8 questions to help you reflect the past year and plan for the new year



It is that time of the year again. You are starting to wrap up your work, plan your festive season with family and friends, and get ready for the year ahead. Although you’re likely to be busy with gift shopping, family visits or travel, this is also a perfect time for you to reflect on the past year and plan for your new year.

Today I want to share with you with eight questions to help you reflect on your achievements and learning for the last 12 months, and to inspire you to plan ahead for the new year. I’d encourage you to set aside some time for yourself, maybe a quiet early morning, when you can spend some “me time” writing down thoughts and reflections on a piece of paper or in your journal – which you can even treat as a Christmas or New Year present for yourself.

Questions for you to reflect on the past 12 months:

  1. What are your proudest achievements this year? Too often we finish a project or assignment and then move on to the next without celebrating our success. Now is the perfect time of the year for you to reflect on your biggest achievements of the year – what did you do that makes you proud? What’s your biggest success that deserves celebration? Our brain is hardwired to look out for things that we can do better and to focus on “what’s next”, but taking the time to remember and celebrate your achievements can help you understand what motivates you and bring you long-lasting sense of meaning and fulfillment.
  1. What are the most important lessons you’ve learnt this year? It’s inevitable that we make mistakes in life and it can be hard to assess those mistakes objectively at the time. Year end is a good time to put things into perspective and look back on the things you wish you’d done differently and what you’ve learnt as a result. It is also worth thinking about how you can apply your learning to situations in the future.
  1. What stories are you telling yourself that you need to let go of? You might be doing some decluttering around the house to prepare for the new year, and it is also a good time for some mental decluttering. What are the beliefs and stories that you are holding on to but no longer serve you? Can you let these go and free yourself to pursue what you really want? 
  1. Who had the biggest positive impact on you this year? We all have those moments in life when we feel inspired or motivated by someone, whether it’s simply a good book, or something he or she said to you. You might not have had the opportunity to express to this person how much positive impact he or she had on you. So why not write a thank you note or email to let this person know how he or she has changed your life? It will help you cultivate meaningful relationships, and it just might make his or her day!

Questions for you to plan for next year:

  1.  If you could only achieve one big thing next year, what would it be? Imagine your time is a jar and you need to fill it with a combination of rocks, small seashells, and sand. The best way to fill the bottle is to put the rocks in first, then the seashells, and finally the sand. If you fill your day with small stuff first (think about the emails you need to reply, or the phone calls you need to make), you won’t have the space for your bigger project. So make sure you get clear on your “big rock” and set aside time in your calendar each day and week for it,  so that when you look back on your year, you will feel satisfied and proud of your achievement.
  1. What do you want to learn? Often we place a lot of emphasis on so-called “performance goals”, the likes of “I want to achieve xx revenue for my business”, and “I want to get xx new clients”. Studies have shown that while it is helpful to set specific performance goals to keep you stay on track of progress, this emphasis can also cause anxiety and stress especially if the goal is very challenging or if you lack the skills and experience to achieve them. An alternative way to approach it, especially when you are challenging yourself in new areas, is to set “learning goals”. For example, instead of setting yourself a revenue target, you can use a learning goal of “use online marketing tools more effectively”, or swap your goal of “getting xx new clients” with “learning networking and sales skills to connect better with customers”. Setting learning goals also help you develop the “growth mindset” – the belief that you can develop your skills and capability with efforts and practice overtime.
  1. What can you do more that brings you energy and joy? When you exercise your strengths – those underlying qualities that bring out the best in you, you will feel a surge of energy and flow. Similarly, when you do things that align with your nature and personal value, you will feel a deep sense of joy. Write down things that bring you energy and joy, whether work-related or not, and try to do more of those on a daily basis.
  1. What will you stop doing? To make time for your “big rock” and also those things that bring you energy and joy, you also need to take a step back and think about what you will stop doing. I like what Seth Godin wrote in his book “Dip” (an excellent book about the art of quitting): “Quitting is better than coping because quitting frees up the space for you to excel at something else”. Sometimes it can be hard to let go of things that you’ve been doing for a long time, but ask yourself: what does it cost you? For example, if you are someone who always says “yes” to other people’s requests, think about how it costs you in terms of the time you could otherwise have spent on things that bring you energy and joy, and on people who are important to you.

Finally, two bonus questions to make it a bit more fun for you – if you could use a word to sum up your 2016, what would it be? And if you could use one word as a mantra to remind you what is important to you in 2017, what would that be? To give you some inspiration, my one word in 2016 is “gratitude” as I feel so blessed with the support I’ve had (including you, my readers!) as I juggled between my work, study and family life. For 2017, my key mantra will be “growth” – I know it will won’t be an easy ride but I truly believe each new experience and challenge represent an opportunity for us to grow as a person.

I hope these question can help you spend some quality self-reflection time to look back on the past year and plan for your new year. I’d love to hear your thoughts – please do share in the comments section below the biggest lessons you’ve learned this year, one big thing you’d like to focus on next year, and your mantra for the new year. If you like this article, please also share it with your friends so that they can get some fresh inspiration for their year-end review!

Finally, I’d like to thank you for being here, and I wish you a wonderful festive season, & a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year that brings you lots of love, joy and fulfilment.

With love,




How to prioritise when you have too much to do



Have you ever found that your to-do list keeps growing that you can never catch up with it?

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by all the things you need to do, but don’t know where to focus?

In the last couple of months I feel I have to juggle too many things in my plate – Xin and I have recently moved house and have to do a lot of refurbishment and redecoration work; I just finished up my Masters’s dissertation in Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology (looking forward to sharing more on that with you in due course!), and now busy coaching new clients + designing and delivering career and leadership development curriculum for Imperial College Business School for the new term.

The beginning of the autumn is always a busy time so today I want to share some of my learning and reflection on how to better prioritise when you feel you have too much on your plate:

1. Know what is important and what is urgent.

Urgent things always shout at you, while important things stay quiet in the background longing for your attention. Steve Pressfield said: “Do what’s important first. Don’t let urgent stuff that is not important get in the way”. It seems an easy rule to follow but very few of us do this in practice. Your brain is constantly bombarded by what’s on the headline, the request in your inbox, your facebook or twitter feeds. They are all trying to grab your attention right here and right now. However, what’s urgent is generally other’s people’s priority, not necessarily yours. So if you don’t know what is important to you, then you will be easily distracted by urgent stuff that is not important to you.

How to know what is important to you? I found it useful to remind myself with these questions: What do I care about? What do I want to create? What is meaningful for me and gives me purpose? Reflecting on these questions can help you stick to your compass, and steer clear from the noises. Write them down and put them in a place you can see regularly to be reminder of the important stuff that you need to do first.

2. Focus on one thing at a time.

In their bestselling book: “The One Thing: The Surprisingly simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results”, Gary Keller and Jay Papasan suggest “going small” by ignoring all the things you could do and focus on one thing that matters most at the time. You only have that much time and energy for every single day and often you are spreading yourself too thin by trying to do too many things at the same time. By narrowing down your focus and finding out the thing that matters most and focusing on it, you can achieve extraordinary results.

In their book, Gary and Jay conducted research on some of the most successful companies and found that they always have one product or service that makes them famous and successful. For example, Google’s “one thing” is the search engine, which makes other sources of revenues possible; Apple is another company that is great at creating an extraordinary “one thing” and then transition into another extraordinary “one thing”.   If you are starting up your own company, it is also worth thinking about what is the “one thing” that you want to be known for. Similarly, if you are working for someone else, it is also worth asking yourself – what is your unique personal brand? What do you want to be known for and what do you want others to remember about you?

So how can you know what is the “one thing” that you need to focus on? It takes consistent reflections, practice and feedback to cultivate a strong sense of self-awareness. I also like this one question proposed by Gary Keller that you can reflect on at the beginning of every week: “What is the ONE thing you can do this week such that by doing it everything else would be easier or unnecessary?”

3. Accept that your priority changes from time to time.

Steve Covey once gave advice to a woman in a high-flying career who felt consumed by her wedding preparation and found it frustrating that her work to-do list was always distracted by wedding-related issues. And this is what Steve told her: “your life is going to be unbalanced for a time, and it should be. The long run is where you go for balance…Maybe the only role that matters this entire month will be your role as a new bride. And if you fulfill that role well, you will feel satisfied”.

It is true that we always want to achieve some sort of “balance” or “integration” at any given point in life, but it is worth thinking from a different life-span perspective on how your priorities might change and what you can do to adapt to it. I know my priority in the next two or three years will shift a lot towards my family, which makes me feel both excited and nervous. It is natural to have the mixed feeling when you know the role that matters to you most have changed. I noticed that I tended to focus on the things that I didn’t do and feel guilty about it (e.g. I wish I could write more blogs, do more marketing and networking, and etc) but failed to acknowledge all the things I already achieved. This negative bias was not serving me well and I’ve had to learn to let go of the guilty feeling that is associated with the change of my priority and recognise that I am doing my best with the time and resources I have.

So as you notice priorities start to shift in your life, ask yourself, “what is the role that matters to you most now? What do you want to do now to fulfill that role?”. At the same time, learn to accept the complicated feeling that comes with the change of your priority, let go of the guilt and trust that life has its own timing and you’re doing the best you can.

4. Learn to say No. 

I know, it is not always easy to say no. You want to help others and respond to other’s people’s need – your clients, your boss, your partner and your children. You might feel guilty sometimes when saying “no” to others. But it is important because if you don’t say no to those things that are urgent but not important, you won’t have the time and energy to attend to what’s important to you and focus on the ONE thing that matters most to you.

When those urgent but not important things knock on your door, learn to take a pause and say this: “I know you need this, but I have something important that I really need to focus on right now, can I come back to you or can someone else help you?”

5. Know when to delegate.

One reason we tend to take on too much is that we don’t know when and how to delegate. Know that your time is limited and it is best used to do things that only you can do and create things only you can create. When you say “no” to people, it is also useful to guide them to those you can delegate to. Do you have to do all the accounting reports yourself for your business or can you hire an accountant to do that? Is it the best use of time to do all the housework while you can hire some help?

Ask yourself these questions: “What is unique about me?” “What is that I can do that no one else can do?” “Who else is better placed to do _____ than me?” Knowing when to delegate not only frees you up to do the things that matter most to you, but also helps build a circle of support around you which you can trust and rely on.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What are your top tips to keep focused on your goals, especially when your priorities change and you have too many things on your plate? What is the one thing you can start doing now to focus on what truly matters in your life? Please do share your thoughts in the comments below!

If you found this article helpful, please do share it with friends, especially those who are experiencing a shift in their priority and/or feeling overwhelmed by their to-do lists, so that they can also learn to manage their energy better and focused on things that truly matter to them.

With lots of love,


How to practice mindfulness even if you don’t have time for it

Mindful moment

In the last blog, I talked about practicing mindfulness as one of the ways to understand yourself better. You may have also heard about the other proven benefits of mindfulness – reduce stress, increase productivity, improve health, and so on.

But you may have this question in the back of your head: How can I practice mindfulness if I don’t have much time?

Not surprisingly, in today’s busy world, this is one of the most common challenges people face when starting or trying to maintain mindfulness practices. This is also something I struggled with when I first started practicing. It almost felt like meditating is another item I need to tick off on my to-do list!

And then I read this: If you have time to breathe, you have time to meditate.

It made me realise practicing mindfulness doesn’t have to involve sitting cross-legged in a lotus position for hours.  There are simple and small things you can do to be more mindful and more present in your life.

Jon Kabat-Zin, the psychologist who initiated the research work on the benefits of mindfulness in the western world, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally”.  At the core of the practice, it is the quality of the attention that matters – the attention you bring to whatever you do, and whoever you are interact with.

Before we dive into the practical tips on practicing mindfulness on the go, I’d like to share this quote by the Indian philosopher J Krishnamurti:

“Meditation is not something that you do. Meditation is a movement into the whole question of our living: how we live, how we behave, whether we have fears, anxieties, sorrows; whether we are everlastingly pursuing pleasure’ and whether we have built images about ourselves and others.”

This to me sums up the essence of the practice. Mindfulness is a way of being. It is not about emptying the mind, or suppressing your thoughts. It is about letting your thoughts, assumptions and emotions surface, so that you can see them, stay with them for a moment, get curious about them, and then let them go, just like seeing clouds passing the sky. You will probably not find all the answers to your questions or challenges through mindfulness practice,  but at least it can help bring a different level of awareness to your inquiry into whatever is emerging in your life.

Now let’s get to the practical side and look at how you can bring more awareness and calmness into your life by practicing mindfulness on the go.

1. Blend mindfulness into your morning ritual

The first hour upon your waking up is the time for you to connect to your feelings and get ready for the day ahead. The first things you do in the morning set the tone for the rest of your day.

You may want to start your day with a simple five-minute meditation . You can do it before breakfast, or simply in bed after waking up. As part of my own ritual, I often set up my intention for the day before I jump out of bed. Sometimes it is a simple word like “patience”, “service”, or “love”, and in other days it may be an important task I need to finish on the day.

Start small and make one tiny change each time. When forming new habits, it’s important to reduce the activation energy, which is the amount of energy it takes to start a new task. One way to reduce the activation energy is by introducing small changes to your existing routine. For example, when brushing your teeth, instead of doing it mindlessly, you can pay full attention to the taste of the toothpaste and the sensation of the brush touching your teeth. When you have your breakfast, instead of checking out your emails or news, you can practice mindfulness by savouring the colour, smell and taste of the food.

2. Practice mindful commuting  

Commuting is one of those things we don’t normally enjoy. The busy traffic, crowded public transport and long waiting time can make it a headache for us. However, it is also a great opportunity for us to practice patience and attentiveness to our surroundings.

One of my favourite meditations is to practice love and kindness meditation on the tube. Love and kindness meditation has been shown to increase our positive emotion, which in turn helps us feel energised and productive in the day.

All you need to do is to simply pick up someone around you, look at them (try not to do it in a creep way), hold them in your thoughts and wish them well and happy. Recognise that even if you don’t know each other, you are connected as human beings sharing the same space, and you’re likely to share similar desires and struggles in life. Research shows that we feel happier when we feel compassionate towards others. So send your compassion to your fellow travellers and you will make your commuting more enjoyable too.

3. Interact with others with presence

When you’re talking to your colleagues at work, or interacting with your partner and kids after work, give them your full attention. As Steven Convey once said, the problem of communication is that people listen to talk, rather than listen to understand. Next time you are in a conversation with someone, practice active listening by noticing their verbal and non-verbal languages, as well as their emotions.

Try listening to others without your own agenda in mind. You may notice that your mind is constantly distracted by other things on your plate. When you notice it, simply acknowledge it and bring yourself back to the person in front of you. Treat him/her as if he/she is the only person that matters at that very moment. You will be surprised how much difference it makes and how much impact it can have on the people you interact with.

4. Take mental timeout at work

When you have busy schedules at work, it’s important to remind yourself to take some breaks. Your brain needs that space to switch between tasks (even just for a few minutes), and these mental time-outs are essential in keeping you energised and productive at work.

If you have a full day’s meetings, try to schedule in some transition time between them, whether it’s a three-minute breathing exercise (as a bonus for my readers, at the end of this post you will find a guided breathing meditation I’ve recorded for you) or a ten-minute walk to get a coffee.

When you do take the break, try not to think about work. And apparently the timing of the break matters too. A recent study shows that people who take breaks in the morning are more likely to feel restored and less exhausted than those take breaks in the afternoon.

You can also put in some sticker dots in your notebook or on the back of your phone. Whenever you see them, they can serve as a reminder for taking some mental time-outs.

5. Focus on breathing while walking

Walking meditation is an easy way to incorporate mindfulness practice in your daily life. Whether you’re taking a break at work, or on your way home, you can always try it out.

The easy way to do it is focusing on your breaths as you walk. As you walk, simply notice your breath, whenever you want to reach out to your phone or find your mind wandering somewhere else, simply bring it back to the breath.

You can also practice walking mindfulness by noticing your surroundings, including what you see, hear and smell. Even if it’s a route you walk every day, try walking it as if it’s the first time. You might be surprised to see beautiful and interesting things you haven’t noticed before.

6. Use meditation apps

If you have a hard time practicing meditation on the go or are relatively new to meditation, a meditation app can be a great help. Apps like Calm, Buddify and Headspace offer guided meditation at different lengths that can easily fit in your days. Most of them offers a free trial so that you can see which one suits your preference and style best. For example, Calm offers a seven-day free trial programme in which you can enjoy guided meditation as an introduction to mindfulness. Buddify offers a variety of guided meditation for different settings (e.g travelling, work break, walking, etc).

I hope today’s post gives you some useful ideas that you can implement straightaway to weave mindfulness into your everyday life. As a special gift for you,  I’ve recorded a four-minute breathing meditation for you to try out. It’s a simple breathing meditation with counting techniques to help you feel re-energised and calm. You can do it during a work break, before going to an important meeting, or anytime when you need to bring more space and calmness in your life.  Give it a go and let me know how you find it!

A 4-minute breathing meditation:

Now I’d love to hear from you. What challenges have you faced as you start or maintain your mindfulness practice? What have you done to overcome them? What one thing you can do today to be more mindful and more present in your life? Leave a comment below and join the discussion!

Stay calm and until next time,



Five ways to understand yourself better  

a person facing the mountain

A couple of weeks ago, I had a conversation with one of my long-term coaching clients on the topic of “how to understand oneself better”. After the coaching session, I can’t help but keep pondering on this subject. And now I’d like to share a few thoughts on how to understand ourselves better.

I don’t claim to know the answer, as I believe there is not a simple one to this question. Everyone shall embark on their own journey and seek the answer themselves. I hope my reflections can offer you some food for thoughts, as well as some practical tips you can use in your everyday life to get to know yourself better.

 1. Observe yourself in relationships.

Every relationship is a mirror which reflects back the energy you put out into the world. By noticing how you relate to others, you can gain valuable insights about who you are and how you relate to yourself.

When you think someone else is hurting you, it is likely that you are hurting yourself. When you believe someone else is disappointed in you, it is likely that you are disappointed in yourself. Others will treat you the same way you treat yourself. If you need respect from others, you need to respect yourself first. If you want to be loved, you need to love yourself first.

You need to observe not only your relationships with others but also your relationships with your own thoughts and emotions. You can do this in meditation or simply take a pause when you feel a tension within yourself: observe the way you talk to yourself – is it critical or kind? Is it cautious or courageous? Is it driven by fear or love?

 2.   Let go of what you wish to be and embrace what you are.

Understanding yourself is not about accumulating past knowledge of yourself. It is about understanding what you are from moment to moment, not what you “should” be or what you wish to be.

Too often, you feel anxious because there is a discrepancy between what you are and what you think you should be. Most sufferings in life come from your attachment to the past or future, and this attachment is preventing you from fully connecting to your mind, body and spirit in the present moment.

Your whole idea of yourself is often based on the past (the memories, beliefs and what has been taught to you) and the future (your fears, hopes, and desires). Most of the time you are not even aware that such conditioning is affecting everything you do. The first step is to be aware of the conditioning, because when you are aware of it, it has less power over you.

The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti says, “To know oneself as one is requires an extraordinary alertness of mind, because what it is constantly undergoing the transformation, change, and to follow it swiftly the mind must not be tethered to any particular dogma or belief, to any particular pattern of action.” There is nothing wrong with remembering the past, Krishnamurti adds, as it is essential in our normal functioning in the world, but the problem arises when we over identify with memory and allow it to take us away from living in the present moment.

One of the best ways to connect to the present moment is meditation. It allows you to cultivate alertness of the minds, and to become aware of your thoughts as well as how it affects your feelings and actions. It also helps you develop a non-judgemental attitude towards yourself and others, which is essential in improving your self-understanding.

Start by practicing meditation for five to ten minutes every morning. you will notice a considerable change in how you relate to and understand yourself. Only when you let go of your image of who you should be or wish to be, can you honestly and clearly see who you are.

3. Journal regularly.

I used to journal a lot when I was at school, but then stopped when I started working in banking because the day-to-day life became so hectic that I didn’t have the time or mood to write anymore. I resumed journaling two years ago, and found it to be an easily accessible and yet meaningful way to connect with myself. I also enjoyed going back to my previous journals from time to time, and am often surprised at how the dots are connected when I look backward.

One ritual I particularly enjoy is writing “Morning Pages”. This is a practice suggested by Julia Cameron, the author of “The Artist’s Way,” that allows the stream of consciousness writing to flow out of you, completely unfiltered. It enables you to see what is going through your mind and at the same time unclutters your brain space.

According to Cameron, “Morning Pages are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.”

Both journaling and morning pages are great ways to get a better understanding of your thoughts process, identify what affects your emotions, and capture those untold stories of your life that are hidden inside you.

4. Listen to your body.

Your body knows a lot about you. You store emotions in your body, unconsciously. When your shoulder, back or hips are tight or aching, it’s likely that they are sharing the emotional burden of your life.

The reality is that we often forget about our body and live in our head instead. When the body whispers to you, you are often too busy to hear it. You only pay attention when your body starts to shout at you, and often by then it has been burdened with too much suffering and pain.

So start listening to your body and treat it kindly, and it will treat you back. Practicing yoga is a great way to know your body, connect with it and release the tension stored in it. Doing body scan meditation also helps you pay closer attention to what is happening in your body. Your body has a lot of hidden wisdom in it, and you simply need to access it.

5. Follow your energy

You must have those days when you feel totally energized by what you do, and days when you feel depleted with energy. Your energy is the life force in you, and it often shows you the direction of your life’s calling .

When I was working in banking, I always felt a lack of energy. It was probably partly due to the fast paced environment and constant traveling, but I also felt I had to put in a lot of efforts to be someone I was not, which required an enormous amount of energy. While I was good at what I do technically and got recognised for it, I knew it was not sustainable, and it was not my life’s work.

Then I started to take notice of what energised me: reading and writing about human conditioning, philosophy, psychology and personal development; spending time in nature, and using my presence and purpose to be a catalyst for change and growth. As I listened to what life was trying to say to me and follow whatever gave me energy, a different path unfolded in front of me.

You will feel the natural, unobstructed flow of energy only when who you are is aligned with what you do. When you pay attention to what gives you a sense of flowing energy, you will be following your true north.

I hope these reflections can give you some useful tips to continue the journey of self-exploration. It is never easy and the question of “who am I” is one of the central enquires of human being. My personal motto at the moment is to stay curious and have an open mind about your experience in life – as you know yourself better, you also understand humanity better.

Now over to you. What challenges have you faced in your exploration into yourself? What actions will you take to get to know yourself better? I’d love to hear you thoughts in the comments below!

Until next time,


How to become a more confident person



Have you had those experiences in which for one moment you feel super confident that you can achieve almost anything you want, but for the next moment self-doubt rises in your head and you lose the confidence and courage to go for what you want?

It’s not uncommon to have these ups and downs in our confidence levels.  During the past year, I feel I’ve been constantly flexing my confidence muscles as I undertake my own adventure in pursuing a life and career on my own terms.  I have to constantly step out of my comfort zone, test out new things and be ready to accept setbacks. There are countless moments when my self-doubt kicks in – but there are also times when I learn from my mistakes to become more confident, resilient and ready to face up the challenges.

The issue of confidence not only features again and again in my personal life but also in my work with my clients on their life and career transitions. When we are faced with challenges and uncertainties in life, be it a change of career path, or the start-up of a new venture, it is often what we believe about ourselves that makes a difference in how we approach these challenges and what results we can achieve. Our self-belief might be affected by many different factors, but we need to know that self-belief doesn’t have to be fixed — it can be developed.

Stanford Professor, Dr Albert Bandura, was the first psychologist to propose the concept of self-efficacy, defined as “the belief in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations”. Put simply, Self-efficacy is one’s belief in his ability to achieve a certain goal in a particular situation, and such belief has a key role in how we think, feel, and act.

According to Bandura, our self-efficacy comes from four sources: performance accomplishments, vicarious experience, verbal persuasion, and physiological states. I will go through each of them in more detail below and share with you my take on how you can use the findings from this body of research to improve your confidence in work and life.

1. Take action and complete a difficult task.

The first source of self-efficacy is performance accomplishments, which means if we can master what we do and accomplish our goals in doing it, then our confidence level are raised. The flip side is that, if you’ve got repeated failures, you might argue your confidence will be lowered and therefore not even bother trying. But it doesn’t have to work that way. Although failure can make us feel frustrated, see it as an opportunity to learn from your mistakes so that you can do better next time. Every time you fail, you learn something new and “fail with one step forward”. However, if you take no action at all, you will just stand still, and one year later you’d wish you had started today.

How to interpret your failure also affects your confidence. Studies found that students who explain their poor performance as lack of efforts demonstrate higher level of confidence than those who explain it as low ability. Next time you have self-doubts in your situation, adopt a growth mindset by acknowledging that your ability is not fixed, and you can learn new skills and develop it by taking actions and putting in the effort. The more effort you put into it, the better you will be, and the more confident you will become.

2. Find a role model.

People do not rely purely on their experienced mastery as the sole source of self-efficacy. They also gain confidence by observing others performing a similar task or achieving a similar goal successfully. This is what Bandura mean by “vicarious experience” as the second major source of information which individuals use to form self-belief judgment.

If you are making a career change, talk to someone who has made a successful move will give you more confidence than surrounding yourself with people who don’t believe it’s possible. If you are starting up your own business, connect with those who are already successful in the field and learn from them about their experience. You will gain energy and confidence from the success of others, and you will believe it’s possible.

3. Build your A-team

Verbal persuasion is widely used to influence human behaviours as people are often led into believing they can overcome the challenge or achieve the goal at hand. Bandura suggested that people who are socially persuaded that they have what it takes to overcome difficult situations and are provided with the support for effective actions are more likely to mobilise greater effort than those who receive only performance aids.

This highlights the importance of building your A-team – people who believe in you and who can give you the support you need. Find a mentor who can encourage you and advocate for you at the workplace, or a coach who can give you valuable feedback, and hold your vision until you are ready to step into it. When choosing your A-team, make sure they are people who takes your best interest at heart and with whom your values are aligned.

4. Make friend with your inner critic

From my personal experience, verbal persuasion applies not only to external social contacts, but also your internal talk. The inner critic can be your worst critic. Sometimes no matter how strongly other people believe in you, if your inner critic keeps telling you “you can’t do it”, you confidence may well be undermined by your very own voice.

Therefore it helps a lot to make friend with your inner critic. Some people try to silence their inner critics, but that’s a battle they cannot win. Your inner critic is part of you. It develops over time since your childhood and carries a lot of your experience and memory. Acknowledge that it is part of you and that it is probably trying to protect you from feeling hurt or shamed.

Next time when you hear your inner critics is undermining your confidence, try acknowledge it with a smile and say to it with compassion and confidence: “thank you for your reminder, but I know what I want to do now”.

5. Use your body and emotion

The final source of confidence is your physical and emotional state. This may not be obvious, but a large amount of research has shown that consciously or subconsciously you will draw information from your body and emotion to make judgment about your ability to deal with a challenge. Negative emotions, such as anxiety, can weaken your confidence. On the other hand, positive emotions, such as gratitude, love, and joy, allow you to be more resourceful and creative in overcoming challenges, and therefore help you become more confident.

Similarly, we also draw a lot of information from our body and postures which affects our confidence level. In this popular TED talk, social psychologist Amy Cuddy shares her research on how “power posing” (e.g., standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident) can affect the cortisol levels in our brain and therefore has a positive impact on our chances for success.

If you want to effectively use your emotion and body to boost confidence, the first step is to be more aware of them. Before you enter an important meeting or go into an interview, check how you feel at that point, and if necessary go to the bathroom and try a two-minute power posing session!

Now I’d like to hear from you. Which one of the tips resonates most with you? What actions have you taken or are you going to take to become more confident in your work and personal life? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends, especially those who need a boost of confidence to be a step closer to what they want!

Until next time,


5 ways to be more resilient

picture on resilience from unsplashIf you are going through a career or life transition, whether it is stepping up in your current role, changing career path, or starting up your own business, it is inevitable that things can get tough from time to time and you will face challenges that push you out of your comfort zone. In these difficult times, learning how to be resilient will help you adapt well in the face of adversity and emerge with even more strength and confidence.

Some people think resilience is a trait that one either has or does not. This is, however, far from the truth. Resilience has been defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, or significant sources of stress. Psychologists have found that resilience can be developed and built over time if you have the right attitude, knowledge and mindset.

So what can you do to develop and build resilience, especially in challenging times? Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.Build in positive buffers.

For a moment let’s think of your psychological resilience as savings in a bank. The higher level of savings you have, the more you can protect yourself from financial difficulties. Similarly, you can build a “savings” of resilience reserve – the positive emotions that give you the energy and resources to cope with challenges. On the other hand, negative emotions and thoughts will drain your energy and deplete your savings.

A simple way to build up positive emotions (i.e your savings in the psychological bank) is by cultivating gratitude. Science has shown that feeling grateful leads to a boost of positive emotions. Our mind is hardwired to notice negative things in life without us even realising it, so by putting things into perspective and highlighting the positive things in life, you will build up a strong buffer to protect you during difficult times. You can start cultivating gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal, or having a gratitude stone in your pocket which can serve as a reminder.

2. Challenge your irrational beliefs.  

When things get tough, we tend to lose our confidence. In particular, we often have irrational belief about ourselves and about the situation we are in, which undermines our ability to deal with the challenge at hand.

This can be best explained by the ABC model, commonly used in cognitive behavioural therapy. The ABC model stands for “Activation – Belief – Consequence”. A simple example works as the following: you are rejected in a job application (the activation event), this makes you think you won’t be able to get a new job (belief) and so you stop looking for a new job and end up stuck in your current job (consequence). The consequence doesn’t end here, because when you stop making an effort to change, you feel even worse about your situation and then end up in a negative spiral.

In situations like this, it’s useful to challenge yourself: is your belief about your situation a rational one? Just because you didn’t get one job, does it mean you can’t get another? In the above-mentioned example, you fall in the trap of “overgeneralisation”. A more rational thought about the situation would be: the job probably isn’t the right fit for you; or there are things you can do better next time to secure the job.

As human beings are very good at holding irrational beliefs, such as overgeneralising in the example above, , all or nothing (if I can’t change it completely, there is not point changing it at all), filtering (forget the positive, only focus on the negative), catastrophising (it is a total disaster) and so on.

So next time, when you face a challenging business project or a difficult job search, rather than reacting immediately and falling in the trap of your irrational beliefs, why not have a pause and think about whether the belief you have about yourself and the situation is a rational one, and if not, how you can change it?

Challenging your irrational belief and turning it into a rational one will help you regain the confidence in your strengths and keep an optimistic outlook in difficult situations.

3. Develop a growth mindset.

The growth mindset, first proposed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, is all about seeing challenges as opportunities to grow from, rather than letting the failure (or the possibility of failure) stop you from trying and growing. In contrast to people with a fixed mindset, who generally believe that our capabilities are fixed and see failure as indication of their lack of capabilities, people with a growth mindset are more willing to view difficulties and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow from.

Dr Dweck proposed a simple three-step approach to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. As you face a challenge, firstly pay close attention to the “fixed mindset” voice inside you: “ Can you really do this?” “What if you fail?”. The next step is to recognize that you have the choice as to how you interpret a challenge, setback or criticism: you can either let the fixed mindset voice paralyse you, or you can choose to replace it with the growth mindset. The last step is to talk back to your fixed mindset voice with a growth mindset voice. If you hear yourself saying “Are you sure you can this?”, you can reply: “I am not sure if I can do this, but I believe I can learn with time and effort”.

Next time when you face a challenge, try this approach to shift your mindset, and how you feel about it and react it will also change as a result.

4. Going back to your “why”

Often when we face difficulties or challenges, we focus solely on keeping our head above water. But it is worthwhile to take a step back and reconnect to the bigger picture and bigger “Why”. What made you start the business in the first place?  Why is this project important to you? What difference are you making with all the work you are doing?

As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.  Whether you are going through a career transition, or leading your team to achieve business goals, having a clear “why” is essential to keep motivated and inspired to take consistent actions to overcome challenges. Simon Sinek articulated the importance of “why” beautifully in his popular TED talk on how leaders inspire change and actions by starting with the “why”. 

Sometimes your “why” may have changed and you might find yourself on a different path from the one you started with. It is ok as long as you are clear on the reason behind it and you keep connected to your vision, which help you regain the energy and momentum to take actions to overcome the obstacles.

5. Make connections and have a support network. 

If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together. Having a support network is vital in keeping you sanity in challenging times. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your partner, friends, your trusted friends, your coach and mentor, and all of those people who will get your back when things get tough. Sometimes, it is very easy to feel we have to be “ independent”, and asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness. The reality, though, is that showing vulnerability can actually be a source of strength and can connect you with people at a deeper level.

Find your tribe. You might join a local community or a business club with people going through the same journey as you, whether it is about changing career, or starting up your own business. Human beings are social animals, and we have the need for connecting with like-minded people.

American psychologists Edward Deci & Richard Ryan proposed psychological relatedness as one of the factors that motivate people to actualise their potential. When you share your challenges with people you trust, you are likely to feel better when someone understand your situation and you will also feel more encouraged to take actions to succeed.

Now I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to gain strengths in difficult times? What actions can you take to be more resilient? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends especially those who can benefit it to gain the strengths and confidence they need to go through challenging times.

With love,


Gratitude: Your number one shortcut to happiness


Today I want to share a video with you first. It brought me to tears. 

It was a social experiment by Spanish photographer Paola Calasanz, who asked two strangers to sit separated from each other by a wall. They could hear each other but didn’t know who was on the other side. 

They were asked two questions: “If your could make one wish, what would it be? ” and “what makes you happy?”.

I invite you to have a go yourself at these two questions before you read on.

The answers from the people on the right side of the wall were generally the same: they wanted to travel to places they hadn’t been, have a better job, build their own business, and achieve success.

And then they hear the strangers from the other side of the wall:

” I wish my daughter could have a normal life”

” I wish I could walk”

” What makes me happiest is the air touching my face”

” I wish there would be no disease in the world”

” What makes me happiest is to wake up in the morning and see my sister is well”


These answers left the people on the right side surprised, or in tears. People on the two sides finally met, and those on the right were told that the strangers on the left were cancer patients and their family.

Calasanz created this video in collaboration with Association of Adolescents and Young Adults with Cancers. His goal was to show how drastically an illness can change one’s perspective on life.

Last month, I went through one of the most difficult periods of my life.  Whilst  it was challenging and exhausting physically and emotionally, it also gave me a great opportunity to spend more time with my family, and to appreciate small things in life which I took for granted (such as being able to step outside to the balcony for some fresh air, or smelling the lovely scent of flowers in my room).  I also felt lucky to have met an amazing team of doctor and nurses, and to have had the loving support from my husband and my family. I am happy to report that I am now on my way to a smooth recovery.

Seeing this video just reminded me to be grateful to even the smallest things in life and to be appreciative of what life has to offer, even when life through a curve ball at you.  Being grateful is one of the most important qualities that we can have to live a happier and more fulfilling life. It connects us, inspires us, and lets us see a different perspective on life, even when things are difficult or challenging.

Why gratitude is the shortcut to our well-being and happiness

The word “gratitude” is derived from the Latin word “gratia”, meaning grace, graciousness, or gratefulness. In psychology, gratitude is defined as a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.

The root of gratitude can be traced back to many religious traditions, where it is one of the most common emotions those religions seek to evoke or sustain in their followers. The link between gratitude and spirituality is described beautifully by Streng (1989): “In this attitude (gratitude) people recognise that they are connected to each other in a mysterious and miraculous way that is not fully determined by physical forces, but is part of a wider or transcendent context.”

In this well-known theory of self-actualisation, American psychologist Arabram Maslow also views the sense of appreciation as a core characteristic of a self-actualising person. He suggests self-actualisers have the capacity to “appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experience may have become to others”.

Psychologists have found that gratitude has a wide range of benefits on people’s physical health and psychological well-being. For example, in a recent study on gratitude by Robert Emmons and Cheryl Crumpler at University of California, participants were divided into three groups. One third (“neutral”) were asked to record up to five major events that most affected them during the week, another third (“stressor”) were asked to write down five minor stressors that occurred in the week, and the final third (“gratitude”) were asked to write down five things for which they were grateful or thankful.

The results showed significant difference between the three groups in terms of emotional and physical well-being. Compared to the stressor group, those in the gratitude condition felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about their expectation of the upcoming week. In addition, similar patterns were observed in the participants’ physical well-being, with the gratitude group reporting fewer physical complaints than the stressor group (although it did not differ from the neutral condition). The most interesting difference comes from the amount of time spent on exercising. The gratitude group spent over 4 hours in exercise compared with just over 3 hours for the stressor group.

Similarly, other evidence also supports that gratitude can enhance positive emotions, improve the level of satisfaction in life, and even improve our sleep qualityAs we acknowledge the importance of gratitude on our physical and psychological well-being, what can we do cultivate more gratitude in our lives? Here are a few ideas for you to try:

 1. Create a ritual to remind yourself the things you feel grateful about.  As our brain is hardwired to focus on negatives rather than positives, we tend to get trapped by things that we are not satisfied with instead of things that we can feel grateful about. The social and business environments we live in also condition our mind to pay more attention to what we don’t have (that’s most marketing is about), so we tend to lose sight of what we already have and take those for granted.

Therefore it is helpful to set up your own ritual to remind yourself of things you are grateful for. It might be writing a gratitude journal every week, incorporate gratitude in your meditation practice, or posting pictures of things or people you feel grateful for on a board so that you can see them every day. Whatever it is, make it your own and something you can keep doing without feeling too much hassled. Reminding yourself not to take anything you have for granted will change your perspective and allow you to perceive your life in a more positive way.

2. Identify your non-grateful thoughts, and replace them with gratitude-supporting thoughts. As mentioned earlier, human brain has a habit of emphasising negative things, so it is useful to recognise this pattern and try to replace it with gratitude-supporting thoughts.

For example, if you’ve had a bad day at work perhaps due to an argument with a difficult colleague, you may want to replace your frustration by appreciating the incident as a good opportunity for you to grow by learning how to deal with difficult people. You make your reality in your mind. By changing your thoughts, you change your own reality.

3. Do something to show your appreciation. Action speaks louder than words. When you express your appreciation to others, you will also gain a sense of happiness as the positive energy is mutual and interconnected.  It could be small things such as sending a thank-you note to someone who has helped you in the past; or you may want to spend some time on volunteering work in your community to help those in need.

The more you give, the more you receive. Please also remember to do something to thank yourself, for showing up every day and doing the work despite all the challenges and difficulties along the way. It is very easy to let our inner-critic take over and have the feeling of “not doing enough” or “not good enough”. Instead, thank yourself for being who you are and know that you are good enough as you are.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What is your reflection after watching the video clip? What are three things you feel grateful for in your life? and What are you doing or planning to do to bring more gratitude in your life? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

With much love and appreciation,


Three lessons we can learn from Linkedin CEO’s leadership philosophy

Heart shaped leaf

You may have noticed I talked about compassion quite often on this blog, I believe it is one of the most fundamental human qualities that we can cultivate to better not only our own lives, but also the world around us. A growing number of scientific evidence supports the psychological and physical benefit of compassion. For example, research shows that being compassionate makes us feel good by activating pleasure circuit in our brain, enhances our relationship and positive perception at work, and even reduces our risk of heart disease.

However, when I raise the topic of compassion with executives and professionals in the business world, I don’t always get a positive response. Sometimes people roll their eyes and don’t really appreciate how this seemingly “soft” quality has to do with effective leadership and business success.

So I was really glad when I came across this ainterview with Jeff Weiner, the CEO of Linkedin, who talked about the art of conscious leadership and what it means to manage compassionately.  In this interview, Jeff shared how he developed his personal vision as well as how people at Linkedin lived and breathed their company vision and values by focusing on leading compassionately every day.  

Jeff talked about three things he learnt about compassionate leadership over the years:

1. The meaning of compassion differs from empathy.  Empathy is about feeling how others feel without necessarily taking any action. In contrast, compassion goes a step further – when you feel compassionate towards somebody, you not only see the challenges and the suffering from the other person’s eyes, but also take actions to help them overcome the challenges and alleviate the suffering.

2. Compassion can be taught and developed. Jeff shared a story about Jane Elliot, a primary school teacher in the US, who felt she needed to do something after the assassination of Martin Luther King. She decided to carry out an experiment by dividing her class into the two groups, one named “brown-eyed people” and another “blue-eyed people”. The experiment taught the students what it felt like to be treated differently just because of different eye colours. A follow-up study years later found that a large number of students in that class went on to actively support human rights movements. Jeff shared how compassion is manifested at Linkedin: everyone is encouraged to develop honest and trustworthy relationship at work. Individuals and teams develop and practice compassion through embodying the core value that relationship matters. 

3. Conscious leadership combines wisdom and compassion. Jeff explained how he developed his personal vision, “expanding the world’s collective wisdom and compassion”, after an inspiring conversation with his friend Fred Hofman, the author of “Conscious Business”. Personally I think this is a very compelling and worthy vision especially from someone who is leading one of the largest Silicon valley company with over 200 million users. Jeff’s vision made me reflect on the role of technologies in modern society. We now have instant access to information in the world through technology, and have expanded our knowledge significantly in science, nature and humanity; but still the question worth asking is, have our collective wisdom, consciousness and compassion expanded too?

So what lessons can we learn from Jeff’s leadership philosophy and what can we do to be compassionate leaders in our lives, communities and organisations? 

1. Compassionate leadership starts with leading oneself.

When watching the interview, I was impressed by how present Jeff was, as well as his excellent awareness of how his own character, emotions, thoughts and projects affect people around him and the business he leads.

Kevin Cashman, the author of “Leadership from the inside out”, wrote that  from his decades working with leaders he found that great leaders all have extraordinary levels of self-awareness – they know who they are, what they stand for, what matters most to them, and how their own vision, purpose and behaviour may affect those around them.

It is difficult to imagine that someone who is not aware of his own thoughts and emotions or treat himself with compassion can lead others compassionately. Being compassionate towards oneself is not about being self-indulgent or feeling complacent with oneself, but about recognising one’s strengths as well as weaknesses, accepting ourselves for who we are, acknowledging our thoughts, emotions and beliefs and how they impact our relationship with others. 

Great leaders know how to take different perspectives and see things from other people’s eyes. It is very easy for us to project our own assumptions or styles on others (for example, micromanaging is often a symptom of a manager projecting his own insecurity onto his subordinates). Only by leading oneself with awareness and compassion, can a leader go on and lead others with greater effectiveness.

2. Have a clear and compelling vision and purpose.

In his popular TED talk, Simon Sinek explains how great leaders inspire – it always starts with the “why”. He argues that very few organisations know why they do what they do. “Why” is not about making money, or making shareholders happy. Instead, it is a cause, purpose and belief. It is the reason your organisation exists. Once you know the “why”, you can then figure out the “how” (how you fulfil your purpose) and the “what” (“what product or service you provide).

Taking Linkedin for example, Jeff told us that its vision is to create economic opportunities for every professional in the world. Notice that the vision here is not about Linkedin being the leading professional network platform – that is the “how”.

Another example comes from Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, who wrote in his book “Delivering Happiness” that after four years of being in the business, the leaders of the company asked themselves: “what do we want to be when we grow bigger? Do we want to be about shoes or something more meaningful?” That’s when they decided that the Zappos brand is about the very best customer service and customer experience. 

It is no coincidence that “purposeful capitalism” has become a popular phrase these days. The next generation is not only looking for work that provides salary and stability, but more importantly are looking for meaning in their work. They long to do work that matters to them and contributes to something larger than themselves.

In his book “Conscious Business”, Fred Kofman argues that a conscious organisation starts with what matters most to us: a commitment to achieving a vision that exceeds any individual capacity, a vision that connects people in common efforts with genuine meanings. As a leader, do you know the “why” – both for yourself, and for your organisation? Are you clear on what connects your people together? How will you create the right environment, condition and strategy to realise your vision and purpose?

3. Focus on developing people, rather than only solving problems.

In day-to-day business, problem-solving is often the first thing leaders do when their teams encounter a challenge. Problem-solving is necessary to overcome difficulties and implement strategies, but what business leaders often ignore is the more important aspect of the business: developing people. Yes, it is perhaps not always as urgent as solving a burning issue in business,  but that does not mean it’s not important. There is a large amount of research which shows that people’s engagement and commitment to work can be largely predicted by their perception of how much the leadership team care about them, their well-being and growth opportunities. 

In his interview, Jeff explained that compassionate leadership took form in Linkedin through coaching. Compared to problem solving, coaching requires more patience and efforts and in some cases may not result in immediate tangible results. However, it is still worth pursuing for the longer term, as developing a coaching culture helps create an open and honest environment where people can build genuine relationships within the team and across the organisations.

Developing a coaching culture not only requires knowledge and intelligence, but also a sense of responsibility, compassion and wisdom from the leaders. Through coaching, leaders can help their people build their own self-awareness by reflecting their own purpose, values and strengths. Coaching takes various forms, from adopting a more appreciative approach (rather than being stuck in a “blame culture”) in the face of an obstacle, to enabling actions that play to people’s strengths rather than focusing only on their weaknesses. 

In today’s world, we don’t lack leaders who can inspire an organisation to achieve performance goals, and to create shareholder values. What we lack, however, are leaders who aspire to develop an organisation as a conscious human community where each individual can bring the whole person to work, treat each other with respect and compassion, and realise their true potentials. This way, the organisation will not only create long-term value, but also become a change agent to the advancement of the society and humanity.

I’d love to hear what you think – Where do you see the role of compassion in your career, business and life? What have you taken away from Jeff’s interview? Please feel free share your thoughts by leaving a comment below.

Until next time, 


4 ways to be more present (and why it is a shortcut to more charisma)


Have you ever wondered why some people seem to have charm than others?   By charm, I don’t mean they have better looks, but they are full of life and energy; they make you feel good and inspire you; they make you want to learn more about them or even work for them.

What I’ve noticed is that these people have one thing in common: their presence. Whether it is a conversation with clients at work or a dinner party with friends, they are fully present. When you talk to them, you know you are getting their full attention.

So when I came across this book “The Charisma Myth” by Olivia Fox Cabane, I wasn’t surprised to find that presence proves to be one of the key components of charismatic behaviour. It is the foundation of the other two elements of charisma, which are power and warmth. Cabane found that when people describe their experience of encountering a charismatic person, whether Bill Clinton or the Dalai Lama, they often mention the individual’s extraordinary “presence.”

Presence, however, is easier said than done. One of the biggest enemy to presence is our brain’s ability to work tirelessly. The brain is super good at multitasking, wandering around and setting us on an “autopilot”. We are so easy to be caught in different thoughts and it pulls us away from experiencing the here and now.

A study conducted by Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert shows that half of the time our mind is somewhere else (or on “autopilot”) – when we are driving we think about that email we need to talk to a client. When we are talking to a client, we remind ourselves about the email we need to send out, and etc. The study also finds that when our mind is wandering, we are less happy than if we were fully engaged in the task at hand.

So what exactly happens when we are on autopilot? A study by neuroscientist Norman Farb and his colleagues at the University of Toronto investigated how people experience their moment-to-moment awareness and found that there are two distinct ways people interact with the world.

The first one is called the “narrative focus”, which activates the medial prefrontal cortex, as well as the parts of the brain associated with memory (e.g., Hippocampus). When we are in the “narrative focus” mode, we tend to move away from what is happening in the present and think about how the current event links to our past and future. For example, when you are enjoying a picnic on a sunny spring afternoon, rather than feeling the warmth of the sun and the beautiful spring around you, you are more likely to think that the sunny days may not last very long (especially if you are in London) and may start planning your summer vacation away to get more sun! This is your narrative focus in working, which involves planning, memorising, and daydreaming.

The narrative focus is active for most of the time when we are awake, and it is almost the default mode of our brain (that’s why it is also called” the default network”, i.e the “autopilot”). It has its importance as it helps us plan ahead and make decisions. However, being too involved in this narrative mode can also deprive us of the rich experience of life at the present moment.

So here comes the second way of interacting with the world that Farb and his colleagues discovered – the “experiencing mode”.  When the experiencing mode takes over, different brain areas become more active, including the insula (the part relating to bodily sensation) and the anterior cingulate cortex (the part regulating the attention switching). In this mode, we experience information coming into our senses at the present moment, rather than filtering it and linking it to the extensive information network already in our brain. In the picnic example, it means that we are more likely to enjoy the warmth of the sun and notice the colours of beautiful spring flowers around us.

What gets more interesting is that the two modes, the narrative and experiencing, are inversely correlated. When you are involved in mind-wandering, you are more likely to go through something without noticing what you are experiencing. Likewise, when you focus your attention on the present moment, you are less likely to activate the narrative mode. This also explains why sometimes it feels good to take several breaths before you give an important presentation or speech to calm down the nerves.

Both ways of interacting with the world are useful as they work together to give us a more balanced view of self and life, allowing us to access different parts of the brain as needed. However, problems may arise when we are too involved in the narrative focus that we miss out on the present moment, which is all we have in life at any given time. The lack of presence can  also affect our relationship with others. How would you feel if you talk to a person who is not fully present?

So we can we do to be more present in our lives? Here are four ways you can try:

1. Pause and breathe. We breathe all the time, but we are not always aware of our breathing. Breathing is often used as the anchor point for mindfulness practices because it gets us back to the present moment and our body. Mindfulness doesn’t have to involve sitting in the lotus position for a long time. Sometimes having the awareness that you are spending too much time in the narrative mode itself is a practice of mindfulness. When you want to switch out of the narrative mode, pause and take a few deep breaths to bring you back to the moment and to appreciate what is happening right here, right now in your life.

2. Wander together with your mind (when you are on your own). From time to time, take a walk with your mind and wander with it. It might sound counterintuitive but wandering together with your mind helps you raise awareness of your thoughts and emotions. There are two types of meditation practices; one is based on attention training, which is about anchoring your mind at a specific point (breaths or physical sensations rising in the body). The other is based on awareness training, which is about raising awareness of what’s happening in your mind, noticing it and exploring it. It is a bit like sailing: you can choose to stick with an anchor point or allow the boat to go with the direction where the wind blows. Whilst most meditation asks you to focus on an anchor point, sometimes wandering with your mind is an unexpected way to get to know yourself and your mind better.

3. Remind yourself to notice your autopilot. It is not difficult to be mindful, but it is not easy to remind ourselves to be mindful.  So if you’ve just started practicing, it can be very helpful to have something close to you that reminds you to be mindful. It might be a small stick on the back of your phone, or even a model plane on your key ring which serves as a reminder for you to live more in the present moment.

4. Keep a journal.  Keeping a record of your thoughts and emotions as you experience them can help you raise your awareness on the way you interact with yourself and with the world. While one could argue journaling itself is a narrative process by putting down your experiences and thoughts into language, it can serve as a bridge between the narrative mode and the experience mode. This may work particularly well for those of you who find it difficult to switch between the two modes.

Now I’d love to hear from you. What’s your experience of the two different modes of interacting with the world? What is your top tip on being more present in your life?If you find this article helpful, please share it with your friends so that they can also bring more presence (and charm) in their personal and professional life.

If you find this article helpful, please share it with your friends so that they can also bring more presence (and charm) in their personal and professional life.

Until next time,


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