DO YOU KNOW YOUR PURPOSE? 5 CLUES TO KNOWING YOUR PURPOSE IN LIFE

Supporting his own weight with a languid thrust, John pushed himself upright and got out of bed. Physically he was on the move again on a new day but mentally, his mind is still dreading the agony of another typical work day ahead. He wished he could slumber a little longer and not get out of bed and prepare for work. Yet, he knew that is almost impossible ever since he joined the blue collar work force years ago.

John has become part of the complying majority, marking time from 9 to 5, making a living, supporting a decent family, looking forward to the end of the work day, planning the next vacation and thinking of how he can retire comfortably in 30 years’ time. Sometimes, only sometimes, John will wander what on earth is life all about for him – what is his purpose in life?

Too many people are like John, not knowing their own purpose in life. Some have no awareness to search for it. Some are too distracted by the materialistic things in life. Yet, there are others who simply do not know how to search for it. Today, in this post, I will share five simple clues to look out for that will help you begin your search for your own purpose in life.

 

T.E.A.C.H. Me the Clues to My Purpose in Life

‘T’ stands for Time.

The nature of how time passes as you are engaged in activities is a big clue whether those activities correlates strongly to your purpose in life. You have probably experienced moments in your life when time seems to fly past so quickly while engaging in doing certain activities. One hour seemed like a minute and you could not get enough of it or there always seem to be more to be done within the given amount of time.

Conversely, you probably also experienced those occasions when you could not wait for the time to end. Five minutes seem like forever and each second in that moment was such a pain to pass. What is happening to our minds and how can we use these experiences to gauge or find our purpose in life?

According to cognitive psychologists like Mihaly Csikszentmihayli, Robert Levine, Philip Zimbardo and their peers, there is an explanation of what is happening in our brain when we have such varied perception of time flow. When you are in ‘flow’, i.e. when time seems to flow, your brain is actually doing very little thinking. Cognitive processes decrease because many of the decisions you made were autonomous, hence time sped up. This autonomy of the mind during such ‘flow’ activities comes about because of the natural abilities that are available to the person performing them or due to prolonged deliberate practice. Think of a Lionel Messi dribbling the ball at full speed towards his opponent’s goal. Everything seems to be due to instinct.

The reverse is probably true when the things you are doing do not come naturally to you. In your brain, there is greater deliberate thinking going on resulting in your awareness of many thoughts going through your mind. When this happen, time slowed for you.

What are the types of activities that caused you to be in the state of flow when time sped up? There never seem to be enough time to do these things. Becoming more aware of how time pass for you during different activities is one of the keys to knowing whether the core activities you are doing belongs to the realm of your purpose in life. Take the time to examine your work and core activities deeply.

 

‘E’ is for Energy.

The second clue you should be paying attention to when searching for your purpose in life is the energy levels that are generated whenever you are immersed in activities that appeals to you. People who are in their element or purpose feels more energetic after doing their main task.

“At the end of a day, if you’re doing something you love to do, you can be physically worn out but elated”, Sir Ken Robinson remarked in his second book on Finding Your Element. He also gives the example of himself after delivering one of his trademark talks. According to his wife, she would notice from the facial expression and body gestures of Robinson that he had a very good day delivering the talk. There is that glow in the face and everything about him seemed more energetic.

That can happen to all of us when we are engaged in something that is extremely meaningful for us. On the other hand, when your heart is not there, you can look and feel physically and spiritually drained after the event. Just think of some of the training courses you attended that you did not have any particular interest in. Chances are, your company or organization sent you. But when you chose to select and attend your own training, the impact and energy is very different. This is a big clue to our purpose in life – the energy we exudes after we completes something. Watch out for it.

 

‘A’ is for Active Learning.

On any given day, millennials (age 18-30s) from the Asia-Pacific region spend 2.8hrs on their mobile phone, a study called Connected Life found in 2015. This number is still climbing every year. Of these 2.8hrs, 46% is devoted to social media, 42% to videos and the rest on online shopping. Beyond the phone, how much time is spent on other forms of interaction and learning is hard to tell.

We live in the age of digital technology and inevitably much of our own active learning will be related to technology we use. The modern day learner would be reading eBooks, watching videos, listening to podcast, discussing their projects on social media and even jointly developing their presentations via Instagram.

Under such conditions, to search for our purpose of life, we need to be aware of the self-directed learning we are still involved in. By this, I am referring to the books we still read, the videos that we constantly search for, the content we seek and devour online, the blogs we follow, the news we filter, the courses we choose to attend. The caveat is that these must be of our own choosing.

When we do a serious inventory of all these content we search for in various modes, we will have a good idea of where our interest areas and ultimately purpose in life lies. Take note of what you learn on a regular basis. This is another big clue to your purpose.

 

‘C’ for Comments from others.

One of the most feared situation for any American Football quarter-back is a blitz from the blind side. Coming violently and suddenly out of his entire peripheral view, the blind side blitz, if executed by a pro-line-backer can be devastating on the game as well as the health of the quarter-back. That is why, experienced quarter-backs always find ways to see their blind side or protect it.

The blind side of our life is similarly. Every day, we only view life from our perspectives and what we can see. From these observations and patterns we make sense and decision in the world we live in. But are all these the truth about us? Probably not.

In order to truly know what we are good at and what our purpose in life looks like, knowing about other people’s comments about us is important. But is not just what any Tom, Dick or Harry says about us, it is the comments from our true friends and family members that will the most crucial. In their uncensored comments lies cues to our purpose in life.

So, be brave and seek out a fair number of close friends, close associates and family members. Send them a list of questions and ask them for their honest feedback on you regarding what you are good at. Especially useful and effective are concrete experiences or memory where they remembered seeing you in action or witnessed the outcomes you accomplished.

For instance, your close colleague remembered the time you came up with an unconventional idea for a musical for your school that became a hit. Or your father witnessing the day when you won your first trophy in the primary school long jump championship. Or the day, the army awarded you the Sword-of-Honora, the highest award given to an officer cadet. These events and feedback from your close pals says a lot about what you are about or are likely superior in. Search them out and analyse them for your purpose in life. They did not happened to you for no reasons.

Adam Grant, best-selling author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Moved the World, introduced a great tool called Reflected Best Self Exercise to help others find their own strengths and get closer to their purpose in life. You can use this method to start your own search for purpose.

 

‘H’ is for Happiness Level

This probably sounds clique or obvious but I think that it is by far the strongest clue to your purpose in life. Happiness is nothing more than a positive emotional feeling caused by an event that occurred to you. Within the brain, when you are happy, certain chemicals like Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, and others are actually secreted either exclusively on its own or in combination. This is based on a ground breaking book, Habits of the Happy Brain by Graziano Breuning. The end result is the same – you experience jubilation, elation and delight.

However, notice that these are just sensations that are temporary. Once the chemical effects are gone the feelings also subside. You are back to normal. To regain the Happiness effect again, something would have to happen again, most likely an event. You can control this event or work if you know what it is, and you will constantly want to do it again.

When you find your purpose in life, every second of that activity will consume you and elevate your Happiness levels beyond normal. This activity never fail to cause you to feel happy and good. It is reliable.

That’s why noticing what activity makes you constantly and unfailingly happy is a big clue to your purpose in life. For a novelist, it could be the writing. For an artist, the painting. For a gamer, playing and designing games. For an entrepreneur, thinking of ideas and starting businesses related to it. For a singer, the joy of music and songs. For children it is everything because they are absorbing and learning all that they can.

If you ever want to get closer to your purpose in life, pay attention to what prolong work activities brings you happiness consistently.

 

A Life of Purpose worth Searching For

Where are you today in terms of living your purpose of life? Does time freeze for you want you work such that it flies so fast without your control? Are you glowing with energy and feel invincible after a good day’s work? Do you unconsciously seek the same type of active learning in your everyday digital wears? What do your close friends comment about your gifts and abilities? How happy are you when working? If the answers to these questions are not positive for you, you may be like John at the start of the post, surrendering and conforming to life’s inevitable pull towards mediocrity. But life is not design like that. You deserve a fulfilled life and a life of purpose is worth searching for? Begin. T.E.A.C.H. is the key.

THE HABIT OF WILLPOWER – HOW A CHANGE OF HABIT IN YOUR MINDSET CAN TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE?

Julia, a five year old beginning teacher at a high school in Singapore, was bubbly and excited about the new day ahead with her students. She had painstaking taken the time, done the research, developed her online presentation and prepared the worksheet for her class on one of her pet topic, Plate Tectonics, for her geography lesson. In her mind, she could visualize how her students would be enthralled by her materials and teaching. She could sense her satisfaction boiling over in her soul even before the lesson began. She felt great until the phone call before her class was due to start.

As she clicked “Answer” on her hand phone to take the call, she had no idea what was to come from the other end. What followed was a tirade from a rather difficult parent of her form class demanding to know why she had not informed her of her child’s quarrel with another classmate the day before, which resulted in some pushing and name calling by both students involved. The mother deemed it serious. Julia considered this nothing but a childish pranks that all junior high school students engage in from time to time.

Before the call ended, Julia was nearly in tears from all the accusations and threats from the parent. Needless to say, she entered class apprehensive and unsure of herself since the mother had mentioned that “I will be taking this case of poor form-teacher ship to the management level of the school.” A well planned lesson from a passionate teacher intent on teaching her students well was crushed.

What happened to Julia? Isn’t it true that most of us have experienced such drastic scenario in our lives when one uncontrolled event caused a turbulent shift of our day’s energy from positive to negative, leaving us wondering what has gone wrong? Could Julia has prevented such a catastrophe in an ordinary day of her life? The research on the habit of willpower suggest that such scenarios can be anticipated and hence be prevented if we are to protect and safe-guard our own days.

By now, Walter Mischel’s marsh mellow test at Stanford University in the late 1960s and early 1970s has become legendary in the psychology and social science circle. If you are not familiar, the following video is a good summary of what his colleagues and Mischel did to their subjects.

Essentially, the test was about children’s ability to execute delay gratification towards a reward of more marsh mellow if they can somehow resist the lure of one marsh mellow for fifteen minutes on their own. What is less known in the circle and society is that the marsh mellow test was also longitudinal study of the children involved.

In later years and well into the new millennium, Mischel and his colleague carried out reviews on the lives of the children involved. They tracked their high school result. When they went to college, the researchers studied them again. Once they entered the work force and society, the team called back and checked on their career progress again. Even when they got married and had children, Mischel and his colleagues would come back and check on them. The results and outcomes established became very insightful for anyone interested in willpower and how to create a change of habit to build this.

They found that children who exhibited uncanny skills at resisting temptations during the first marsh mellow test were doing better in all areas of their lives as they grew from children to parents. Most of them did better at high school, they had better SAT scores in college, they secured better careers and earned more than their contemporaries, and they were also raising children in more secured and loving families. These results were all corroborated and reported by Mischel and his colleagues in a paper in 2006. The gist of which you can distilled from his book, The Marsh Mellow Test – Mastering Self-Control.

From this significant study and many others that followed, we learnt that self-control and willpower are critical to success eventually. But how can we create a change of habit in the way we deal with willpower? How can we built more willpower in ourselves and our loved ones? This is perhaps what’s foremost in your mind right now?

One key insight and learning that you can probably take away from this post is the points of inflection (POIs). POIs are essentially the events that could be anticipated which if not prepared for can cause great stress and disruption to one’s life. In a simple ways, we can refer to POIs are occupational hazards that can happen potentially. In Julia’s case above, an unexpected nasty call from a parent is always a possibility. For a Starbucks employee, an angry customer unhappy with his latte could effectively ruin the employee’s work day. For a teenage student, a potential quarrel with another school mate over the most meagre matter could lead to uncontrolled anger.

How successful individuals with seemingly endless willpower handle their affairs in life is their preparation for the highly likely negative influences of life. Starbucks’ training programme for all employees is focus on helping their staff overcome POIs at their work. The training is based on the L.A.T.T.E. framework. In their training, Starbucks train their staff to Listen, Acknowledge, Take Action, Thank You, and Explain.

Thus whenever a Starbucks employee faces an angry customers, which is highly likely in their kind of work, he is prepared to deal with him. Offering a listening ear will allow the customer to vent his frustrations. Acknowledging their faults and shortcomings will go a long way in pacifying any person. This is followed by taking action on the faults concerned. If the drink is not warm enough, the employee will rectify and serve the customer another new warm drink. After that is done, saying “Thank you” regardless of impact of action is always something palpable. If it’s at all possible, attempting to explain for the fault or complain should be tried.

What if Julia had prepared a list of her points of inflection as a teacher? Or shouldn’t the school train teachers like Starbucks do to prepare them for unexpected but anticipated intrusions into their work lives? If Julia had done that and prepared for possible “attacks” I am sure the core business of her work will not be compromised. Hence, success and self-esteem would be something consistent in her life.

We can apply this anticipated responses to our potential points of inflection in life or work. When we do so, we are actually insuring ourselves against the lures of temptations. In this aspect, that is how we build up our willpower and make it a habit to always not give in to other people’s reaction that we have absolutely no control over.

10 MOST COMMON BAD HABITS IN OUR SOCIETY

We live in a society that values speed, leisure, instant gratification, postponement of vital activities and the deep seated desire to satisfy our instinctive needs. As a result of this environment, there are many vices and bad habits that has surfaced in society that needs to be dealt with. These bad habits can take a terrible toll on our long term well-being if we do not do anything about it. We need to take stock of our own habits and make personal changes that can bring us a better balance in this increasingly materialistic and instant world.

 

Here 10 habits that we need be mindful of that can entrap us.

 

Alcoholism

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol-related illnesses accounted for 3.9m deaths in 2015 that is 5.9% of total death in the world. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Each day, millions more take to their water holes to down litres of booze in the hope of finding pleasure in the process. Many of these people are unconscious addicts of alcohol and most would not admit that they have a problem.

 

Gambling

The rise of tourism globally has given rise to a new form of entertainment tapping into the inert desire of humans seeking pleasure through a quick win. Gambling addicts are more willing to admit that they have a problem but are also more likely to submit to the control of gambling over their lives.

 

Sex

There are 4Fs signalizing the inner, instinct drives of all human beings. One of it has got to do with sexual relations with another being. Humans by nature need Food, Fight, Friends and Fu… You get the picture. As a result, this form of addiction to the bad habit of sex (or more privately playtime in the bathroom), is increasing becoming more prevalent in society. It is still a hidden and shunted problem. In a certain way, most people are addicted to sex in varying degree, but the difference is the level of control one can exert over such carnal desires.

 

Binge Eating

Life most bad habits of a more affluence lifestyle, over eating or eating for the sake of eating has become a modern phenomenon in our lifestyle. Eating has also become the de facto platform for social gathering which is not no actually a bad thing. The insidious problem of this is that binge eating has become more habit type of routines. We no longer consciously think about our eating; we just eat when triggered.

 

Compulsive Spending

Some people call this the woe of materialism. Personally to me, it is a case of comfort spending. In the age of mass marketing and advertising, it is not surprising that numerous visual as well as auditory cues that are so ubiquitous in our shopping malls become triggers for our spending habits. Have you ever walked into a shopping mall with the intent of purchasing only your desired item turned into a mini shopping trip involving purchase of items of you do not really need? Compulsive and unaware shopping is very much a bad habit we have acquired in our modern age.

 

Gadget Reliance

These days in the public it is quite a widespread occurrence that people go about their daily lives ceaselessly engaged in their mini-gadgets that they carry about with them. From iPhone to tablets, everyone seem to have something in their hands while walking, seating down, in meeting, commuting and even in the privacy of their bathrooms. We seem to have become a generation that cannot do without information, social media, gaming, videos and the numerous surfing that we perform on our gadgets. Many of these social technological engagements are once again acquired habits due to environment we live in. If everyone is doing it why not me?

 

Mindless Surfing

Working on our lap tops was supposed to bring us more productive. But are we becoming more productive. If you study your own work habits carefully, you will discover that you spend an inordinate amount time been drawn away from your work. Once you log on, even with the good intent of being productive researching or typing up a report, the distractions of the online world will seamlessly divert you away from your main task. We engaged in the habit of mindless surfing, clicking our paths away from the main route of work we were supposed to take. The habit of mindless surfing has overtaken our very advantage of harnessing technology for improved work productivity.

 

The Yes Man

Being the social animals that we are, it takes a very disciplined and aware person to resist the temptations of other people’s requests. 5 out of 10 people admits that they have not being able to say no to someone else’s requests. It is as if we are primed to response to the needs of others. Once the trigger arrives there are yes men around galore.

 

Aimlessness

Productivity of one’s life is premeditated on our need to follow a set agenda. However, most of us hardly start our work routines and days with a deliberately planned sets of goals to achieve in a single day. We drift along wherever the tide of distraction seem most relevant and powerful. No wonder, so little good work and goals get accomplished.

 

Procrastination

Procrastination is in our human nature. By design our brains seek the path of least resistance. When we are confronted with the necessary and often difficult tasks of work and life, we automatically switch off and put things off until the absolute last minute. It is no wonder that so little quality work gets done, resulting in poor ultimate results in the end.

 

Are these ten habits ingrained in our physiological design and culture? The sad answer is yes. But so many people are not even aware of such powerful forces ranged against us. It has become a norm to engage in these human habits that we increasing spend the new resources of our modern world enhancing instead of deliberately shaping our own habits. But there is hope. As long as we decide on the identity we want, identity with rich goals and standards, there is a chance to over these bad habits and make things better for ourselves. Take charge of your bad habits before the irreversible tide sets in to ruin your life.

A HABIT LIST FOR SUCCESS

Success has always been a topic that fascinated the human mind for ages. From the time of Socrates in the ancient world to the time of Donald Trump in the modern world, humans have always been striving for success. Many strived by searching for a habit list for success. They study successful people and make informed intuition hoping to uncover the patterns and secrets of success. One of this person who did good research into this was Steven Covey. His highly success book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, is a modern compilation of a habit list of success. These 7 habits are a good place to start if you are one of those searching for a habit list for success because it is simple and offer you lasting change in mental habits and patterns that will lead you to your path of success.

 

Habit 1 – Be Proactive

The simple definition of this habit is to take initiative to accomplish things on your own accord without others telling you. If you foresee a problem coming in your event that will impact others, do not sit back and wait for the problem to actually happen. You can proactively inform others or think of a solution and start implementing it to prevent the problem from happening in the first place.

Proactivity is the reason why successful entrepreneurs are able to solve so many problems of society. Schoolber is a very good example. This was basically an extension and variation of Uber, catering to the transport of school children to and from home. Schoolber was born when the founders, parents themselves, took the initiative to use the Uber concept to solve a ubiquitous parent problem of getting school children to and from school safely and cheaply.

 

Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind

When Disney World opened in Florida in 1977, good old Walt Disney has already kicked the bucket. It was left to his widow to preside over the opening ceremony as the Guest-of-Honour. After the opening ceremony, an executive with the good intention of honouring Walt, commented to Mrs Walt Disney that “What a shame Walt was not here to see this?” To which Mrs Disney replied: “It was because he saw this that this became a reality.”

All good things come into being because a vision of the end product or outcome is conceived mentally in the mind of the founder or inventor. The clarity, intensity, regularity and focus of the vision and end product are magnetic and often the most powerful in its eventual manifestation. This laser like focus summons the mind and will of the person to do great things in their lives. What is your end in mind? How compelling is that vision? See it clear and it will happen ultimately.

 

Habit 3 – Put First Things First

This is simply the habit of effective time management which sometimes can be extended to resource management such as managing our energies and monies. But the most crucial one is time because time is neutral and cannot be produced or earned again. We all, regardless of status only have 24hrs per day.

To put the use of time at the right place, we need to know our priorities in life and what we are trying to produce, which is why this habit is very closely tied to Habit 2. Without knowing what you want, you will not know where to invest you time, effort and resources. Learn to put your most precious time, efforts and resources into action and areas where your goals will be reached.

 

Habit 4 – Think Win-Win

Seeking win-win means learning to endorse the help of others to achieve greater things together. As an individual, you can only do so much because your time, resources and ideas can be limited. But when you work with others, your outputs can be multiplied because your inputs are greater collective. However, all forms of partnership and collaboratively is only possible and effective if everyone in the midst stands to gain something. That is the essence of win-win.

There are two important matters to consider for win-win to happen. Firstly, you need to understand what others want or what is important to them than actively try and fulfil those needs. Habit 5 will help you in this. Secondly, you must also bravely communicate your own needs and desires to your partners so that nothing is left to chance. Too often in many cases, people tend to be modest and expressed their real desires leaving it to the other party to try and guess them. This is a mistake.

 

Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand Before Being Understood

This habit is essence to good communication. Most miscommunication happen because either one or both parties fail to gain the emotional connection of others. When we truly listen and hear someone, we are actually providing emotional support and understanding to that person. That is what the term “got it off my shoulder” mean – an emotional burden is removed from us and we feel better in the end, allowing a more trusting relationship to begin.

But the habit of listening first is not our natural instinct, hence it is important to constant remind ourselves the following maxim of Habit 3, “Slow is fast and fast is slow”. To try and speed first in an attempt to speed up our thoughts is actually counter-productive in the long term. Have you ever tried to cut off your partner’s our spouse’s desire to speak first? How did that conversation go? Seek first to understand before being understood.

 

Habit 6 – Synergize

To synergize is to find a way where everyone in the team can contribute in their best way and finding it meaningful in the process. An famous architect once said, “Even a brick want to be something in a beautiful building’ No matter how small each person’s contribution is, if everyone’s strengths can be tapped and harnessed, the result is very fulfilling and the outcome most effective.

Synergy can be achieved if we adhere to two very simple principles. Firstly, allowing everyone to present their thoughts and listen to how they can contribute to the larger cause. Secondly, provide autonomy and ownership in how things get done by each individual. There is no greater motivation for synergy by all than to give all a voice and an independence to get things done.

 

Habit 7 – Sharpen Your Saw

This habit is all about the constant improvement of the self. One of the greatest need of all human beings is the need to grow in all domains. If someone is not growing, that person is actually dying. Not dying physically but rather in all other developmental areas like spiritually, mentally and socially.

To grow physically, one has to nourish and exercise the body. Energy expended well and a body well-fed will result greater vitally. Mental grow comes from the feeding of the mind with new knowledge and wisdom plus the application of this new knowledge and wisdom in ones’ life. Feeding the soul with contribution and the care for others enriches our spirits and allow us to feel more fulfilled. Finally, all humans need love and connection from other humans. That is the basis of growing socially.

 

Is this habit list of success sensible and relevant to you? There will be many more habits that lead to success, but Steven Coveys & Habits of Highly Effectively Habits are probably the core of all success. Learn, practice and make them automatic and let success takes its natural course in your life.

THE NEUROSCIENCE OF BAD HABITS – HOW HABITS WORK IN YOUR BRAIN TO KEEP YOU HOOKED?

Bad Habits Can Ruin Lives

At the heights of her gambling addiction, Angie Bachmann was playing double hands of $400 each, being pampered and invited as high rollers, staying in the best suites of casino hotels, but ultimately losing hundreds of thousands dollars in one outing.

She admitted having a gambling issue and tried to stop herself from going to the casino. But the enticement of casino lures and offers tempted her to make the trips. When she entered the casino, despite her strong will and awareness, her gambling habits took over her life.

Eventually, gambling bankrupted her and caused her family much pain. The casinos sued her for the money owed and interestingly she counter-sued claiming that she was not in conscious control of herself during her gambling wanderlust.

The court case was well documented but she eventually lost.

Why are bad habits so powerful? Why can’t people resist bad habits? What is happening inside our brain that is causing such complex actions as bad habits from happening and repeating all the time? Thanks to advance neurological research methods and techniques today, we have a better glimpse of the intricacies that are occurring in our minds when habits strike.

 

The Cycle that Controls our Bad Habits

It is a widely known fact that all habits including good and bad habits have three main stages of development. All habits are triggered by a cue(s). From this cue(s) the actually routine of the habit takes place. This is the actual action that occurs in our daily life that will eventually cause positive or negative outcomes. Action like gambling, smoking, procrastinating will eventual take a toll on our lives and those closest to us. When the action or habit is completed, the person gets a reward that might take different forms for different people. The reward motivates the brain or person to look for the next round of the same habit or routine.

 

Why shouldn’t it? The activity caused the brain to feel good. Hence, when the similar situation or cue arises, the routine becomes natural. This is known as the habit cycle and it is a cycle that reinforces itself. The amazing thing is within the brain itself, amazing neurological and chemical actions and reactions are happening to make things almost irresistible and automatic. This is the science of how bad habits hook us.

 

How Cravings Make Your Bad Habits Irresistible?

In 1993, at the University of Cambridge, Professor of Neuroscience, Wolfram Schultz conducted a series of experiments that eventually allowed us to have a better understanding of why bad habits are so powerful to hook us.

The experiment essentially involved rewarding a monkey with blackberry juice by training the monkey to perform a motor skill. A series of shapes were shown to Julio the monkey on a computer screen, and Julio was required to press a lever when certain images appear. Once the lever is pressed, blackberry juice will be released into the mouth of monkey as a reward.

While this experiment was going on, tiny instruments pre-inserted into Julio’s brain could track and monitor the brain activity that happened in Julio’s brain. Julio wasted little time in mastering the task and receiving his blackberry juice reward. While these repetitions of lever pressing-reward release is going on, Professor Schultz managed to track the following brain activity in Julio.

 

Initially, while the habit was forming, the brain activity looks a lot like the picture on the left. This is a semblance of a typical habit cycle – cue (shape on the screen) led to a routine (pressing the lever) and that in turn caused a reward (the release of juice). Notice that after the reward was received the brain activity spiked a lot. This is the neurochemical activity happening when something good is experienced. The neurochemical that is responsible for such a good feeling is dopamine or simply the happiness chemical.  Julio was happy after receive his juice because the brain produced dopamine that caused him to feel happy.

Our brain after this experience of happiness will immediately associate this with the routine and cues preceding it. Hence, it will wire the routine into the basal ganglia and start looking for cues that will trigger the routine thus resulting in release of dopamine eventually. Over time, something extraordinary occurs.

Once Julio performed the routine many times, each time without failing to receive the blackberry juice as the reward, the spike in happiness in Julio’s brain become faster and faster. Eventually, the brain spike looks something like the picture on the right above. As you can see, the happiness spike has actually happened before the routine actually took place. In fact, this spike is very close to the cue. This shifting of the brain activity spike, signifying happiness in the brain, before the actual routine is known as a craving developing and it is the main reason why we are often hooked by our bad habits.

Thus when Angie Bachmann commented in her trial case that she was not in control of her action once she entered the casino, she was referring to this powerful craving that was raging in her brain once the cue (entering the casino) was triggered. The routine became automatic. She had not won any money yet, but her brain was already thinking it has and the neurochemical production of dopamine has already happened.

Under the guise and influence of such powerful forces how can one combat bad habits? There is hope. If you observe the picture on the right, the craving spike is when the cue is about to happen. Hence, if we can control the cue of our habits, we stand a good chance to fight and even transform our bad habits. In the next post, we will dwell more on how we can uncover and control our cues and triggers of bad habits. Knowing these will truly set us towards habit freedom.

The Two Keys to Finding Purpose in Life

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

– Mark Twain

 

Mitch Albom, the delightful, sentimental and soulful author of numerous heart-warming books like Tuesdays With Morris, Father Time and The Five People Your Meet in Heaven, described a very simple answer to one of the greatest challenge of human kind – finding purpose in life – in his latest book, The Magic String of Frankie Presto. At one of the early chapters of the book, he recounts:

“Music explains how talents work: When you come out of the womb, before you ever even open your eyes, you’re an infant. There’s all these colors that you can actually see: bright, brilliant colors. When you clench your fists for the first time, you’re actually grabbing the colors that appeal to you and taking them, and those become your talents.”

The first time I read that passage, I felt my heart skipped a beat. I have always being fascinated by the subject of finding purpose in one’s life since the day I read Victor Frankl’s masterpiece, Man’s Search for Meaning.

The quote at the start of this post really resonated with me and I must say that I am still on that journey towards the second happiest moment in my life. I wish I can get there sooner. But I also know that like the Mullah in the story of how he searched for his lost key in the light of the streets when he actually dropped it in the abyss of the dark house, we will never be able to find our purpose if we do not search the darkest and deepest alleys of our soul. To that I am committed.

Like what Albom said, and I believed it right to the core, purpose comes to us naturally at birth. But God in his infinite wisdom had made it a quest for our lives. All who take that journey to this greatest challenge of human kind will be richly rewarded. Finding purpose must consume the bulk of our time and energies because only after finding it, can we truly live life and feel the satisfaction of fulfilment.

I am dedicating this post to sharing a just two signs (there are many more that can be explored but these two are most important to me) that your finding purpose journey is on the right track.

The first sign that what you are doing is aligned to your purpose is the energy you radiate when involved in something. Most people associate activities in our daily life to sapping our energies and making us weaker and less alert. That is certainly true if you are engaged in something that you really dread. But when you are in your element and purpose, after the completion of that task, you will feel hotter and more alive even though you are exhausted physiologically. Think of activities and the times you felt great despite exertion of vast amounts of efforts. Those activities are clues to finding purpose in your life.

Next, the passage of time seems irrelevant and even rapid when you are in your flow. This is well research and documented by psychologists such as Mikhail Csikszentmihalyi. He describe one of the flow characteristics as “an altered perception of time … where time can either feel condensed – two hours feel like ten minutes, or expanded – seconds feel like minutes.” It’s no wonder that when one is in a flow state of mind like being deeply in love, time almost seem like a flutter of a butterfly. Cherish your moment after finding purpose in life.

Beyond these two signs of finding purpose, I hope hearing Mitch Albom explain finding purpose for him will enlighten and point you in the right direction.

So this is to your successful journey towards finding purpose and deeper, more fulfilling life.

SUCCESS IS A RESULT OF CHANGING HABITS

 ”We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit.”

Aristotle

 

August 13, 2008, Beijing Olympic Village. At 6.30am Michael Phelps’ alarm went off. Like clockwork and unchanging habits, he immediately began his routines for the race day. He pulled on his same sweatpants and walked to breakfast. By 7am he was devouring his typical race day breakfast items of eggs, oatmeal and four energy shakes. At 8am, he began his usual stretching routine which can put many performing ballerina to shame. Phelps ankles are so flexible that he can extend them beyond the 90 degree mark. Stretching done, at 8.30am sharp he was in the pool doing his 45 minutes warm-up swims, a total of more than 2000m of mixed strokes in the pool, all this less than 60 minutes before his race at 10.00am. Once he was done with his warm-up and morning activities, he slipped on his body hugging swim suit which could take more than 20mins to put on, put on his earphones and cranked up his favourite pump-up music and waited for his race. When the race finally ended, Phelps had claimed his 4 Olympic Swimming Gold and would go on to win 8 in total, and he did all these in the same way. Through a journey of changing habits since he started competitive swimming, Phelps has attained success, and we can all learn from him.

As long ago as the times of the ancient Greeks, philosophers had recognized how human behaviours operated. Aristotle summed it best by the quote at the start of this article. All human achievements were the results of a series of good habits practiced unconsciously day in and day out. In a similar fashion, all tragic and disastrous outcomes came about because of bad habits being used on a unconscious level as well. Just think of Hitler! The human brain is impartial, like a plot of fertile land. It will produce the best yield of the crop you decide to plant, whether it is poppy or maize. If you want success, you will need to start changing habits to those that are successful and useful types.

What are these habits of success and how can we implement a process of changing habits? You can find out a list of these habits from another post I have written. In this article, I would like to dwell on and discuss why habits are important.

 

Habits are important to us in 3 ways:

  1. Changing habits help the brain to save energy for more important cognitive tasks.

Our brain is by nature a lazy but highly efficient machine. It is always looking for ways to save energy so that the brain can focus on more important tasks. Whenever, routines are repeated, it is a signal for the brain to find a way to habitualize them so that energy can be saved.

If you think of all the movements and actions we do on a daily basis, they are actually highly complex tasks neurological. From the moment the decision is made by the brain to perform an action to the actual muscular movements that accomplish the tasks, many neurological processes actually take place. Changing habits to make these actions routinized is important to allow spare capacity to exist for our curious mind to explore other things.

 

  1. Changing habits allow rapid execution of crucial tasks

When changing habits, we must be certain that the new habits we intend to change are desirable and positive. Replacing a bad habit for another is the worse way to attain your success. Once you have determined what habits will lead to your success, you must actively change your habit. You can find out more about habit change here.

Tony Dungy’s success in turning NFLs teams around is due to his ability in changing habits of his players. He knew what are the new sports tasks required to win games, and he simply replaced his player’ old playing patterns with new ones. He went a step further by making these actions habits. When these successful actions are repeated automatically over time, success on the NFL field became a certainty.

What are some successful tasks that will contribute to your success over time? Changing habits in these will deliver your results.

 

  1. Changing habits allow us to focus our senses to detect more important signals from our environment

Each moment in our lives, our senses process thousands of sensory pieces of information. Our senses were built to detect dangers and the more focus we become with less distractions in our lives, the better will be our chance of survival. Changing habits essentially free up our senses to take in more information for our own good. Sometimes, we think too much and therefore allow unnecessary information to harm our lives in subtle ways. Habits sharpens our senses to do away with all the ambiguities in our lives and allow us to truly concentrate on what is important.

For Michael Phelps changing habits to more positive one happened long ago. When his first local high school swimming Coach Bob Bowman took Phelps under his wings, he had the acumen to guide Phelps in changing habits to more positive ones. He did that by identifying and changing the most important ones at that time. Since then, Phelps hyper life has fallen into order and his life and career had taken off. To succeed changing habits become something important in our lives.

 

SOLVING OUR CURRENT IDENTITY CRISIS

For the longest time, I have proffer that many of us are in a state of identity crisis. By this I do not mean that we are like Jekyll and Hyde, with unpredictable but certain changing personalities. Rather, our identity crisis exists because we do not know who we truly are and are capable of becoming who we were truly meant to be.

Have you ever caught yourself thinking that you were so out of place in your job or your role in the family? Or did you always do things because other people like your parents and good meaning friends told you so? Perhaps there were times when you have done something and wondered why on earth did that happened?

It is my firm believe that many people in this world are like that, that is they are not sure who they are trying to be, and hence their identity crisis. Until we are sure of who we are or who we want to become, we can never live a fulfilled, meaningful and successful life. And to help us solve our current identity crisis or least begin moving closer to our true self, we must learn the Triads to Identity and what they are for us.

Triad 1: Identity DNA

This consist of three core things that we are mostly born with and will be fairly constant for most of our lives. Unfortunately they tend to be masked leading to our identity crisis. They are our values, personality and intelligence makeup. Fundamental to all we do are our values or what we hold dearly to, otherwise, you will never take those actions. When a Steve Jobs insist on delivering the best customer experience, deep in his soul, he has the value of excellence. Secondly, our personality or the style we run our lives take on a predictable pattern no matter where we go or what we do. It is your X-factor in life and we all have it and must learn to embrace it. Finally, our intelligence makeup refers to the gifts we have been bestowed with. Do not believe only someone is Gifted. The question we must us ourselves is not “How intelligent we are?” But rather “How are we intelligent?”

Click here to find out how you can discover your Values, Personality and Intelligence Makeup.

Triad 2: Identity Drivers

These are something mellable and if moulded into what we want can help us overcome our identity crisis. They are our dreams, our needs and our gifts. A person who leads to true life is living his or her dream or are in the process of achieving. Dreams are something given through our imagination and they are unique unto ourselves. If we do not dream and nurture them, we are literally giving up our identity. Secondly, our needs are unique too. Just think about what you desire deep in your heart, whether it is food, a type of fashion, a love language you need or something else. It is alright to want things that meet your identity. Seek them out and when they come bath in them. Finally, our gifts to life. I am not talking about your talent here, but rather what you naturally offer to the world on a regular basis. The hugs you give, the time you give, the food you share, the song you sing, the service to others you make? All these are your gifts and the world is better because you gave. Nurture them.

Click here to find out how you can discover your Dreams, Needs and Gifts.

Triad 3: Identity Traits

Triad 3 consists of three things we always do or have in life. They are our habits, weaknesses and talents. Your habits are your consistent and unconscious behaviours that are triggered by stimuli. You have them or do them, because your identity demands of them. Your weaknesses are there to be on guard, so that complacency will not set in and you will continue to stretch yourself in life. Finally, your talents are given to enrich the world through you and you alone with your unique skills.

Click here to find out how you can discover your Habits, Weaknesses and Talents.

Solving our identity crisis requires a deep understanding of what identity constitutes. Only with a better comprehension of these will we be more directed in find our true way out of our own identity crisis. If you want to live better, be that person that your identity demands.