Mindmapping Your Ideas

Mind mapping is fascinating with the wiggling curves, colourful text and images.  It is a genius tool according to Tony Buzan the inventor of Mind maps.  He has developed his own mind mapping software – the iMindmap, an alternative to the better known MindManager.

I love mind maps and use it extensively for problem solving, brainstorming, remembering (studying for exams), report preparation, presentation and many others.  Mind maps are supposed to mimic your brain’s thinking patterns and thus help in creativity by joining the dots of connectedness and related ideas, leaving no stone unturned.  You can also improve your productivity using mind maps.  You may want to listen to this interview with Chuck Frey:


Over the years, I have been using various mind mapping software and the first one was MindManager.  It is a well-developed software with rich connecting features to other applications such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Project.  I have also experimented with other freeware such as Freemind.  Though less sophisticated it provides the basic mind mapping features that can still prove fairly useful.

iMindmap, the official mind mapping solution by Tony Buzan came out about a few years ago but is catching up fast in functionality and connectivity with its rapid developments.  It is equally interesting and perhaps better value for money.

There are people who find mind maps hard to read perhaps only because they do not have an understanding of its workings and hence benefits.  For a better appreciation of mind maps, I will leave it to Tony Buzan to explain in his own words:

If you want to try iMindmap go to:  http://www.imindmap.com.

Other mind mapping software to explore:


For news on mind mapping, you may also want to check out this site:


Five Ways to Become Happier Today

I found the post by the same title on http://www.bigthink.com.  It is an interview with Tal Bel-Shahar, Psychology Lecturer at Harvard University, who is also best known as a Happiness Guru.  Here is an extraction from the interview.

So what are these five ways to become happier today?

Alive and undamaged: Interestingly he said you need to be not a psychopath or dead as only being one of these would mean you cannot experience painful emotions.  If we can experience these painful emotions then can we open ourselves to positive ones.  How true!  You cannot possibly be happy if you are dead or damaged in some way.  So celebrate the fact that you are alive and undamaged.  Be grateful that you have the opportunity to be happy by choosing to be positive.  Since there is a choice, won’t you rather be happy?

Quality social interactions: Spending quality time with family, friends, relatives, loved ones – people who care about us and whom we care about – is important in feeding our happiness.  Quality time also means giving a 100% of your attention and not when we are doing something else at the same time, like being on the phone or text messaging.  I love spending time with family and friends.  While they may give you headaches from time to time, there is still no replacement for having a laugh or two with your loved ones.  I have known of people who have dysfunctional family and remain unhappy throughout their lives.

Regular exercise: Physical exercise is also another way to improve your happiness level.  Research shows that regular exercising several times a week is equivalent to some of the most powerful psychiatric drugs for anti-depression.  Compared to our fore-fathers we are walking less by adopting habits such as using auto-transport even for short distances.  Not only do these habits have negative impacts on our physical but also mental health.  There is such a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when I take a 5-minute walk to the train station instead of taking a bus ride or complete a 4km walk on a good day.

Expressing your gratitude: Developing the habit of expressing your gratitude daily on things big and small carries a lot of weight in raising your happiness indicator.  He suggests writing at least 5 things you are grateful for before going to bed and not wait till you encounter a crisis to be reminded to appreciate the things you have in your life.  People who do that are happier, more successful and optimistic.  Hmm…I am going to try this one out, starting today.  (If you want to take your gratitude online there is a place to do it – http://www.gratitudelog.com.)

Simplify your life: Simplify by doing only one thing at a time.  Savour every minute of the moment.  Pay attention and appreciate the action, thought, feeling and words of the moment.  Develop quality in everything you do without destroying it with multi-tasking.  To help with concentration, allocate time for e-mail to say 3 hours daily, switch off the mobile phone during time set aside for the family, etc.  No rush, no tension just simply be (happy).

All these five ways appear to be so simple and yet there are many who would find it tough.  They are simple for the mind to appreciate but hard for some to carry them out.  But “Rome is not built in a day” so don’t trip yourself up by trying to do them all at once and expect total transformation overnight.  Instead set small but achievable goals toward these five things-to-do over a period and you will never be the same again.  If you find it hard to do it on your own, get help from people whom you trust or get a coach or mentor.

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make

a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven

–  John Milton, English poet

An Evening with Michael Roach

Before yesterday, I know nothing about the man nor his books.  I attended a free talk entitled “Karmic Management: Unlocking Secrets to Success in Life & Business” by Geshe Michael Roach, the author of The Karmic Management, The Diamond Cutter and The Garden and his team.

Born in 1952, Michael Roach is an American teacher of Tibetan Buddhism of the Gelugpa school and was the first Westerner to qualify for the geshe degree at Sera Monastery in India.  He is one of the founders of Andin International Diamond Corporation which has become an annual US$200 million revenue company in a few short years, marking it the fastest growing company in the history of New York.   Very impressive.

His success is attributed to the application of the ancient Buddhist wisdom from The Diamond Cutter, turning traditional business mentality upside down and by helping others – suppliers, customers and even competitors – succeed in life and business.

He looks and dresses like anyone else and if he did not introduced himself as a monk, I would not have guess it.  He presented well and had managed to capture the interest of the audience enough to have them returned the second night for his talks.  I did not attend the first night but from what my friend told me, the auditorium was almost full on the first night as well.  I left feeling excited and energized with possibilities tingling in my head.

Michael Roach is on a world tour with some of his students-turn-teachers — at the Diamond Cutter Institute that he has set up — to promote Karmic Management.

Michael Roach talked about how to plant seeds (ideas, thoughts) into our minds and use them as a multiplier effect to gain personal growth, or advantage if you like.  By giving freely (our time, money, compassion) we are introducing thoughts into our minds that will allow these to flourish in unimaginable ways back to us.  However, there is a certain way to plant the seeds correctly which does not include giving money to charity if we want to generate wealth.  It has got to be a continuous process of giving with the intent to multiply wealth creation, such as investing.  So you may want to give some money, whatever amount – although he is recommending 10% of your earnings – to people in need of money to build a business.  You will need to do that for at least 6 months to habituate and ensure the seed is well planted in order for your own business to flourish and profit in abundance.

This principle applies in other areas of your life too.  If you want health, go and volunteer to help the sick.  If you want a partner, go and help someone get hitched up.

This one I like – if you want to remain youthful looking, make sure you do not get angry.  Anger is poisonous; it destroys all your good intentions, weakens your seed planting and makes you aged faster.

I think the most valuable lesson I came away with is this:

All things come from a seed,
and Everything is possible.

He gave the example of Google – how it would have been unimaginable to send messages in an instant that cost you nothing just a mere few years ago.  Now, no one can (almost) live without this form of communication.  When you have an idea (seed), it can be manifested to become real and possible.

If you have an idea now, plant it well and wait for the returns.  🙂 Good Luck.

Want to know more about him and his philosophy/teachings?  I am sure you will find lots by googling him!  Or, read his books as I am planning to do.

Note:  You do not need to become a Buddhist to apply these principles to succeed.

Velcro vs Teflon

I was totally captivated by this phrase Velcro vs Teflon” coined by Dr. Rick Hanson in the book “Happy for No Reason” by Marci Shimoff.  What is all that about?

Since it appears in a book about happiness, you could probably guess how this is related.  Apparently we are naturally drawn to negativity like Velcro and oblivious to positivity as it slides off easily like on Teflon.

When you give this some thought, you would find that it is not difficult at all to drag up tons of examples to prove that this is all too true.  Some of these might resonate:

  • Everyone tells you how great a job you have done but your boss thinks you have missed out one important point.  You take this as criticism and could not sleep for days; it eats you in the gut.
  • You think you are a good mother but when your neighbour complains about your son’s misbehaviour, you take a dive in self-esteem.
  • You take a test which you have no problem answering all the questions but one.  You think you have done badly and could fail the test.

All it takes is just one small “wrong” to throw you into depression, destroying all the good simply because we are designed to focus on negativity.

Everyone seems to be seeking happiness but finding it elusive.  Now you have a little better idea why this is so.  Negativity being a natural reaction (due to the flight-or-fight phenomenon of our fore-fathers in early life form) makes it comfortable for us to remain unhappy.  To become happy requires more effort; we need to learn new ways of thinking and responding.  Any wonder why there are so many unhappy people?

Thomas Leonard said “People spend more time WORRYING about what might happen than DEALING with things that do happen“.

Concentrating on worrying leaves you no energy nor brain power to appreciate the beauty of the NOW and you miss the opportunity to be happy.

To avoid this natural tendency, we need to practise appreciation and gratefulness daily to ensure negativity is kept at bay.  We should practise having good thoughts: notice the freshness of the morning air, the peacefulness in taking a stroll in the gardens, smile at the happiness of children at play, appreciate the thoughtfulness of your neighbours, and so forth.   Concentrate on these things and you will find the warm in the heart grows.

Marci Shimoff suggests in her book to keep a count on the number of times you blame, complain or feel ashame a day and you would know how easily negative thoughts creep into your everyday life.

In order to train our brain to be more positive, each time you record these negative thoughts, replace it with a positive one.  Eventually, slowly but surely, you will become happier.

Let’s make a commitment NOW to change this to:


Be Courageous

My first taste of positive thinking comes from reading Norman Vincent Peale’s books.  I still remember how tall I suddenly stand and everything becomes possible for me after reading his books.

That was over a decade ago.  I took on a job that required me to create a database and I knew nothing of database much less creating one.  I did however knew my sister was dabbling with it a bit and thought it could not have been that difficult.

Then I realised that she was only using the most elementary commands to filter queries, processing simple sorts and performing straight data entry in Foxpro which required some computer programming language knowledge.  What had I got myself into?  I started to sweat inside and not daring to show my discomfort outwardly.

It was around this time that I have decided to broaden my reading materials and picked up “The Power Of Positive Thinking” by Norman Vincent Peale where I have gained my determination and focus to succeed.

It was in those days when Lotus was leading the market in desktop applications while Microsoft was furiously catching up fast.  The company bought me Lotus Approach but I found out later that Microsoft was more user-friendly and much easier to learn and develop databases with.  I managed to convince the company to invest in the software and I ploughed through the entire instruction manual from sun-up to sun-down, often forgetting to eat and drink.

I focused all my energy to get it right and right I did get.  The database was up and running.  My bosses thought the wonders of me (I guess it would not be too difficult since all of them were over 50 years old and their IT skills were a lot less than mine).  The database continued to run for the next 5 years before it was replaced.  It was not a super application by any standard but it was a significant achievement for me.

I took a chance – the possibility of failing that could land me out of the door or at the very least lost my credibility.  I did it anyway.

Was that courage?  Maybe.  Was that self-confidence?  Perhaps.  Thinking back, before and after this incident, I have always been daring in committing myself to projects that I know little about and I have this little inner voice pushing me forward.  More often than not, I end up finishing with relatively good results.  I do not know whether it was courage or fool-hardiness though I would like to think it was the former.

I got a lot of self-satisfaction out of that exercise, boosting my self-confidence no end.  It took me to other places higher up the ladder simply because I would not allow myself to say “no, I cannot do it” to anything thrown my way.  My personal mottos become “until I try I will never know” and “what do I have to lose?”.

Since then whenever I have a dilemma and starting to tread down the road of negativity, I would recall my past victories to hold up as examples to remind myself, to give me the strength and courage to climb and scale once again.  Now, isn’t that what it means to think positively?

I will leave you this quote from Norman Vincent Peale to ponder:

“Believe in yourself! Have faith in your abilities! Without a humble but reasonable confidence in your own powers you cannot be successful or happy.”

What Is Good Parenting Really?

Children are becoming very precious now that people are producing fewer.  Our world tomorrow will be very dependent on how well children are developing and as parents of generations to come, it is our responsibility to be aware of the underlying issues. This article is a wake-up call for us to ponder…

Recently I was told a story about how a frustrated child hurt his classmate with a pair of scissors because he was upset by being pushed. That sounds scary especially when the child comes from an average nice family and no one would have anticipated such an action. He is by nature non-violent, or at least it appears to be so. So what has prompted to this? Does the child, at six years old, realize the impact of his action? Is that premeditated or driven by impulse?  Do television programmes have influences over how children react to unfavourable situations? So many questions but where are the right answers?

To say the least the parents were in shock. On reflection, while they realize that the child has been naughty in little ways, they have not really understood their child. They have no idea how to deal with this, including how to talk to their child without inciting any adverse reaction. They thought they have been doing everything right until this which started them thinking, what is good parenting? What have they missed?

What is the definition of good parenting? Is it being there for their children? What is the right way to communicate with children? How do we know if we are doing it right?

These questions (and more) are becoming increasingly prominent in the last decade or two when more and more violent acts are being committed by children not even in their teens yet. Certainly parenting has never been easy but it has become more difficult now that influences come from more angles and paths than half a century ago, including bombardment from the media and lack of parental attention. Even with those whose parents are readily accessible, parents may not have the right knowledge to manage children of today. Too often we bring children up from what we learn from our parents and making adjustments we deem appropriate but they may not be adequate for today’s children.

Even parents need to study to become good parents. I met someone recently who is into providing parental support, basically sharing and coaching parents on how to manage their children. He shared his frustrations of some parents who are unwilling to spend even a small amount (SGD40/session once a week) nor the time to understand their children but would willingly spend the money and time on other social activities. At that time, while I thought it is a very admirable service and I applauded him for his passion and dedication, it did not occur to me how important that is until I heard this story. Not being a parent myself slows me in catching up on such issues.

I feel for the parents of this disturbed child. All sort of theories started surfacing when they try to analyse why the child acted that way with other family members and relatives that they suddenly realize there have been telling signs of possible jealousy and attention seeking but those thoughts have not really registered in their consciousness. They are now thinking of going for counselling, both the child and the parents.

Could this be avoided with better understanding what good parenting is all about? We must not forget that each child is different and it is therefore probably necessary for parents to understand some child pyschology and child development and apply the knowledge strategically.

How committed you are in your child’s development will determine the effort you want to put in it. What is yours?

Change Motivation

How often have we set goals for ourselves to find that we either have not started or completed them. We tell ourselves we have to be determined and disciplined but the moment daily activities become overwhelming, we forgot about our goals and once we get off the focus point, it stays unfocused – out of sight, out of mind.

One common issue I have found in the cause of coaching is that most realised they are not that motivated to accomplish anything. Often people are contented with what they have and do not want to disturb their comfort zone which could be due to various reasons. The underlying reason could be fear of failure but is camouflaged by excuses such as no time, don’t have the right training or experience, etc.

Motivation is driven from two angles: internal and external. The majority of us is more reactive than proactive and therefore more reliant on external motivation for change. External motivation usually have a negative connotation and leaves a feeling of helplessness and despair.

For internal motivation to happen, there must be strong desire which often takes place after some serious self-reflection. Self-reflection is not something many do since it is as difficult and scary as change itself because they are afraid to confront their fears. However, being self-aware allows us to feel more in control with our lives. Being more relaxed can lead to positive and creative solutions and help us better manage unanticipated changes.

Change is scary.  Change is hard.  It requires courage, self-knowledge and thinking abilities to overcome the fear of uncertainty and failure.

The question is: Can we stop change? How do we handle changes in our lives? Can we ever be prepared enough?

Someone once shared this with me “The Change that is most certain is change itself”.  There is no escaping change.   The crux of the matter is whether it is a change that is anticipated or not; a change that is welcomed or not; a change that is feared or not, and so forth.  Any change that does not align with personal comfort incite negative emotions.

Whatever the change may be we need to deal with them. We may never be totally prepared but having the right frame of mind and constantly working proactively with the environment can relieve some of the effects of unexpected changes.

Have you ever asked how prepared are you?

Chasing After The Solution

Who does not have a dilemma?  I am sure we all have a dilemma or two in our lifetimes.  The difference is how you handle them when they knock on your door.  Do you decide to deal with it or do you ignore it and hope that the problem will go away.

The thing is by not making a decision you are making a decision, i.e. the decision not to make a decision.  How profound is that?

So what is the consequence of either?  When you make a decision you are choosing the path you want to take, never mind what the outcome is.  If you do not make a decision, something will still happen but you are leaving the choice to other people.  The former gives you the feeling of power over the situation and therefore you are more positive while the other makes you feel helpless and disempowered.

Of the two, you would likely choose the first rather than the second option, right?  Wrong.  Many would still rather leave their fate to someone else because deciding also means having to commit to the outcome.  By relying on others, you have the opportunity or option to curse, swear and blame someone else when things go wrong.  Yes, some people do not want to take responsibility for their own actions and having someone take the blame makes them feel safe.

Now, you may decide you want to be empowered so you choose to face the issue.  Then you need to consider a list of options.  That’s when the hard part begins because you need to think.  You would think thinking occurs naturally and in some cases for some people it is although there is a large number of them who would rather not or able to, especially when it comes to complex issues involving many aspects of one’s life.  They are terrified.  Thinking is hard work drawing a lot of brain power and it is exhausting.

Good decision comes from quality thinking and even thinking requires training.  That is why there are loads of books and course on lateral thinking, etc.  Quality thinking gives you wider perspective of the situation and therefore derives better solution options.

Finally you come up with a few possible solutions but somehow THE solution still remains elusive.  None of them seems to fit somehow.  So what do you do?  You look for help from colleagues, friends, relatives, spouses, etc.  That should cover the bases.  Yet the advices feel hollow and you end up with “yes, but…”.  You are no where closer to your solution than before.  What has gone wrong?

This could have fallen between either one of these possibilities:

  1. The kind colleagues, friends, relatives, spouses, etc. may have agendas unbeknown even to themselves that could sabotage your hope.  Consciously or sub-consciously they may not want you to succeed fearing that the outcome could jeopardize the relationship one way or another.
  2. Not having the same background, experiences and other personal differences, they could not fully appreciate the situation and have very different perception of the successful outcome.
Ultimately the best possible solution would have come from within you.  However, this is not to say you should not consult their opinions.  Just do not expect the final decision handed over on a silver platter.  What you need is some deep reflection – and perhaps some guidance.  You may want to consider someone who has been trained to ask the right questions to help clarify your thoughts, re-order your thinking patterns and draw insights from the process; someone who is objective and most importantly encouraging of your efforts; someone who is supportive and to whom you could be accountable for the solution and actions you have decided on.  Yes, of course, I am referring to a coach.

You may not need or want a coach for everything but the one or few challenging periods in your life to help you through.  Just recognize the moments but if you are not sure, ask for a free trial to see if this is for you.  Decide!

Listening and Watching On The Move

Within my circle of friends I am considered rather tech-savvy but that is only by comparison to their knowledge level.  For example, I have only started on the podcast interest over the past few months and I am enjoying it.  While I enjoy music I am not one of those who would perpetually stuck my ears with a pair of earphones all day, everyday.

I love to play with tech gadgets and I “upgraded” my MP3 player to an iPod Classic a year ago.  With a capacity of 120GB, it would take a lot to fill it up especially when I do not watch movies on it.  Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I spent some of it in exploring iTunes and found iTune U.  Actually I did the exploration only after I was introduced to http://www.TED.com through one of the newsletter that I signed up for.  So what is the attraction?

Podcasts are audio files (MP3) and VodCasts are audio-visual files (MP4) which you can play on any MP3/4 players.  So many podcasts and vodcasts are now available for free that it can be exhausting to just browse through the subjects and titles even before you start listening, watching or downloading them.  But they have so much to offer in terms of both general education and entertainment.  I am continually amazed by the wealth of information available.

There are a number of websites where you can find vodcasts ands podcasts which you can watch or listen to online or download them for later use.  The most popular one is probably YouTube and almost everyone knows about it.  However, the video clip library contains such indiscriminative subjects that makes it difficult to search for the more serious content, or so I thought until I found the Education segment within it.

Google also has their own library of educational video clips of talks, seminars, etc. uploaded by universities and other subject authoritative producers made available for free.  Some of the video clips are as short as under 15 minutes to over an hour long with wide ranging subjects on various sciences, politics, literature, humanities, education, business, engineering, etc.

There is no shortage of video clips to watch and download.  I like http://www.TED.com which showcases videos normally not longer than 30 minutes or so.  Some are very inspiring and funny and the length of the videos is just right for the iPod to listen to on typical bus or train journey or while waiting for a friend to turn up for tea. I get a kick in thinking I am better “educated” and wiser after a bus journey listening to my iPod.  No time wasted there.  For me this is also the best time for pondering.  I tend to daydream, looking out the window unseeingly and so some useful data injection is always welcomed.  I also like to listen to audio books and podcasts when I go for a walk.

The other thing I like about TED is that some of the video clips come with subtitles of various languages and so if English is not your natural language or you are not an English speaker, the subtitle choices are of a great help. It also offers interactive transcription that links to the video clip.  By clicking anywhere within the transcription will take you to the corresponding location in the video, better than clicking onto the fast-forward button.

Everyone of those I have introduced TED to enjoy the videos and I started noticing there are more and more people having them bookmarked on their iPhones.

I learned that UChannel and Academic Earth feature free online courses from universities but I have yet visited them.  I probably will do that after I finish this article.

Recently I found http://www.fora.tv that also has similar offerings although those that interest me tended to run over 45 minutes.  They are generally talks that include a question and answer section.  Of course there are some which are only under 3 minutes too.  You also have the option to bookmark and download them onto your iPhone.

If you are a neuroscience and psychology nut like me, you might find some of these interesting:
http://fora.tv/2009/11/08/Does_Darwin_Illuminate_Emotion_and_Spirituality – this is nearly 1.5 hours long.
http://fora.tv/2009/09/29/Lise_Eliot_Pink_Brain_Blue_Brain – this is about 42 minutes
http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_dennett_cute_sexy_sweet_funny.html – this one is obviously funny; about 8 minutes
http://www.ted.com/talks/martin_seligman_on_the_state_of_psychology.html – 24 minutes
http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy.html – 21 minutes
http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_goleman_on_compassion.html – 13 minutes

These are just some of the video clips and I am sure you can find many more from the websites mentioned above.

There are also websites that offer free audio books.  You may want to try http://www.learnoutloud.com/Free-Audio-Video and http://www.pickthebrain.com/blog/free-audio-book-and-podcast-resources/ .

I leave you with these resources that you can visit and I hope you enjoy.  If you come across other interesting ones, please share them with me.

Is Positive Psychology Helpful?

I have heard enough about positive psychology to be convinced that a happier person is generally a healthier one too.  Ever since I have taken an interest in neuroscience, I have expanded my reading materials to include psychology.  I am no expert but I like to share my interest and findings.  If you are like-minded, you may enjoy this little tit-bit.

I am reminded of this when I read a quotation by Amy Arnstern as mentioned in David Rock’s “Your Brain At Work”:

“The loss of prefrontal function only occurs when we feel out of control.  It’s the prefrontal cortex itself that is determining if we are in control or not.  Even if we have the illusion that we are in control, our cognitive functions are preserved.

What that essentially means is that we cannot function at our best when we do not feel we have control.  The operative word is “feel” and having the illusion of feeling in control can help us preserve our ability to think better and therefore function more efficiently.

When we are in control of our feelings – being happy is a feel-in-control state – we would be in a better position to deal with all things and that aligns everything to create a healthier  body, mind and soul.  So the trick would be to delude the brain by consciously choosing to think positively to transform your state of being.  Since the brain cannot differentiate what is real or not, your positive thoughts would ultimately become strongly held beliefs taken as the truth.  Isn’t this fantastic?  You can then become who you choose to be.  You have a choice.

Just like anything else, correct application is key.  Beliefs can either save or destroy you and hence what you think of is very critical.  Inappropriate thoughts lead to inappropriate beliefs that can lead you astray.  That’s is how cults operate; they are playing with the mind – if you allow them to.

The power of belief is best illustrated by the story told in the book “Why We Believe What We Believe” by Andrew Newberg, MD and Mark Robert Waldman.  I will tell you more about this book in another article but for now, I just want to rehash this story about Mr. Wright whose body was riddled with tumors and there was nothing else the doctors could do for him.

Mr. Wright, believing that a much publicized potential new drug would help him, pleaded his doctor for treatment.  His doctor, Dr. Klopfer, was involved in its research for cancer.  Mr. Wright miraculously recovered within 10 days of the treatment in spite of results from other test subjects showing no positive effect.  Two months later, Mr. Wright, discovered that the drug given to him had proven to be ineffective in research, immediately went into relapse and was hospitalized again.

Dr. Klopfer believed that it was the patient’s belief in the treatment that actually cured him the first time round.  He then decided to test his theory by applying a placebo – nothing more than sterile water. Mr. Wright agreed to the treatment believing that the treatment contained twice the dosage of the previous drug would help him.  Again Mr. Wright’s recovery was dramatic.

It was not until it was published in the American Medical Association that the drug in question was worthless in its treatment for cancer that Mr. Wright fell ill again.  This time, he died within two days after being admitted into the hospital.

This story demonstrated the influential impact of beliefs and how it can affect the physical condition of a person.  This story has greatly affected me,  reinforcing my determination to cultivate positive thinking, something that has caught my attention over ten years ago.

What about you?  Do you consider yourself a positive thinker?  Is this story talking to you and if so, what is it saying?
If you are interested to find out more about positive psychology and it benefits you may want to look out for the seminar “Courage & Resilience” to be held on 9-10 June 2010 in Singapore organised by Philip Merry Consulting Group (PMCG).  Check out the details on this website: http://philipmerry.com/pmcg/ .

Continuous Learning Into Our Old Age

If you have been following some of my articles, you will know that I have a little bit of an obsession with neuroscience and therefore brain plasticity.  I came across this video clip on a talk by Dr. Merzenich, on “Think faster, focus better and remember more – Rewiring our brain to stay younger”.  

Click this link to watch from Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UyPrL0cmJRs&feature=player_embedded#  (Note:  This video is 1.5 hour long.)

With new discoveries that brain plasticity stretches past our adolescence until we die (if we choose to exercise the brain), then it is possible over time with more research and better  understanding on how our brains work would help us to maintain tip-top mental condition throughout our lives.
There is no stopping us from learning and the myth that we cannot learn too well in our old age is therefore not true.  What happens is that we are limiting ourselves in the ability to learn by telling ourselves we are too old to learn, often propagated by our fore fathers – you can’t teach old dogs new tricks.  Take the examples of many past and current world leaders, who, in their 70s and beyond, are still contributing to the world, learning to use the Internet, blogging, etc. – something which were not available decades ago – and leading lives in perfectly healthy faculty of minds.  I have often held these people up as examples to incentivize myself into doing more.
Obviously not all of us want to be world leaders but we could be leaders in our own fields and passions.  Our brains may be different and we may be good in doing different things but that does not mean we can no longer learn.  Life-long learning is good for everyone wanting to have a healthier life, both mentally and physically as learning put us in a positive frame of mind.
With new developments in neuroscience in brain plasticity, scientists are gearing to help not only those who have impaired brain functions but also normal people like you and I to do better in any area we desire to improve, prolonging and maintaining a better quality of life throughout our lives.
I am very encouraged by the stories I hear and read of people who continue to persevere in attaining their goals regardless of their current dismal conditions, perceived or otherwise.  By being continually in touch with such motivating stories, I remind myself in keeping up the resolve to pursue my own positive thinking as, like all normal human beings, we do from time to time fall off the wagon of our good intentions.
Making the decision is the easiest part but maintaining the stamina in our journey is often not as easy.  If you find difficulty in maintaining a consistent will to carry out the actions toward your goals, it is best to get someone to work with you.  It may be a friend, relative, spouse, mentor or coach.  Take a pick on whoever works best for you.
I am leaving you with a slide extracted from the talk that I find most encouraging:

A Few Minutes Go A Long Way

I have often wondered about the benefits of meditation.  A few years ago, I bought a book trying to learn the practice but finding it hard, I dropped it.  My first introduction to meditation directed me to concentrate on a single point and holding onto the image as long as possible.  Of course, as a beginner, I found it hard as my mind seemed to wander to many subjects.  The harder I tried, the more my mind wandered.  When will I be able to master this?

When other things in life intruded, I found better – as in fast rewarding – things to do, I forgot about my resolution to work on my meditation daily.  The habit never got formed until…

Years later, when the tough gets going, I turned inward for answers.  I began reflecting on my life – something that I do from time to time but more consciously when things are not going well – that prompted me to rediscover meditation again.

I have never been real religious having had no particular guidance in that direction and had been deterred during my school-going years by overly zealous Christians dogging my every move trying to get me to church.  Still, in my late teens, when a particular situation troubled me tremendously, I started going inward looking for answers and inevitable I turned to praying.  While not being affiliated to any religion, I somehow adopted a God to talk to.

I remembered standing at the window, looking out at nothing with tears running freely down my cheeks and just purely focusing on the issue at hand.  I explored the various options and asked myself what outcome I wanted from this process.  Suddenly an idea dawned on me and I decided to go ahead to try it out.  It was a rather radical idea but I did it and it solved my problem.  I was seventeen then and it was something I never forget.

Whenever a problem arises, I would go back in time and call up this incident to mind to boost my self confidence in handling any situation.  If I have done it before, I can do it again.

Coming back to present time, a year ago I have decided to revisit my interest in meditation once more.  I read and research the various meditation methods, putting my resolve to master it.  I found that there are different types of meditation; the two main branches: passive and active meditations.

What came out of the research is how meditation is tightly linked to mindfulness and brain plasticity.  Being a keen follower in neuroscience development (no, I am not scientist but have an avid interest in the subject), I come across many references and experiments on how long term meditation changes the brain neuro-activity no matter the age, dispelling the notion that the brain stops changing as we mature.

With this new scientific discovery, meditation is no longer in the domain of religions to which meditation is so closely related.  To me the words “meditation”, “spirituality” and “the mind” have started to become synonymous.  That opens up an aperture of interest in a wider dimension from the original intent and my interest is renewed to a brand new level.

The most complex organ in the human body, the brain is continually the subject of researches and investigations.  Yet there remain many unanswered questions.

I am not sure where this interest will take me but I am sure it would be something real exciting.  At the moment, for the past 9 months or more now, I have been trying daily, every morning and night and sometime in between to practise meditation for a few minutes to as long as an hour although I have yet to determine if that is active or passive meditation.  Still I find it peaceful and more in control of myself – at least that is how it feels to me.  Other benefits?  I will let you know when I know…perhaps my practice is still too elementary.

If you are as interested in this as I am, you might find this video clip captivating.  This is a talk by Daniel Siegel on “Neuroscience of Buddhist Contemplative Practices”.  Enjoy.

Work Life Balance

The pressure of every day life is causing such a havoc no one seems to be able to find the appropriate balance between work and time for themselves.  Talk to anyone and they will give you a long list of their woes on their work-life balance – basically there is no balance at all.

Flip the newspapers and you will see that productivity is down!  Yet on the other hand, it is reported that we need to have work-life balance.  To me, productivity and the work-life balance equation is a big misnomer.  Or, is it?

Being productive, I hope, does not mean putting in more hours but producing more in the same time frame.  By not being productive would mean that we are not working more creatively, using more of our brawn than our brains.  So, by working smarter we should be enjoying better work-life balance but is this how it works?

Increasingly organizations are expecting more from their employees and for those who travel in their jobs, they are putting in an enormous amount of time not appropriately considered in the work-life balance equation.  That is just part of the job.  Modern technology is not helping in this area with the always-on availability concept, you are never “off” work.  There goes the balance.

However, there are ones who abuse the work related travel to include a lot of “self-entertainment” making it difficult to implement a good policy to address this issue.  Hence, as a responsible employee yearning for a work-life balance, one will have to work on their own plan to ensure that they are able to do that by making some changes to their lifestyle and getting an agreement from their supervisors.

That said, the employee needs to know the limits he/she is willing to take that will not affect their home life and be courageous enough to bring this to the attention of their employer.  Far too often, people prefer to suffer in silence for fear of losing their jobs.  This often happens when there is no clear cut job description, responsibility, authority and expectation outlined or if there is, it is not always honored by the employers.  Responsible employers are those who encourage their employees to live a balanced work-life through  leading by examples, consistently applied and showing concern with the their employees’ lives outside the office.

As they say, it takes two to clap.  If you cannot find an employer you enjoy working with and trust, perhaps it is time to reconsider your job options.  You cannot change what your organization is but you can change your job or employer.  Take action for how you want to lead your life and not let someone else control your life.  Yes, this is a big step but it may be worth considering especially if you life depends on it.

If this is your dilemma, what do you plan on doing?  What are your options?  What are you prepared to do about this?  What are the other considerations?  How prepared are you to take the next steps?  Do you have a plan of action – short-term and long-term?  Who else will be affected by this?  Who have you discussed this with, if at all?

If this is the time to look at this, who will you talk to?  Well, consider talking to a coach to help you through this and you may discover something else about yourself you never knew.

Contact me for a trial session to see if you could explore and find a way to deal with this.

Mobile:  +65-93379308
Email:  fun.infinitepotential@gmail.com

Do you know what your Passions are?

We all talk about our passions every now and then but do we really know what our passions are.  We say we are passionate about this and that.  Are we really?  How often have we thought about our passions?  Some people live in their passions and they are usually those who are successful and I do not necessarily mean people who are rich either.  The problem is in defining what is passion and success because these mean different things for different people.  What is yours?  Have you really thought about it?

Defining your passions and successes require a conscious mind – involving deep thinking.  Some people think that they are clear about their passions but yet cannot find happiness in what they do.  Then they are not living their passions.  This is according to Janet and Chris Attwood in The Passion Test.

Many people lead their lives through others by being what others (parents, teachers, spouses, etc.) told and wanted them to be because that is what they are good at.  Perhaps that is what they are good at but it is not necessary what they want to be deep down and they cannot be happy being what they do not really care about.

Recognizing this, Janet Attwood devises a system to help you reflect and self-discover your true passions.  However, discovering your true passions (which could change from time-to-time) is only the first step toward self transformation.  It elicits a conscious decision about what your life is all about and if you are willing to move toward them with the first step.

Transformation takes a lot of courage because you will face a lot of uncertainty but transformation does not need to be instantaneous and can be done in baby steps.  The most important step is the first step – discover and decide.

In the book “The Passion Test”, Janet and Chris Attwood take you through the steps you could and should take toward living a life of your passions.  People living their lives of passions are happier and more successful.  The success part of it depends on your passions and is not necessarily measured by the amount of money you earn or the possessions you have.  If you passion is to become a loving, understanding and supportive mother, your success would be the measurement by which your children see and feel toward you.

Living in your passions you are not stressed into doing things that you do not care about and hence you are more relaxed.  That helps you to be more creative leading to more success.  Are you beginning to see how passion works?

You may want to work on your passion test with a coach so that you get better clarity in discovering what you want and allow your coach to help you through the challenging transformation process.

To find out more about The Passion Test, you may want to visit their website http://www.thepassiontest.com or read the book available at all major book stores.

Better yet, contact me for a trial coaching session to see how you can use the Passion Test to help you discover your passions.

Tel:  +65-93379308
Email:  fun.infinitepotential@gmail.com

Book Review – Your Brain At Work

For those who have taken the ICT (Intensive Coaching Training) with Results Coaching Systems (RCS) would know who David Rock is.  He is the founder of RCS now operating worldwide and the author of several books, including the most recent – Your Brain At Work.

David Rock conducted a workshop in Singapore this November on his latest book, the result of 3 years of hard work and interviews with renown neuro-scientists.  The book is a good read, delivering normally hard-to-understand neuroscience concepts in layman language to help us understand how our brains work and how to capitalize on this knowledge.  This is by no means a full understanding of the brain since there is still a lot of unknowns about this complex organ of ours and neuroscience, is a fairly new field in comparison to all the sciences of today.  However, any small step taken forward is a major discovery to reflect and test on and could be the life-changing event for anyone.

Catching on the neuroscience-interest disease, I have taken steps to follow the works on neuroscience in recent months, reading as much as time allows.  So this book is of utmost interest not only for those neuroscience enthusiast as I but also for any lay person who has an interest in maximizing the use of their brain  at work.

Some of the interesting finds in David Rock’s work are:

  • Conscious thinking takes up a lot of energy, more than we realized and there are some tasks utilizing more energy than others.
  • The conscious working part of the brain is small and therefore limited to a number of things we can do with it at any given time.
  • The brain can only manage one conscious task at a time and multi-tasking slows us down more than concentrating on one task fully at a time.
  • Multi-tasking affects our quality of performance and accuracy.
  • Our brains are very easily distracted by internal and external factors but we could learn to manage and control our thinking processes to maximize the effective use of our brains.
  • Understanding how the brain reacts to various circumstances and how to circumvent the negative occurrences for positive effects.
  • The practice of mindfulness helps in training the brain to better control and use of the whole brain to promote and manage autonomy and certainty.
  • Using the SCARF (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, Fairness) model to facilitate change and maintain sustainable transformation.
Bottom line is the brain can change according to what thoughts and thinking process you feed your brain with regardless of your age.
If you are inspired to make a big shift in your life – either at home or at work – you may want to start by picking up this book to understand how your brain works.  It may save you a lot of wasted hours and ineffective hard work for a more sustainable and rewarding transformation.  To speed up the process, find yourself a coach to help you in your journey.

What Has Voice Got To Do With Coaching?

Over a month ago I attended a talk on “Media Presentation Skills” organized by the ICF Chapter in Singapore.  It turned out more interesting than I had anticipated because there was segment on voice training, something I have great interest in.

Most people do not think that their voice could be trained to sound better – more pleasant and attractive – relegating that to something that only singers do.  You may or may not have noticed that some singers sing beautifully but when they start speaking, you want to cover your ears not because of what they say or even how they say it.  It is because of their voice!

Many tell me that I have a good voice but I have never had it professionally evaluated.  I would love to know what constitute a good voice and if it is true that we can change it.  This is where Paul Carr, Media Presenter and Broadcaster, comes in.  In the talk, Paul shared a few tips on being a good media speaker which, as mentioned, include having a good voice and how he had transformed his voice to one that is now well sort after and paid for.  I have extracted a few points from Paul’s presentation and added a few insights of my own.

Having good planning and preparation
Not everyone is good at speaking off the cuffs, and even then I am sure they run through a framework in their minds before they speak.  Otherwise the speeches will come out incoherent.

The first step, unsurprisingly, is to plan what you want to present or say.  Decide on the objective of the presentation – is it to promote, sell, or introduce a product, or protect and defend a reputation or situation – and keep your focus on the objective.  Depending on the type of presentation (i.e. a speech, interview, product introduction, etc.), content and pitch of the presentation have to be well thought through to ensure relevance.

Then write out the presentation speech and practise, practise and practise until you are fairly familiar with the content, including how you want to deliver it and visualize the response you want to incite from it.

One important thing to note:  You are on Live Presentation when you have a meeting with your clients and hence pre-meeting preparation is just as important as preparing for a speech.  Likewise for a coaching session with our clients, we prepare.

With the increasing use of social media networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, etc., presentations can be delivered in a number of ways either using audio-visual as in video clips or simply just audio such as podcasts.

In audio-visual presentations not only do you want to sound good but also look good.  The audience’s attention is divided between what they see and what they hear, and while the voice is not the only focus point, it is nonetheless important if you want to drive a point through clearly.

Audio presentation as in a radio interview or a podcast will have a very heavy emphasis on the quality of speech.  The voice then becomes a very important part because that is the only thing that the audience will be focusing on.

Executing a good presentation would include having these components in the speech and voice:

“Finishing your words” is one of the most common issues in speeches and conversations.  Too often we make assumptions when we speak and have a tendency to “eat” up our words forming incomplete sentences. Just look at the quotes reported in the newspaper articles and note the text in square brackets and you will know what I mean.  By “eating” up your words, you no longer can deliver a concise and clear message leaving a lot to interpretations that can lead to disastrous results.

Intimacy is apparently a very important ingredient to conversations and speech delivery.  You want your audience captivated and focus on you and your words, showing that you care and is present.  Obviously you need to pace yourself on the level of intimacy added to your tone to avoid unnecessary misunderstandings.  Especially in a one-on-one conversation, for example in a coaching session, having intimacy in your voice can demonstrate your full attention on your client and can promote trust and confidence.

Pitch Variation adds interest and live to the speech or conversation.  When is a dead-pan voice attractive unless you want to act or become a robotic I’ll-be-back terminator!  To be sure having a short statement delivered in a dead-pan voice can be very effective when used in an appropriate moment, just not the entire speech.  Delivering with high impact differentiates a superb presenter from the average presenters.  I am sure want to be the former and not the latter.  Take notice the next time you speak and see if you have good pitch variation or are you putting people to sleep in spite of the interesting topic discussed.

Tone, like pitch variation, gives depth to the speech.  You need to use the right tone for the right moment.  Obviously a gentle tone is better than a harsh one almost under any circumstance to sound encouraging, supportive, understanding, compassionate, etc. but you need to apply a firm tone if the circumstance calls for it to get the highest impact from the interaction.

Volume gives the speech a total different dimension if used appropriately.  If you are too loud, you sound coarse and unrefined.  This is very off-putting.  On the other hand, if you speak too softly, you could not be well heard and that frustrates your listeners.  Applying the right volume adds attraction and interest as your audience feels comfortable and do not need to strain their ears to hear you.

Pace, like volume, is critical and I can say this from personal experience.  When speaking, we must be mindful of our audience ability to follow you.  People lose interest after a few minutes of trying hard to understand and fail.  It is very brain draining to absorb, translate and try to understand, and if they cannot catch up, they give up altogether.  This is especially so when you are speaking in pace too fast and in a language that is not your audience natural language.  However, speaking in too slow a pace is equally unattractive for you will sound too dull and your audience need to pace their brain waves to follow your speech which can be just as exhausting.

Pronunciation is probably underestimated in importance.  It is not enough that your fellow countrymen understand you.  Operating in a global environment, we need to ensure that we speak for a worldwide audience to be heard and understood.  Otherwise why bother speaking at all?  Having good pronunciation means having a clear and crisp enunciation of the words and not necessarily changing your accent which, in some cases, could be worse off sounding most unnatural and certainly unattractive.

Breathe correctly is the most fundamental feature in having a good voice to do all those things mentioned above. Shallow breathing will not deliver the depth of feeling of your voice to execute good pitch variation, tone, volume and pace.  Taking a deep breath and releasing it in a controlled pace in alignment with the speech gives the best voice result, very similar to how a singer learns to sing.

Do you listen to yourself?  If you don’t, start now and learn to pay attention consciously to how you speak.  Compare your speeches in all the areas mentioned above to see how you fare and consider where you might need training.  I started listening to myself since my teens when I decided I want to speak good English and the practice pays off well.  I still continue to do it now but am adding the new components I learned here to my listening.

So why is voice important to coaching?  Coaching is a very intimate relationship between the coach and the client involving a lot of trust and confidence.  With an attractive voice as elaborated in this article, together with a host of other coaching techniques, could put a client at ease quickly to incite the needed trust and confidence for a successful coaching engagement.

Today, marketing your coaching practice may mean capitalizing on the use of social media networks and you may want to try a number of things involving audio-visual or just audio presentations in your blogs and/or websites.  Knowing how to use your voice to the maximum effect to attract audience and followers is certainly a way to go.  Good Luck!