boost your Career

Recently I interviewed a number of candidates for career positions that has come up in the company I head. These are junior positions so I mostly met young graduates and a few who have been in the workforce for one to three years. I must say that i was a tad disappointed with what I saw and learn from the potentials.

The millennials are an interesting generation. They are some times called open-minded, liberal, self-expressive, upbeat, and overtly passionate. They are connected, tech-savvy and multi-tasking too much for comfort. But the trait which hit me most during the recent interview sessions is that the young candidates tend to expect instant gratification and recognition.

Many are fresh from school without work experience, but they expect to be landing a job that will instantly put them in the business forefront. Their demands on compensation does not commensurate their work experience nor ability to deliver what is necessary to be at that pay grade. I do believe in rewarding performance but we do have to be able to first start and prove our worth.

So what do I look for when i speak to a candidate or potential business partner? Recently I compile a list of skills set that I think would be important for any millennials or anyone who wants to survive in this new world. The world as we know it has changed and is still changing. To survive is easy. But to excel I believe you will have to work on the following skills set.

1. Leading and Collaboration
Leadership is key. Always take initiative to lead when opportunity arises. Afterwards be ready to learn from the experience. It takes time to be a good leader. It may come naturally to some, but leadership ability needs to be developed and honed through time. A leader is not a leader if there are no followers. Therefore leadership must always couple with the ability to collaborate with others as well. You must also be able to follow and work with the team as well. Your goal is to be a person of influence.

2. Critical Thinking and Problem solving
Critical thinking is the ability to use logic and reasoning to find solutions for problems. This comes with asking the right questions in order to analyse and evaluate options to arrive at good decisions and implementations. Productive thinking is hard. Many won’t bother. This is where you will have the opportunity to outshine others.

3. Selling and Entrepreneurship
Like it or not selling is a very important skill in life. When you attend a job interview, you are basically selling yourself to the employer to hire you. When you are out on a date, you are selling yourself as a potential partner. Learn to sell well early and it will reward you handsomely in life. Entrepreneurship is this context is about taking ownership. Approach any task or challenge as if it depends on you.

4. Agility and Adaptability
The digital age requires you to be constantly learning and adapting to the changing environment. What you studied in school may already be partially outdated by the time you graduate. So read and keep up regularly on business trends and developments. Your education does not end with school. Real learning only starts after you have entered the business world. Keep an open mind. Adopt and adapt when necessary to stay ahead.

5. Oral and Written Communication
There is no point being smart if you are unable to communicate and express yourself well. Good communication is critical in your workplace, relationships and across many areas in your life. So be very good in at least one language, both oral and written. Strive to master two languages if you can, it will be a hell of a competitive edge. A good command of a second language will open up a new world. I am currently learning mandarin. Not easy. But imagine what i can get my hands on (literatures, wisdoms, business ideas, history and culture) the moment I get a handle of mandarin.

6. Accessing and Analysing Information
There is an information overload nowadays. So much is available at our fingertips that we that it for granted. There is no need know everything. But knowing how and where to get right information is more important. Be resourceful. But having so much information is useless unless we can make sense with it. Learn to analyse the information and make it applicable knowledge.

7. Curiosity and Imagination
Stay curious and ready to pick up new skills and knowledge. Life is full of twists and turns and there is just no knowing what you will encounter in your career path. There will always be alternative opportunities for you explore which may lead you to your destiny. At the same time there may be distractions and detours that will throw you off course. Come what may, your part is to embrace change and work it to your advantage.

I wish I have been mature enough younger to understand the importance of these skills. It would have helped me a lot if someone had knocked my head and tell me to live and grow these skill sets. I would have definitely be a better person, better achiever then i am today.

Well, no matter where we are at age or career, it is always never too late to learn. I am still learning and working to hone these skills.

Now go, aspire for more!

Do These in the Morning and Be On Your Way to Greatness

If you want to make your dreams come true, the first thing you have to do is wake up. – J.M. Power

Much have been talked about the benefits of morning routines. There are a handful of variations and I suppose this makes sense as we are all different in our own ways. What works for one may not work for another.

For example, I find a long list of wonderfully lined-up routine out of reach and at times out of this world.

  • Wake up, smile and make your bed
  • Brush your teeth, wash your face and have a cold shower
  • Resist the urge to check your phone, emails or social media
  • Meditate and perhaps re-correct yourself
  • Listen to uplifting music or positive affirmation
  • Read a book or article for 15 minutes
  • Exercise, stretch and maybe throw in some yoga
  • Write your goals, review your goals
  • Plan your day, work your schedule
  • Track your expenses, review your budget
  • Cook yourself a fulfilling breakfast
  • Make an antioxidant smoothie

I get overwhelmed every time I try to follow that beautiful list above. I will be happy if I can find enough time and energy to accomplish half the list. Time is limited, especially between the moment I wake up and when I am suppose to leave for work.

Mornings can bring a special challenge to parents too. As a parent you will constantly have to juggle the needs of your children and household.  Sometimes your time is never your own. Getting kids ready for school, attending to elderly needs, making breakfast for the family, sorting out the laundry, watering the plants and what not.

On certain days, you would consider yourself lucky to find enough time to go to the bathroom and groom yourself just so that you can be presentable for work.

But still, I agree, the best way to start your day is to have a good morning routine. No doubts. But  you will have to purposefully carve out time and for your good self before the world gets up and gets hectic.

It is worth it. The best reason for you to make it a point to establish and carry out a good morning routine is that it generates a positive momentum. This momentum is an important part of human psychology. When you have started your day right by moving it forward positively, you are more likely to keep accomplishing positive things the rest of the day. A good morning routine sets the right tone for a wonderful and productive day ahead.

Personally I would simplify a morning routine into the following 4 elements. Technically it is only 3 because the first one is actually done the night before.

1. Get enough sleep

Any good morning routine must start with a good night sleep. By a good night sleep I mean at least 7 hours of quality rest for us adults. Non negotiable. I have many times try to cheat and reduce the amount of sleep so that I can have more time for a good morning routine. But all I found was that I ended up short-changing myself when I am less than 100% to tackle the challenges of the day.

There are tonnes of resources on the importance of sleep but my favourite reference is from sleep scientist Matthew Walker, director of the Centre for Human Sleep Science at the University of California, Berkeley – a research institute whose goal is to understand everything about sleep’s impact on us, from birth to death, in sickness and health. In his research, Walker demonstrated powerful links between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. The evidence Walker presented is enough to send anyone early to bed. It’s not an option at all. Without sleep, there is low energy and disease. With sleep, there is vitality and health.

Read the article on Matthew Walker’s work here – Sleep should be prescribed. What those late nights out could be costing you.

The next thing you should work on is getting up at YOUR right time, consistently. We have often heard that people who wake up earlier are often more productive. This does not mean that night owls can’t have a productive morning that leads to a productive day. Their “mornings” may take place a little later, but it can be also productive nonetheless.

What time you wake up is not as important as getting up at the same time each day. Waking up at the same time each day will help you get in tune with your body’s clock. Your body follows a circadian rhythm which is often referred to as your “internal clock” or “body clock”. Your internal clock helps to regulate your level of sleepiness and wakefulness over a 24 hour period. Try to go to bed and wake up consistently daily so that your circadian rhythm is stable, which will then lead to optimum hormone levels, body temperature, metabolism, and immune system.

2. Get in Touch

Once you are up, fresh from a night of sufficient rest, the first thing I would recommend is to get in tune or in touch with your inner being. Now depending on your preference and belief, you have a few options to achieve this.

Personally, the moment I wake up I would sit by the bed edge, drink half a bottle of water (about 300ml, placed beside the bed the night before) and be grateful. I will quickly think of a few things that I am grateful for and how they are just right for me. Example, I woke up healthy, my sons are growing up strong, I live in a comfortable house, I enjoy my work, etc.

Counting your blessing daily is good, but I do this also because you need to give your body some time to recover from a lying down position before you jump up and get moving. Getting up quickly after lying down for awhile can some times cause dizziness. This dizziness is called postural or orthostatic hypotension. It can occur when the brain receives incorrect information about the body’s position in relation to its surroundings and movements.

After brushing my teeth and washing my face (to ensure that I am really awake and fresh), I like to spend some time journalling. I write about my goals and have a quick brainstorm on how I can achieve them. I note down any ideas that come to mind. You can always journal and write about your feelings at the moment or a recent experience. Be flexible. The idea is to get in touch with yourself and what is important to you.

If you are a Christian, you can use this session to have devotion, to have a quiet time with God. Pray, read the Bible and meditate on God’s word. If you are a Buddhist, you can take the time to centre yourself with good posture, steady breathing and mindfulness. Then learn some basic mantras. Pray for happiness and wellbeing for your family and friends. Whatever religion you are in, get in touch with God.

3. Get some Movement

The next thing you will want to focus on is your physical body. Depending on your preference, you can get in touch mentally/spiritually first (Element 2) before working out or vice versa. I don’t find the sequence critical so it is up to you. Whichever works best.

What you want to achieve in this activity is get your body to sweat, at least. The intensity will depend on your level of fitness and how much you have been working out. All of us starts from a different base so it is hard to prescribe something standard for everyone.

If you have not been keeping fit, you may start light with some form of stretching. Better still if you can go for a brisk walk around your house. Fresh air in the morning is good for you. If you have been active, try going for a run. If you would rather stay indoors, use the treadmill or elliptical trainer. If yoga is your thing, go for it. Any form of stretching and cardio workout is good. You decide what, how much and how long to work out.

The catch is you have to make sure that the work out is sufficient. If it does not make you sweat at least a little, you are probably being too easy with yourself. The activity is too light or too brief. You don’t have to exercise till it sucks, but I would aim for a good hard effort. Elevate your heart rate, sweat out those pores and get breathless before you catch your breath and recover.

A good morning workout will enhance your metabolism, improve your physical energy and enhance your focus and mental abilities all day long. You will walk around feeling a sense of accomplishment, knowing that you have completed an important daily task. You don’t have to press for time trying to fit in an exercise in the evening. Waking up early in the morning to exercise enhances your personal discipline. Lastly, waking up early to exercise will in turn help you sleep better at night. Your body will enjoy a healthy sense of fatigue at the end of the day and you will be ready to sleep, well. And the positive cycle continues.

4. Get the Fuel

Don’t skip breakfast, unless you are deliberately fasting. Skipping breakfast can set you up for overeating later in the day. A healthy breakfast on the other hand gives you energy and set the stage for a great day.

If you are like me before, you may be grabbing breakfast on the run when you are late to get out the door. You actually can do this, if you have prepared your breakfast the night before. Nothing wrong, as long as you ensure that you have some healthy food to fuel your body in the morning.

However, I have in recent months incorporate and allocated some time in the morning routine to ensure that my family and I have fresh and prepared breakfast. I do so because breakfast is an opportunity for me to bond with my children, especially to show them that I love them by providing them something to break fast each morning.

I like to start with a lemon, not coffee. Yes, squeeze a lemon into a glass of water, add some honey, stir and drink it down. There are many known benefits of lemon and I am sure you have heard and read them everywhere. Rich in vitamin C, it enhances your immune system, flushes out toxins, aides digestion, rejuvenates the skin, and many more good stuff.

You want to aim for a breakfast that combines good carbs and fibre with sufficient protein. Yes, aim for a healthy dose of protein. A protein-packed breakfast can satisfy your appetite and help you eat healthier all day long. I will not dwell into recipes of breakfast with high protein. You can google it and plenty of high-protein breakfast ideas will show up.

I like to keep it simple and not be too worked out on the number of grams of protein to consume. Soft-boiled eggs, low sugar cereal or oatmeal with milk, peanut butter on wholemeal bread, tuna chunk wraps are simple pleasures I rotate around the week.

Cheat Days

Following any decent morning routine will not be easy. So are you allowed any cheat days? I will say no. No cheat days. Why? Because like it or not, you will inevitable fail to follow the good routine on some days, despite the noblest intention and stubbornest willpower. And when that happens, don’t get too stress out and don’t be upset with yourself. Just treat that as your unplanned, accidental cheat day. Make sure you get back into the grove the next morning. No sweat.

Stay Flexible

No one is the same. Your position at this point in life will be different from mine. You might be a teenager, just single, married, with children, etc. So everyone should have a different morning routine customised to your current situation. Also, things change as we move on in life. A couple just blessed with a baby will certainly experience a major shift in their mornings. Their morning routines would have to be revamped totally to accommodate the latest addition into the family. So always be flexible and always be ready for change when the need arises.

Once you get used to your morning routine, you will find that it gets easier to follow and somewhat becomes automatic. That is a new good habit forming and very soon you will not have to think or will yourself so much to do it. It has after all becomes a routine.

So with your new and wonderful morning routine, what can you expect next? Nothing much, not at least for awhile. I can guarantee that you will not be great as yet. You will not see any drastic improvements for a short while.

This is where you don’t give up hope and slack off. If you consistently put in the morning routines day in day out, I believe you will slowly but surely experience improvements in your life physically, mentally and even spiritually.