Archives for category: Health

It’s another birthday! And here’s what I wrote last year.

lighted happy birthday candles

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Last year, I wrote about having failed spectacularly on many counts. I failed to stick to a healthy lifestyle, failed to pick up a craft, and failed to get into coding in a more concrete way.

I’m happy to report that this year I managed to chalk up impressive gains on all those goals and I’m going to share how I did that.

 

Eating and living healthier

Last year, I was saying that my weight hit an all-time high. I was wrong. In fact, my weight inched up even more after I wrote that post and in December, I hit an all-time high of 70kg.

Now, that might not sound like a lot but for someone my height, it’s definitely overweight. Not obese but overweight. That was the wake-up call for me and I started to research into a variety of ways to cut back on the weight gain.

In my research, I learned about something fasting, and in particular, something called “intermittent fasting”. The main positive about fasting is that it doesn’t slow your metabolism down as opposed to people who cut back on consuming calories. This explains why people who go on traditional diets lose weight but then put it back on as quick or even more quickly. The experience of some of those that went on the TV show, “The Biggest Loser” is particularly instructive.

Anyway, long story short is that (roughly) sticking to a regime of going 16 hours without food and then eating within an 8-hour window helped me shed 10kgs. Restricting your eating to an 8-hour window automatically means cutting out one meal. You could eat as many calories as a normal person within the window but that would mean eating more meals or mega-sized meals. I just cut out breakfast.

I’ve also cut sugar from my coffee as all the government institutions now require that coffee is served, by default, without any sugar. You have to add sugar to your coffee if you choose to.

I didn’t know if this regime was doing me harm on the inside or not. So, a couple of months ago, I had a health checkup done. The good news is that my health checkup results came back good. Nothing out of the ordinary. For the first time in a long time, I’ve also managed to score a “gold” on the physical fitness test that we National Servicemen have to do every year despite putting in the same amount of training as I’ve done in previous years. It’s not rocket science. It’s easier to run faster if you’re 10 kilos lighter.

Furthermore, limiting my meals have made me become more aware of whether I’m eating because I need food or because I want food. As far as possible, I eat only when I need to and not when I want to.

Having a cat around the house also made me adopt a more regular meditation routine. Every morning, after feeding him, I’ll take up my spot on the floor and try to get in 15-20mins of just being aware of my breathing.

One breath in. One breath out. One at a time.

I’m not sure if I’m experiencing any physical effects (like increased grey matter) as reported in some medical experiments but I think meditating more regularly has helped me gain some clarity into when people are tapping into their emotions and how to deal with people who are clearly in a heightened emotional state.

 

Coding

While I’ve slacked off the bandwagon of late, I’m happy to report that I finally worked on a project and I made a website where I can track and share the data I’ve collected in the STI’s PE10. The code is amateur and the website definitely can have better features but I think I’m relatively happy with it.

At work, I also wrote two scripts in python that automated some of the administrative work that we have to do. It’s a hacky way around doing some things and I’m pretty sure it’s not that kosher but who cares, it saves me an hour of mindless clicking. The other script probably saves my colleague 15 minutes of mindless clicking as well.

 

Craft

Now, I’ve been slacking off on coding because I’ve finally decided to put more effort towards pursuing interests in this area. I’ve been writing some stories (featuring my cat) and I really enjoy that but I’ve always been more of a visual person.

Problem is, I pretty much suck at art. Right now, I’m probably as good as a kindergarten kid when it comes to drawing.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on Youtube and I really, really like the style that comes with pen and ink drawing (in particular styles like this). For the rest of this year and next, I’m going to be making a conscious effort towards improving my drawing and my inking skills.

I also figure that in the next few decades, even if A.I. and automation can take over a multitude of jobs, the stuff that will be valued more will be the stuff that doesn’t seem impressive even if done by a machine.

For example, they may make machines that can cook food. However, a delicious meal cooked by a human being is always going to be more highly valued because it’s not something that anyone can do without some sort of training or experience.

Humans that can produce things with a degree of customisation or finesse to it will do well in the future. If your job is of a routine nature because you are producing things in huge quantities, then you probably need to worry about your future in the next 10 to 20 years. Owners of capital will prefer to own a machine that doesn’t ask more salary, take breaks, or fall sick.

 

Money matters

As for wealth, things are pretty much on auto-pilot. I know the markets have really sucked (especially outside the U.S.) which means that there are some bargains to be had but my approach now is really more of a systems-based approach.

My system right now is: save, invest broadly, rebalance as required. Rinse and repeat.

I’ll report on how things work out at the end of the year.

******

Lastly, it’s crazy how I didn’t remember what I wrote last year but so much of what I did last year was a continuation of what I wrote in last year’s birthday post. I managed to achieve certain things that I set out to do but I can assure you that when I wrote about it last year, I didn’t have a freaking clue how I was going to do it.

On hindsight and having read James Clear’s Atomic Habits, it seems that I got certain things right that allowed me to lose all the weight and keep it off as well as attain more regularity with meditation.

I’m not pretty convinced that we are limited by what we can imagine but getting to where we want to requires a paradigm shift in behaviour that can only be brought about by changing your environment to suit your goals. Will elaborate more on this in a future post.

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Very long weekend if you took leave on Monday.

Happy Deepavali to those celebrating it.

books on bookshelves

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Junk Bond Bubble in Six Images (Mish Talk)

You know what they say: always follow the money.

If you want to look for where the seeds of the next crash are, you don’t have to look any further than where debt has been building up and therefore, is more likely to implode.

With interest rates going up at a quicker pace as compared to past years, debt serviceability will become an issue for more risky borrowers. If the proceeds from borrowing went into (a) saving a sinking ship, or (b) unproductive assets, that will also be a problem for those who borrowed thinking that rates are low.

Mish’s charts also show what all this could mean for the equity markets.

 

What Today’s Trend Following Sell Signal Implies For The Months Ahead (The Fat Pitch)

I’ve heard of Meb Faber’s signal before but it totally fell off the radar for some reason. I think it’s because I looked at how the signal would have applied to the STI and realised that the whipsaw from buying and selling wasn’t my cup of tea. The findings from the paper are impressive though.

Anyway, if this is triggered on the S&P…

As the post says, there’s a fair chance (about 50-50) that we’re about to see more pain in the markets.

 

The Road To Burnout Helped Me Find My Purpose (The Physician Philosopher)

I read this via Minimalist in the City and the post resonated with me because for those of us who have been working for a while, it’s no surprise that there are shitty aspects to our jobs. Some people may love what they do but even then, they cannot deny that some parts of the job suck. For example, I may love to teach because I get to share and discuss stories and ideas but I hate to deal with all the administrative tasks that come with the job.

I don’t think I have, or even will, hit the burnout stage in my current job but there’s no doubt that I wouldn’t want to be there all the way till I retire/die like some of the older colleagues.

Fortunately for me, and unlike the doctor in the post, I didn’t have to wait until I started working to figure out that I had to build some sort of money machine in addition to the income that I’m getting from my job. It’s still a work-in-progress but I can definitely see it coming together.

If you love your job but haven’t thought about not relying on it for income, I suggest you start today.

Creative Destruction (Humble Dollar)

With the recent emphasis in Singapore on lifelong learning, I thought that this post is quite timely. It goes to show that being adaptable is a necessary skill in life because it seems that a core feature of life is the constant change.

With all the advancements in A.I and robotics, I suspect that both white and blue-collar jobs that are fairly routine will be the first to go. The good news is that the change will happen quicker in countries where the infrastructure was never laid and therefore more open to new forms of organisation. For example, think about how China was so much quicker to adopt mobile payments than more developed countries like Singapore or Japan. In fact, a lot of transactions in Japan still rely on cash. At least in Singapore, we have that dastardly system called “NETS”.

 

Public Pensions for Sale (part 1 of 3) (The Intercept)

Amazing account of how the people running some of the public pension funds sold out to Wall Street. Very long read but this is what journalism is about. Classic examples of information asymmetry and agency problems at work.

 

 

grayscale photography of person at the end of tunnel

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In my previous post, I mentioned that the biggest obstacle for a young adult in getting to a $100,000 is probably the sheer thought of it. As the saying goes, “The first million is the hardest.”* You could get technical about it but from a psychological standpoint, it’s hard to fathom something that seems so far away and out of reach. Which is why, before you get your first million, you probably want to concentrate on your first $100,000. If you’re looking at your first $100,000, you probably want to focus on your first $10,000.

I also mentioned that you could get over the mental block by having a paradigm shift. So, what is a paradigm shift?

 

paradigmShift

Sometimes the answer is already there. You just need to change your perspective to see it.

A paradigm shift works so well because sometimes we are trying to solve a problem by tackling the wrong areas or viewing the problem from the wrong angle. Here are two examples from my own experience.

 

Investing

“Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki has its detractors and after I’ve learnt more about finance and investing, I can safely say that the book isn’t very useful in teaching anything practical. The book won’t make you become a good investor or a successful business person. What “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” did for me was to help me question the whole idea of getting a job, spend some, save some, and then retiring.

It should have come to me more easily than others as my dad’s side of the family ran their own business but unfortunately it didn’t. For many years, I thought that the basic formula that most people subscribed to was the right one. I might have had my suspicions but I didn’t really question it or I couldn’t quite put my finger on what the problem was.

What the book did for me was to show me that there was a more efficient model than the “study, work, retire” model that most people have come to know. It presented me with two paths — be a business person, or be an investor. Once I picked the path of an investor, it was just a matter of setting up a system** that works for me and over the last 10+ years, it’s worked pretty well for me. All I needed to do was make tweaks to refine the system.

I’m not saying that the system I have now is perfect or will no longer need tweaks. What I’m saying is that I’m pretty sure I’ve got the main setup right in terms of approaching the problem.

The point is that this wouldn’t have been possible if I had never learnt of possibilities beyond the “study, work, retire” model. Getting rich this way is only possible for very few people who happen to earn outsized amounts relative to the average person. Even then, they must not fall into the trap of spending more than they earn or having their “lifestyle creep”***.

More recently, I’ve made a fantastic discovery on another topic altogether.

Weight Loss

For most people, weight issues don’t start until their 30s. That’s when the metabolism slows down and your lifestyle becomes less active due to work or having kids. And for most people, the logical solution to weight gain is either to (a) exercise more, and/or (b) eat less. So, when my weight ballooned to an all-time high relative to my height, I tried both methods.

Guess what? Unless you’re extremely disciplined, those don’t work.

Exercising more is the weaker strategy as studies have shown that diet is a bigger contributor to weight loss than exercise. Furthermore, dragging yourself to the gym regularly takes effort. This either involves waking up earlier or going after you’ve already exhausted most of your willpower at work. Grinding through a tough workout further depletes the willpower and that might actually lead you to eat more. “Alright, I worked out today. I deserve that extra slice of pizza.” That’s a pretty common thing we all say to ourselves after we work out. There’s also the type of exercise that you do but at this point, that’s more a matter of efficiency that effectiveness.

Trying to eat less also takes willpower. However, one other reason why it doesn’t work so well is that our metabolism slows down if we take in fewer calories than we normally do. If we normally consume 2,500 calories a day, our bodies see fewer calories as a sign that food is scarce and therefore we need to conserve calories by slowing or shutting down certain body functions. That’s why women stop having their periods if they eat fewer calories than needed for normal body functions.

So what’s the paradigm shift here? Fasting.

It sounds counter-intuitive. Besides, doesn’t eating fewer calories lead to a slowdown in metabolic function? So why would eating no calories work?

It turns out that once the glycogen stores in the liver are depleted, our body goes into a state called ketosis where it starts to burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates. It’s only by not eating that our bodies enter this state as the glycogen stores take about 12 hours to burn through. If we just eat fewer calories like some diets recommend, our bodies never enter this state as the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is evenly spaced over a 24-hour window.

There are variations on how to fast but the one I’ve done follows a 16-8 intermittent fasting cycle. Basically, you eat only within an 8-hour window. There are no restrictions on what you can eat but of course, this isn’t a license to eat as much as you want. You’ll also want to ensure that what you’re eating isn’t junk in order to get optimal nutrition. What I mean, of course, is that you can’t go on with this plan thinking that you can eat nothing but cheesecakes. A healthy, well-balanced diet is necessary for a good life.

Another thing is that I only eat this way on weekdays. Most days, I have only lunch and dinner while I have something for tea on some days where I feel a little more hungry. But it’s definitely not the lack of breakfast that is the major factor as I’ve never been one to have a heavy breakfast anyway so skipping breakfast shouldn’t make such a big difference in terms of the number of calories.

I’ve experienced amazing results with this. I’ve never been fat or obese, and the worse thing I had was probably early signs of a developing paunch. After going on this for about 6 months, I’ve lost about 10-12% of my body weight or approximately 20 pounds. I didn’t think it was that drastic but lots of people have noticed the weight loss. My weight is back to an optimal level and keeping it there has never been easier.

Apparently, fasting has lots of other health benefits as well but I can’t tell you if I’ve experienced any of those. The best way would have been to get a health checkup prior to starting the intermittent fasting program and then another checkup afterwards. However, the scientific evidence so far is quite convincing.

Word of caution. Weight loss is only for people who are overweight. It’s safe to say that being overweight is associated with many modern diseases such as diabetes, stroke and heart disease. However, I’ve had a number of colleagues who have no weight to lose asking me how I lost weight. These people are asking the wrong question. For them, it should be how to maintain an optimal weight or even bulk up. In fact, the next thing I need to work on is not losing any more weight but to get a regular exercise routine going for optimal health.

The paradigm shift here is away from the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle to one that starts a little nearer to lunch. The funny thing is how we’ve all been told we need to eat 3 square meals a day since young but certain religions have been including regular fasts in their religious practices for thousands of years. There is a train of thought that the breakfast-lunch-dinner cycle is actually a relatively modern invention (thank you, Kellogg’s) and we’ve forgotten that our biology hasn’t evolved that much over the last few millennia.

The point I wanted to make is that sometimes, we need to question our assumptions and keep discovering if people have tried what seems like “impossible” solutions to the problems we have. Being experimenters and pioneers is something I’d rather leave to the scientists but if there’s convincing evidence that something works, we shouldn’t be afraid to try it out and see how it works for ourselves.

If you have experienced paradigm shifts in any other areas, feel free to let me know in the comments below.

 

Notes:

*If you’re a billionaire like T.Boone Pickens, then replace ‘million’ with ‘billion’. That’s the title of his book by the way.

**The system comprises of a few parts and is beyond the scope of this post but let’s just say that you don’t have to be a CFA charterholder to come up something similar.

***Lifestyle creep is the concept where your lifestyle creeps up to match any increases in your income. Most people aren’t consciously aware of this but it happens. Think of the type of holidays you took when you were a poor student compared to when you are working adult. Or the places you used to dine at versus the places you dine at now. Using a Singaporean example, chances are you went to Bangkok for holidays when you were a student and now the destination’s changed to Japan or Korea.

I’m not an expert but over the course of my relatively few years so far, I’ve come to realise a few things.

Happiness comes from within.

Finding Happiness

First, let me briefly describe the conditions that have led me to that conclusion. When I was much younger, I used to think that happiness was something that external circumstances or objects brought you. For example, if I was happy, it was because my favourite show was on the television or my parents bought me a new toy. If I was unhappy, then it must have been because the helper cooked something I didn’t like (e.g. bitter gourd) or I was forced to do homework.

If you think about it, that’s an entirely valid way to see the world. After all, we humans are just like any other creature in this universe, drawn to pleasure and feeling repulsion to pain or suffering. That’s how evolution works.

Unfortunately, things aren’t so simple. After all, things like exercise are good for us but it doesn’t feel good for many of us. Even for those who get that rush of dopamine from exercise, too much exercise causes inflammation of the joints and some other negative side effects. It’s even worse for sugar where we get hit with a sugar high that causes us to crave more but sugar when taken in excess causes all sorts of health issues like diabetes and obesity. i.e. Too much of a good thing can also be a bad thing.

It took me many years to realise that and in those formative years, I basically sought happiness from video games, things, good food, alcohol but the kind of joy these things bring is fleeting and doesn’t bring lasting satisfaction.

First Hints

My first hint of what happiness might be, came when I heard about Buddhism. Unfortunately, it didn’t appeal to me with all the esoteric jargon and Dos/Don’ts. At that time, it felt like any other religion where you have to follow these set of rules and dogmas without questioning what they mean or are supposed to be. That’s blind faith and not something my rational mind could live with.

Then, I read about the happiest man on earth. And he just so happens to be a monk. This time, the appeal was that the title of ‘happiest man’ wasn’t just something some people gave to him but was a result of neuroimaging scans done on his brain while he meditated.

That kind of made sense. After all, there are plenty of people around the world that live on incomes that are poor by developed world standards but still report higher levels of happiness. There have also been studies that show that happiness levels don’t rise once you go beyond a certain level of GDP per capita. Pop psychology also shows that if you want to feel happier, you can try using your teeth to hold a pencil lengthwise. This activates the muscles involved with smiling.

Ok, so I knew I needed to meditate but how do I go about doing so? I didn’t really want to read books by monks as the description by these masters of meditation always seems very fluffy and esoteric. I guess it’s like trying to follow the steps to create a michelin-starred dish when you don’t even know how to scramble eggs. So I put it off for many years.

What helped

Then, Tan Chade Meng came out with his book, Search Inside Yourself. A former Google employee and an engineer by training. There’s probably no one more rational and systematic than an engineer right? So I bought his book. He described the steps and rationale behind each step in simple enough terms but his folksy, “isn’t-it-simple?” style of writing turned me off after a while. Too much spun sugar. So I put off meditation again for what must have months or even up to a year.

Then, last December, I came across Dan Harris’s book, 10% Happier, and this was the turning point for me. A news anchor and journalist by training, he detailed his journey of finding inner peace. Basically, if you are a skeptic and hate the esoteric fluff that sometimes comes with a lot of self-help books, Dan Harris’s book is a great starting point to convince yourself that meditation (1) works and (2) it doesn’t have to be religious.

All it takes is to be aware of your breath. Breath in. Notice the changes in your body- the chest rises, your lungs fill up with air and your diaphragm expands. Breathe out. Your stomach gets sucked back towards your spine. And repeat. If your mind wanders, just notice the sensations you felt that was associated with those thoughts. Maybe you remembered how your boss did some asshole move by piling work on you. Just notice that your ears felt hot and maybe your cheeks felt flushed. Bring the awareness back to your breath. And repeat.

My own experience

I’ve been, more-or-less, meditating for about 15 minutes every day and I can tell you that I’ve never felt better. I still get pissed at people who hog the lane in traffic. I still get pissed at colleagues who make me do more unnecessary work. But I quickly let it go.

On the other hand, when I notice something great. I hang on to it a little more. It could be the kid that waved to me and held the door open for me in the lift. It could be the sky looked a little clearer and the burst of blue that’s dotted with clouds. Whatever it is, I’m aware of it and I cherish it.

Why does it work? I think this short clip explains it very well. The guy in the middle (Jeff Warren) explains quite well from 1:09 to about the 2 min mark. Meditation gives you that mental clarity to figure out what to focus your energy on. I remember reading somewhere (could be the Dan Harris book once again) about someone asking the Dalai Lama what he would do if confronted with a robber in a bank and the robber potentially was going to shoot other people. The Dalai Lama said that he would snatch the gun from the robber and shoot him in the leg, then go and comfort him.

So, it’s not like meditation means you have to be nice and kind and icky-gooey all the time. It simply means having the ability to choose what to focus on. And if you choose to focus on what makes you happy while using your mental jiu-jitsu to deal with what makes you unhappy, life turns out to be a net positive. It’s all about gaining control over your emotions and using them to make your life better rather than letting your emotions affect you in whatever way the world chooses to.

Like Dan Harris, I’m nowhere close to being the “happiest person” alive but I think I’m ever so slightly closer.

Notes:

*Sorry mom. Chinese folk tradition isn’t the same.

Last year, while stock markets around the world were hitting all-time highs, I hit an all-time high too. Unfortunately, the all-time for me was my weight. All my life, I had never seen the first digit on the scales hit a ‘7’. So, when it finally did, I kind of panicked for a while. Then, I had a beer.

Some background first. I’m not obese or extremely overweight, to begin with. Even at 70kg, I think most people who know me will peg me as having “put on a few kilos” but they won’t label me as “fat”.

My usual approach to keeping the weight in check was to hit the gym once a week or once in two weeks and each session basically consists of just 2.4km on the treadmill, jerk-and-press, and deadlifts. That probably helped keep the weight in check but it was creeping up.

What changed was that while the wife was on a family holiday in December last year, I tried a few things. I can’t say for sure what the main contributor to the weight loss is but I’m going to run through the three things I did. I know 5kg (11lbs) doesn’t sound like a lot but the exciting thing for me is the trend of the weight loss and how easy it is to keep it off. And no, exercising more is not one of the things I did.

(1) Meditation

I started doing some simple mindfulness meditation every morning. Just 10 minutes of nothing but focus on my breath- the awareness of taking a breath, feeling my lungs fill up with air and then letting the breath out and feeling the carbon dioxide leave my lungs.

Obviously, meditation can’t be the main trigger for burning energy but I think where the meditation helped was in lifting my mood and awareness, which prevented me from snacking or going for the extra kopi* when I was really just bored and not hungry.

(2) Intermittent Fasting

I didn’t really set out to do this intentionally but while the wife was away, I got a little lazy and ended up just having a coffee in the morning. The first few days were tough but then I soon discovered that I didn’t really need to eat breakfast at all.

My first meal of the day ended up being at 11 or so in the morning and because of that, I ended up eating 2 meals a day on most days. Nowadays, as long as I’ve had my coffee, I don’t really feel the need to eat until maybe 12 or so. On some days, I don’t even eat a full lunch, just something light like a sandwich is usually good enough to last me till dinner. At dinner, I eat like I normally would.

Interestingly enough, I found out this is a form of intermittent fasting which some studies have shown to have numerous benefits such as a weight loss and cellular regeneration. (I recommend these two videos- 1, 2 for a good overview of what science has found about intermittent fasting.)

Personally, I’ve been doing a 16:8 fast which is eating only within an 8-hour window (the 8-hour window could be from 12-8pm) and during the 16-hour fast, all I have is a coffee with milk and no sugar in the morning. Apparently, this allows the body to enter ketosis where its glycogen stores in the liver are depleted and starts to burn fat for energy. This allows the body to keep the basal metabolic rate high as opposed to a diet based on caloric restriction where fewer calories tend to cause the body to also burn less energy over time. I haven’t done this every single day, only on weekdays as my schedule is more fixed on weekdays.

My finding is that while I get hungry, it’s not to the point where I feel weak or faint. In fact, I usually feel very alert when I’m on the fast and the hunger is more than manageable. The meditation also helps me focus on my breath and the sensations of hunger without letting the hunger control my actions or emotions.

As always, don’t take my advice as holy grail. I’m not medically trained so if you try this, you try it at your own risk. Seek proper medical advice if you’re unsure. Obviously, people who have no need for weight loss shouldn’t be trying this at all. Another point to note is that you shouldn’t be eating more than necessary regardless of an 8-hour window or not. If you eat 5,000 calories a day without exercise, it doesn’t make a difference whether you have an 8-hour window for eating or not.

(3) The Wim Hof method (abridged version)

What is the Wim Hof method? Or who is he? Wim Hof is a Dutch daredevil known as “The Iceman” for his feats of being able to withstand the cold. Such feats include running a marathon in the arctic circle in his shorts and holding the Guinness World Record for staying submerged in an ice bath for the longest period.

The method is a little controversial and consists of two parts – (1) breathing exercises based on Tibetan Tummo Meditation and (2) Cold exposure.

The breathing exercises puts one in a flight-or-fight response mode and raises adrenaline and noradrenaline levels while the cold exposure, supposedly, causes the body to experience environmental stress and therefore triggers the body to get stronger. This purportedly helps strengthen the immune system among other benefits.

Now, once again, I am not medically trained so I don’t know if the method makes sense from a physiological perspective but Wim Hof has shown that his methods work in a laboratory setting and beyond.

In an experiment with Radboud University, Wim was injected with a bacterial toxin and he managed to suppress most of the symptoms that 99% of people would experience when injected with the same toxin. Remarkably, he was able to teach others the same techniques which they managed to use to similar effect in a follow-up experiment. The main takeaway is that he could control his immune system which was previously thought to be autonomic. Wim Hof also led a group of people up Mt. Kilimanjaro in a much shorter time than what most people need in order to acclimatise and avoid altitude sickness.**

I haven’t done the full 10-week course that’s available on his site but there’s plenty of description on what the breathing exercises are supposed to be like (go google) and the only cold exposure I’ve tried doing is cold showers in the morning (once again, only on weekdays) but my own experience is that the breathing exercises do get you to a state of hyper-awareness. If you plan to try the method, read up as much as you can about it and other people’s experience with it because some people have died trying to use the method and the reason is that they blacked out during the breathing exercise and drowned.

I’ve experienced the ringing in my ears that supposedly come with the fight-or-flight response. I’ve also been able to hold my breath longer with each repetition of the exercise. I can’t say that my immune system has improved because I’ve never had many problems with my health. In fact, I hardly fall sick.

What I feel is that the Wim Hof method is a quick hack to put you in a state of awareness. I do feel great after the breathing exercises and the cold exposure has made me less scared of the cold (I usually don’t deal well with cold weather) but I definitely nowhere near taking ice baths or climbing up some mountain in nothing but a pair of shorts.

Conclusion

I’m quite happy to report that the weight comes off quite easily now that I’ve gotten into the swing of things and I didn’t do it by taking drastic measures. The steps I took are more of a (minor) lifestyle change but the results have been pretty quick to come and I’ve actually felt better because I have more energy and am less lethargic.

Oh, and of course, it was all free.

Notes:

*Kopi is local Singaporean coffee which is usually heavily sweetened with condensed milk.

**There are plenty of resources on Wim Hof on the internet but I would highly recommend reading Scott Carney’s book What doesn’t kill us on how an investigative journalist was convinced of Wim’s method.

So, just the other day I heard some shocking news.

An acquaintance of ours passed away and it turned out that she had been suffering from depression and took her own life. We didn’t know her very well but it was a shock because, from the brief time we knew her, she was very bubbly and cheerful. I don’t know if she was already suffering from depression when we knew her but it was also unthinkable that someone that appeared so positive could be suffering in silence.

The other shock was that she was EXACTLY my age. Right down to the day she was born. Someone my age passing away is a rare event, especially in a country like Singapore where life expectancy is high. But it happens. And in this case, it happened to someone that felt like life was troublesome than death.

And it’s a real shame because she had a gift. She helped my wife and I capture the memories of our wedding, which is one of the happiest moments of our lives. No doubt, she helped many others in the same way too and could have continued to help many more people do the same.

Dancing with darkness is seductive. It’s like a dance with a good-looking stranger dressed in black at a ball. The problem with life is that you can’t and shouldn’t keep revisiting that moment in the past. Doing so keeps your mind, and subsequently, your entire being captured in the memory of that moment while the entire world passes you by.

If you know anyone who’s suffering from depression, please get them some help.

This is for anyone residing in Singapore:
Samaritans of Singapore contact details
24 hours hotline: 1800-221 4444
Email (replies within 48hrs): pat@sos.org.sg

“The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

I don’t know who to attribute the above quote to because the first time I read it, it was something that Warren Buffett said but online sources say that it’s probably something that Samuel Johnson said.

Anyway, what’s more important is how true that saying is. We are all creatures of habit and particularly when our willpower is low in times of stress, we revert to the very things that we do without much thought. The danger is when some people fail to realise that their habits have taken them down a dangerous path that increases their chances of permanent ruin.

This morning, I watched an episode of a programme called “My 600-lbs Life”. The show follows the lives of extremely obese people in their bid to lose weight and regain their lives. This particular episode featured a man named James K. from Kentucky who is probably the heaviest person ever to appear on the show.

What struck me over the course of the two episodes that aired was that this guy and his girlfriend made all these bad choices that they basically couldn’t unwind. He’s so fat that he was basically bedridden and therefore it was his girlfriend who kept bringing him both the wrong kinds and wrong quantities of food. Her justification was that if she didn’t do so, he would get grouchy, argumentative and basically a pain-in-the-ass.

I know the guy has a food addiction problem and his girlfriend was obvious taking the easy way out by giving him what he wanted when his willpower was depleted. It didn’t help that they seem to be in poverty because at one point, her car broke down and she couldn’t get it fixed and that prevented her from going to get fresh produce which James needed in order to stick to his diet. Seeing all that, it’s obvious they weren’t going to be very successful in their goal.

Which is why I’ve realised that more than anyone else, I’m a creature of habit. I go to the same canteen every day to order the same cup of coffee, I have pretty much the same thing at the canteen in my school. When I’m home, my wife and I are watching the same few channels. Most importantly, I channel a part of my income into my portfolio automatically each month when I get paid.

That’s the trick with habits- habits can be both good or bad. What you want to do is develop good ones that help you meet your goals. And if you have bad habits, you want to make sure that they are inconsequential ones. If they are big, bad habits, then the first thing is to recognise them and set out a plan on how to correct them. It’s the old zen tale of a master who poured tea for his disciple until the cup overflowed. When asked why he was still pouring the tea, the master replied that new ideas cannot take root until old ones are uprooted.

I’m not perfect. I have many bad habits that I should work on. But at least I’m aware.

PS: There are so many people I know of that have developed terrible habits that they aren’t even aware of. Even if they’re made aware, they become defensive and think of all sorts of reasons to justify their behaviour. If you’re aware of your shortcomings, then kudos to you, you’re on the first step to putting things right.

I’ve always had an interest in meditation. This probably started in university when I had a lot going on in my life and I didn’t quite know how to handle all the situations that I was facing at that time. I’ve never been religious because I feel that too many religions are too dogmatic and I’ve also met my fair share of people who are dogmatic about religion and in private, are quick to denounce the beliefs of other religions as untrue. In short, I couldn’t and still can’t bring myself to conform to any singular religion because of the fundamentalist factions within many of the major world religions.

What first attracted me to meditation was the fact that while meditation originated from Buddhism (which is a religion), it can be treated as a non-religious practice. In fact, Buddhism originated as a philosophy and it was only after making its way through China that Buddhism (at least the version that is popular among the Chinese) incorporated more rituals.

Anyway, back to meditation. Many practitioners of the art have shown that there are numerous lab-tested benefits to meditation and Tan Chade-Meng’s latest book, “Joy on Demand” is a nice introduction to the practice and field of meditation. Tan was first, an engineer at Google and then more popularly known as Google’s jolly good fellow (that nobody can deny) where he also created the course “Search Inside Yourself”, teaching his colleagues how to practice meditation. This led to his first book with the same title as his course and now he has moved on to teaching and practicing meditation more widely.

I like the fact that in his latest book, Tan shares anecdotes of his struggles as a novice meditator and that Joy on Demand is much shorter than his first one while dispensing pretty much the same practical advice and evidence for the benefits of meditation. However, his style of humour takes getting used to. To me, it still feels kind of forced.

The book also dispenses useful insights on the emotions that a practitioner might feel at different stages of his/her practice and I’ve begun to notice this in life. For example, being mindful has led me to understand why some people might get upset when certain events happen. What gets me frustrated, sometimes, is when I wonder why people don’t see that their same actions lead to the same emotions that they feel. I’ve begun to feel frustrated when  I see people get upset about the same things that result from their same actions without realising that they could change how they feel simply by being aware. However, reflecting on my own emotions made me realise that I ought to change the way I view things.

Overall, I like Joy on Demand much better than his first book and while I still haven’t formed a formal meditation practice, I have tried baby steps suggested in the book like practicing my breathing whenever I have to wait at the traffic light or when I’m in a queue.

If you want to buy the book from Amazon, doing so through this link leaves me a little tip that goes towards my coffee fund.

The struggle is real. Doubly so for me as it’s still a public holiday here in Singapore and this comes at the end of a roughly two-week period of being on leave and holiday feasting. But I had to do it.

Last night, I set my alarm for 7 am. This morning when it went off, I had to fight the demons luring me back to the land of dreams and put on my running shorts and shoes and got out of the house.

The run along my usual route was exceptionally tough today. Groggy because I haven’t woken up so early in the last week (which demonstrates how easy it is to lose a good habit) and also due to the lack of exercise.

 

sunrise

Maybe it would have been easier to wake up if I had a view like this

 

I’m glad to say that I did get my run. Exercise has plenty of benefits and hacking an effective exercise routine into my life is going to be one of the things I’m going to work on this year.

So, lesson for today- struggling isn’t bad. In fact, in many facets of life, we struggle. We have to struggle before we reach our goal. Struggling is life’s way of teaching us so that we remember the lesson more deeply. The danger is in misinterpreting struggle or discomfort as a signal for avoidance. If we were supposed to avoid it, intense pain would be the more appropriate signal just like the feeling we would get when we touch a hot pan.

I normally don’t write on this kind of stuff but I read this article and given the things in my life right now, I thought it’s worth sharing.

Basically, the article advocates stoicism as a life-guiding principle. What is stoicism? In the words of the Trent Hamm (author of linked article):

I tend to think of stoicism as the separation between the way the world happens to be and my emotional response to it. In other words, I strive to separate the things I can control–my internal emotions and thoughts–from the things I cannot control–the rest of the world.

Now, the idea isn’t something new. I’ve come across the same idea in the philosophy (not the religion) of Buddhism as well as Viktor Frankl’s work. I don’t manage to follow this line of thinking all the time. Sometimes, my emotions get the better of me but upon reflecting, I tend to agree with the rationality of stoicism.