This blog will hopefully inspire you, warm your heart, make you smile and feel positive.

The Cocktail Party of You

cocktail

Imagine you’re at a cocktail party where everyone there is a past version of yourself – each representing a distinct period of your life. The kid version playing video games; the teenager version watching music videos; the insecure college you trying to look smarter than you actually are; the exhausted you from your first job; the you from the first time you fell in love.

This sounds like fun but this would actually be quite boring as each version of you that you talk to, you know everything that they know, while they only know a portion of what you know. You’d hang out with your awkward teenage self and reassure him not to worry, those painful high school years will pass and things will get better. You’d talk to your smitten self who had just fallen in love for the first time and bask in the feelings of a puppy love relationship – without disclosing that she is about to break your heart.

However, there will be one former self that you’d want to avoid – that former self who did that horrible thing you’ve never found a way to forgive yourself for. If you are forced to speak to him, you would immediately start yelling, “How could you do that? What were you thinking at that time? You are such an idiot!” Then the cocktail party would be ruined.

The Cocktail Party of You is a kind of metaphor for what happens when you experience regret. You abandon the celebration of all of the interesting parts of your life to hone in on this one festering mistake that haunts you. Regret is a form of self-hatred. Hating some part of yourself in the past messes you up psychologically. The way to get over regret is not to ignore it. It’s to push through it. It’s to engage that former self, to talk to them directly and understand why they did what they did. It’s to sympathize with that former self, to care for them, and ultimately, forgive them.

Our minds are always constructing narratives to explain our feelings and experiences. These narratives are rarely accurate, yet, we need them because they hold our sense of self in place. By honestly questioning our narratives, we’ll often find that it wasn’t actually that bad for what we did. At the Cocktail Party of You, the only version of you who can teach you something is the Regrettable You. It’s the one version of yourself that can show you where your narratives have gone wrong, where your understanding of yourself has faltered, where you are refusing to take responsibility for your life and your pain.

Learning from our mistakes is a fundamental component of a happy life. If you do something wrong, but you learn from it, then that mistake suddenly becomes helpful. While that might not remove all our negative feelings, it certainly prevents things from getting worse. So let your regrets turn into a raging wildfire that kills everything in its path. Then you can sow the seeds for something better in the ashes.

leader

1. Listening
“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” – Ernest Hemingway

2. Storytelling
“Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” – Robert McAfee Brown

3. Authenticity
“I had no idea that being your authentic self could make me as rich as I’ve become. If I had, I’d have done it a lot earlier.” – Oprah Winfrey

4. Transparency
“As a small businessperson, you have no greater leverage than the truth.” – John Whittier

5. Team Playing
“Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds.” – SEAL Team Saying

6. Responsiveness
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” – Charles Swindoll

7. Adaptability
“When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” – Ben Franklin

8. Passion
“The only way to do great work is to love the work you do.” – Steve Jobs

9. Surprise and Delight
“A true leader always keeps an element of surprise up his sleeve, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.” – Charles de Gaulle

10. Simplicity
“Less isn’t more; just enough is more.” – Milton Glaser

11. Gratefulness
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” – Gilbert Chesterton

And the Golden Rule: Above all else, treat others as you’d like to be treated.

Expect Less, Live More

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Our brain is a veritable expectation machine. When we push down on the handle of a door, we expect the door to open. When we turn on a tap, we expect water to come out. When we board a plane, we expect the laws of aerodynamics to keep us in the air. We expect the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening. All these expectations are subconscious. The regularities of life are so engraved into our minds that we don’t have to think about them actively.

Research confirms that expectations have a profound impact on happiness, and that unrealistic expectations are among the most effective killjoys. A life without goals is a wasted life. Yet we mustn’t be shackled to them. Be aware that not all your dreams will come true because so much lies beyond our control. Many of our unhappiest moments are down to sloppily managed expectations – particularly expectations of other people. You can’t expect others to conform to them any more than the weather would.

Most of us treat our expectations like helium balloons, letting them climb higher and higher until finally they burst and fall in crumpled shreds from the sky. But how do we foster realistic expectations instead? Well, an advice is to lower your expectation. Before every meeting, every date, every project, every party, every holiday, every book and every undertaking, rate your expectations on a scale from 0 (disaster) to 10 (fulfillment of life’s dream). Then deduct 2 points from your rating and mentally readjust to that number.

The whole exercise should take 10 seconds, maximum. Rating your expectations interrupts the automatic process of plucking them out of thin air, and you’re also giving yourself a kind of buffer, because now your expectations are not simply moderate but have actually been lowered fractionally below their proper value. The ability to manage expectations is part of a happy life. In reality, besides breathing, eating, drinking and sleeping, you don’t have to do anything else in order to survive. The less you expect, the happier you’ll be.

The Delayed Rewards (2)

Growing a bamboo tree requires sunlight, water, fertile soil and nourishment. It’s similar to most plants on earth. However, it’s a big different in that it also requires something more – patience. When the bamboo farmer sets the seeds in the earth, after the first year, he has nothing to show for his work. The second year? Nothing. The third ad fourth years? Still nothing. But by the fifth year, something truly magical happens. In the matter of a single season, the bamboo tree can grow as much as 80 feet.

We and our work are like the farmer and his bamboo – we must be patient, commit to nourishing and fostering our work before we see it shoot high above the ground. In the 1960s, a Stanford professor initiated a series of fascinating psychological studies that shed some light on the impact of patient and commitment on success. Playfully dubbed “The Marshmallow Experiment”, Walter Mischel and his team of scientists put hundreds of children through a simple test.

They placed each child in a room by themselves with a single marshmallow. Before leaving the room, the scientists gave each child a choice – they could either eat the marshmallow or they could wait and be rewarded an additional marshmallow for their patience. The scientists then left for 15 minutes. What’s fascinating about this experiment is that the scientists continued their research as the children grew into teenagers and later adults. What the scientists found was that the children who showed an ability to wait for the second marshmallow had generally achieved greater health, education and professional success down the road.

Although one’s fate cannot be determined by whether or not they gave into eating a marshmallow one time as a kid, there is something we can take away from The Marshmallow Experiment: our ability to delay gratification can have an impact on our success. We are quite poor at assessing long term risks and at intuitively understanding statistical evidence. We eat too much, we exercise too little, we smoke and drink even though we know that this will increase our odds of developing serious illnesses. On the other hand, we are also especially afraid of losing what we already have, even when the odds of greater returns are high.

Our ability to delay gratification can be conditioned. This requires embracing the boredom – our ability to restrain our impulses is something we can strengthen by simply practicing every day. A little self-awareness goes a long way. Pinpoint the things you find addictive, pleasurable and perhaps destructive when overused. While cutting back on those activities is certainly a move in the right direction, challenging yourself to actually delay gratification is when the real progress begins. And such progress over time can help you to build sustainable systems and habits, instead of relying on willpower alone. So, whether it’s bamboo, marshmallows, smartphones, ice cream or money, delayed gratification is a practice worth strengthening – one step at a time.

Related post: The Delayed Rewards (1)

End of the Road

boyz

End of the Road” was recorded in the 1992 single with the same name of Boyz II Men, an American R&B vocal group. The group was initially started by 4 members: Nathan Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, and Michael McCary. In 2003, Michael McCary left the group due to health issues. Boyz II Men was best known for their multiple-lead arrangement and smooth harmonies. After “End of the Road” was released, it became their biggest hit. The song stayed at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for 13 weeks. And that was the time I migrated to Australia alone. The song was so popular that it was always played on radio and I could often watch its music video on TV. The song also reminds me of that period of time – the loneliness in a foreign city and uncertainty of the life ahead.

Said we’d be forever
Said it’d never die
How could you love me and leave me
And never say goodbye?

When I studied abroad in UK, I knew another international student who was in the final year of his studies. He was dating a local girl whose family was in UK. To us, they were a sweet couple who were always together – shopping, cooking, watching movies, traveling, attending some university events. And the girl sometimes slept over at his place. Then he graduated and left UK, we wondered whether the girl would go overseas to join him. She didn’t.

When I can’t sleep at night without holding you tight
Girl, each time I try I just break down and cry
Pain in my head oh I’d rather be dead
Spinning around and around

Soon after the new term had begun, we found that the girl was together with one of my classmates. No one mentioned anything and life proceeded as normal. I thought only me felt this was odd at that time. Should love be eternal? Those movies and TV dramas that I watched might be lying and relationship could be so casual in reality. I didn’t hear from them after graduation. But when I think about this now after all these years, people are always dependent on others and love is sometimes just a matter of choice. A relationship usually relies on who walks into your life at the right place in the right time. People change. Love changes. And life goes on.

Although we’ve come to the end of the road
Still I can’t let you go
It’s unnatural, you belong to me, I belong to you

The Delayed Rewards (1)

Imagine you’re a human roaming the plains of Africa a million years ago. On any given day, most of your decisions have an immediate impact. You are always thinking about what to eat, where to sleep or how to avoid a predator. You are constantly focused on the present or the very near future. You live in an immediate-return environment because your actions instantly deliver clear and immediate outcomes.

Now switch back to your human self in modern society. Many of the choices you make today will not benefit you immediately. If you do a good job at work, you’ll get a paycheck in a few weeks. If you exercise today, perhaps you won’t be overweight next year. If you save money now, maybe you’ll have enough for retirement decades from now. You live in a delayed-return environment because you can work for years before your actions deliver the intended payoff.

However, our human brain did not evolve for life in a delayed-return environment. We still act like our ancestors who spent their days responding to grave threats, securing the next meal and taking shelter from a storm. We place a higher value on instant gratification. The distant future was less of a concern. We prefer quick payoffs to long-term gains. Why would someone smoke if they know it increases the risk of lung cancer? Why would someone overeat when they know it increases their risk of obesity?

In other words, the costs of our good habits are in the present. The costs of our bad habits are in the future. Are you aware healthy foods always taste bad and fast foods are always delicious? At some point, success requires you to ignore an immediate reward in favor of a delayed reward. But how? An advice is to add a little immediate pleasure to the habits that pay off in the long-run and a little immediate pain to ones that don’t.

For example, every time you skip a bad habit, transfer – say $5, to a saving account for your dream trip or shopping wish-list. But this immediate pleasure needs to align with your goal. Eating a bowl of ice-cream after your workout is not a good idea. The road less traveled is the road of delayed gratification. If you’re willing to wait for the rewards, you’ll face less competition and often get a bigger payoff. As the saying goes, the last mile is always the least crowded. And change is easy when it is enjoyable.

Related post: The Delayed Rewards (2)

The Secretary Problem

Let’s say you want to hire a secretary. A hundred women have applied for the role, and you’re interviewing them one by one in random order. After each interview, you have to make a decision: will I hire or reject this candidate? No sleeping on it, no putting it off until you’ve seen all the applicants. The decision you make straight after the interview cannot be overridden. How do you proceed?

Will you take the first candidate who makes a decent impression? If so, then you run the risk of missing out on the better candidates further down the line. Or will you interview the first ninety-five candidates to get a feel for the quality of the pool, then choose one from the final five who’s most similar to the best candidate you’ve seen so far? And what if the final five are all disappointments?

This question is known among mathematicians by the label: the secretary problem. Surprisingly, there is only one optimal solution. You should interview the first thirty-seven candidates and reject them all; meanwhile, however, you should be monitoring their quality. Then keep interviewing until you find someone who is better than the top applicant out of the previous thirty-seven. Then hire her. You’ll be making a solid choice.

Why thirty-seven? It’s 100 (number of applicants) divided by the mathematical constant e (2.718). So if you had fifty applicants, then hire the candidate who is better than the first eighteen. However, life is not a question of mathematical exactness. But the secretary problem gives us some guidelines about how long we should spend testing things out before we make a final decision on important issues.

Most of us make our decision too soon. When it comes to pick a career, a job, an industry, a partner, a place to live, a favorite author, a musical instrument, a preferred sport or an ideal holiday destination, it’s worthwhile quickly trying out many different options at first – more options than you’d like – before making a firm decision. Choosing before you have a strong sense of what’s out there is not a sensible idea.

Our sample sizes are too small and our decisions rushed. We rely on a false impression of reality, believing that with a few random spot tests we can find the man or woman of our dreams, our ideal job, the best place to live. Sure, it might work out, but it will only be by a stroke of good fortune, and nobody should pin their hopes on that. The world is much bigger, richer and more diverse than we imagine, so try to take as many samples as you can while you’re still young. Taste whatever fate dishes up. Only as you age should you become highly selective. But by then you’ll know what you like and what you don’t.