Do you have too many identities?

Who are you? 
If I met you for the first time and asked you that question, what would be your most likely response? Your name? But who are you beyond your name? At this point you may proceed to tell me your occupation or nationality and start to wonder who the hell I am and why am I asking you all this. But the question still remains … who are you beyond these identities?

The layers of our identity

There are several layers of identity that we carry and they are accumulated over time but none of them is fixed and they can all evolve, change, grow and sway.


The most base level identity we have is a name. Something we recognise and answer to. Most of us have had this since birth and recognise our own selves through this name. However, a name can be changed. If your name changes, then who are you? What do you answer to? Do you need to establish a new internal identity too?


Much like a name, gender is something we have had since birth. We identify with it and enact all the qualities and traits of this gender. But this is not true for everyone. Ask any transgender person who has always had a mismatch of what they feel and what they are expected to be. Much like a name, gender can be changed too — internally and externally. Privately or openly.

Nationality / Ethnicity / Origin

I was a Pakistani. Now I am an Australian. I am both right now. Or am I? But who am I again? What does it mean to be Australian? What does it mean to be Pakistani? What values, morals, cultures and beliefs do I need, to be classified as one or the other? Or both? Even though I was born in Pakistan to ‘Pakistani’ parents, I have never lived there as an adult and every time I visited, I felt like a fish out of water. I could understand the language and the culture, I could understand the problems, history and tradition but not relate them to my personal life. My life and understanding of the world are very different. My problems, issues, struggles are very different. So am I really a Pakistani then? And on the flip side, I have not grown up in Australia, I have an understanding of the culture and I play my part in it but am I really an Australian? What does it actually mean to be an Australian?


Now, this is a tricky one. For many people, this is one of their strongest identities. They feel they are a Jew / Christian / Muslim above and beyond everything else (even a human, unfortunately). For many people, religion is their fixed identity — something that cannot waver or change or so they think. Perhaps not that easily but religion can be changed (or dropped altogether). It is a choice. People choose to be Hindus, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and they can choose not to be. The faction you leave calls you an apostate and the one you join calls you a revert. Go figure.

By default, most people have the religion of the household in which they are born — being a ‘proud’ Muslim is nothing more than being born in a Muslim family, the same person would be equally proud to be a Christian had he/she been born in a Christian family.

Occupation / Career

Outside of gender, religion, ethnicity and perhaps even a language group, a career or occupation is probably the most important identity people wear. They identify as doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers and so on. The work people do stops being a verb and becomes a noun. However, based on McCrindle’s research in 2014, an average person changes career 5–7 times and this number is expected to rise in the coming decades. I am already on career number four and I am 35 years old at the time of writing this. So am I again?

In all of these identities and many that I have not detailed (language groups, sports teams, hobbies, interests, chronotype, being a father/mother, personality type, sexual orientation, lifestyle choice and so on), there is nothing fixed. I was a pescetarian for four years which was a strong identity for me and now I choose not to be. Each and every one of our identities can be changed, swapped, evolved or forgotten. So if none of these is fixed then who are we really? Our world views, dreams, goals, aspirations are constantly evolving and with that so is our personality and identity. We are malleable. Ever-changing, ever-evolving. And that’s okay. Who says our identity needs to be fixed?

We grow up watching lots of fixed objects with fixed jobs and purposes. The job of a pen is to write and it doesn’t change. The job of a chair is to offer us a seat and comfort. The job of a cup is to hold our drink and so on. We grow up watching these objects with fixed purposes and (wrongly) assume that as a person we have a fixed job too and will remain the same throughout our lives. If you are born in or before the 90s you have perhaps seen your parents perform the same job for most of their lives. My dad for instance worked in the same company for over 30 years and my mum was a homemaker — all her life. Fixed ‘jobs’.

The truth is…

Our identity is dynamic. Always changing and always in a state of flux. Our core principles and value can be fixed but not identity. Our dreams, hopes, aspirations and goals are changing. Our priorities change, our peer groups change, the culture changes and all these things contribute towards building our identity. We can always start new because we are not fixed like the pen or the chair.

So much of us and our personalities are shaped by culture and peers that in the end, we don’t really know who we are. We emulate to gain acceptance and win social approval but is it truly what we want?

Six years ago I was a completely different person. With a very different worldview, with very different values, morals and principles. What changed? I grew, I evolved and everything changed. I realised going through my process of transformation that I can be whoever I want to be. Nothing in this universe is permanent not even my identity. I don’t need to cling to it so dearly as it will change before I know it and more importantly, I don’t need to pigeonhole myself to any identity. I can choose not to be any of the identities. I have a choice. My past doesn’t define my future. Only what I do in the present moment and in this present moment, I have a choice and I choose to be nothing and everything.

“Shapeshifting requires the ability to transcend your attachments, in particular, your ego attachments to identity and who you are. If you can get over your attachment to labelling yourself and cherishing your identity, you can be virtually anybody. You can slip in and out of different shells.” 

Zeena Schreck


How I find a balance between order and chaos

The more order I try and create in my life by building routines, structures and predictability the more I have the propensity to move towards chaos, disorder and dysfunction. Why is that? What is this other side of me that prefers chaos over order? Does this exist in all of us?

I have been struggling with this for a while and it is one of the reasons for falling off course and routine every now and then. I have read every piece of advice under the sun ranging from having more willpower, motivation to having better systems and routines. But I feel there is something else at work here.

*A side note about my willpower

In my personal circles, I only know one person with truly amazing willpower — and that is me *blows own horn*. (Maybe I need better circles). 
Mentally, I am very tough, when it comes to things like abstinence and willpower. Physically, I bruise like a peach. So if my willpower and motivation is questioned for the rest of this article — remember these points:

  • After smoking for nearly 15 years (sometimes, up to 30 cigarettes a day), I quit — cold turkey.
  • In a test of my willpower, I quit all processed sugar for 8 months (lost 12 kgs in the process but that wasn’t the objective — story for another time).
  • I became a pescetarian overnight which lasted nearly 4 years and with my meat-eating ethnic and cultural background — it was socially (and emotionally) very difficult. (Yes, I started eating meat again — also, story for another time).
  • I made waking up at 0400 a norm in my life. (Much to my wife’s dismay — sorry)
  • I made taking cold showers a habit (yes, even in Canberra winter).
  • I completed multiple 10-day silent meditation ‘retreats’. (emotionally, physically and mentally the toughest thing I have had to do — yet)


We all try to move our lives towards order. Creating order in our homes, personal lives, work lives, teaching order to our kids and above all, we try to conduct ourselves in an orderly fashion. Order is defined as the natural state of a civilised society. Anyone without this order is judged as uncivilised and disorderly.

Most of our early life is about teaching us to conduct ourselves and our lives in order. We learn the order of things as well as how to be orderly. But what is order in this context?

What you and I consider as order today may not have been order yesterday and certainly, the order of yesterday is not the order today. Order is whatever we agree to, collectively, as a culture, as a society. Much like laws, money, social status, success and anything else we attach meaning to. Whatever we agree to is the order of the time.

Then what separates order from chaos?

Order is predictability, it is a certainty, it is comfort. It is repeatable and replicable. It is the calmness that we all try to aim for. It is organised, it is structured. Order signifies a linear progression of things — to put things in the correct order. Life is dictated by order — our learnings and stages of life are defined by this linear passage of time, by this order.

But don’t let the calm and composed demeanour of order fool you. It is not as innocent as it appears. The origins of order are far from its current form. Underneath this calm and serene facade brews something far more ominous which can surface at any moment. Yes, you guessed it right — chaos.


Chaos has got a bad reputation. It is thought of as all that is wrong in the world and has been wrong throughout history. Why is chaos negative? Why are we told and taught to avoid chaos at all costs? What exactly is chaos? Why are societies so afraid of chaos? Why do we long to create this order in our lives, when we all have this chaos brewing and burning just underneath the surface?

In Greek mythology Chaos, also spelled Khaos, was the first of the Protogenoi (primeval gods) that precedes the universe. His name means ‘the gap’. He was followed in quick succession by Gaia (Earth), Tartarus (the Underworld) and Eros (Love/Life-bringer).

In the cosmic and ancient sense, chaos is a void. An endless, uncertain, unpredictable, unknown, deep, bottomless abyss. In the modern sense, chaos means disorganised, unruly, sloppy, dysfunctional or broken.

However, Chaos/Khaos also happens to be the first and foremost, preceding the universe itself. The original and natural state of the universe, and if you think back at the time of the big bang — which created this universe, it would not have been a very orderly time and things didn’t come together in an orderly fashion. It was utter chaos — in the true sense of the word. This is the state the universe is naturally returning to thanks to our friend; Entropy — the second law of thermodynamics. The universe has the predisposition to go from a state of higher organisation to a lower one. From order to chaos. Then how did we get the order in the first place? Evolution literally goes again the natural flow of the universe and reverses entropy.

Chaos is the primal force that created everything, chaos gives rise to order and only out of chaos comes order and out of chaos came life. Everything we have today has come from a state of chaos. But is there a balance?

The Balance

Should there be one? Should life exist in the realm of chaos or order? Or should it oscillate between the two? Is chaos the yang to order’s yin?

Order ultimately emerges from chaos. To have order means nothing unless there had been chaos. To know order means to have known chaos before that. Life needs contrast. A point of reference and comparison. Just how, in the seed sleeps a mighty oak, in all of order there is potential for chaos but more importantly, in chaos, not only is there potential for order but there is an underlying order. We may not see it, but often we can feel and sense it. This is the balance. This is the yin and yang. Unlike the dualistic nature of things, that we have grown accustomed to throughout mythology and religiosity — good vs bad, God vs evil, Ra vs Apep and so on — Order and chaos are the two sides of the same coin. One does not exist without the other. It is coexistent, coinciding not dualism.

The dualistic teaching of religions has forced a perspective on our history and our understanding of the world where we always look for a balance between the right side and the wrong side. A balance between good and evil. Between moral and immoral. Between light and dark. Between order and chaos. Whether it is Seth and Horus, Zeus and Typhon, Buddha and Mara. Always looking for the triumph of good over bad.

Personal lives and habits

Hidden deep within every disciplined human is the seed of chaos. Which sprouts every now and then. I have both of these forces at work within me almost all the time. Beneath the facade of what I show to the world, I have a sense of chaos within — each and every one of us does. Some are better at hiding and suppressing it than others. Chaos is our true nature but we are forced to tame it by the world, by civilisation in pursuit of order. Look at any child under 3 years of age and you will see it. This deeper chaotic self is the reason why people become ‘bad’ over time and after some milestone or a liminal event in their lives — they stop caring and become completely ‘irrational’ and we call it a midlife crisis.

In my personal life, I try very hard to create order but there have been times when chaos has taken over. It is not a question of willpower or motivation, as mentioned at the beginning, I have plenty of both, it is the propensity of the primal force of chaos to manifest and take root.

I try to keep the chaos contained by doing something I call The Week of Balance.

The Week of Balance

This is a rather recent practice I have started but I am already seeing the fruits. It is a simple practice where I divide my week into two; 4 days of chaos followed by 3 days of order.

I spend the first half of the week doing everything that I have been suppressing, to go loose and not follow my routines, diets, obligations and responsibilities — where I can just binge eat, drink, watch and do whatever to my heart’s content. Stay up till 0500 watching Netflix? Sure. Eating a pack of TimTams in one sitting? Sure. Sleeping till noon? Sure. Not seeing anyone and not writing, producing any work? Absolutely. You get the idea. Once I get this chaos out of my system I can then focus on coming back to my orderly self, where I will start meditating, journaling, taking long walks to shake it all off and slowly reintegrate back into my life over the next 3 days.

Having learnt from my past episodes of destruction and chaotic sprees, chaos is a part of my personality that lives inside me and I keep it in control by winning some and losing some. By feeding it a little bit without letting it completely take over my life and destroy it. I have the disposition to gravitate towards self-destruction, self-sabotage and suffering. So I need to walk a fine line.

I know some people who have repressed this force for years on end have had their entire lives completely destroyed, over and over. They deny its existence and its power over them. Don’t repress it. It is a part of you, mysterious but certainly stronger than your willpower and motivations. It is in fact the primal force of the universe. Give some and take some.

Organised chaos

In the end, life is just organised chaos but chaos nevertheless. There is so much unpredictability and uncertainty in life that on a long enough horizon it is all random and chaotic. We try and create all sorts of order, predictability, certainty, explanations, meanings and purpose for our life and the world around us. We use science and theories to explain the natural world around us and when one theory stops being relevant or accurate we come up with a new one to explain the phenomena and course correct. There is so much we don’t know about the world, universe and our own self. Sheer chaos. No matter how much we try to define our lives and how much control we try to put in place there will always be things we cannot foresee and control.

Let us not try too hard. Let us enjoy the ride and position ourselves for the optimum results. And let us find the balance between our order and our chaos.

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How to be successful while being a procrastinator

I have been a procrastinator for as long as I can remember. If there is anything that needs to be done, I would rather do it ‘tomorrow’ or ‘later’. The two magical and mystical realms where all the possibilities of my potential exist. And in writing this article on procrastination, I had to deal with and overcome a good deal of procrastination. What should have been a 3-day job (tops) turned into a 5-week on-and-of ordeal. At the end of the article, you will find a list of the many thoughts, distractions and procrastination I had while writing. Maybe you can relate to some of the thinking patterns.

Some people call procrastination an addiction some disagree. Being a life-long procrastinator myself, I can testify that it is NOT an addition — feel free to disagree for now but read the full article — it will change your mind.

In spite of being a lifelong procrastinator, I have managed to get an astonishing number of things done in life. How did I manage that and why do I still procrastinate?

What exactly is procrastination?

Procrastination is an automatic, negative, habit of, often needlessly, postponing and/or delaying a timely and relevant activity. The act of delaying or postponing a task or set of tasks. It is the force that prevents us from following through on what we set out to do even though we know it is good for us.

Now I want to reiterate this oxymoron; I know it’s good for me yet I still delay it and find ways to not do it. What kind of ridiculous behaviour is this? And people have been doing for centuries? What madness!!

Why do I do it?

I procrastinate not because I am lazy or lack motivation. People who know me personally will testify that motivation is not something I am short on. In my research and understanding of the problem, I have uncovered that I procrastinate, like most people, because there is a problem with emotional regulation. That is what it really is. Poor regulation of emotions about the task at hand.

People feel procrastination is a time or task management issue, it is not. It is in fact an emotion management problem.

Any task/chore I take on produces varying amounts of emotions. These emotions are often linked to the uncertainty of how well I am going to do, what the outcome is going to be and how it is going to impact my life, which in turn creates anxiety. And that, my friends, is why we all procrastinate.

But the problem doesn’t stop there. Once I start to procrastinate, I feel good momentarily as it helps alleviate some of the negative emotions. However, shortly after that, I start to feel bad, as delaying the task (which has to be done sooner or later) starts to create even more anxiety as it keeps looming over me. So I get stuck in this vicious cycle where I procrastinate because I cannot handle the negative emotions and the procrastination produces even more negative emotions. The obvious course of action would be to just get the bloody task done, then why don’t I?

I procrastinate, so what’s the big deal?

If you are anything like me, then you have various goals for your life. Things you want to do, achieve, have and become. Procrastination is my dream killer because everything on that list needs to be done — by me. I need to make things happen. One of the worst things procrastination has done is to cause me to lose integrity with my own self. When I commit to something and I end up not doing it, I lose trust in myself. It affects my self-esteem and confidence. That is detrimental to my dreams as it forces me to keep changing timelines on my tasks, project and ultimately my life.

Different Types of Procrastination

As mentioned earlier, procrastination is ultimately caused by negative emotions around a task. Emotion could be frustration, anger, boredom, worry, anxiety. And the type of emotion I feel defines the type of procrastinator I am (in that moment). There are 6 different types of procrastination behaviours. (Taken from this book by Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire).

  1. The Worrier; Worries they are not good enough and will not be able to finish the task at hand hence they find it very hard to start the task. Motivated by anxiety and fear of failure.
  2. The Perfectionist; Wants the task to be done perfectly hence they often find it hard to start based on a fear of failure or incompetence.
  3. The over-doer; Commits to doing too many tasks and fails to prioritise and finish them on time. This is the one I can relate to the most.
  4. The crisis maker; always needs the pressure and stress of a crisis or a short deadline to do their work. It helps them fight their own boredom.
  5. The dreamer; dreams of a good life and grand ideas but does very little to make them a reality. They want things to come easy to them and they feel they shouldn’t have to work very hard at life hence they don’t put the effort into the tasks.
  6. The defier; feels they shouldn’t have to do this task, they are perhaps better than this. They are angry and frustrated and in these emotions, they keep putting the task off.

Which one can you relate to?

Where do distractions fit in all of this?

Distractions are some of the coping mechanisms that we use to deal with the anxiety, frustration fear, and all the other emotions that go with procrastination. We use distraction to get away from the task and there are two types of distractions, external distractions and internal distractions.

External Distractions

This one is pretty self-explanatory, these are all the pings and dings, notifications, noise, kids, pets, amazon deliveries and everything else that can take your mind off the current task.

Internal Distractions

An internal distraction results from your own internal drives, they are intrinsically generated — like random fleeting thoughts, constant worries, physiological and emotional states, your conflicts and so on.

So, how do I overcome my procrastination?

Before we get into the strategies, tips and techniques, there are a couple of psychological steps I needed to take.

The first thing I needed to do was to admit that I procrastinate. Admit and accept that I have an emotional regulation issue that needs addressing. Once I was able to accept that, the next thing was forgiving myself for what was already done and the time that was already gone. I couldn’t change that. Only after going through this emotional and psychological acceptance was I ready to focus on preventing it from happening in the future.

Here is a list of techniques and tools I (still) use to deal with my procrastination:

Internal Strategies / Emotion Management

  • I tackle internal distraction and emotional regulation with meditation. I spend 10–30 minutes first thing in the morning meditating. This helps me set the tone for the rest of the day and keeps me calm (mostly) throughout the day.
  • Journaling. Followed by meditation is 10 minutes of journaling practice. This helps in 2 different ways
    – Writing helps me get clarity on my thoughts and encourages me to think clearly and succinctly.
    – It helps to get emotions out of the head and onto the paper, clearing the mind for the work that needs to happen.
  • Defining my goal and purpose. What am I trying to achieve and why? This is a very important beginning step of any project. I need to know where I am going with this and why. It helps give me perspective and the initial burst of motivation required.
  • What do I have to show for my time? I have a review process at the end of the day as well as the week. This is where I check on the progress of my various projects and cross-check with the to-do lists. I am conscious about spending my time and doing the work as I know I will get audited at the end of the day/week.
  • Lower the bar. Sometimes showing up is more important than making it perfect. So I focus on getting the task done rather than doing it perfectly.

External Tools / Techniques

  • Setting shorter-term goals. Parkinson’s law state that a task expands to fill the allocated time. If you give yourself 3 days to clean your house, you are going to take 3 days. However, if you give yourself 3 hours, you can probably do it in 3 hours too.
  • Breaking goals into smaller steps. Once I have a big goal, I break it down all the way to the next actionable step. As small as possible that I can start doing immediately. For example, if my goal is to write an article on healthy eating, the next step is not to research but the next step is creating a new page in Notion and putting the headline.
  • Taking action. Once I have my next actionable step and it takes less than 2 minutes to do, I am going to do it right away. I won’t schedule or delegate anything that takes me less than 2 minutes. I will do it and get it done right away.
  • Time blocking. Not only do I put my tasks on a to-do list but from the list, I transfer them onto to calendar. I allocated time for them. Having a to-do list is good but blocking time for the tasks on the calendar ensures it is going to get done.
  • Pomodoro timer. When I need to do focused work I set myself a 25-minute timer and turn off all notifications. I work in 25-minute chunks, punctuated with 5-minute breaks.
  • Unplugging. I turn off as many notifications as possible, on the computer, phone and watch. I also regularly unsubscribe to email newsletters to not get distracted.
  • Keep a distraction list. Even during the focused work time of 25-minutes, I get random thoughts, questions and queries pop up in the mind. For this, I have a distraction list where I put all these random questions and thoughts which seems very important in the moment and in my dedicated distraction time, I go through the list.
  • Rest and recovery. I try and build time in my day to rest. Whether it’s watching a documentary, reading a book, going for a walk or just listening to music. 20–30 minutes to give my body and mind a break.

Although it may sound easy as steps 1,2 and 3 it can be hard. Developing this list of tools and strategies comes after many iterations, frustrations and missed opportunities. In spite of all these techniques, I still procrastinate but these strategies definitely help me deal with it in a more structured and planned manner and I hope you find them valuable too.

Stay awesome 🙂

Some thoughts, distractions, random searches, procrastination while writing this article:

  • Why am I making so many typing errors today, hmmm, maybe I should do some typing practice? Looks for typing practice websites and starts practice
  • Oh lemme check Instagram (for the 49th time today)
  • Oh, I wonder what Nadine (my daughter) is doing… goes to check on her .. and starts playing with her
  • I should find more Alfred workflows
  • This music isn’t working… I need to find better playlists
  • oh, I haven’t done my core workout today. Goes to do a core workout
  • I am hungry (again)
  • I wonder what Nadine is doing (again)
  • I should watch some inspiring documentary
  • I think I ate too much .. maybe I need to go for a walk .. Goes for 30 min walk
  • Maybe I need to do a poo
  • Wow my backyard is so dirty … I need to get rid of all these leaves
  • I should read more about procrastination so I can distil my learning better
  • I wonder what are the specials on Dan Murphys
  • Let’s see if there are any interesting new podcasts episodes
  • Is this the best writing app for blogs? Maybe I should research a better app
  • I should check my Amazon subscription and see if I can automate more deliveries
  • Man, my beard is getting messy, I need to trim this
  • How come I haven’t had any messages on WhatsApp for 20 mins .. Lemme open it and check if it’s working
  • If I had bought bitcoins 10 years ago I would be a millionaire today
  • I should research what are the best investments for 2022
  • Wow, this room is dirty. I need to vacuum it. Now.
  • Perhaps I need a different keyboard to make me type faster … lets research
  • Maybe I should sit in bed and write or even lie down
  • I need to do my piano scales practice. Now
  • I ought to meditate and calm my mind for 20 mins
  • I should check out the new Coke Studio season
  • and on and on and on

Anything to avoid doing the task at hand. Research, it seems, is my ultimate and best form of procrastination 😃

Can you relate to some of these thought patterns?


The End of Year Reflection You Need

’Tis the season. The year is coming to an end, everyone is thinking about holidays, food, putting up a tree, buying gifts, finalising travelling plans (now that we can do it again), losing weight, not wanting to gain too much weight during the holidays and everything in the middle. Some of us are also thinking about our new year plans and resolutions. Thinking about making 2022 our best year by doing away with bad habits and picking up some good ones from the 1st of January. Ahh, 1st of January — that magical, mystical time of the year filled with endless possibilities and opportunities.

But in order to make our plans successful for the new year, we must also capture and review how we did this year. Without it, how do we know we won’t make the same errors again?

What is an end of year practice?

Have you ever had a plan not come through? Something went wrong somewhere and all the pieces didn’t fall into place as you anticipated? I’m sure you have, there is no such thing as a perfect plan in real life — only in the movies or in project plans (I am a project manager, I should know). The thing about plans going sideways is that we often look back and think how we could have avoided it but few of us actually think how we can avoid it the next time. Very few of us reflect and take a lesson that can be implemented in the future. Well, how about multiple plans over the course of a year? Or the year itself? How many of us actually sit down at the end of the year and reflect back on the year to capture all our lessons learned and analyse how some, if not most mistakes can be avoided in the next year?

This is where the end of year review and reflection comes into play. Think of this as a grade on the year. Looking at different areas of our lives to figure out how we did and how to improve for the next year.

This is a practice I started doing in 2018 and it has paid astronomical amounts of dividends over the years. I used to have new year resolutions much like everyone else; get in shape, read more, eat healthily, make more money and so on. But instead of having new year resolutions I started defining new year’s projects and started detailing goals around those projects — that however, will be a topic for another article but also equally importantly, I started reviewing my year to capture all the ups, downs, frustration, struggles, wins, joys and everything in between.

In this practice, I spend a few days asking myself various questions, that have evolved over the year based on practices of other people, to determine how the year went and what could be done better the next year. This is also the time where I audit the various projects from the year and bring them to a close in addition to defining the aforementioned projects and goals for the next year.

Why bother with it?

Some of the benefits that I see in my life from this practice:

  1. I reflect on the year to capture an overall feel for how things went.
  2. Learning from the experiences, mistakes, decisions and judgements of the year.
  3. Ensuring those learnings and lessons are incorporated in the coming years.
  4. Bringing the year to a close — to get closure on things finished and unfinished.
  5. Zooming in on different areas of my life to ascertain the performance, attachment, efforts and struggles.
  6. Reflecting on my efforts and the produced outcomes in the various projects I had taken on.
  7. Reflecting on my plans and their progress.
  8. Simplifying my life by letting go of too many commitments, plans, goals, attachments and people.
  9. Reflecting on what is working and what is not.
  10. Assessing my habits and taking a tally of the good, the bad and the ugly.
  11. Being conscious of spending my time in the coming year more intentionally as at the end, there will be a reflection where I want to have more wins than failure. More finished than unfinished projects.
  12. Remembering the wins as keenly as the failures and lessons — creating motivation to keep going and do more in the new year.

What does my practice look like?

There are as many ways to do this as there are people. Everyone has unique aspects and circumstances in their lives so my examples below may not work all the way but they will be a good starting point.

I have divided my life into 7 distinct categories, some with their own subcategories, this is a slightly modified version of Stephen Covey’s Wheel of Life.

The categories are:

  • Health
    – Physical
    – Mental
    – Self Care
  • Mind/Intellect
    – Knowledge and Learning
  • Family
    – General (parents, siblings and extended)
    – Partner / spouse
    – Child/ren
  • Social
    – Friends
    – Community
  • Work & Career
    – Financial / Investment
    – Business / Job
    – Personal projects
  • Spiritual / Grounding / Connection / Religion
  • Environment
    – Physical environment around me (home, office, gym, work zone, recreation zone and so on -
    the physical places I use to create my work and life)
    – Holidays / Break / Down Time

In each category and subcategory I capture:

  • Highlights of the year — free text to capture as much or as little as needed, this is like an overall field for that category to journal my thoughts.
  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better / What could I improve?
  • What do I want to avoid next year?
  • What did I learn?

Once I am done asking the above questions I then progress to answer the questions below for the overall year which are not category-specific. Some of it may feel like a repeat of the above but the idea is to reinforce and repeat some of the key positives and negatives to drive the points home. These questions are asked for the overall year.

  • What went well?
    – Highlights
    – Achievements & Successes
    – What am I grateful for?
    – What would I like to appreciate more?
  • What were the best decisions over the last year?
  • What were the bad/worst decisions over the last year?
  • What are five habits I would like to leave behind in this year?
  • Am I holding onto any;
    – Grudges?
    – Frustrations?
    – Resentments?
    – Emotional baggage?
    – Attachments?
  • What were the low points and how could they have been avoided?
  • What were the major
    – Struggles?
    – Frustration?
    – What were the lessons of these struggles and frustrations?
  • Things I want to let go or leave behind in this year
    – Too many commitments — can I let go of some to narrow my focus?
    – Too many goals and aspirations?
    – Pleasing everyone, comparing myself?
    – Worrying about everything?
    – Anger, past injuries?
    – Judging myself or others?
    – Complaints?
    – Perfectionism?
    – Procrastination?
    – Hiding, playing a smaller game, doubting myself?
    – Trying to control everything?
  • What were the major fears this year?
  • What were the limiting beliefs this year?

To complete this entire review process, I allow a week. I prefer not to do it all in one sitting, which could be done but instead, I want to come back to it over a few days with different emotions, feelings and perspectives to try and get a wholesome picture. The idea is to capture as much as possible over multiple sessions as opposed to this being another chore that needs to be quickly ticked off the list.

I have developed a Notion template for this, which you can find here. Or a website version here.

I hope you find as much benefit in this process as I have — not just this year but for the years to come. If you have never done something like this in the past I strongly encourage you to start and give it a crack this year. These last two years have been long and rough due to the pandemic, take the time to start this practice.

If you end up modifying this template to suit your life, please do share it with me. I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on this practice template.

Now go and be awesome.


Why Your Future Planning Isn’t Working Out

An Imagined Future

What hasn’t yet come to pass is always an imagined future – it can be exactly how you think it will be or starkly different. Sometimes we can predict with a fair degree of certainty yet other times we are so utterly wrong that it is sobering and shakes us out of our delusions.

The error in our planning is that we think the future will be an extension of the present. We think it will be similar to right now and we try to account for the fact it will be later in the linear progression of time. This ability, unique only to humans as far as we know, to think about the concept of future and past, to think of time in a linear manner, thanks to our prefrontal lobes. It takes cognitive ability and training to think of time in this way – to think of the concept of later (or before). It is an abstract concept after all. My 4-year-old daughter, for instance, still struggles with this concept. For her, everything in the past is yesterday and everything in the future is tomorrow and it is not a limitation of her vocabulary, it is in fact a limitation of understanding this abstract idea.

“Children have neither a past nor a future. Thus they enjoy the present, which seldom happens to us.” — Jean de La Bruyère

However, we must always be thinking about and planning for our futures, we are constantly making decisions and choices that cannot be undone and can potentially impact the rest of our lives. Those are serious responsibilities with serious consequences. How do we do this right? Considering the future can be quite uncertain and unknown.

The planning fallacy

When we plan for the future we mostly think that past experiences will indicate future performances. We think how things have happened in the past is how they will continue to happen in the future – with a few different variables. We are not able to take into account all the unknown variables and of course, we don’t know what we don’t know, how can we?

One of the key factors that we forget to take into account when we plan for the future, perhaps the biggest black swans of all – is ourselves. Our ever-evolving, ever-changing personality and self-image. Our view of the world changes, perhaps as quickly as the world itself and as we know, if we wear rose colour glasses then, to us, the world appears rosy. It is a common error we are all prone to make, yet that is the only vantage point we have – our own. Which is subject to our own biases and limitations.

Do you feel, think, act, and behave exactly as you did five years ago? If you do, then, unfortunately, you have not grown or learnt anything in this time. But my guess is you don’t feel, think, act, and behave exactly as you did five years ago. Your preferences, likes, dislikes, thinking, worldview and self-image have all evolved somewhat over this period. Having said that, what you planned five years ago with your old preferences, is perhaps not as applicable to you today – because you are essentially a different person.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” – Heraclitus

Future and delayed gratification

Delaying gratification means choosing something uncomfortable now, for something comfortable later. Doing something hard now, to enjoy something easy or pleasant later. This literally goes against every fibre of our being. We are biological creatures and by definition, we are always seeking comfort and pleasure and avoiding pain and discomfort. To actively delay our comfort and pleasure is going against evolution, yet, in the modern world, we do that every single day, day after day. We are the powerhouses that are locally reversing not only entropy but evolution as well – go us!

Delaying gratification takes a lot of willpower, planning and foresight. Again, thanks to our prefrontal cortex we have this ability to plan and imagine a future where we are in pleasure so we decide to endure the pain now. Whether it’s staying up late, giving up sleep to finish a project or continuing our diets and running on the treadmill for a leaner self, or working now in a job we hate to retire on the beach or the golf course in 25 years – we operate with both short term and long term delayed pleasures.

Compromising the present for an imagined future.

“Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more.” — Mother Teresa

Imagine delaying gratification for a lifetime of discomfort and discontent, and never actually arriving at the promised (read: imagined) land. Never actually getting the pleasures and comforts. What a shit deal! Right?

Life very seldom goes as we plan. It is always more complicated and complex than we imagine. There are always unknown variables and hidden problems, challenges, predicaments and pleasant surprises along the way. Life has a way of showing us reality in ways we could not have imagined. Which, again, can be quite sobering and shocking.

Now let me ask you this, how much of your life has turned out exactly as you planned?
People get divorced, lose a job, or a house, or even a loved one – we don’t plan for these things (perhaps we should) but what we do plan for is a rosy future – with our rosy perspectives. Where everything will eventually turn out alright. Isn’t that what we are taught as kids by our teachers and preachers? That in the end, everything will be fine. Everything will be just as it is meant to be.
And this is further reinforced in adult life via trashy self-help books and (fake) gurus and coaches – that in the end, everything will turn out fine. It is all part of a bigger plan!
Here is the thing about hindsight – it is always 20/20 and most times when we get to a future that is far from what we imagined – our minds make up these stories justifying our actions and the outcomes – making us believe that we did under the circumstances was the best course of action – making us feel good about the future at which we have arrived.

Many of us compromise our present for an imagined future. We think we will like something in the future – a job, a retirement, a car, a bigger house, a new wife – only to arrive at that future as a completely different person who has a very different understanding of the world. We have spent all this time, of our one and only life in this universe (sorry my Buddhist and Hindu friends, I still don’t believe in reincarnation) in the hope and pursuit of a feeling and emotion only to realise it is not what we want anymore. This absolutely sucks!

Recently I had an opportunity to discuss and advise a high school-aged family member on her career and university options. Her interest is in fine arts – painting, colouring, drawing, illustration and she’s quite good at it too. However, the (career) options she had narrowed down were things like; biochemistry, genetics, pharmaceuticals and the likes.
I asked her what’s going on? Why these options as opposed to arts?
The answer; an imagined future.
Because career prospects are better when you are a biologist, geneticist or pharmacist. In her mind (and she is not the only one who thinks like this), it is better to be an unhappy biologist who has an easy life than a happy artist whose life perhaps is not as easy.
At a collective societal level, we are all compromising our presents for an imagined future – and directly or indirectly, it is what we teach our kids too. We all suck at planning and predicting the future – no one knows how the future is going to turn. We advocate that safety and security are more important than desire and passionate pursuits.
The COVID-19 pandemic, if anything, has taught us that nothing is safe and secure, not your future, not your job, not your career, not your house and perhaps not even your life. Anything can happen at any time.

In the end

I am not advocating quitting your job, emptying your bank account, and moving halfway across the world to a beach. What I am suggesting is that you stop compromising on your present for an imagined future – a future you think you will like which is most likely based on someone else’s truth.

The present moment is all that we have. It is all that we can experience. We can reminisce the past, or imagine the future but not live in them nor experience them. Don’t think happiness is something that will happen in the future. Happiness, joy and contentment can only happen in the present. You can only experience it right here and right now. What can you do now to make your life more pleasant and enjoyable?

As Tim Ferriss suggests; we shouldn’t wait to make a million dollars to live a life that we think we want. What does the million-dollar get you, other than security? Think about how can you live that life – without having a million dollars.
More importantly, don’t operate with the assumption that what you like now is what you will like in 15, 20, 25 years. You may hate those options in the future. If you like them now, then design your life in a way where you can enjoy them now – don’t wait for your geriatric years, where you will have less energy and patience.
Delay your gratification as far as disciplined pursuits are concerned, where the pleasures and comforts are guaranteed (for example; go to the gym before you eat dinner with dessert) but don’t delay your happiness based on an imagined future which is not guaranteed and mostly out of your control.

Now go and be awesome and don’t compromise the present moment.


Why Fear is Actually a Good Thing

Ok, so let’s talk about fear. Fear is one of the most misunderstood sentiments that we have. Fear has a bad reputation. People have historically thought of fear as a negative emotion and something we would be better off not having in our lives. I want to defend fear in this article and make a case for it. So let’s go.

The science of fear

Our brain has evolved over millions of years and there are different parts in the brain responsible for the fear mechanism. The amygdala, the brain’s alarm system, along with other parts of the brain are key to our fight-or-flight reactions.
Amygdala: scans for threats and signals body to respond
Brain Stem: triggers the freeze response
Hippocampus: turns on the fight-or-flight response
Hypothalamus: signals the adrenal glands to pump hormones
Pre-Frontal Cortex: interprets the event and compares it to past experiences
Thalamus: receives input from the senses and “decides” to send information to either the sensory cortex (conscious fear) or the amygdala (defence mechanism).

When we are in a state of fear, our heart rate and blood pressure increase, pupils dilate to take in as much light as possible, nonessential systems such as the immune system and digestion turn themselves off to allow more energy to go towards emergency function, and veins in the skin constrict which keeps blood in the major muscle groups. A whole heap of things happen — very very quickly in our brains and our bodies. Fear is one of the oldest responses we have in our evolutionary process.
And to think that people put themselves through this on purpose, via horror movies, rollercoasters, haunted houses and so on. Why?
Dopamine, aka the feel-good hormone — that’s why. The same dopamine that keeps us coming back to our smartphone after posting something on Instagram or Facebook to see how many likes/comments we have. The same dopamine that turns social media or food into an addiction. The same dopamine that makes sex feel amazing.
In addition to cortisol and adrenaline, dopamine is also released during frightening situations. Some people, however, react strongly to the dopamine in the moment and get a natural rush or a high in a fearful situation — and become addicted to it. The fear becomes an adventure. A thrill.

Fear and evolution

According to the dictionary; “Fear arises with the threat of harm, either physical, emotional, or psychological, real or imagined. Fear serves an important role in keeping us safe as it mobilises us to cope with potential danger.” I want to focus on the second half of that statement, how fear serves an important role.

Fear is a survival mechanism. Throughout history and the evolutionary process — fear has kept us alive and kept us evolving. It is an inherent part of our evolution and we are the product of the ancestors who were fearful not the ones who were courageous. Those that were brave and ventured forth, didn’t return. Those that cowered in the caves reproduced. We are the product of that fear, the cowardice of our ancestors. Our very existence is due to this fear. It is an inherent part of our biology that has kept us alive and kept us procreating. If we are not afraid, we wouldn’t survive for long.

A word about bravery, valour and courage

If you look for a synonym for bravery, fearlessness is one of them. People misunderstand that bravery and courage is not having any fear, a state of fearlessness — no, not having any fear is foolishness. It is perhaps a pathological illness. Bravery and courage mean having the fear, feeling the fear but taking action in spite of the fear. I, for instance, don’t want to be the fool that does not fear things and makes stupid rash decisions and dies. Instead, I want to be the brave person who, having known and felt the fear, still decided to act in the most sensible and calculated way. There is a huge difference in these approaches.

Fear in the modern world

Although we now live in a very different world, the process of millions of years of evolution can not be undone in a few generations. We don’t face the same threats our ancestors did but we attach the same fear response to most problems of today. Although being embarrassed and perhaps losing your job is not life-threatening but our system treats them like they are in fact life-threatening.
Fear’s job is to keep us alive — it has evolved to do that one thing. So our system often goes into fight or flight mode even when not required. We have taken our fears from the savannah of lions, tigers and other predators and transferred them to all kinds of situations of the modern world — where we obviously are not in any immediate danger of lions and tigers.

Consider some of these fears we face on a daily basis in the modern world:

  • Fear of public speaking (one of the biggest, strongest fear people have in the modern world)
  • Fear of consequence (of our actions/inactions)
  • Fear of losing the alternative (when we make a choice — we let go of all the alternatives)
  • Fear of missing out (#YOLO)
  • Fear of embarrassment/humiliation (social status and recognition)
  • Fear of failure and loss
  • Fear of not measuring up/lagging behind

How many of these do you think are life-threatening? Perhaps one or two in the right circumstances could be life-threatening depending on your situation — but most of them, not so. However, our reaction to most of them is similar to those of our ancestor’s hundreds and thousands of years ago.

How fear continues to serve us

Anticipating a fearful stimulus can provoke the same response as actually experiencing the situation hence fear is one of the greatest motivators known to us. Most of the modern world is created, at least in part, due to some fear — including most accomplishments. Passion, love, and craftsmanship have their place in this equation but there is fear, in some shape or form, that is a driving force. Fear of losing, fear of being forgotten, fear of humiliation, fear of not being good enough — deep down somewhere, behind most motivations are some of these fears.

Imagine that we remove death from the equation of life. We have unlimited time, to achieve all our goals, realise all our dreams and do all the things we wanted to do. What are we most likely going to do? Not much, to be honest. It is the fear of death, the fear of mortality, of perishing away and being forgotten, the fear of wasting our time, fear of retribution, of letting someone down (dressed mostly as love) that motivates us to do most things. Without this fear, we would probably not do much in our lives.

Not all fear is created equal

Some fears are good, like the ones we talked about, healthy fears — that motivate us to do things but there are also unhealthy fears. Fear can be energising or draining. When people talk about stress, worry, panic — it is actually fear, just dressed differently. A healthy fear essentially makes your life better, motivates you to do things. An unhealthy fear would make your life worse or in some way restrict your freedoms and a simple fact is that everyone experiences fear differently. It is important to know what fears work for you and what doesn’t. Does fear motivate you to do more, or does it shut you down and freeze you? Learn to use your fears as motivators and not a hindrance.
In spite of what all the ‘gurus’ in the self-help world say, you cannot and should not, shut off of your fears. It is an inherent part of your biology and your evolution — it helps you survive. However, what you can do is tune your fear response as some fears do in fact paralyse us when not required.

In one of the upcoming articles, I will list some of these unhealthy fears and ways to tackle them. Until then, stay awesome.


Is Life Worth Living on Autopilot or with Intention?

Ever driven a known route, say from your house to your workplace (or vice versa) and you arrive at your destination and think to yourself – wow, I didn’t have to consciously think about the driving and was mostly lost in thought/music/podcast/conversation and now I am here. How cool and dangerous!

The reason why you don’t have to consciously think about every turn and every aspect of that commute is a simple fact that you have done this particular drive so many times that the familiarity has made it almost like muscle memory. It has become a routine in your mind. You know what you are doing, you’ve got this! This is doing a task on autopilot mode. It can apply to not just driving but other areas of life too like cooking, or cleaning, or exercising and so on.

Ultimately what living on autopilot is that you can do various tasks, physical and mental, without putting too much cognitive processing into them. Whether it is driving or making commitments, cooking or making a judgement – you do all this without much conscious effort and thought because you have done it so many times before.

Why do we do it and are there any benefits?

We don’t actually consciously choose to zone out while doing a mundane or repetitive task, our brain just does it for us. At any given time, the brain is receiving and processing so many varied forms of raw data – vision, sound, emotion, touch, memory associations and so on – and with its limited processing power, it is filtering out a whole heap of this information (without asking us) to prevent a system overload. The brain is making routine, repetitive tasks easy to do by automating the process to free up mental bandwidth for tasks requiring more cognitive processing and pretty much anything we do repeatedly has the potential of turning into an automated task.

While the brain represents just 2% of a person’s total body weight, it accounts for 20% of the body’s energy use. It is very effective in using and saving its energy and processing reserves and is always looking to automate things. Essentially it is always looking for the path of least resistance to save energy.

How do we know it is happening and what are the cons?

The good thing is doing repetitive tasks becomes easy, however, the bad thing is it is not just limited to driving to work – it happens in far greater aspects of our lives than we realise, oftentimes without our consent and knowledge!

I personally have spent a great many years operating on this autopilot mode. Unknowingly and after realisation, unwillingly. Whether it was consumption of food, media, dealing with people in a social situation, thinking through problems – I did most of it in an automated, habituated way – just the way I have been doing in the past without much conscious thought or reflection. Essentially there isn’t anything wrong with that but when we make the same choices over and over again without much consideration, we are exposed to making the same errors over and over again. Now, that is a problem.

“Autopilot has gone from being an evolutionary protection mechanism that stopped our brains overloading, to our default mode of operating whereby we sleepwalk into our choices,” Dr. Mark Williamson

Some of the cons of living life like this are listed below but here is the juxtaposition of this problem, most of these cons are not obvious while you are living like this – you don’t see these problems while creating the problems but here are a few things to look out for:

  • You waste time procrastinating and avoid taking action or making a decision
  • You overcommit to things in your personal and professional life – you take too much on, sometimes knowing you will not be able to fit it all in and deliver
  • You feel frustrated often and become moody
  • You feel you have a mundane or a boring existence
  • You lack clarity of purpose in personal and professional life
  • You feel life just happens to you rather than through you
  • You try to please people
  • You say yes more often than no
  • You struggle to remember things

And here are some of the cons of living this way (not an exhaustive list by any means):

  • You live a life that is less than the one you are capable of
  • You limit your own beliefs and actions
  • You try to do things by brute force at the last minute
  • You neglect your own self-care and happiness
  • You let your relationships slip and suffer – you drive people away
  • You do not consciously choose and create your destiny
  • You give up sovereignty and control of your life
  • You can’t help but feel helpless in different situations
  • You are constantly resisting change
  • You are not improving or growing
  • You are not making any meaningful contribution to the world

Ok, lots of cons – what’s the opposite of autopilot?

Yes, lots of cons indeed and honestly, it is fine if you want to keep doing the same thing and don’t want to make any real progress in your personal or professional life or make any contribution to the lives of others or the world. BUT… (of course, there is a but after a paragraph like that)

For any meaningful progress in life, to do something of substance, to attain goals and dreams you need to make genuine conscious efforts. Not automated ones. You need to do things differently and quit doing them the way they have been done.

This is known as living life with intention. Where life doesn’t just happen to you but happens through you. This is where you take control of your feelings, emotions, decisions and actions. Where you take control and design your own optimal life.

Our repeated behaviours become habitual patterns and these patterns, in turn, become so ingrained in our personality that they end up defining our character – which shapes our lives and destiny.

So it is important to first and foremost realise that we are living on autopilot, that we are living habitually and unconsciously and then to take active steps to change that and live more intentionally.

So, how do I live with intention?

Here is a list of things you can do to live life more consciously and with more intention.

  1. Define what is important to you.
    This is about knowing your priority (singular – not plural). Your deepest most important desire, aspiration and goal. Ask yourself; If there is one thing/area of my life where I could be truly amazing, what would it be? What will be my highest contribution to the world and to the lives of those around me?
    • Once you have the answer, ask yourself why. Why do I want this?
    • Once you get that answer, ask yourself why again. And then do it 3 more times (the 5 levels of why) Now you know exactly why!

  2. Start with the end in mind.
    Where is it that you are trying to go? What is the ultimate destination of your life? If you don’t know where you are going, it is easy to get lost, and more importantly, how do you know you have arrived?

  3. Write a mission statement for your life.
    Based on the above, write a mission statement for your life – the sort that companies have. The idea of the mission statement is to let you and everyone around you know what your life stands for. What the objective is and what will be your guiding principles and morals? Don’t use ambiguous terms and sentences like most companies do (example: be a leader in innovation – what kind of innovation? what does a leader mean in this context?) Be very specific.
    • Make a list of all the habits, skills and attributes you need in order to live a life that is in alignment with the mission statement. Are you close? Do you currently have most of these skills and attributes? How about the habits? How far off are you?

  4. Don’t build good habits – just eliminate bad ones. I am not suggesting you do more work and make new habits, just make a list of all the bad habits you currently have (sleeping late, drinking too much, eating junk food etc) and work to eliminate those – the good habits will take care of themselves.
    • Some habits are foundation habits – they have the most impact on your life, that one good/bad habit causes a domino effect on a whole range of other habits. Look to eliminate cornerstone bad habits or cultivate cornerstone good ones first. An example is a regular exercise habit; once you start doing that you naturally start eating better, providing proper nutrition, rest and sleep to your body and so on.

  5. Declutter your life.
    Mentally, physically and emotionally. Get rid of all the junk you don’t need. Get rid of all the people that don’t add value to your life. Get rid of all the dreams, hopes and aspirations that have expired. I have written a whole series of Letting Go. Check it out.
    Clearing Out The Old — Letting Go of Things
    Clearing Out The Old — Letting Go of Dreams
    Clearing Out The Old — Letting Go of People
    Clearing Out The Old — Letting Go of Opinions

  6. Have goals.
    Daily goals, weekly goals, monthly goals, yearly goals and big grand life goals. Start with the big grand life goals first based on the Mission Statement and work backwards to daily goals. Make every goal about the bigger picture. To move towards your grand life vision.

  7. Take action.
    Now you have goals, great, but you need to take action to achieve these goals. I follow 2 very simple rules for taking instant action:
    • Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule – “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it. Hesitation is the kiss of death. You might hesitate for a just nanosecond, but that’s all it takes.”
    • David Allen’s 2-minute rule – If a task will take less than 2 minutes to complete, do it now. Don’t schedule it, don’t delegate it, don’t overthink it. Just do it NOW.

  8. Create solitude in your life.
    Some of your best work will be done when you are in solitude in a distraction-free zone. Collaboration and teamwork have their own place but deep focused work is king. Find time to be by yourself. Protect that space and time ferociously. This is when you will be at your best. Use it to your advantage.

  9. Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. And then meditate some more.
    I cannot stress this one enough. I recommend this in almost every one of my articles and videos. Build a meditation practice. This will positively change your life in more ways than you can imagine. If you have never meditated before a good place to start is here. If you have given meditation a try in the past but couldn’t make a habit then start (again) here.

  10. Build time for reflection by having a journaling practice.
    Journal every day. Twice a day if you can, morning and night. Some of the most successful and high performing people in the world attribute a big portion of their success to their journaling habits. Again, this will positively change your life in more ways than you can imagine. To find out how to journal, start here.

  11. Unplug.
    Take time to unplug, disconnect and go off the grid every once in a while. Believe it or not, this will recharge you and give you new insights into your own self and the world. I have been to several multi-day silent meditation retreats where I was completely cut off from the world – no phone, no TV, no internet, no talking to even your fellow meditators. In this age of hyper-connectivity, it is unlike anything you will experience. You do not need to go to that extreme but once or twice a week, turn your phone off in the evening and spend time being fully present in whatever you are doing with whoever is there. Leave your phone behind when you go for a walk. Put it in another room while you are spending time with your kids. Find ways to immerse yourself in the present moment by unplugging.
    “Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”― Anne Lamott

A great expression I once heard was; if you hammer a nail into a piece of wood, the nail goes everywhere the wood goes, whether it likes it or not.

Don’t be a nail in the wood, or a tree or rock for that matter. Live your life with intention and consciously choose your destiny. You control and influence it more than you realise.

I am not regurgitating what others have written. I am recommending these things based on my personal practice and from my personal experience. I have found tremendous benefits in doing all these things and I hope you do too. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions.

Now go and be awesome!


How To Develop and Raise Your Self-Worth

In my previous article, I talked about the process with which we acquire our self-worth. In this one, I want to delve into the details of the process of undoing some of that past conditioning to improve and raise our self-worth. 

Know thyself

  1. This advice is as old as time itself. The most fundamental of all self-improvement journeys. Knowing your own self. 
    What this does is tells you who you are — intrinsically and what value you can create in the world for yourself and for others. This creates the base of all your efforts in life.
  2. One of the key aspects of knowing yourself is to recognise and listen to the patterns of your inner voice. The little voice in your head that is constantly narrating your day (and your life), constantly telling you what you can and can’t do, telling you how you are going to fail, how you shouldn’t do anything bold and risky and encouraging you to always take the known path — that little voice — which is not so little after all.
  3. In order to (truly) know yourself, you must be willing to question yourself and everything you carry as truth. You must be willing to let go and reassess every idea and notion you hold about yourself and how the world operates. In the words of Apple’s marketing team, that we hear every year; “building from the ground up”.
  4. For me, this didn’t happen until perhaps I was 30 years old. It is a bit late in life but some folks never have the realisation. It wasn’t until then that I truly started to understand my motivations, fears, aspirations, true likes and dislikes — and that is when my life started to transform — an inner transformation — in the true sense of the word. 

Actions — DO:

  • Start spending more time with yourself and less with everyone else.
  • Start observing your thoughts — either in the form of silent meditation or journalising — ideally both (meditation followed by journaling).
  • Start noticing all the things you take for granted — keep a daily list — you will be surprised.
  • Start questioning all your assumptions and beliefs about the world and yourself — including your religion, all your biases, your privileges, your patriotism, your (perceived) superiorities and your inferiorities. Question everything and ask yourself why do you believe it? What is the source of this truth? Is it internal to you or external?

Accept yourself — stop resisting your nature

  1. Once you get a better understanding of who you are and what you truly desire the next step is to start working with your true nature.
  2. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. If you are naturally inclined towards something then do that. Stop trying to push too hard in the opposite direction. If you are just learning to swim then don’t try to do it upstream. Set your own expectations for yourself and don’t follow societal constraints of wealth, status and life. 
    This is hard to do and even harder to realise that you are following societal expectations and not following our own true desires. Fish do not know they are in the water — only when they are out of it do they realise it.
  3. Once you accept yourself, only then you can start to transform yourself and make a real effort towards your true goals.

Actions — DO:

  • Stop complaining — about everything — out loud obviously but even in your thoughts. Complaining is a way of feeling superior where you are not. It is also a way of reinforcing a sense of helplessness. One of them is an underlying reason for your complaints.
  • I use a simple counter app for this. Every time I complain in speech or thought, I add +1. At the end of the day, I tally the score. The goal is always to be less than yesterday and the ultimate goal is to be at zero.
  • Stop judging yourself and others and stop comparing yourself. Just be.

Take care of yourself

  1. One of the most underrated aspects of living a good life and raising your self-worth is taking care of yourself.
  2. You and only you are responsible for your happiness and wellbeing. Not your family, not your community, not your government, not your employer, not your teachers or preachers. You are responsible for yourself and your growth, wellbeing and prosperity. Start taking ownership of your life and stop blaming everything that is out of your control. Until you realise this, you cannot move on and make progress. Yes sometimes we are in situations that impact us greatly that we cannot control (war, natural disasters, a global pandemic etc) but how we choose our response to these events is totally within our control. (Watch this video I made that addresses choice and control. You can also read this previous article on this topic).
  3. Another way of taking care of yourself is by changing your environment and taking care of your energy and mental health. As mentioned in the previous article, if you are surrounded by negative people who do not appreciate your efforts, you may find it hard to do so yourself which can often lead to a compromised self-wroth. 
    If possible and within your control — change your environment. Change the circle of friends who are not supportive. Change the people you spend time with. And remember it’s better to be in solitude than being with the wrong people. Read books instead, listen to podcasts, audiobooks — make some of the best authors in the world your friends and spend time ‘listening’ to them.

Actions — DO:

  • Self-care is vital to living a meaningful life. Taking care of yourself is not selfish. I have written and spoken in great detail about this.
  • Watch this video
  • Read this article
  • Read good quality books on psychology, philosophy and self-help to learn more about the world. Visit this link to find top book recommendations.
  • Put your own mask first before helping others.

Change your inner voice

  1. Once you have done all the above-mentioned steps, it is now time to change that inner voice by actively choosing a more proactive and positive language with yourself.
  2. People often undersell themselves. Make fun of themselves before anyone else does to deal with the potential anxiety. Set limitations and expectations around themselves in front of others — these are coping mechanisms. They are protecting themselves from (potential, imagined) criticism. Stop it. Instead, step into your greatness. Make a social contract. Let the pressure build and compel you to do more.
  3. Imagine talking to your friends, or spouse or even your mum the way you talk to yourself — you will soon find, to your surprise, you will be left with no friends, looking for a divorce lawyer and rudely written out of mum’s will.
  4. Catch yourself in dialogue with yourself as often as possible, set a reminder on your phone multiple times a day if you have to.
  5. The goal here is to catch the negative self-talk and turn it into positive self-talk — the voice of encouragement as opposed to the voice of reason and fear.

Identify your competencies and develop them

  1. Make a list of all the things you are good at, it doesn’t matter how small or inconsequential they may be. Everyone is good at something. Do you know how to make a killer peanut butter and jam sandwich? Chuck it on the list. If you are being supercritical and find it super hard to come up with much then go to a trusted confidant (spouse, sibling, friend, teacher) and ask them to tell you what they think you are good at. The goal of this exercise is:
  • To tell you that in spite of all your negative self-talk and lowered self-worth you are still good at many many things.
  • To make you realise, if you are good at these, you can be good at other things too  — with practice and some guidance you can perhaps be great at many things.
  • Develop a baseline from which you propel yourself to feel good about existing competencies and inspire motivation and action to become better at others. Ultimately valuing yourself higher. All in effect, to raise your self-worth.

2. Even if you have been rejected or failed at something in the past (getting a job, getting a date, a business) list out all the skills you have and can acquire to be successful at it in the future were you to try again.

Own the praise that comes your way

  1. When you view yourself as not worthy then dealing with praise is hard — you question the honesty and intention of the person offering you the praise.
  2. But if you have identified yourself as being competent at things (hopefully many things), that should make this step slightly easier.
  3. If someone praises you for something then verify it internally and give yourself the benefit of the doubt. Don’t reject it straight away. And add this quality to your (growing) list of competencies from the previous point.
  4. Accepting praise and feeling worthy of it will help you shine and step into your greatness.
  5. It will encourage you to do better and further improve yourself. It will create a snowball effect.

Let Action Define Self-Worth

Self-wroth is mostly about reflections. What the world reflects back at you. So, what you put out there in the world is what will be reflected back. You may feel insecure, unworthy and devalued but it is important to push through these and make the efforts and contributions that you want — consistently. It feeds the loop and reinforces the positive feedback.

Often people misunderstand that action is the result of motivation. It’s not. Motivation is fleeting. It’s not consistent. It comes on its whims and leaves when it wants. Action on the other hand can be consistent. Action precedes motivation and can summon motivation at will. Through consistency, action can inspire motivation. Similarly, action can precede self-wroth. Your positive actions can make you value yourself higher.

In the end

Do all the above-mentioned steps consistently for 60 days and on the other side of the 60 days will be a brand new version of you. A much better version with a completely new understanding of the world and of yourself.

Imagine a world where everyone lives to their fullest potential. Can you imagine the possibilities of health, happiness, wealth and innovation where everyone realises their wildest dreams? 
Raise your self-wroth and become worthy of the success you seek and live to your fullest potential.

Now go and be awesome.


The Myth of A Balanced Life

What is a balanced life in the modern age? We hear work-life balance all the time. What does it actually mean? To me, this indicates that on one side you have work — and on the other you have life. This statement in essence creates a divide between your life and work.

In today’s world, we are always connected, we are always available. There is no healthy balance in life. Nor should you aim for it (this is obviously dependent on what you want from life). So what does work-life balance mean anyway? Let us explore each in a bit more detail.


Taking the usual societal explanation, work is regarded as anything you do to earn a living — emphasis on the word living. The thing you do to make money, so you can pay for a life. You get paid to do this thing. Whether you love your job or profession, or you hate it, it is something you do to earn money to support your life. We often tell ourselves, our families and colleagues that we always had a passion to pursue this career, profession and job that we happen to find ourselves in (accountant, an office administrator or a project manager etc). We say it over and over again until we start believing it.


In this context, life is anything that you do outside of work — to not earn money but to enjoy and relax and get away from work. Things like; Playing sports, socialising with friends and family, going to the gym, or yoga or a walk, watching movies, reading books and taking holidays. All the things that are not ‘work’ — that you perhaps are not getting paid to do. The real fun stuff in life, for which we endure the ‘work’. Don’t forget this also includes all the maintenance stuff, making meals, cleaning your house, cutting your nails, cleaning the litter tray, washing your laundry — it’s a package, to have the fun you need to do the work and the maintenance.

The Balance

Now that we have an understanding of work and life in the context of work-life balance. Let us take a closer look at this balance. But I want to start by not telling you something, but by asking a question. Outside of gender, religion, ethnicity and perhaps even a language group, what is the most important identity that people carry? What is your most important identity after all the aforementioned ‘groupings? Most often it is your profession, the thing(s) you do for a living. Whether you are a professional musician, a hairdresser, a financial advisor or a stay at home parent — it doesn’t matter. That is an identity that you have formed, accepted and perhaps are even proud of. This is one of the most common small talk questions at parties (and a way for people to assess how much importance or respect to give you); So, what do you do? Professions and the work we do for our livelihoods becomes a very strong and important identity in our lives.

I am going to expand the explanation of work and profession now to include things you do not necessarily get paid to do but instead, you do them because they bring you joy — like volunteering, helping your community, writing a blog, making YouTube videos, gardening — things, for which your intrinsic motivation is not money but the joy you get from doing the activity — it is not a means to an end, it is in fact the end.

Now, based on this understanding, let me ask you another question. If work is such a strong and important identity, then isn’t work something we should be embracing (much like we embrace and flaunt our religion, patriotism, and language groups) and not seeking a break and a balance from?
I have yet to encounter people who take a break from their religious or national identities and seek religion-life balance or patriotism-life balance.

Work literally dictates what we study, what we pay attention to, what kinds of people we spend the most time with, where we live, and what we spend most of our waking hours on. If you are a musician or a painter or a car salesperson — you probably want to live in a city or a locale that can get you the most exposure and provide for the best ‘scope’ for your work. Then why do we seek a work-life balance?
In this context, where does (should) work finish and life begins?
You say you are a professional but outside that profession, you have a separate life? In pursuit of what? Happiness? Shouldn’t your work bring you that?

Look At The Pros

Let me draw your attention to some names. Think of Picasso, Mozart, Michael Jordan, Stephen King, Gordon Ramsey, Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Michael Phelps, Usain Bolt, and I am sure you can think of thousands of others.
Where do you think their work ends and their life begins? Or is it all the same? Do you think these folks seek/sought a work-life balance when they are/were creating their masterpieces and changing the world? Or is/was their work their life?

Perhaps at this point, you want to draw a hard line and say .. ‘oh well they are all pros and I am nowhere near their level’. Is it because you are seeking a work-life balance and are being led to believe that your work and life should be two separate things?

By no means am I promoting workaholic values and a culture where you work non-stop and kill yourself. There should be dedicated time to look after your health (mental and physical), your family, your needs, your community and your overall wellbeing. But if you want to make any meaningful contribution to your work, life, the life of others and the world — then there should be no such divide between work and life. Your work is your life, and your life’s work is the work you do.

Modern life has become increasingly mediocre where we try to be everything to everyone, try to do everything and in the end, we end up not excelling at anything. At best, we are average at almost everything in life.

There is an alternative.

Define what is important to YOU and pursue that. Your definition would be and perhaps should be different to the next guy — you are unique based on your experiences, upbringing and opportunities hence, what is important to you should not look like the usual cookie-cutter advice for the rest of the vanilla world. However, be aware that the compromise with this approach is that excelling at one thing means sacrificing something else. Example — If you want your child to be a great football player, then perhaps you should stop the piano lessons you enrolled her into. Or, if you really want to be the best pastry chef, then start prioritising and follow this calling. And if anyone (particularly fake gurus on the internet) tells you that you can in fact have everything in life that you desire, you just have to close your eyes, visualise and believe in yourself — stop listening to them and unfollow them. Now. Stop believing this crap. Life is a matter of deciding your priority and making the decision of subtraction. You can actually have anything you want, but you need to focus on one thing at a time, one desire at a time — this is how the universe works.

In the end

I want you to ask yourself, where does your work end and your life begins? Or is it one and the same? All tied together in your identity?

Stop believing in the glass wall which separates your life and work, reminding you that your work is not your life, and it should not be.

I have always heard that life is all about finding balance — actually, it’s not — perhaps only if you want to be average at everything. Life should be about excelling and pursuing greatness. Having extreme success in any field in life and having a balanced life is just not possible. It’s a myth.

If you want to be the best at anything, then life is about finding all the things that you are willing to sacrifice for it — finding the non-essential, lower priority activities and letting them go in pursuit of being the best at something. That’s how life works. Share this with someone who needs to read this. Now go and be awesome and pursue greatness.


Happiness Is Not Sustainable - Accept It.

Now, what do I mean by that?

Well, the things is we treat happiness as a destination. Something to arrive to. Something to work towards. Something to struggle towards. 
‘When I get this new job and I will be happy’ .. actually, that is only half the sentence, the complete sentence is ‘When I get this new job, I will be happy, for a short period of time.’ 
Because that will become the new normal. The same principle applies to everything else.

“When I get this bigger house/car/salary/‘fill in the blank’ I will be happy”

Part of the human condition is that we adjust to any situation (negative or positive) fairly quickly and make that our base condition, our new normal, to base all comparison against. This is in essence what a hedonic treadmill is.

You essentially have a set level of happiness where you consistently remain. When good things happen (winning a lottery, getting a new job, a new house etc), that level of happiness can spike up and similarly when bad things happen, that level of happiness can dip down. After good and bad events in your life, you eventually return to your set level of happiness over a period of time — the amount of time is different for everyone and relevant to the event itself but everyone almost always returns to their base level sooner or later.

Think of alcohol or substance addiction, over time the body gets used to it and you need more and more to get the same hit or high. Same is the case with happiness — you require more and more over time to feel ‘happy’. However, understanding how the hedonic treadmill operates in your life can make you experience the world more positively.

We can’t always keep on increasing our levels of happiness, so, what do you do about it?

Do not strive for happiness.

As Jordan Peterson has pointed out over and over — Do not strive for happiness.

Happiness is usually a consequence or an unintended outcome of certain events. In some of the best moments of your life, you were not actively pursuing happiness but rather a goal, target, or an intention. Happiness was a (positive) side effect of completing the said goal. 
Happiness is not something to chase or something out there to find. It is instead, a state of mind and a state of being. 
Ultimately, happiness is a choice.

More often than not, we don’t know what will make us happy in the long run and what we think will give us lasting happiness usually doesn’t. Needless to say, that is pretty ironic for us to not know what will make us happy while happiness is the one thing we claim to pursue. We are very bad at predicting our own future happiness. Therefore, bad at making decisions based on such predictions in pursuit of that happiness.

I will give you a minute (or two) to re-read that paragraph.

Why do we constantly want more?

There is, almost always, a base layer of emotion and need underneath all the surface level, ‘superficial’ desires; a bigger house, bigger salary, fame, status etc. This is in part the reason why the hedonic treadmill works because we don’t actually know what we truly want as we are not always in tune with our true desires and nature. Often the base desire is a need for security or wanting to grasp at permanence or creating certainty in our lives. 
Yes, we indeed need a base layer of security and comfort, but the root cause for this insatiable desire of wanting more and more is nothing more than insecurity and uncertainty. (Read my post on letting go of stuff for better insight into this)

So, it is important to understand the base layer emotions and then understand what will actually make you happy — not the things culture and society says will make you happy eg: a bigger house, faster car, bigger salary etc.

  1. So, the first step is to get in touch with your true nature and desires so you can know what will truly make you happy. Happiness is personalised and not one size fits all.
  2. And, in order to get in touch with your true nature and desires, you need to spend time with yourself, introspect and find what your own core values and priority.
  3. Once you know what it is that promises to make you happy — chase it. If you don’t go after what you want — it will not come to you. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no. Go out and make it happen.
  4. Repeat this process as often as needed. Remember, with time your priority and your needs change and so does your personality. So, whatever it is that is making you happy today might not do so in three years from now.

Getting off the hedonic treadmill

Some of the best ways to get off the hedonic treadmill and stoping the obsessive, insatiable need for more:

Ground yourself in the present

We plan for the future and often regret or reminisce the past. The present, however, is the only real moment that we ever have — Naimat Ahmed

(quoting myself in my own post — how meta)

This seems meaningful on a theoretical level, however, if you manage to internalise this and make it practical — it is life-altering. Learn to ground yourself in the present moment by training your awareness via meditation and spending time with yourself in solitude. The strategy to help ground you in the present moment involves the following:

  • Notice when you are getting caught up in thoughts about the future or the past
  • Stop what you’re doing and in your head name 3 things you can hear.
  • Take a look at the space around you and name 3 things you can see.
  • Name 3 things you can feel or touch. It might be your feet on the floor or the clothing against your skin, etc.

Be grateful for what you have

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.” Need I say more? 
The more grateful you are for the things you already have in your life, over time, the less you will need. Gratitude is one of the best practices you can build for yourself. I advise you get a gratitude journal and start writing in it every day/night.

Make time for high-quality leisure

As Cal Newport has pointed out in his book Digital Minimalism– Make time for high-quality leisure. Intentional hobbies

Intentional activities like writing, playing music, creating art, or practising a sport have been known to prolong feelings of emotional satisfaction. Many people also derive satisfaction from endeavours like volunteering and charity work.

Find meaning & purpose in your life

If there is one thing that I would classify as the most important thing to identify and know in life is — the purpose or meaning of your life (Read my detailed post about this subject here). Again, there is no one size fit all and this is a highly personalised thing.

And again I echo Jordan Peterson’s words, don’t strive for happiness. Strive to be of value by finding a purpose and a meaning in your life. Create value not only for others but also for yourself.