What Dad wants you to know about COMMITMENT

Son, Dad is extremely tired and sleepy tonight … but I didn’t want to go to bed without leaving you a post.  When I set this blog up as ‘Daily Conversations with Dad,’ I really meant daily. And I intend to keep my word, for as long as I could.  That brings to mind something I wanted to you to learn, a quality I find so fundamental to a person’s success – commitment.

Commitment - the Gear Shift

Commitment makes life work. Commitment is the secret ingredient that translates our words and intentions into actions, which in turn bring about the results we experience in life. It’s like the ‘gear shift’ that distinguishes a Ferrari stuck at neutral (roaring loudly but going nowhere), from an engineering wonder fulfilling its potential as intended by its designer.

Without commitment, promises remain unfulfilled, dreams not made real, and life not fully lived out.  Without commitment, projects remain incomplete, goals unmet, and businesses fail.  Without commitment, conflicts remain unresolved, relationships stay broken, and families fall apart.

Commitment enables your mum and I to stick together for over 15 years, through thick and thin, goods times and bad.  And commitment enables her to wake up early every morning to send you to school, even on her worst days.  It is a force that is to be reckoned with, tapped into, and properly harnessed.

I want to share with you one of my favorite quotes on commitment from a passage taken from Scottish explorer W.H. Murray’s book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. Speaking of the beginning of his expedition, he expressed that they hadn’t done anything yet, but then clarifies:

But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money–booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence.

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way.  I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”

Today, I want you to think about something that you dream of doing or becoming, commit yourself fully to realising it, and begin it boldly but taking just one small step towards it. Now, go do it!

Love,

Your Committed Dad

Make sure the spare works!

Last night, I watched an old episode of NCIS where agent Gibbs tricked a marine to confess to murder by daring him to jump off the plane with a spare parachute that he knew was sabotaged.  It didn’t mean too much to me then, until I found myself out on the road with a flat battery in my phone. What made it worse is that the spare battery (or power source) that I had been carrying in my haversack is flat as well.

What use is a spare if it isn’t working? Worse still, it gave me a false sense of security – I became less rigorous about checking my battery life before leaving the house.  Rushing to meet a new client, I had to borrow a charger at Coffee Beans just to charge it up enough to let me access my contact details.  Five minutes of recharge and a cup of latte saved the day.

After the meeting, I headed straight to the hospital for my medical review, and found myself driving on the express way, with a fuel indicator that’s been blinking on empty for the past 2 days. I was thinking, “The spare fuel is going to run out anytime soon.”   Furthermore, it was raining and I didn’t exactly know the way (guilty of being over reliant on the Maps app on my phone).

The thought of having a car stalled midway and no phone to call for help, and possibly missing the appointment (I was quite anxious to know my test results) gave me a scare. I got off the express way immediately, headed for the nearest Esso kiosk, refueled before the car dies on me, and arrived at the hospital on time.  On hindsight, it turned out that the route I had taken was the most optimum way to get from where I was to where I needed to be. St Gabriel must be watching over my shoulders.

So, what have I learnt from all these? I’m grateful not to have to learn it the hard way. Make sure the spare or backup works … be it a spare battery, tyre, computer, cash, pen, spectacles, underwear, etc. Develop the habit of checking that the spare is available and functional, because when we need to resort to using it, we are usually at the brink of desperation.

I’m going to make sure I backup my work more diligently, check the pressure of the spare tyre in the trunk periodically, have my emergency power source fully charged at all times.

Might sound a bit paranoid, but hey, better be safe than sorry. What about you?

Love,

Your Semi-paranoid Dad

How to make New Year Resolutions that actually work

As the year comes to a close, a topic that springs readily to mind is ‘New Year Resolutions.’ Well, there are so many jokes being cracked about New Year Resolutions that it is likely to fade into history … becoming an ancient ritual practiced only by the traditionalists.

I know many people who got so fed up with making the same resolutions over and over again, year after year (like lose weight, quit smoking, change job, spend more quality time with loved ones, etc.) till they eventually gave up.  Only a few stuck to their resolutions with determination, steadfastness, tenacity, perseverance .. and reaped the reward from looking back at the end of year with a sense of pride and fulfillment as they said to themselves, “I did it!”

The question I have for you is, “Which category of people do you rather be?”

Put in another way, would you rather live with the reasons, excuses, or complaints about how useless New Year resolutions are, or enjoy the results from making them work for you?

Results or Reasons? You choose.

This time last year, fed up with reasons, I chose results.  Rather than keep trying to ‘exercise more regularly,’ I decided to commit myself to complete a 10km race (that’s double the furthest distance I had run in my life in 40 years!). Plus, I thought running will help me shed some weight too.

But you know the story … I hesitated to sign up for the race for awhile, and by the time I decided to go, the registration is closed. It’s been fully fully subscribed. What’s left was either the half-marathon or the full distance.  Thankfully, with some sense of realism, I opted for the former … not without some apprehension.  Your mother was somewhat concerned, and warned me not to push myself too hard (men with a big ego tend to do stupid things to the point of dropping dead).  “Think of your family. Don’t you die on me over this, it’s not worth it,” she said.

Standard Chartered Marathon 2011

This story has a beautiful ending. Eventually, I did it.  And what made it possible, were a few things that I thought are worth sharing with you.  It might also help give some insights on how to make New Year resolutions that actually work. Here there are …

  1. Pick something that is really meaningful to you.  Focus on an area of life that you feel strongly about. Being over forty and overweight (BMI score says I’m obese), health is a clearly big thing for me, although not so in younger years. Running is simply the means. It’s being healthy and fit that I was truly after.
  2. Be specific. “I’ll exercise more regularly next year” isn’t good enough. My resolution was:  “I’ll run 10 km in the StandChart Marathon in December 2011.”
  3. Declare it.  Don’t keep it a secret. Share with someone who will hold you accountable (preferably in a supportive and encouraging manner, not mockery).
  4. Create a structure.  Relying on ‘will power’ to realise your New Year resolutions is too hard work.  We are creatures of habit and convenience. Create a ‘structure’ that helps you establish a routine or ritual. For me, the 16-week training plan that I downloaded from the marathon website, a playlist on my iPhone, a pair of comfortable sneakers, and a running belt to hold my phone and water provided the perfect structure I needed. Each day, I looked at the plan, and try to clock the time as prescribed. I hadn’t always complied (70% is good enough), but I never missed any rest (non-running) day.
  5. Envision the ending.  Lastly, I held a vision of me crossing the finishing line, and hugging you boys and your mum with my sweaty body.  That kept me going the whole time during the entire 2 hour 46 minutes ordeal. Thank you for being there to support your old man.

What have I learnt from all these? New Year Resolutions actually work … if and only if, you are willing to work them.  Now, I could tell my ‘success story’ with pride … that’s a lot more fun than making up excuses about why I hadn’t ran.

So next year, I’m committed to complete the full marathon. What about you? What are your New Year Resolutions for 2012?

Love,

Your Proud Dad

What do you want to be remembered for?

I’m in a soul-searching mood today … especially after a lovely retreat hosted by auntie Gennet and Jacq, our new neighbours.  Although the retreat focused more on being grateful for 2011 and clarifying our intentions for 2012,  I can’t help thinking about the ‘big questions’ that I have been ignoring for sometime now …

  1. What do I want to be remembered for when I’m gone?
  2. What legacy would I leave behind?
  3. What would I hope to hear your mother and you say about me?
  4. What would I say to God when asked “What have you done with the gifts I have given you?”
  5. What is the biggest regret in my life if I were to die in the next hour?

For the first question … three words came to mind: Truth, Choice, Action.  Collectively, they underpin my life’s work as a catalyst for the transformation of individuals, organisations, and hopefully, in time to come, societies.

I believe that transformation begins with …

uncovering, confronting, and accepting the truth, followed by making a conscious choice that is aligned with our deepest values and authentic intentions … which leads naturally to new actions that will bring about the desired changes, results, or new realities.

It’s as simple as that, but not always easy. Give it a go. Pick an area of your life that is not working as well as you desire, and test run the Truth>Choice>Action process. May you experience the profound impact it could possibly bring. Meanwhile, let me continue my reflections on the remaining questions.

Love,

Your Soul-searching Dad

Celebrate the Past, Create the Future

2 more weeks to 2012, and I’m feeling incredibly reflective, as I always do at this time of the year. My mind flips intermittently between looking back to the wonderful events in 2011, and gazing at the future to imagine how the new year shall unfold.

I am truly grateful for a wonderful year – possibly one of the best in recent years.  Spiritually, I took a huge plunge … as you boys witnessed my baptism at the church of St. Mary of the Angels during Easter. Physically, I completed my first half-marathon (and exceeded my original goal of running just 10 km by 100%). Professionally, I became a member of two global firms (Bridge Partnership and Coach in a Box) with an unusual degree of soulfulness and humanness in their approach to doing business.  On the family front, your mother and I celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary … and I am glad that we managed to spend our Friday evenings learning Aikido together throughout the year.

2011 has been truly spectacular. I thank God for all these blessings, and pray for more good years ahead for all of us.

What about you? How has 2011 been for you? What are you grateful for? Spare some thought on these questions, and jot them down.

What came to mind also, are some thoughts about the future.  I think of the personal changes I wish to make, new goals I set out to achieve, new things I wish to learn, new adventures and experiences we would share as a family … I encourage you to envision what you wish to create, have, and experience in 2012 as well.

Can’t wait to hear from you. When you get back from your vacation, let’s celebrate the past together and share about the future we wish to create in 2012!

Love,

Your Reflective Dad

An Important Distinction

A few days I ago, I touched on how wisdom lies in the ability to ‘see the difference.’  And one of the distinctions to pay attention to, is the difference between what’s important and what’s unimportant.

This is so fundamental and crucial, yet often most easily neglected.  As a result, we get caught up with a frenzy of activities that call for our attention, and ended up with being busy without necessarily being effective. I’m often guilty of doing that too, like checking my emails and updating Facebook frequently when I could have channelled those time and energy to writing, blogging or connecting with people  whom matter most to me (like you boys).

Also, sometimes, even when we KNOW what’s important, we don’t necessarily DO anything about it. We slack off, and pretend that it’s OK. Take health for instance. Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for health, but few make time to exercise … even if it is as simple as taking a brisk walk or using the staircase instead of the elevator.  How absurd?

What gets in the way or causes the gap between knowing and doing?  I suspect the culprit is that we don’t actually know enough of the cost of non-doing, because the effect is usually felt or experienced only further down the road.  People don’t fall sick because of the lack of exercise for one day.  But the prolonged habit of passivity can lead to a decline in the immune system, and makes us more susceptible to fall victim to virus attack.

An Important Reminder

Once you begin to examine carefully the cost of not doing something about what’s important, it will become obvious to you that there is absolutely nothing more important than knowing what’s important and doing something about it.

With that insight in mind, try starting your day by naming the 3 important things that you will attend to that day, and make sure you do something about them all by end of day. I am pretty convinced that developing the discipline of bridging the gap between knowing and doing will bring you some extraordinary success in life.

Love,

Your Insightful Dad

Who am I?

I’m in a playful mode today, and have a riddle for you. See if you could figure this out …

I am patient, I am kind. I don’t envy, I don’t boast, I am not proud.  I am not rude, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I don’t delight in evil, but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always hope, always persevere.  I never fail.

Who am I? (Hint: I am not a person).

Love,

Your Playful Dad

Simple truths, complex lies.

“The truth shall set you free.” “Truth hurts.” Have you heard these sayings?

Put together, these two aphorism can explain why we sometimes don’t feel as free, liberated or alive as we possibly could.  Often, the truth can really hurt. We don’t wish to face the truth because of the unpleasantness or pain it might bring.

It is human nature to seek pleasure and avoid pain. In our instinctive urge to avoid pain, we  often shortchange ourselves and forgo the joy, pleasure, or freedom that is otherwise available to us.

Let me confess on a truth that I have been avoiding. I’m good at starting, and poor at finishing. There is a saying in Malay that describes it well – “Hangat hangat tahi ayam.”  It translates literally to “Like the heat of a chicken’s poop” – that remains hot only briefly, and then cools down shortly after.  Clearly, I had issues with sustainability.

Take writing a book for example, I have lost count of the number of unfinished projects that I had started over the past decade.  With the exception of an ebook (A Concise Guide to the NEW RULE of Positive Parenting), which I wrote hurriedly in 2 weeks so as to honor my promise to offer it as a Mother’s Day gift to over 500 participants of a public parenting seminar I conducted, none of my other writings had come close to completion.

I used to give myself excuses like … “I don’t think that’s worth publishing”, “There is a more exciting title”, “I’ll complete it during my next break”, etc.  In truth, these were simply complex lies that the ego had fabricated to justify my incompletion.  The simple truth is – I lacked the discipline to write a book.  Having a brilliant idea, a compelling vision, and even a strong desire to realise the idea, just isn’t enough.

I am convinced now that any endeavor that is worthwhile involves some degree of hard work, persistence, and perseverance.  I have absolutely no problem with working hard, especially when I’m on fire.  However, keeping that up over a sustain period of time is what I struggle with.

In hindsight, I realise why I took up running in early 2011, and eventually ran a half-marathon in December.  It wasn’t about losing weight (shedding 0.1kg in after a full year of regular running is a pathetic achievement). Instead, it’s about finding a way to prove to myself that I’m capable of ‘finishing’ what I had started.

I did it! I survived 21km without much pain.  And more importantly, it was the discipline of adhering to the 16-week training schedule that conditioned my body for the distance.

Honestly, I’m more proud of sticking to the structure, than completing the run. Now, I  strive to apply that newly found discipline to bring my long overdue book projects to completion.

Yes, I was once a poor finisher. Confronting that unpleasant truth liberates me to live more fully.  Son, remember the message at the 5km mark: “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” Whenever you find yourself caught up with the lies or excuses to justify why you didn’t get the results you deserve, get off it and choose to see the simple truth, even if it hurts.  Let the truth set you free and journey forward with pride!

Love,

Your Liberated Dad

Happiness is just one choice away.

Everybody wants to be happy, and yet there are many unhappy people in the world.  As human beings, being able to experience both happiness and unhappiness is perfectly healthy.  What’s undesirable is getting stuck in the latter for a long time.  Life is too short to be filled with excessive sorrow or unhappiness.

Children are a lot more resilient when it comes to dealing with unhappiness.  Somehow, that ability gradually diminishes as we grow.  I want to share with you a little ‘secret’ that can help you bounce back up more readily … and experience more ups than downs in life.   Whenever you are unhappy with someone, particularly your loved ones, pause to ask yourself this simple question: “Do I rather be happy or be right?”

You see, human beings are inherently ‘wired’ to want to be ‘right,’ as if the survival of our ego depends on being right. We want to be right about our beliefs, judgment, assertions, etc.  and would put up a good fight to defend them when challenged.  However, having observed many unhappy people so far, I noticed something common in them.  They rather be right at the expense of their happiness.  They hang on to unpleasant experiences far longer than they should, hold on to grudges and resentment, secretly wanting to make other people ‘wrong.’  I often wonder what it would be like, if only they are willing to make one simple choice … to give up the need to be right, and let the possibility of happiness unfold again in their lives.

So, next time you get into a conflict or unhappy situation with someone, remember … your happiness is just one choice away.  Imagine Dad standing before you, asking “Son,  do you rather be happy or be right?”  I hope you will make the ‘right’ choice, and attract the butterfly (as Thoreau put it) to come and sit on your shoulder.

Love,

Your Happy Dad

Wisdom to know the difference.

I often hear people say, “These days, kids know a lot” or “Kids are very smart.”  That raises a few questions for me, such as … Are we (the adults) less knowledgeable or dumber compared to our children? Has the human species evolved so rapidly such that today’s children are so drastically different from yesterday’s?

I doubt so.  I attribute it to the ‘information age’ or ‘knowledge-based era’ that we now live in – an exciting time when information is literally at our finger tips (with smart phones, iPad, wi-fi, and internet connection of course).  Much of what was once highly priced ‘specialised knowledge’ is now freely available and accessible on the internet.  Who needs to buy another how-to book when a Google search can bring up, within seconds, more articles than one could possibly read in a life time?

Perhaps very soon, knowledge will cease to be in demand anymore. What is needed more  will be WISDOM. There are those who know a lot, yet remain foolish, and those who know little, but are wise. I urge you to start developing wisdom now … starting with one of my favorites that is featured in the famous Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the SERENITY to accept the things I cannot change; 
COURAGE to change the things I can;
and WISDOM to know the difference.

~ Reinhold Niebuhr

I get on with life with a lot more ease and peace of mind, with that wisdom alone.  And I’m particularly struck by the last line … “wisdom to know the difference.” Could be that the  pathway to wisdom, lies in developing the ability to notice the subtle differences that will make a significant impact in our lives?

What might these distinctions be?  Here are some to get you thinking …

  • What we can control vs. What we can’t control
  • What we need vs. What we want
  • What is important vs. What is unimportant
  • What is morally right vs. What is ethically wrong
  • What is factual vs. What is fictional (fabricated by our interpretation and imaginations)
  • What is undeniably true vs. What is seemingly true (but unvalidated)
  • What is essential vs. What is superficial
  • What is helping or enabling vs. what is hindering or limiting

The list goes on … now, what is the one new ‘wisdom’ that you will develop today that will make a difference in your life?  Tell me, for I’d love to benefit from it too.

Love,

Your Wise Dad