I’m a December child. That means that most of my classmates in school became older than me before I celebrated my birthday. When I was in primary school, that meant people rarely remembered when my birthday was. Why? Because it would already be school holidays by that time – so no birthday party or gifts in the class as some of my friends had.
What that also means for me, now in a later stage of my life – is that the birthday gives me a chance to reflect on how my year went. This is kind of like how people reflect on their year before New Year’s Eve.
I originally wanted to write 35 things I learned before turning 35. I didn’t manage to though I’m sure I have learned AT LEAST 35 things over the years. Still, here are 11 things I learned. These have been pretty life-changing for me and I hope that some of these may help you in some way.
1. Awareness of yourself is important
Being aware of your natural tendencies to reacting to something is important. If you’re aware of how you normally react whether it’s being indifferent, upset, angry or happy – is important to allow you to decide whether you want to embrace that reaction or not. Most of the time, we react without realizing there are other ways to experience the same situation. The external world is still the same, it’s just our internal experience of it that has changed.
For me, this means not getting upset about something but to see how it is like and acknowledge my natural reaction. Then, it’s about entertaining the possibility that there is another alternative reaction that may prove to be a more positive reaction.
Sometimes getting upset about something is not worth it and sometimes it’s just a misunderstanding instead of something actually designed to upset you.
2. You have a choice of how to experience the world
I’ve had days when it just plain sucked. Maybe something didn’t go my way or maybe the weather prevented me from going out or doing something I wanted. What I didn’t realize at those moments is that I can still choose to experience the day from a more positive outlook. We filter our experiences based on how we feel inside. By changing how we feel or allowing another filter (or removing the filters), the day can change.
3. Learning is a life-long process
There’s no reason learning has to stop. In fact, I feel that the people that inspire my work and life seem to always challenge themselves to keep learning and growing. I get disturbed when people believe that education ends after high school or college or even after receiving a doctorate. I think the idea of visible limits to education stops us from experiencing new things or experience repetitive events in a deeper or newer way. Just because you have breakfast at the same place every morning doesn’t mean that it’s not meaningful. There are always subtle differences that can enrich your day if you allow these differences to manifest themself to you.
4. When people point out your mistakes or flaws, it’s an opportunity to grow
Sometimes people will say you’re living an unhealthy lifestyle or you do something in a less efficient way. You can choose to react in a aggresive way and deny what they say or you can acknowledge their perspective, entertain the posibility that they might be aware of something that you’re not (or in denial of) and then either proactively do something to change or let it be.
For some things, you may not care about it as much as the other person who said it to you. For example, someone may say that you should stop smoking because it’s bad for your health and the people around you. You may enjoy the addiction more than you care for people around you. That’s a choice that you make and it’s okay as long as you’re aware of it.
However, you may come to realize that poisoning your body for the chemical high may be something that you not want to do anymore. If so, you may choose an alternative addiction that has a supportive community around it such as vaping or cigars and justify your choice of drugs based on the surrounding research around it and the community. That’s okay as well. Just realize that when some people point out the negative aspects of such choices, it may be because of love for you or a sense of righteousness. No need to be upset or angry but instead realize that they have pointed an opportunity for you to grow.
5. Systems can create new positive habits
I learned this from blog posts by people like Ramit Sethi and his mentor BJ Fogg. What I realize is that taking the first time is the most difficult thing so by doing something seemingly small like a 10-minute walk can trigger positive growth such as being comfortable for longer walks. I also now dig the idea of creating 5, 7 or 21 day challenges to kickstart a new positive habit, to write music or learn something new. Systems can succeed where sheer willpower can fail.
6. Healthy food can taste awesome
I learned about this in California and later on more with my girlfriend Yin. There’s a correlation between healthy food and being healthy emotionally and physically. I now finally notice there’s a difference when I eat raw versus processed foods. The processed foods tend to not make me feel better. The raw or homemade food tends to have more noticable nourishing effects.
7. Some things just take time
I’ve been playing guitar for 19 years now and it finally feels like I’m starting to improve in the way that I’ve been aiming for. But, there’s still so much to work on and that is all right.
8. If you want to improve on something, pick one thing and keep working on it
This is the key to growth. I find that you can be a master of several things, just not by working on every single thing at the same time!
9. To succeed at something, make it easy for the habit to repeat
This is something I learned from Ramit Sethi, BJ Fogg, Yin and the classical guitar virtuoso Philip Hii. By creating the right environment, for example making sure your guitar is ready for practice, music scores are out on the music stand, tuner is ready etc. – it’s easier to start practicing guitar daily than having to take everything out every single time.
10. To complete something, set a deadline and a schedule. Then, follow it!
This is something I’ve realised but am still working on. This year, I decided to release 3 new albums. So far, I’ve released two of the three albums. I have 7 days left to release the third one. I should have already had it out. Yes, things got busier than expected (they always do) but it’s completely my fault for not setting a deadline and a schedule. I hope in 2016, I will learn from this experience.
11. Forgive yourself for your imperfections and learn to improve yourself
This is kind of related to number 4. In a way, sometimes we can be very hard on ourselves. Sometimes this can cause a lot of pain inside us because we view our imperfections as a permanent condition. It usually isn’t. Our imperfections often are just like a photograph in time of how we are at that point. If we’re aware of it, we have a chance to improve. This relates a lot to the whole concept of a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset.
What did you learn this year? Please do share your thoughts. =)