To grow, just 5 percent more

Personal growth is really just an umbrella term for improving oneself across different aspect. It could be your skillsets, knowledge, interpersonal relationship, emotional intelligence, and many more. Depending on the aspect that we want to improve on, we could go for short courses, get advice from friends and have them monitor our progress, or even learn it from videos indirectly.

Many times, we fell into the trap of attempting to grow quickly when we were at the beginning of that journey. There could be many reasons for that. The best reason I could think of is, impatient. The other reason is spite.

And I’m writing from my own perspective because those are the two reasons why I want to grow quickly despite it being irrational and not practical.

You see, it all stem from being hurt when someone points out a flaw, mistakes or something that you have or made. Then you feel like you want to shut them up for good and shove their words back down their throats. And so you went full swing into fixing the flaw or mistakes someone mentioned.

At first it would go well. You are happy to practice. But it won’t last long. The passion or the drive to change just fizzle out one day. Nothing sticks. Your old habits come back again. Mistakes happen again. And the other party wins.

Or in other words, you dropped out of the infinite game all because you don’t understand or get the real why you need to improve on certain things. You had failed to reconcile the purpose of the change with your personal ‘Why’. So, your attempt to change in such a short time is simply playing the finite game to achieve the goal of proving the other party wrong just because you don’t feel good about it.

Therefore, it’s very important to calm down, understand what was the issue and how you can reconcile with your personal Why. By that, I mean how does that change or growing in that specific direction helps you with your personal mission.

After that, you can actually make plans so that you can improve yourself at a steady pace. And to make that growth even more effective, all you need to do is apply 5% more effort, energy, attention or awareness in whatever it is you are doing.

The idea of 5% more was introduced to me two years ago by an ex-boss of mine. It was from the book by Michael Alden called 5% More: Making Small Changes to Achieve Extraordinary Results.

Back then, he was attempting to get all of us to be at the top of our game. To deliver quality work. To be more resilient when it comes to stress, etc.

So I bought the book and read it because I really wanted to be better then. Only managed to read till mid-way of the book before I gave up. Since then, I have moved on from the company, had to deal with multiple episodes of situational depression, and went back to a software development role. And in hindsight, fictional books are definitely more interesting.

But I digress.

Even though I managed to read half of the book, the idea behind it was simple. In whatever you do, all you need to do is apply 5% more of whatever it is you need to. Time. Energy. Attention. Focus.

Let’s put 5% into perspective.

You have already spent an hour on a task to create a report and you are about to complete it. Just the last page. However, you decided to call it a day and go home. You promise yourself that you will come back to finish that last page the next day. The next day comes and then new tasks came in that are of a higher priority. The task you promised to finish yesterday now sit undone. Later in the day, your boss tells you he or she needs that report on the desk in five minutes time. So you scramble to finalise the report. But because you are in panic mode, you forgot what was the report truly about and now you have to spend more time to understand it first before finishing that last page.

Now what if you have spend 5% more time on that report the day before. 5% more time isn’t a lot. Considering that you have already spent an hour on it and you are left the last page. 5% more translate to 3 minutes. If you had spent that 3 minutes the day before, do you think you would suffer now?

And what about 5% more energy, attention or focus? If you apply it to your tasks, do you think the end result will be better? Maybe it could be a simple adding of margin to a report. It doesn’t take a lot of effort right? But it could potentially make it easier to read or more presentable. Your client could be subconsciously impressed. Or maybe you could have picked out several spelling and grammatical mistakes in your writing by applying 5% more attention to details.

If you are consistent with the application of 5% more as part of your personal growth, you may just find yourself putting out high quality stuff without even thinking about it. All because you have trained that muscle well.

Not to brat but this application of 5% more is how I am able to write better, cleaner codes than my colleagues despite being younger than them without being intentional about it and write out test cases that fulfil the criteria without much thoughts.

Too much of anything is bad

You love ice cream. So much so that you thought you don’t mind eating it every day and having it after every meal. Before you know it, your weight increases and start to develop sickness deep inside of you. If you continued down that path, the sickness will only worsen. Heart disease, diabetes, and various other issues will crop up.

It’s the same thing as everything you do in life.

In my case, there’s something I did that affected my writing although you may not see it given that I’ve published something almost every day. But deep down, I know something’s not right.

There isn’t much inspirations or ideas floating around in my head to write about these days. I had to sit at my desk doing a whole bunch of other stuff before I can settle down to write something. Even when I do start, the topic elude me until much later during the writing process. Instead of entering into the zone or flow state, there’s a lot of writing and editing on the fly. Lucky for me, I’ve honed my writing muscles far enough that I could do both without obvious slow down.

But it’s something that need to be fixed. So I did a quick audit of what’s going on in my life.

Turns out, I’ve spent too much time consuming content. Again. By that, it could mean watching videos, listening to music or playing video games. And the latter is the one that’s main cause.

Ever since I got Nintendo Switch, it would be in my hand at least once a day for a couple of hours. Because of the amount of time I’ve spent playing first-person shooter on it, specifically Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus, I’ve gotten pretty good at shooting enemies despite the weird placement of joysticks (compared to the Xbox). I am able to have the crosshair follow enemies as they moved while another finger is on the trigger button. When I first started, I’ve a real hard time doing even basic shooting.

Sound great? Yeah, it’s good that I gotten a new skill. But it came at the expense of having ideas for writing.

And do you know why playing so much games created this sickness of not having ideas to write about?

Playing games, most of the time, is actually pretty mindless. Especially if it’s a shooter game where all you need to do is kill enemies, reach objectives. Rinse, rise, and repeat. So where’s the thinking in that?

But not all is lost.

The moment you realise something is wrong, you can take control back. The one thing you could do is to cut back on the amount of time you spend doing that one thing. Yes, it’s painful when you have to cut back because you have been getting all those dopamine coursing through your mind. But it has to be done in order to achieve something you want in your life.

With that, I end off with something any minimalist would say, “Less is more.”

Feelers’ struggle with decisions

Some people you meet in life seems to give you the impression that they got everything handled. They are confident and assertive. The way they make decision seems to come very naturally to them.

Then there are those on the other end where every major decision gives the person a panic attack. They stumble, mumble and seem really unsure of themselves when they say their choice out loud. In a group setting, this behaviour can give other people the impression that they are weak or lack of confidence. And it does annoy the hell out of people especially when it’s time sensitive.

But it’s really not anyone’s fault. Everyone’s different and the way their brain process information is different too.

This is why it’s important for one to understand decisions making for some people can be very stressful and slow, especially if the person need to check with themselves on how they feel about different option. And they don’t commit to anything until they are very sure the decision makes them feel good and don’t give them any major regrets.

Maybe you might wonder which part does feelings have to play during decision making. The fact is, feelings are always in play. So are emotions. We are all humans. The question is how much the emotion centre is overwriting the logical centre as well as how good the person is at pulling themselves above those feelings to make a decision.

And sometimes, it’s just that the person feels more deeply, is more sensitive and self-conscious.

Now, as you go about in life, there will be times when you have to make certain life-changing decisions. Then when you do make a certain choice, the end result wasn’t ideal and you feel like crap for weeks or months. And in some case, it may have left you in a bad place. Or it could be that the result wasn’t as serious as it was but because you value other people’s opinion more than trusting your own, you fear losing that respect or friendship.

In the context of the person who feels more deeply, when these above situations happen, they create mental scars. The person won’t want to feel the same way again or go through the same kind of pain again. That’s why he or she will hold off committing until the last minute. But if it is a decision for something that the person has experienced before, then it relatively fast.

I know because I make decisions in this way, always checking with how I will feel at the subconscious level while having this dreadful feeling about having to commit. And I have faced people getting annoyed with me for taking too long. A big part came from me not wanting to disappoint people or get blame for the wrong choice.

However, it doesn’t mean shying away from making decisions. In order to be better at it, one has to keep making decisions. If the choice turn out to be a bad one, learn from the mistake. Seek for forgiven later. But if it’s a life-changing decision, then ask for permission to take a longer time before committing your answer. But it’s important also not to take too long. At the same time, you should reverse engineer what is it you are really afraid of when it comes to decision making and then acknowledge it. When you do that, you give yourself the power to move forward.

Before long, you will be making decisions effortlessly.

Becoming aware of the neurotic mind and overwriting it for a happier self

Let’s imagine that you grow up in an environment where your parents engaged in negative self-talk in front of you, self-punishing behaviours, call you stupid or brainless when you do something wrong, or continue bring up the past mistakes you made every time they are not happy about something you did today.

Then as you got older, you engaged in similar activities without being consciously aware of what you did.

And that’s all because of nurture. After all, you were just a child and your only true role models are your parents. Even when you have friends, they won’t be there to influence your life every hour of your life. So you will just learn that what your parents do is normal, therefore correct.

As a result, you don’t question all these learned behaviours. Until someone pointed them out or came to realise it one day because of what you’ve read or heard people talk about.

And you know what?

Those activities I mentioned earlier actually examples of being neurotic. And it actually leads to poor quality of life. You are never happy. And it can actually contribute to the development of “perfectionism mindset” in a person.

I know because that’s the kind of environment I grew up in. I seek perfection in my work. Was never happy, constantly depressed. Hated the world. And it was during my research to understand myself better that I came upon various psychology articles and essays about being neurotic and the neuroticism personality traits. It was then I realised I’ve got a problem.

So over the past few months, I have actually pushed myself to engage in self-compassion and self-care. It was hard at first since it was unnatural for me. But if you keep doing it,  practising those skills for a while, it’ll become easier. Just like training yourself to be able to lift certain weights or to run a marathon.

And it took me a while before I was able to catch myself before I engage in such behaviours. And these days, I can see my mind doing all the weird negative self-talks and punishment-type thinkings. But I will myself not to act on them. I simply acknowledge those thoughts and then push myself to focus on the present. Because at the end of it, you can’t control the events that happened but you can control how you react or respond to those events.

So I actually feel happier compared to when I was in my early twenties and late teens. I also recognised it’s still a work in progress because those negative thinkings and self-talks hadn’t been completely eliminated from my mind.

The other thing that I also realise is, I was actually able to focus more of my attention to creating the kind of life I want because my mind isn’t cluttered with all those bad thoughts. With that, the friction to complete the micro-goals that will put my closer to my destination is much lesser.

Growing up feeling inadequate makes you a miserable person

When you don’t have that confidence in what you do, or when you constantly compare yourself with others, you will always feel inadequate. Allow that feeling to go on long enough, you will start to resent your life. This is also how you will develop anxiety disorder and subsequently depression.

I’m speaking from my own personal experience. During my growing up years, adults ranging from my school teachers to my relatives always questioned my abilities to make it in life because of my failures in some things. When I make a mistakes, they would berate me and call me stupid. Or they would find ways and means to twist the situation to make you feel like you are the worse thing in the world.

I still remember the time when I found myself ranked fifth during my fifth year, also my final year, in secondary school amongst 80 students. My aunt was with me to pick up the result sheet and have a talk to my form teacher. On the way home, she commented that, “Looking at your current score of only two As and so many Bs and Cs, you ranking fifth means your cohort of 80 students aren’t the brightest. So your score isn’t that good.”

Being at a rebellious age, I did get quite pissed at her and countered, “At least I got fifth and didn’t fail any subjects.”

All she did was to give me a shrug and a contemptuous yeah.

And in an asian culture—specifically Chinese ones, parents beating their kids for mistakes they made are common. Poor score on your result card, you get spanking. Teachers call up your parents complaining about you making some silly mistake at school, you get spanking. You fail to come home on time or play too much, you get spanking. There could easily be countless reasons why an asian parent will spank his or her kid. I get my fair share.

So when such a thing enter your life from a young age and continue until you reach your teenage years, it’s very easy to internalize it. Before you know it, your self-esteem is gone and you grow up thinking it’s perfectly ok to keep criticizing yourself when you make a mistake. After all, people have been telling you in your face that you are stupid and that’s why you make mistakes. If you are smart, you won’t have this kind of score. If you are smart, you should have been this or that.

So that’s what I did as I got older. I treat myself so harshly that I did contemplate maybe I’m better off dead. So that means I never was once happy during my early teenage years because I constantly fail to meet expectations.

It was only during my three year stint at a polytechnic getting a Diploma in Information Technology that I found something I’m truly good at. I can code better than most people. I could grasp technical concept faster and even found myself teaching my friends. But there were times when I do feel like a failure if I didn’t get the result I wanted. Yet overall, I would say I felt slightly happier.

Then came the mandatory two year conscription service. After that, it was a three year stint at a local university where I studied Computer Science. Because I didn’t keep myself abreast of what’s happening in the technology world nor practice programming, I found myself feeling miserable during those three years. I feel inadequate again. And instead of finding ways to improve my results, I simply let it be and resented myself for not achieving at least a CGPA of at least 4 out of 5. I thought, yeah, I’m stupid and that’s why I only get that kind of grades.

After graduating, I found my first full time job and the same thing happened over and over again. Every mistakes I made I scold myself, blame myself and forget all about self-care or acknowledging that I am only human.

By my third year as a member of the working class, I completely lost my way, feeling anxious, and depressed. A big contributing factor was poor cultural fit at my new company. I didn’t know I was a highly-sensitive person and don’t do well under stress. My self-awareness was suddenly gone. It all became me trying to meet everybody’s expectation and I no longer know what I wanted to do with my life anymore.

It took me a while to realize I am suffering from depression and decided to take control over my life again. I went to see a psychologist, then a psychiatrist for deeper diagnostics, and took a one long month break. I used that time to rediscover myself and figure out what I want to do actually.

Now I’m happier than I ever was but I’m not saying I’m completely above that self-critical nature. I still blame myself rather harshly for poor viewership of my writings but I pick myself up faster and earlier rather than let myself stay on the ground for very long. Because I finally acknowledged that making mistakes, as long as those mistakes don’t kill or hurt anyone seriously enough, is only human. It’s part of the experience. One should learn from it and then do it better next time. I have also learnt to stop comparing to another person because everyone leads a different life, have different personality and want different thing.

I for one wants a unbusy life, surrounded by friends and my family, have meals with them, play video games, watch movies or shows, and publish at least one fiction novel during my life time. Everything else is really just superfluous. Once you establish what you want and proceed to do the things necessary to achieve your goals, you will stop feeling inadequate.

*** This post is also published here on Medium

Photo by Meghan Holmes on Unsplash