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.

Taking a silo pause as a creator

Pause. Break.

It doesn’t matter which word but they are scary words for some. And just the mention of it could potentially trigger an anxiety attack in creators who have relatively low amount of followers and viewership. After all, at the beginning, there’s no other metrics other than view and like counts that matter more to the creator. He or she probably isn’t confident enough in their ability to attract and engage people to take a look at their content. So every view or like serves to validate their thoughts and feelings that they did something right. It’s serves as a micro fuel for their next content release.

Well, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s only wrong when you tie your overall well-being to being validated. The moment you think you aren’t validated, you slipped into depression. And that’s bad.

For me, I came from that and have been slowly learning to not seek validation in what I do. It’s a difficult journey. And that’s why I never like the word “pause” when it comes to content creation. I feel like I should keep churning out content.

But for the past two days, the creative well that drive my writing is really empty. Every time the level is pulled and the bucket rise up, all I see is empty. Best part is, I knew it was coming ever since I put up the article titled, Focus on playing the infinite game. The metaphorical weather hasn’t been giving me the rain necessary to fill the well.

And you know what? My blog viewership have pretty much dropped to just a couple of visitor and even then those visitors are only here for the review I wrote about the Ogon Designs’s Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet. It’s in fact my most popular piece of content by view count. As for likes, it’s pretty much zero.

And I’m perfectly okay with that.

Even then, it doesn’t mean one should be ok with not creating. It’s a pause from writing for me but not a pause on other creative work.

You see, if you view yourself as a creator, there’s really no restriction on what you can create. The only possible limitation comes from whether you’ve got the skills for it or not. Even then, it’s probably a weak excuse.

Let’s use the following example.

You could be a full-time writer but at the same time you enjoy making cupcakes. And you know what? Making cupcake is a form of creation. So you have the skill to write and make cupcake. Now, you decided to take a break from writing because you are suffering from some kind of writer’s block. However, you can continue to make cupcake. And I’m pretty sure you will learn something from the process.

In my case, I may be suffering from a writer’s block but the other creative work that I can do is building software. I have learn and developed the skills for it over the last ten years or so. That’s why I’ve decided to spend some time to setup various development studios on my computer and learn different kind of development platforms. The next step would be to figure out a pet project to do so that I can take on the challenge of developing an iOS app (never done it before) for the frontend and a .NET Core web application for the backend.

This way, my coding skills can continue to improve, which in turn allows me to make more money. And what does having more money means for me? It allows me to create art because I won’t find myself starving, stressed out by how am I going to pay the bills and still can take my family out for meals.

So that’s why it’s important for one to be multi-skilled. It’s even better if you have totally different kind of creative skills. That way you can take a pause, switch between different kind of creative work and don’t feel like you hadn’t achieve anything. Furthermore, you become a more diverse person and that is fuel for your overall creativity.

The moment

It’s my belief that everyone would have a certain moment in their life when they realised something only after an event have long passed. And at that point in time, you would be in this weird situation of being simultaneously aware while still unwilling to accept the fact. The fact that the moment is already here. Slowly but surely, you accept the situation and move on with your life.

In my case, it was this realisation that I’m in my thirties only after months have passed since my thirty-first birthday, had achieve some stuff but not quite made an impact on the world. There is this doubt lingering at the back of your head whether you have enough time to achieve what you want in life and that people knows who you are. At the same time, you also know you have done your best and is ready to give your younger self some advice.

Now, in terms of personality, people can find me behaving still like a man-child on certain things because of my idealism. Seeing the world through rose-tinted glasses is still pretty much the thing I do. The inner-child in me is still pretty much alive when it comes to taking on new challenges and seeing new things. At the same time, certain aspect of my personality have changed as a result of the real world smashing in and slapping the idealism and inner-child around. So parts of my mind has been hardened by challenges it faced.

And it’s a constant struggle to keep that hardening process at bay because once that happen, it could potentially erode your ability to see the world differently and be creative. As a creator, I would hate for that happen.

Well, the biggest change that you grudgingly accept when you enters your thirties is your stamina and physical capabilities is no longer like in your twenties. Excessive sitting down makes you tired. Excessive standing makes you tired. Eat too much and you feel sick. Work too long you feel like sleeping for days. And if you are a gamer? You will find that your reaction times in first person shooter games drop dramatically. So you end up dying more often. And lastly, your weight just keep piling on despite your effort to exercise.

But it’s not the end of the world.

This moment, this very act of being aware of your age and proud of what you have achieved, is cause for celebration. At least, you didn’t fumble through life aimlessly. You are still alive. You have also gone through enough life challenges to enable you to make better decisions for your future as you enter your mid and late thirties. And maybe give you enough confidence to do the thing you really want to do as well as increasing your potential good impact on the world. It’s also a moment of your life where people can at least start taking you slightly more seriously than when you are in your twenties or teens.

For me, I will still keep doing what I do because deep down, I’m a minimalist when it comes to interests. The only problem to deal with is how to find the intersection of all my interests so that I can do and put out my best work for the rest of the world to enjoy.

Sleep debt kills your creativity and motivation

Sleep is a very important activity that all of us has to participate in. A good night sleep contributes to your overall well-being, allow you to function at your best and keep your mood stable.

However, our modern lifestyle with all the digital devices we have, all those radio waves passing through us every second, and long working hours ensured that we don’t participate in that activity fully. By that, I mean we don’t sleep the maximum hours each of us actually need.

For most of us living in a modern city and have a demanding day job means that we have to wake up early but sleep late. And that’s not to say all your wakeful hours are spent at work. But rather, there’s 101 things for us to take care of in life, ranging from having a simple dinner with family to settling the bills to getting your kids ready for bed. So by the time you actually gone to bed, it’s probably past midnight. Before you know it, your alarm clock goes off and you looked at it, you realised it’s only 5 or 6am. It’s time to wake up.

In my case, I tend to sleep only after 12am. It’s not because I want to sleep that late but rather if I turned in any earlier, I would have tossed and turned in my bed until I get very frustrated and couldn’t sleep or simply talk to myself until I do sleep. End up, I still sleep after 12am. So why do I force myself into bed so early and suffer?

So, taking into account I only enter sleep 15 to 30 minutes after I lay in bed, I typically get only 5 hours, max 6 hours, of sleep every day. That means I am one of the 62% Singaporeans who are sleep deprived because I have to wake up by 6.50am. We as a nation rank second in the world when it comes to being sleep deprived. Not a good statistic, mind you.

I’m only functioning everyday because of my caffeine intake these days. I suspect it will soon no longer work because caffeine has this diminishing return effect the longer you’re consume it. Your body simply developed a tolerance for it.

With this constant sleep debt everyday, don’t be surprise if it dampened your mood. I can feel like I’m about to lose control of my emotions again. Furthermore, it’s affecting my creativity in really subtle ways. Associations between two different ideas becomes harder to create. After all, the best ideas are usually at the intersection of different fields or topic.

Then the mind also stops picking up on subtle changes in the environment as quickly. Understanding of ideas and concepts mentioned by people during conversation and meetings also suffer in terms of speed.

And productivity is definitely out of the window.

Last but not least, the motivation to do anything isn’t there anymore. Not even with coffee. An example would be, it took me two hours just to finish coding a piece of function at work when it could have taken me half an hour or less under normal circumstances.

The good thing is at least now I saw it happening and can attempt to remedy the situation. Should always prioritise sleep over any other activity that isn’t important. There is always another time to do that activity.

Even light exercise helps

The word exercise can strike fear in some people. They are reminded of hard work and pain. Exercises can also be a difficult thing to put in one’s schedule when he or she is already having to deal what life throws at them.

For me, I hate exercise because I’m a very lazy person.

However, the constant comments by people I’ve met about how much fatter I’ve grown have somewhat affected how I feel about myself. Hell, even I feel like I’m carrying around a big lump of fats. And just last month, I wrote about how neglecting your body also affects your life in general. I continue to feel the side effect of not “moving” enough.

So all that spurred me to reset my exercise schedule on Monday.

Now, maybe this is premature but I thought it’s a good time to share how I felt after just going for three runs around my neighbourhood over the week. And the best part was the runs weren’t even very intensive. They were slow jogs where I took 20 minutes or so to cover approximately three kilometres each time.

The first day of my run didn’t change much. It was like any other day considering I ran once per week in the past and relied on my daily steps count to maintain the illusion of being active.

But by the end of second run, I could already feel it changing my body. It was like it has received a boosting dose of energy, allowing me to direct my attention at my tasks better. It also made me more attentive. Combine with my intentional caffeine intake as of late, I managed to become more productive.

And by the end of the third run, I’m definitely feeling happier than normal, which ultimately showed on the outside. And mind you, my overall mood typically is on the lower end of the spectrum compared to most people. So you would tend to see me looking like I’m depressed when I’m not.

To some people, this kind of exercise may not seem much. Maybe it’s their goal to run a marathon once every few months. Or maybe they love high-intensity exercises that pushes their heart rate into the 200 beats per minute range. Or maybe they love to climb mountains every year. Or just maybe they love to do power lifting.

However, one should always not let another person’s opinion about how much exercise you need determine what you do. Not everyone loves the idea of running long distance. For me, I do love a jog or walk. If going for Zumba three times a week is your thing to stay healthy, then do Zumba three times a week. If you like to do resistance weight training, then do resistance weight training.

The only lesson to remember here is, do not ever let your body slip into the situation where it doesn’t move as much as it needs. Even a thirty minute speed walk around your block or neighbourhood after a meal every day is better than nothing. Because the side effects of a sedentary lifestyle are never good to have. Lethargy, lower stress tolerance, and poor productivity are some of the side effects. Ultimately, your life is yours to decide how to live it. Make the right choices.