Flashback: About 2 years ago, I quit my full-time job and set off on the road less travelled: Start my own design brand to provide focused design services, or more commonly known as, become a freelancer.
It was the most uncertain period I’ve ever experienced in my life.
In spite of the ups and downs, the learning curves, struggles, the prices to pay as lessons for turning self-employed, this period of transition also led me to discover so much more about myself, my ideals, ways of life, my destinations.
During this period, different friends came up to me randomly to tell me they noticed a difference in me: “You look happier now” / “You seem to be much more at peace” / “You speak up a lot more now compared to last time, where you hardly made a sound”.
(For the record, I still become tongue-tied in social situations with more than 3 people present, simply because I’m the classic Introvert that Susan Cain describes in her “Quiet” book.)
Granted, I have to thank many people for directly and indirectly facilitating this change. Some of them include my family; my yoga teachers; my friends that stuck around even when I could not scoot off to do fun things with them; my orthodontist who gave me new-found confidence and a healthier self-esteem; the spiritual teachers that appeared magically when I needed guidance.
I am not exactly Happy. But I’m definitely Happier.
I wouldn’t proclaim to be happy all the time because that would be a lie. Rather, I am much more at peace now. With that said, I also believe that Happiness is a state of mind. It is a journey.
— Steps to A More Zen Life —
So, I decided to make a list of some of the things I did differently compared to the past, in exchange for an improved quality of life. I will continue on these actions and improvise accordingly!
1. Practise Gratitude
The most important practice I do is to Practise Gratitude. It might seem hard at the beginning, but as often as needed, on mornings, I force myself to sit and count blessings and write them down on my pretty Kikki.K notepapers. It can be being grateful for clean water, healthy food, time with family, electricity, picking up yoga, having money for yoga, having time for yoga, being educated, being able to articulate my thoughts, being able to travel, not having to go to office (yes!), not having to take public transport at peak hours, sleeping in peace, living in a wonderful city, the luxury of personal space, really, the list goes on!
I feel happier already typing the above paragraph! Gratitude has a magical way of improving your mood, by making you look at things and matters in a positive, renewed perspective. It sets you up right for the rest of the day.
2. Practise Mindfulness
Mindfulness is about staying in the present moment and seeing things as they are, not as worries (future), or regrets (past).
I took two short courses on mindfulness last year and they already gave me plenty of benefits. The best part is, I know I will continue to reap the benefits for a long time.
Despite mindfulness being a really deep study, what I learned from the courses became extensions to what yoga does to my physical body: create space. Practising mindfulness changes the way I respond to events and people. It does magic to the mind. It is so powerful and life-changing that I wish there will be more people who can open up to it and benefit.
.. to develop a strong mind.
To achieve mindfulness, one of the techniques is to meditate. Sitting in silence for ten minutes a day can be gruelling. I use Headspace for short, guided sessions!
4. Focus on the Good
If you keep your eyes trained for a long time on a depressing sight, it will, of course, have a negative influence on your mood.
But if you turn your head to switch to a nicer view, your mood improves, positive energy grows miraculously, and you will gain resources to go on.
5. Consciously Walk Away from Negative Energy
In the past, I failed to consider that what goes on in my inner world could be an effect of the outer world. I get through days — be it work days or weekends — almost accepting come what may. When I stay for a long time in a negative environment, I find myself drained and moody at the end of the day.
If you think of the space that surrounds you as a temple, you will protect and nurture your environments carefully. As a result of practising mindfulness, I saw how important it is to take active steps to stay away from negative energy.
Now, I note the presence of negative energy if it were to manifest, refusing to feed it so it will die off. Negative energy is like toxins that infiltrate silently. I avoid excessive drama, angry humans and people that encourage hate. I took active steps to stay away from things that will not serve my mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. I grew an allergy to negativity. If I cannot make a positive difference, I have no choice but to distance myself from people that tend to only speak ill of others.
It is equally important to get rid of shit, literally. Our body needs to rejuvenate itself by detoxing (through poop and sweat). For the sweat part, I went back for regular yoga classes these two years and have never looked back since. Yoga gives every individual so many benefits, I wondered why isn’t the whole world practising yoga.
7. Let Go of the Past
The past includes what happened 5 years ago, or yesterday, or half an hour ago. The baggages are seriously too heavy to be carried everywhere. Put the load down before it cuts and hurt you.
8. Do the Things That Will Make You Sleep Well At Night
This means not doing harm to others, and definitely not doing things against your conscience and ethics.
It makes a huge difference.
9. Embrace Life. Make Peace with Where You’re At.
Life consists of many forms of suffering to be unhappy about. It also consists of plenty of good things to be happy about. The difference is, now I will not deny the existence of pain, nor pretend suffering is permanently out of the door.
Instead, I will embrace both the good and the bad, just the way they are.
10. Don’t compare. Don’t compare. Don’t compare.
“It is not a competition.”
I have heard my yoga teacher repeat this sentence so many times in classes that it can now repeat on command in my head. Comparison steals joy away from your current life.
11. Spend Time Listening to Your Mind, Especially in the Morning
The mind is a living thing and it demands to be heard and understood. On some mornings, I hold a dialogue with my mind by scribbling Morning Pages (which I’d shared about in this blog article).
12. Have Fun in What You Do. You Have Permission to be Silly!
I’m very serious when it comes to work but sometimes, the solemn attitude I adopt can backfire and become a hindrance, because it creates unnecessary pressure if I’m working with a team.
Be serious but don’t be too serious all the time! Us adults are all kids that forgot how to play.
13. Be Truthful with Yourself
Honour your truth. Try to do only things that you wish to, not because you have to or because it will make you more well-liked. This includes saying no more often!
As time goes by and with a deeper understanding of myself, I learned to not guilt-trip myself too much each time I said no.
14. Chase Experiences That Make Your Heart Expand and Sing with Joy
Collect moments, not things, as the saying goes. I stopped buying most material goods that will only give me short-term joy. I lost the urge to possess things. I decluttered my wardrobe using the Konmari method, and removed things that no longer spark joy within me.
Instead, I invest my time and money on experiences that I‘m interested in.
15. Adopt An Explorer’s Mentality
The most recent time I felt adventurous and happy was when I decided to take a leap of faith and fly off to Santorini the next day, on my own. Madness indeed, but definitely awesome. Now, I know that I can be ready for a Europe trip with less than two days of preparation.
Be curious, be brave, be adventurous.