Mind Like Water

Sigh! I’m still in a blue mood because of the loss but I’m forcing myself to get back into a normal routine.

I have to say that doing anything – even washing my hair or talking on the phone – feels like a humongous effort so sitting still and staring at the TV did bring a measure of comfort for a while. However, I’ve decided that two whole weeks of stepping out of my routine is enough. Anything more and I’m afraid of treading into dangerous “I’m Feeling Terribly Sorry For Myself And It’s A Great Excuse To Do Nothing” territory.

In the spirit of getting back to ‘normal’ I have attempted to start on one of the many books I bought earlier this year – remember this post? I’ve started on Getting Things Done since I feel that I haven’t done much of anything over the last couple of weeks.

The book has turned out to be a good choice. I’m only on page 14 and I’m already inspired by David Allen’s approach to productivity. His style is a comforting mix of practical and surprisingly (especially for a book on organization) spiritual ideas.

Allen talks about the “Mind Like Water” Simile :

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input, then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact. The power in a karate punch comes from speed, not muscle; it comes from a focused “pop” at the end of the whip. That’s why petite people can learn to break boards and bricks with their hands: it doesn’t take calluses or brute strength, just the ability to generate a focused thrust with speed. But a tense muscle is a slow one. So the high levels of training in the martial arts teach and demand balance and relaxation as much as anything else. Clearing the mind and being flexible are key.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, you staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”

Wise words indeed. It applies to work and to life as well. I’m now trying to use this principle to deal with what I’m facing. It hasn’t put a huge smile back on my face but I have to say that it has certainly brought a tiny sense of balance back into my life.

I can’t wait to see what else David Allen has to say….

photo credit: http://www.ojaiwordfest.wordpress.com


The Joy Thieves

Joy Thieves are everywhere and they’re usually camouflaged which makes them really tough to spot.

So, what are Joy Thieves, I hear you ask (okay, maybe you don’t care but I’m going to tell you anyway)?

Well, Joy Thieves are what I call the little things in our lives that create a massive decrease in happiness levels.

The first biggest mistake we all make in our search for happiness is to assume that just because we’re not hungry, cold and don’t have a terminal illness, it automatically means that we must feel ecstatic all the time. The second biggest mistake we make is that it takes a huge change to create a difference in our happiness levels.

A really good Joy Thief example from my own life is my hair and the regularity of bad hair days. This might not sound like a big problem compared to let’s say not having enough to eat or a place to live but I’ve realized that just because I’m not as badly off as some of the people in this world, it doesn’t automatically make me feel thrilled about my life.

You may have heard of Malcolm Gladwell (who also seems to have troubles with his hair) and his fantastic book The Tipping Point, which is essentially about how little  changes can make a big difference. Gladwell says that one of the reasons he wrote the book is to inspire people to start ‘positive epidemics’.

In his website, Gladwell proclaims,”The virtue of an epidemic, after all, is that just a little input is enough to get it started and it can spread very,very quickly.”

In the spirit of starting my own positive epidemic, I’m determined to identify my personal Joy Thieves so I can create a huge wave of happiness with little effort.

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far and what I’m doing about it:

Horrible Hair

I have wavy hair and I live in a humid climate – needless to say the two don’t mix. If I don’t blowdry and apply product my hair tends to curl up in every conceivable direction – needless to say, this makes me want to scream every time I look in the mirror.

Solution: Tried going for a weekly blowdry at the salon and it turned out to be too expensive and time consuming so I’m currently learning to blowdry my own hair and have invested in an anti-frizz product that works.

Jump in Joy: 7/10

Cleaning

Unlike some people, I don’t naturally pair the word domestic with the word bliss. I hate hate hate doing housework – the mopping, the dusting, the ironing and the general cleaning. The Engineer is given to bouts of cleaning fits but isn’t the type to do it everyday. As a result, our house often winds up looking a little more pig sty and a little less palace.

Solution: We recently hired a domestic to come in every other week to keep things from entering the crazy cluttered territory.

Jump in Joy: 8/10

Workspace

When I started working from home, I used the dining room table as my workspace. This made the entire living area in my apartment look messy and unwelcoming. It also had an adverse psychological effect on me. Every time I walked in the front door, I felt like I had entered an office and was forced to deal with a powerful awful urge to sit at my computer and work!

Solution: I have converted one of the rooms into an office space and had great fun shopping at IKEA for this reason. It’s nothing fancy, just office supplies, a place to store my files and everything neatly arranged and within reach but it definitely works for me.

Jump in Joy: 8/10

So there you have it – little changes, big jumps in joy. There are many more Joy Thieves lurking in my life and my aim is to shine a spotlight on each one and I’ll share them here once I do. It’s such an easy path to more happiness, I just have to take it!

Pics credit: my.telegraph.co.uk; diminishinglucy.com; anythingabteverything.wordpress.com


The Lesser Cousin Of Mindfulness

I’ve discovered that in the journey to happiness, mindfulness is the light that illuminates the road.

Mindfulness is essentially a Buddhist practice. It means staying in the moment and being mindfully conscious of what’s taking place in your thoughts, body, emotions and surroundings while maintaining a sense of calm.

Sounds like a deliciously peaceful idea but let me tell you it’s a DAMN hard thing to put into practice!

I haven’t managed to ‘stay in the now’ despite reading and re-reading one of the best books on the topic – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.

In his book, Tolle encourages readers to savour the moment – even if you’re just washing the dishes or hanging clothes out to dry – without thinking of the future or the past. No grasping for something that you want to happen and no replaying what happened before. Just taking pleasure in the water over your hands as you get your dishes clean or inhaling the fresh scent of clean clothes as you hang them up to dry. This sounds wonderful and even doable but I’ve perhaps managed it for say half a second at any given time! My ‘monkey mind’ as the Buddhists call it swings from one branch of thought to another with no regard for my efforts.

For instance, I’ll catch the scent of clean clothes and think ‘how lovely’. Before I can stop myself, the next thought would be ‘we need to get more detergent coz we’re running out’ followed by ‘what else needs to get on the shopping list? Are we out of eggs? Better go and check’ and on and on and on.

I almost gave up trying mindfulness altogether when I realized that I might be setting a standard that’s way to high for my monkey mind. These days, I’m attempting to get to the lesser cousin of mindfulness – staying aware of my thoughts. I’m at least conscious of my monkey mind and how it leaps from thought to thought. I’m less ‘attached’ to it’s antics and the thoughts that come into my head.

That’s why I was able to feel some sense of calm this morning, despite waking up on the wrong side of the bed. I didn’t snap at The Engineer even though I felt like it when I couldn’t find a book I was looking for. I was glad that I held my tongue because it turned out that it wasn’t he who had misplaced it, it was me!

If I hadn’t been aware of my thoughts that were going in many different directions and Lizard Liz going ‘it’s his fault – blame him!’, I’d have probably started an argument and then felt guilty about it for the whole day. This way, I’m still not in the best of moods but at least I’m free of the additional burden of unnecessary irritation and guilt.

I may not be deliriously happy today but I feel rather calm – and I’ll take that for now!

meditation pic credit http://www.livingwithtolle.com


Happy Introverts

I’ve never been a big fan of small talk. That’s why I look forward to most parties the way other people look forward to a trip to the dentist.

It was different when I was a kid. Back then, parties were about presents, games, cake and sugar highs. These days, parties are about mindless chatter, listening to complaints about the government (local, international, basically every government in the world) and attempting to sidestep the resident alcoholic who’s had too much too drink.

Yes, party-wise, things have certainly taken a dive since my primary schooldays and I’m always pleased when I have a genuine excuse not to attend one of these sorry soirees.

Unfortunately, I also tend to feel guilty about being party averse (or as others would point out a party pooper). I genuinely admire people like my husband, The Engineer, who feeds off the energy of a crowd and gets more and more vibrant and cheerful as the evening wears on.

Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a corner trying to stifle a yawn.

I’ve always felt my lack of interest in hobnobbing and making small talk was somehow a failing on my part but I was really pleased to discover recently that not being an extrovert may not be such a bad thing after all.

I found a nifty little article on the topic in the February issue of O magazine.

The article called Shh! Your Inner Introvert Is Calling caught my eye. Written by Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, the article is about the subdued power of people who are more quiet caterpillars than social butterflies.

Susan says talking deeply can help people feel happier. She explains how jumping quickly from subject to subject (i.e idle chitchat or small talk) isn’t the forte of the average introvert who generally prefers deep,serious conversations that focus on a single topic (that’s me!). She cites a study by University of Arizona psychologist Matthias Mehl PhD. He found that the happiest participants were twice as likely to have substantive conversations as the unhappiest ones. The happy people were also far less likely to take part in small talk.

This is great news for me! Finally, a study that gives me a real reason to sidestep small talk. Less small talk = More happiness!


Genius Or Snake Oil Salesman?

Good God – I’ve done it again! I went out and purchased yet another book – I’m officially out of control!!!!!

This time, my crime involves a book by Paul McKenna called “Change Your Life in 7 Days”.

McKenna is also the author of  such bold titles as “I Can Make You Thin”, “I Can Make You Smarter” and “I Can Make You Rich.”

To be honest, I have no idea why I bought this book except that “Change Your Life in 7 Days”  is such a DARN outlandish enticement that I had to check it out for myself. Also, the topic is related to my Journey To Happiness. If you want to get happier, you have to change your life in some ways, right? (okay, clutching at straws but I have to find a logical reason for buying the book!)

Anyways, I  jumped on Google the moment I got home and it turns out McKenna is a British dude  who – get this – used to be a DJ but who is now a master hypnotist and NLP practitioner. That was the moment when I first felt stirrings of misgivings. A DJ turned hypnotist????

Things took a turn for the worse when I happened upon a 2008 article by UK’s Daily Mail during my Google search ( why did I Google him after I had bought the book? Damnit!). The article had the disturbing title of “So Is Paul McKenna A Genius Or A Snake Oil Salesman?”

Apparently McKenna was responsible for getting talk show host Ellen DeGeneres to quit smoking and assisting Courtney Love to lose weight. His book, I Can Make You Thin, has helped turn him into a multi millionaire (in pounds, not dollars) but critics remain unconvinced.

Apparently Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority banned his advertising campaign for claiming to be ‘the most effective weight loss system available.Lose weight and keep it off.” The guys at the Authority seemed to feel there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that people using McKenna’s method would lose weight and stay trim forever… and I had just spent nearly RM70 on this guy’s book – uh oh!

Oh well, I suppose I should keep calm and carry on since I’ve already bought the book. Plus, in honour of my Journey To Happiness I really should withhold judgment and try to stay positive.

The book comes with a hypnosis CD (which you’re warned not to use while you’re operating heavy machinery i.e driving etc) as well as a DVD.I immediately downloaded the CD into my iPhone the moment I got home but I haven’t listened to it yet because I’ve been terribly busy today with 2 fashion articles for a women’s magazine. I still haven’t started on my third article, a property review, which I’m totally not looking forward to. It’s due tomorrow so I’ve got to get cracking on it but it’s going to be even more boring than it usually is because I’m writing it after the fun fashion pieces.

Gosh, I’m really not too chipper today am I?! Either way, I’m going to try the 7 Day thingee and see if I can’t do something amazing like stay cool when dealing with rude people in the service industry (really hard to do ‘coz I have a bit of a short temper).

But first….the dry, dull, dreary property review…sigh….


Bookaholic

I ran out to get hold of some new books on happiness from Kinokuniya bookstore in Suria KLCC. This wouldn’t be a problem for most people. It’s good to read, right? Well… that depends.

I don’t know if I mentioned this before but I’m a book addict. I mean a serious addict. I’m the kind of addict who needs to belong to a group that starts its meetings with the phrase “Hello, I’m Trisha and I’m a bookaholic.” I have books I haven’t read coming out of my ears. I spend loads of cash on books. I’m afraid to add the book bills at the end of the year. All I know is that I have enough book receipts to get the government tax relief, many times over (the Malaysian government allows each individual to enjoy up to RM1,000 on tax relief per annum for books – so you do the scary math!)

Despite these disturbing personality traits, I couldn’t resist buying even more books ‘in the name of research’ for my Journey To Happiness. To be fair, I’ll probably read them all but I already have 2 books on the subject (The Geography of Bliss –  Eric Weiner and Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord, a best selling French novel that’s been translated into English) which I haven’t read yet.

Either way, I came away from Kinokuniya yesterday with two brand new books (oooh! the thrill of it ….the scent of new books, the faint rustle of untouched printed paper!).

1) Stumbling On Happiness – Daniel Gilbert

2) Getting Things Done – David Allen

Alright…technically the second book is about organizing your life (with emphasis on work) but I figure organizing your life has got to go toward making you happy. At least, I think so. It’s hard to feel joyous when you have a to-do list stretching back to 2007 that hasn’t been completed yet.

Okay, enough with waxing lyrical about nothing. Time to hit the books so I can reduce some of this book buying guilt so I can get happy again!