The Upside of Being Under Limitations

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For the third time in 4 years, I go on a diet. My weight increased a lot in the past year due to change of lifestyle and stress. Okay, the last one is an excuse.

I go to the same diet clinic that helped me lost 45 pounds (about 20 kg). This time they gave me a slightly different treatment. They gave four different types of drugs instead of the usual one type, and they insisted on a different (in other words, more expensive) intravenous medication.

But on the eating side, the same limitations apply. Red meat in small amount only once a month, fish in moderate amount only twice a month, and chicken breast as much as needed. No processed food, no flour based anything, no fried food, no sugary drinks, and no alcohol. Fruit and vegetables are allowed, except for jackfruit, durian, and avocado. For breakfast, I can only have wheat bread and low fat cheese.

One consolation is that I can drink coffee as long as it’s not instant, and as long as I keep the sugar under 5 teaspoons a day. No problem.

At first, this seemed to be a burden. My wife has to prepare meals for lunch and dinner, which means she has to get up very early. I am very indebted to her in this, because otherwise it would’ve been difficult for me to stay on the program.

Having lunch with my co-workers becomes a challenge. They all either buy or bring tasty meals that when I wasn’t on diet I would’ve had myself. “This fried chicken is good, you know,” teased one of them. And I could only scowled and continued eating my no-dressing salad.

Another problem is when we go shopping. The mall is full with restaurants, cafes and bakeries, all are offering delicious treats. I often must remind myself that I am not allowed to have those for the time being. So much temptations.

On the bright side, having few options make things simpler. Unlike before, I don’t need to fuss about what I want for lunch, and I don’t have to go out to get it. I simply eat what I brought.

When shopping, choosing a place to eat takes less time. It must be Chinese, because that’s the only place where they serve boiled or steamed chicken. No need to decide between Japanese or Italian or Sundanese.

In the morning, I simply prepare myself a cheese toasted sandwich and coffee, and I have my breakfast home. No need to take time to get breakfast at the office. I can use the extra time for other things, like writing this post.

Having less options removes a lot of clutters and allows me to structure my life better.

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Small Actions, Big Impact

I spent most of my life achieving my goals serendipitiously. I dreamed of something, and somehow, in some way, it happened. It’s like somebody was getting things done for me from behind a screen. And sorry to disappoint some of you, I didn’t actually pray for them, either.

I’m not saying that praying is not necessary. If you believe in God, I would say you should pray. And neither am I saying that you don’t have to work for your dreams. Some dreams take sweat, blood and tears to make a reality. And I do work hard to build my family estate.

Looking back the nearly 39 years of my life, one thing that I am still dissatisfied with it is how haphazardly I lived it. How un-hardworking I was. How unfocused I had been.

I am worried this will carry into my professional life. I am in the position where I can make impact in the lives of tens, hundreds even thousands of people. What keeps me awake at night is the haunting question: how can I be a good leader for those people who entrust their lives and the lives of their families in my hands?

I found that being in a leadership position is far from having the justification to brag, to demand respect. On the contrary, it is the most humbling place in which anyone can be.

I choose to live one day at a time. I made mistakes. But those are in the past. Today I choose to be a better person. Everyday is a new opportunity for me to be slightly better, to be the person I dream myself to be. The doer, the achiever, the leader.

One day I was standing in a very long line in a bank. There were only two or three windows opened for dozens of customers. From where I stand, I saw the line was skewed way to the right. And nobody did anything to fix it. I decided to do an experiment. Every time the line inched forward, I moved slightly to the left. The customers behind me followed suit. And with every step forward, the line began to skew less, until finally it became a straight line.

To have impact on my surrroundings, I only need to change myself just a little bit, every day.

Developing Yourself, One Habit at a Time

Developing Yourself, One Habit at a Time

I just read the book “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life and Business” written by Charles Duhigg. And I realized that many things that I could not do well in life and work are rooted in my failure to develop productive habits.

I had been through 4 cycles of weight loss diet, and everytime a cycle ends, I would regain some of the pounds I lost. During 1997-2009, I even gained all and added 24 more kilograms. I was disciplined enough to keep a healthy and low-calorie eating patterns during the diet program. But after I completed the cycle, I would forget everything and eat whatever I wanted.

The reason is simply this: your body can only survive on 1,500 calories per day for so long. Afterwards, weight loss from eating low calorie diet must be replaced with a regime of exercise. From there, you can slowly return to 2,000 calories a day and maintain weight by doing regular exercise.

I lost the weight, but I failed to build a habit of exercising and of eating healthy food. According to the book, a habit can be learned, but cannot be erased. It can, however, be replaced by another habit. That is why as soon as I stopped the diet program, old habit of snacking and eating greasy food kicked back in.

Benjamin Franklin, the renowned US Diplomat and scientist, devised a method of self development. He made a list of 13 things he wanted to learn or master. Each week, he would devote himself to learn one thing in the list. On the 14th week, he returned to the first item on the list, and so on. In 52 weeks, or a year, he had reiterate the list 4 times.

I reckon that building a habit will take a similar route. I need to identify a list of habits I want to develop in a year, and to set aside a specific amount of time to learn the habit.

The book also mention what is known as a keystone habit. It is one habit that will cause you to develop other productive habits. For example, let’s say that you want to make it a habit to jog every morning. To give you enough time for that, you have to wake up earlier than the time you are used to wake up now. To wake up early, you must sleep early. To sleep early, you must stop watching TV and get in bed early. To sleep early without digestive trouble, you have to have dinner early. And in time, you become a healthier person who jog regularly, sleep early, watch less TV, and who do not eat at night. Morning jog in this case is your keystone habit.

The keystone habit that I need to develop is to write down my daily activities. I chose that because my biggest failure is not in my health and well being, but in my use of time. By writing down what I did daily, I will have a clear idea of my use of time and can manage it better.

What about you? What habit do you want to develop in the new year?

When Another Wish Came True

I’ve written about this a couple of years ago. And then it happened again. And again. So I think I ought to write about it again.

Has it happened to you that you were innocently wishing for something, and then suddenly it unexpectedly came true?

Small example. Let’s say one evening you were bored at home. You began to think about stuff that would make you happy. And then you remembered that little pizza place across town where you had the most fun you’d ever known in the past twenty years or so. You wished you could assemble the gang again for a night out there.

Your phone suddenly rang. It was your best friend asking if you were free because the gang was in town and – what were the odds – they wanted to have dinnner at that place you just thought about!

A few years ago I watched a documentary program on TV (I cannot remember whether it was on Discovery or National Geographic channel). The program showcased a modern miracle in Seoul, a mega city that was plagued with traffic jams.

Instead of building more highway to ease the congestions, the city government decided to do something that may seem to be counter intuitive. They upgraded the public transportation system, and put in place a state of the art traffic information system.

The major unusual step was they torn down a major highway into the city, and restore the Cheonggyecheon, an ancient stream in the middle of the city that for many years had been covered by the highway.

They took water from the river Han, had it processed, and put it into the stream, resulting in a clear water flowing in the stream.

On the day they opened the restored stream for public, the mayor took his shoes off and waded into the clear water. He scooped some water into his palm and took a sip. A stream that used to be so filthy that they closed it under concrete now filled with fresh water good enough to drink.

I was mesmerized by the program. I made a promise to myself to one day go to Seoul and see this miracle for myself.

The problem was I didn’t know how I could make it happen.

Fast forward to 2012.

When planning for a company trip to Honolulu, we made an interesting discovery. Most of the possible flights to Hawaii from Indonesia with single stop must have more than 12 hours of transit. After comparing alternatives from several airlines it was decided that we would fly on Korean Airlines and to fill the 12-hour layover by taking a day tour of Seoul.

We had a great time spending the day visiting temples, palaces, museums, markets, and trying local food. At the end of the tour our guide asked, “We still have a couple of hours left before we have to get you back to the airport. Is there any more place you guys want to see?” I raised my hand and asked, “How about the Cheunggye…” I knotted my eyebrows trying to recall the name. Her face suddenly lit up. “You mean the Cheonggyecheon? Sure! It’s not so far from here!”

As I walked along the paved bank of the Cheonggye stream that cloudy winter afternoon, marveling at the clear fresh water running in it, I wondered at the series of what seemed to be unrelated events that finally brought me there. It was nothing short of miraculous.

Make a wish. Have a dream. You have nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

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