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?

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The Importance of Being a Good Person

During Dale Carnegie & Associates 67th Annual International Convention in Honolulu last December, I had a conversation with a colleague from Taiwan. I complimented him on the success of Taiwan team in the past fiscal year. With great enthusiasm I recounted some facts about their achievements (which in retrospect should be something that he already knew).

Of course behind all my excitement I wanted to know how they managed to make it happen. To be honest, I was expecting something in the line of, “Well, our team got together, we drew a strategy, and in the execution everyone chipped in their best effort.” Something that shows camaraderie, team work, hard work, focus, and so on.

Instead, Arthur gave me the biggest smile and said, “We have a good boss.”

At that moment, the doors were opened and everyone in the foyer began pouring into the ballroom for the morning’s General Session. I did not get to ask him what he meant by that. I wish I had pulled him aside and grilled him more on that. Since I didn’t, so I was left to myself to figure it out.

I know his boss. Although John Hei is a popular public figure in Taiwan, the first impression you take on him will not show that. He speaks with a soft voice, and he smiles a lot. One thing that truly leaves a strong impression on me is his humility. He is already in his 70s. In Asian culture, he is considered a senior to whom people pay a great respect. People will understand if he would choose to stand in the sidelines and let the younger generation do the hardwork.

Despite of that, he is not beyond sitting in a classroom with people half his age, to learn from a trainer 20 years his junior, as evident in a program that I had the privilege to be part of in 2011. He did the same exercises as the rest of the class, he took part in small group discussions, and the most amazing thing for me was he was willing to be coached in front of the younger people.

I am sure that is not where the list stops. If I were to interview his team members about him, I think I can get at least 100 more reasons why he is such a good and inspiring boss.

For me, this is where leadership plays an important role in an organization. All the management knowledge remains important to run a successful business. But in the end, what drives people is their leader. What the leader does, what the leader says, how the leader relates with others, will be the driving force behind a great organization.

Lessons from the Man of Action

The title on his business card said “Executive President – Asia Pacific.” It was quite intimidating for us, the three young visitors.

For me, it was the first time I had a meeting with a client in which I met the top man himself. No subordinates present, just us and the man. From what the title sounded, he’s not only the boss for the country, but also for the entire Asia-Pacific operation of the company. It did carry a lot of weight.

The broad forehead gave him the appearance of a scientist or an academic faculty member, instead of a corporate executive. His tall build, broad shoulder and tanned demeanor immediately commanded respect. He was there strictly for business.

“I assume you would like an introduction about our company,” I said, several handshakes, introductions and business card exchanges later. He nodded, and I quickly turned my 10.1-inch netbook to face him. I already loaded my presentation, and I meant to present it right from the device.

“Wait, you’ll need a projector,” he said, standing up. I thought he was going reach for the phone and call someone to get it.

Instead, he walked up to a sideboard cabinet, opened a drawer, and pulled up a small, black bag. He then proceeded to put the bag on the table, unzipped it, and took a small projector, about the size of a standard Bible. Without a word, he began to connect cables into it.

We were taken by surprise. It was an awkward moment. Should we help him, or not? It was apparent that he was the hands-on type of guy who didn’t mind doing all the work if needed, regardless of his title.

“It’s.. It’s the smallest projector I’ve ever seen..” I blurted weakly. But he didn’t seem to notice. He handed one end of the VGA cable for me to attach to my netbook. No time for small, insignificant talk. It was time to get the show on the road.

It was a no-nonsense meeting. Unlike interactions with fellow Indonesians, this one proceeded seriously. He listened to my presentation, asked questions, and he in turn explained what he wanted.

He had a clear idea what he wanted to see and what he wanted us to do. He knew the kind of people he believed to be capable of giving him the results he was looking for. No doubt, no nonsense. He chose to meet us ourselves instead of delegating the task so he could be sure that we got it fresh and direct from him.

In an hour, the meeting was concluded.

There was much to learn from the experience.
1. Being the boss sometimes mean you have to get down, get your hand dirty and do the job to be sure that it gets done right. Delegation is important, but there are things that you have to do it yourself to get it right.

2. Title is just a title. It shouldn’t stop you from doing what needs to be done. Goal oriented action is more important than your job description.

3. Knowing what you want, where you are going, and taking the necessary action to move towards that direction is what leadership is all about. Planning, organizing, directing, and the rest of management are just tools.

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Keeping Customer Feedback System from Backfiring

Customer Feedback is Good Source of Ideas for Improvements
Last night my wife and I went to a sushi restaurant for dinner. We chose a sushi place that is quite popular, located near the business district of the city.

It was a busy evening, and we had to wait a few minutes before we could get two seats in the non-smoking sections. Not unusual for a well-known eatery, so we didn’t mind the wait. We even put it to use by perusing the colorful and illustrated menu.

After a small mishap, where the waiter took us to our seats when those were not ready, we were finally seated. We placed our order, and not long after, the waiter returned with the food.

The food was good and fresh, the wasabi was strong, the service was OK. In general, we didn’t have anything to complaint, save for a fly that alighted on one of the dishes. In Jakarta, it wasn’t a big deal.

We found a customer feedback card on the table. Hoping to get special offers from the restaurant for customers who would give feedbacks, we decided to fill it out.

We paid our check, handed the feedback card to our waiter, and headed for the door.

My attention was drawn to the way the waiter reacted when she received the card. It was like she was getting a bad news. She lost her smile, and her face turned from friendly into concerned. She then went to the bar, gave the card to someone, and whispered something. I could not see how the other person react because I already passed the bar.

It was strange for me. I could only deduce that in that restaurant, feedback cards are synonymous to complaints, and any waiter who gets a card from a customer will be reprimanded.

Purpose of Customer Feedback
A feedback card is created to enable direct communication between customers to management. A feedback relayed through employees may be filtered or watered down, so that when it reached management, it won’t be true to what the customer wants to say.

It is a good source of information on how a company or organization can improve its customer service. It’s like checking for tiny punctures in a tire by putting it into a tub of water and looking for air bubbles: a feedback card helps company to quickly pinpoint weak spots in its service. It can also help company to identify good practices done by its employees that can be standardized throughout the organization.

Like any other monitoring tools, the effectiveness of feedback cards rely heavily on the attitude of the people using it. There are at least three parties involved:
(1) The customer as the source of feedback. The effectiveness of feedback is affected by the motivation behind it. Do customers write it as expression of satisfaction, dissatisfaction with expectation for improvement, or as a mean of getting back at employees whom they don’t like?
(2) The employees whose service may be the subject of the feedback. There may be among employees fear of getting bad-mouthed by customers. This fear may be even stronger when management tends to react strongly to negative feedback.
(3) The management as the recipient of the feedback. If management uses feedback to assign blames, it will render the feedback system useless. Employees may simply throw feedback cards into the trash bins, regardless of what they actually say.

It is therefore important for management to look at feedbacks in the most objective and supportive way.

Three things to mind when receiving feedbacks:
(A) Management must be able to tell the difference between sensible feedbacks, and poisonous ones, in which customers lash anger at employees who may have been just doing their job under difficult situations. When getting such inputs, management must be able to separate the poison from the cure, the customer’s blind emotion from the true circumstances.

(B) Management must take responsibility to make improvements as the feedbacks suggest. It will do no good to only penalize employees who got bad reviews from customers. Management must see any feedback in a bigger picture than just the mistake of one person. Could it be that there has been insufficient training for the employees? Could there be better way to help employees serve customers better?

(C) Even if after a careful and thorough investigation it is found that a bad feedback is genuinely a result of the mistake of an employee, management must take a wise approach in dealing with the situation. It must be seen as an opportunity for improvement instead as a hanging. The employee should be helped (a) to see how it is his or her responsibility to improve, (b) to know what improvements are expected from him or her, and (c) to see how he or she could achieve the improvements. From here, further feedback from management would be most useful and valuable so the employee could tell whether he or she has hit the target.

Any feedback is always beneficial. But what really matters is what is done about it.

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Pain, Pleasure and the Big Durian

I don’t do it so often, and I felt like I was ready to snap at anyone over the tiniest thing. I wonder how could thousands of people stand that, day in and day out?

I’m talking about driving in Jakarta’s rush hour. There is no rushing in rush hour in Jakarta, or the Big Durian as some call it after the prickly and smelly fruit popular in the South East Asia region. Everyone moves so slowly, it normally takes twice as long to drive the same distance as in normal traffic. That is if you’re lucky. If not, like when it’s raining hard with thunderstorm, then make it three times as long. Or ten times as long if it’s your downtrodden unlucky day, like when there’s a big flooding in the city.

Some calculated that the traffic jams cost the city about 550 million dollars annually. Enough to build about several hundred new school buildings.

So far there is no immediate nor long term solution. The government tried to get car drivers to take public transportation. But it may take years before that could happen.

I am humbly thanking God that I live only 5 minutes away from my office. But even that is not forever.

Time is becoming more and more precious for Jakarta people. You get less and less things done in a day. And the less things done are not at the office. It’s at home. Less time to rest, less time to spend with family, less time to do your passion.

Everything so mixed up here in Jakarta. Like I said, the people here have a love and hate relationship with the city. We love the high standard of living (at least compared to most regions in Indonesia), but hate the jams, and hate having to lose time in traffic.

What to do, then? For now, some take the attitude of “just enjoy it,” after a recent tagline in a cigarette commercial. Some focus on the love, some focus on the hate. And some just numb their souls and stop caring. Just going through the motion, and pretending as if it doesn’t cause any pain. Some others party and dance the pain away into the night.

For me, I would say I’m focusing on the love part about the city. I keep reminding myself to be thankful for all the good things the city provides. I am trying to keep myself from blaming and cursing, which, to be honest, are not easy to do.

How about you? What is your take and attitude about the place you live in?

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Lessons In Team

I watched a rerun of the first season of MasterChef US last night. It’s a TV game show contest for amateur cooks to win the MasterChef title and a $100,000 prize. I already knew who would win the competition, yet it was interesting to watch the episodes that I missed.

In last night’s episode, the remaining ten contestants are divided into two groups, blue and red. Each must prepare burgers for 100 hungry truckers. The winner of the challenge would be the team with the most votes for best burger from the truckers.

The blue team was led by the winner of an earlier challenge, and he picked best people to be his team members. The red team comprised of who were left.

As expected, the blue team had a very good start. They were well organized. Everyone knew what to do, and there was a clear sense of direction. When the first truckers arrived, they were all set and ready to serve the burgers.

The red team were at first a mess. They made a mistake of mixing blue cheese into the patty, and the cheese melted right into the hot grill. They basically ruined their first batch. But they quickly adapted their strategy. They made a new batch of burgers with all the tastiest ingredients thrown into it: meat, pork bacon, barbecue sauce, and cheese. They even put double meat patties when ordered.

The tide turned to the red team’s favor with votes for their burger adding up fast, and soon they were leading the tally. The judges came to the blue team with the red team’s burger and told them to taste it, and to adjust their recipe to match. But the blue team leader adamantly refused, saying that the red team’s burger was disgusting, and the blue team’s burger was better.

The truckers however, disagreed. In a short time later, 51 of them voted for the red team, making them the winner of the challenge.

Here are the interesting lessons:

(1) Do what is best for situation at hand, not what can serve your ego. The judges said that the chefs should think like a restaurant owners and serve what the customers wanted: gourmet burger, or simply the tastiest and satisfying burger. The greatest mistake would be to putting your ego first by serving gourmet meal for a non-discriminating crowd who are just looking to satisfy their hunger. The red team was able to discern this, and won the challenge.

(2) It is not shameful to admit that we are running the wrong strategy, and adjust necessarily. It’s better to be a humble winner than an arrogant loser. This was the blue team’s mistake. They were so confident that their burger was the best, they refused to accept the fact.

(3) Sometimes starting wrongly doesn’t mean that all is lost. As long as we can keep our spirit up, make improvements, and focus on getting better results, there is always hope that we can finish proudly.

(4) Never underestimate your team members, although they may not be considered as the best. What matter are:
A. Strong leadership with clear focus and ability to make quick decision
B. Spirit of camaraderie. Team of underdogs with excellent L’esprit de corps can still put up a relentless fight. A “Dream Team” can turn out to be a “Nightmare Team” if its members are more interested in assigning blame and defending ego.

Let’s go team!

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To Know or Not To Know Your Passion

For the past months my wife followed the Masterchef US on Star World, and I tagged along whenever I wasn’t too busy with something else. It was a reality show about a group of amateur cooks competing for the title “Masterchef.”

It was a wow-ing show for us because it brought the aspects of cooking we never knew existed, even after watching dozens of cooking shows from some of the best chefs. Like how in one episode 24 contestants came up with 24 different egg dishes, and none of them was egg-benedict-ive.

But after all, the show boiled down to ambition to win the $250,000 prize to start a restaurant, and a cooking book deal.

Tonight, after switching from one boring show to another, we came across “Junior Masterchef Australia.” It offers the same theme as the regular show, but the contestants were much younger.

The youngest one is an 8-year-old girl.

All of them cook like a pro. As a measuring stick, my wife said, “I don’t think I can cook what they are cooking.” Our jaws dropped as we were wondering how on earth these kids could cook like that.

The most adorable thing was, unlike “reality” TV shows in Indonesia where children tended (or perhaps intended) to mimic grown ups, those children work the competition kitchen as children. They cook as if they are playing their favorite game.

It was so enjoyable just to watch those kids at work, I really didn’t care whether the end result was delicious, well presented dishes or not. They were so lovable being children.

What stroke me as extraordinary was when one of the children said, “This is my passion. I want to do this in my life.”

Imagine finding your passion at such a tender age.

And to think that an elementary school student understands the meaning of the word “passion” is already mind blowing, especially considering that some of us probably never heard the word until the past few years.

Browsing through the channels again, we found “Gotta Dance UK” on AXN. The first season was won by a child dancer named Akai.

Where will us adults be in a few years from now if children are already making their marks in the world today?

Will there be hope for us?

It is encouraging to remember the words that I found in the book “Your Job Is Not Your Career” written by Indonesia’s career coach René Suhardono. The words went something like this, “If you are 20-30 years old now, you still have 30-40 years to live. It is therefore important to find your passion now.”

In other words, we adults still have decades to go before our dying days. Yes we probably spent the past half or quarter of our lives in the dark, not really knowing what our passions are. But even at this point in life, we still can make a choice: to make the rest of it more meaningful by knowing and living our passions, or to live by going through the motion without knowing what our ultimate purpose in life.

It is therefore not to late to dive deeply, and take chances now.

Have a great, adventurous life!

Masterchef and Junior Masterchef are TV Programs originated by BBC
Star World is a cable TV channel owned by News Corporation
AXN is a cable TV channel owned by Sony Pictures Entertainment