10 simple practices for living with Integrity and discovering Peace

What exactly is integrity? You may ask. Most textbooks or dictionaries are not able to offer a definition that captures the essence of what it means to live with integrity. However, we can all recognize and identify with the symptoms of not doing so, for e.g.

  • Feeling bad about/with yourself (e.g. feelings of dissatisfaction, anger)
  • Feeling resentful about the world (e.g. bitterness, complaints)
  • Feeling bored and restless (i.e. that you are not living up to your potential or engaging in meaningful pursuits)

If you said a silent ‘oh, yes’ to any of the above and want to find a better way, here are 10 simple practices for you to start adopting. Disclaimer: simple does not mean easy.

1. Agreements. Honour your agreements – those you made with yourself and those you made to others. Each agreement broken or ignored is like a boomerang that will come back to haunt you; each agreement honoured is a boost of trust and confidence which will create ripple effects.

2. Mornings. Practise the sacred morning ritual – what is the one most important thing that you need to accomplish today for you to feel fulfilled? Do that early in the morning. Don’t spend your day doing a million other things and then go to bed feeling unfulfilled about the day.

3. Eliminate. Refuse to do the things that don’t matter.

4. Space. Find or create your own space, a space where you are free of distractions and can find peace or solace. Create that space physically in your environment and also internally for your mental, emotional or spiritual needs. This is important for your check-ins with yourself on whether you are doing the right things or on the right track.

5. Artist. Start paying attention to that repressed artist within! We are all artists and we are all creative. We all have unique talents that translate into creative expressions, be they in music, literature, artwork, food, etc. The sad thing is that we shelf these interests in response to ‘professional work’ and life. Start re-cultivating that artist by dedicating a little time each day to some form of creative work. You will be rewarded with joy and inspiration, from within.

6. Travel. You have probably heard many people sing the praises of travelling, and have also heard stories of how travelling has created personal transformations. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of this. A friend has recently described the ability to travel as a ‘privilege’, in recognition of what a humbling and critical experience it is. It involves taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone. You discover how small you are in this big world, and at the same time, you discover the limitless and astounding possibilities. If I may boldly assert – even if you have lived a long life, if you have not travelled, you do not know who you truly are.

7. Body. Take care of your body; it is the vehicle that will take you places, it is the temple that houses your energy. You are what you eat and you are what you do, so stop putting junk into your body, start feeding it with good food, move your body and get some real exercise. The fastest way to change your life is to start from the physical. By the way, do you know what the greatest enemy is that is holding us back from growth and from living an extraordinary life? It is not fear; it is laziness¹.

8. Nature. Be in nature, and if you live in a concrete jungle like I did when in Singapore, seek out pockets of nature regularly and make occasional trips to where you can access wide expanses of untouched nature. Personally, I have a penchant for the sea or mountains. This will renew you in ways that only nature can.

9. Relationships. Clean up your relationships, as a dear friend Douglas once shared. Think of a person X who has an important role or influence in your life. If (s)he should disappear from your life tomorrow, what are the unspoken things that are hanging between the both of you which you would regret not letting him know? Clean that up. Do the same for all those who matter to you, or for those who still have a piece of your mind. Make it a practice to express yourself authentically in your interactions with people. Doing so requires lots of courage and vulnerability, and the benefits are that you will find yourself walking around with much less baggage, much more freedom and much richer relationships.

10. Action. Get used to taking action! There will always be fears, doubts, and feelings of laziness. Get used to living with them and do what needs to be done.

Best of luck 😉

With love,
Hui Min

¹With reference to the section ‘Entropy and Original Sin’ in The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck.

Here's a photo taken during a recent walk in the neighbourhood, a picture of peace to share with you :)

Here’s a photo taken during a recent walk in the neighbourhood, a picture of peace to share with you 🙂

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Dreams – A personal story

What do you do with those childhood dreams of yours?

For most of us, it is likely that they had vaporized into thin air as we ‘wake up’ to reality. I never went on to become an astronaut, for example, even though I still fantasize about that now and then. I express that fascination with the outer space through trying to understand the greatness of this world that we live in, one that stretches beyond the physical Earth, perhaps.

One dream did materialize, however. I had a dream of living in Europe, and now I’m here. That’s not what I am going to share about though. There is this other dream that is being realized because I am here. One that stretches way back into my childhood, a dormant longing and thirst that never got quenched – the dream to be able to play the piano masterfully.

I remember asking my mum for piano lessons and a piano, but our family couldn’t afford either, so my parents bought me a little keyboard. I was excited about receiving it, but got disheartened soon when I realized that it was just a toy and couldn’t do what a piano does. I would sometimes tear when I watch others play the piano as the music was so beautiful and I wished that I could be the one creating that.

That dream remained buried as I grew up, with other things taking priority. Education, work, personal projects, money, relationships, stuff. I never forgot about it though. When I created my vision board last August, I even put up a really nice picture of a woman playing the piano. However, it remained as an unrealized hope and wish. Education, work, personal projects, money, relationships, stuff.

Things started to change when one Friday morning this January as I was walking to work, I suddenly thought about my life. I feel pretty satisfied with the way things turn out, even though there have been misfortunes and I have also made mistakes. I asked myself, ‘if tomorrow the world will end, is there anything that I will regret?’ Not learning the piano, came the answer.

I told this to my new housemate Martina that night. ‘Then you have to do something about it, and soon’, she said very firmly. Fueled by her encouragement, I got the crazy idea to check out the local second-hand websites to see if they might have a piano. I joked to myself that if there is one under 300 euros, I will buy it, only half-believing that it will happen. ‘Yeah right, like you’re going to find one for that amount’, says a skeptical voice inside of me. My curiosity got the better of me and a few minutes later, I didn’t find one that was within my budget. I found five. The following Saturday morning, we made a few calls to the sellers, visited two of them that weekend, made arrangements for professional transportation and by the end of January, we had a foreign-looking wooden thing sitting in our kitchen. Well, it was the only place in this apartment that could fit it. It looked oddly out of place, but it was awesomely unbelievable and inspiring just to see it there.

And guess what the most amazing thing is? Martina happens to be passionate about playing the piano and she’s willing to teach me! Imagine having a live-in piano teacher! On the first of February, I stood clumsily in front of the piano. I didn’t know how to get started and asked, ‘now what do I do with this?’ She laughed, and that began our first piano lesson.

Now, two months later, I finally have the courage to share with you a video of myself at the piano, mistakes and all. I wish for this to also inspire you to pursue the dreams that you have forgotten and that still matter to you. Many things that looked impossible at first can in fact be just a few steps away. You will be amazed at what you can make happen.

Video taken on 01 April 2012. Copyright 2012

Oh, and did I mention that the universe rewards us when there is momentum, action and passion? Aside from sending an angel into my life to give me a [compassionate] kick to get this to happen, the seller of the piano also ended up giving it to us as a gift. Free.

Boxing Day special 2/2: Lessons from the CTO of a top Finnish company

[Continued from Boxing Day special 1/2: A soulful afternoon]

It seemed like a long time had passed that I sat there indulging in my fantasies. I suddenly caught a movement from the corner of my eye and turned to see a man on ski skates zipping across the submerged path, determinedly pushing his way along with his ski poles. It looked like he was gliding on water. He reached dry land, slowed down and walked towards me. Awed, I exclaimed, “That was cool!” He smiled and replied that is was only 5 centimetres deep. He climbed onto the lawn behind me, headed for the house, and started taking off his gear. So this is the owner of the house! I mused as I realize that just a moment ago, I was fantasizing about the house, and in the next moment, I had met and spoken to the owner. Isn’t that a powerful manifestation or what?

I watched as he stayed there washing his gear. He was suitably-dressed for sports in the cold winter, and had a lean and well-built physique. This observation led to thoughts about other successful people like Da Vinci, Tony Robbins, Bill Clinton, etc., and I realized that they all share something in common – exercise. They don’t just exercise occasionally like most of us do. They are ruthless about observing their exercise routines and keeping their energy levels in check. They know that to be able to do the work that they do, live the life that they live, and sustain it, their physical health and energy comes first.

He was still around after a while, and a curious thought flashed into my mind. What if I asked him…? Inspired by Will Smith’s character in The Pursuit of Happiness who asked the owner of a stunning car how he did what he did, I mustered enough courage to shout across his lawn, “Hey, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure”, half-amused and curious, he walked over.
“You have a really beautiful house, what do you do?”
“You mean, professionally?”
“Yeah”
“I am the CTO of Company X”, he replied humbly. I have censored the company here for confidentiality purposes.

He has been working there for 5 years, and before that, he was a consultant. The details of which, I did not probe. I asked if he was happy, to which he smiled and said yes. He shared about living by the sea, and how it suited their (his family, I presume) lifestyle. In winter when the sea freezes, one can go ice skating on the sea (imagine!), and in summer, canoeing.

Before leaving, I threw him a final question – I asked for his advice to someone who desires to live a lifestyle like this. By ‘this’, I was referring to a lifestyle of abundance and happiness. His interpretation, after a moment of deliberation, came across differently though.

“You need to have the suitable attire for this kind of weather in Finland. You can’t just stay indoors and wait for the perfect day, like today.”

This unexpected response surprised me, and yet it was very true. I bided him a merry Christmas and hopped onto my bicycle, half-delirious over the bold move. Sometimes, we run crazy little stories and fears in our minds, when all it takes is to just ask! He had politely stood there and chatted with me, when he could have gotten irritated by the unexpected intrusion, or he could have easily excused himself and left this stranger to entertain herself by his lawn. Either way, I wouldn’t have known unless I try.

As I cycled back home, his words swam in my mind. In essence, the message I had gotten out of it, is to be prepared for our environment and the unexpected, and not sit around waiting for the stars and moon to align for us. In our lives, how many times have we succumbed to excuses, taken the easy way out, and then justified our inaction with those excuses? This is definitely nothing new to me. In case you might doubt the relevance of that reply, be reminded of the saying that “how you do anything is how you do everything”. If this is happening in one area of your life (e.g. exercise), chances are, it is also playing out in a greater part of your life, and it is affecting the kind of lifestyle that you have. What can we do to get ourselves into a state and habit of being ready?

Lessons:

  1. There are no perfect conditions. Use what you have, go out into the world and play.
  2. There are many who would love to share or teach, if you would only ask.
  3. There is a lesson in everything and a teacher in everyone, as long as you are ready to learn and to be a student.

Back in the apartment, hungry and cold, I thought about making myself a cup of hot chocolate. I remembered the lessons on taking care of our body, and ended up preparing a refreshingly simple (or simply refreshing) tea break of wildforest fruits tea and juicy apples drizzled with honey and cinnamon. Sweet.

How to always Win in a communication.

Have you ever ended a presentation, wishing that you had said something more intelligent or wondering if the audience liked it?

Have you ever experienced coming out of a conversation feeling empty and dissatisfied, as if it was something which had barely scratched the surface of what you inherently wished it to be?

Have you ever wondered how it would be like, to feel totally satisfied, enough, and complete at the end of every communication, no matter how it turned out? If you have experienced this before, you know how big a Win it is for both you and for the other(s) involved.

The key to always winning in any communication is to be authentic. Quoting Dr. Brené Brown:

“If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’”

Authenticity is a buzzword that many of us seem to know and yet not know fully. I will be sharing more stories about it as we go along. Hopefully, as we learn together, you will discover it to be an insightful journey that is serving you well.

Winning does not mean that the other agree with you; Winning does not mean that the other believe you; Winning does not mean that you have impressed the other; Winning does not mean that the other will now act according to your wishes.

It simply means that you were true to your own experience at the moment of interaction, and that you expressed what is true for you, releasing the need to control or manipulate the outcome, however necessary that might seem in today’s world.

And that makes you present. And that makes your energy flow. And that connects you to your audience.

Last weekend, I delivered a short 30mins presentation to a group of AIESEC youth leaders in Finland. It has been a while since I gave a presentation to a group. I spent the first few years of my career delivering trainings and talking in front of a large audience, often numbering in the hundreds. Those years have been as damaging to my soul as much as they have been useful for my growth. Those were heavy days of uncertainty, rejection, self-doubt, fear, withdrawal, egoism, pleasing. I have, however, been blessed to have many great teachers along the way. They have helped me to come through these perturbations instead of getting lost in them.

On hindsight, I now see how that was a process which was necessary for me to go through in learning to stand in my own power. This power comes from a source of love and self-acceptance, not from force. It carries strength beyond what force can deliver.

In preparing for the presentation last week (yes, it is still critical to prepare even though we are talking about being present in the moment), I felt the familiar sense of anxiety creep up on me. Would I be able to inspire them? How would they see me? A part of me wanted to deliver something which will inspire and impress them, but a part of me felt uncomfortable about that intention. I decided to just tell my story, and to enjoy the process.

When I stepped onto the stage, I took a few moments in silence to check-in with myself and to connect to the audience. The fear and anxiety somehow dissolved away, and the rest of the presentation just flowed along. I think I missed out on one-third of what I had planned to share, and I added in stuff which I did not plan, but it didn’t matter. I was enjoying myself, and the audience looked hooked.

At the end of it, many came forward to share how they felt inspired by the story, and one mentioned that she was getting goosebumps a few times during the presentation. Hmm… I don’t think I talked about any spooky tales! It surprised me to hear from another that I had strong ‘stage presence’, and I definitely take that as a compliment. It was a very heartening moment, considering my multiple wounds from past experiences of speaking to an audience. I guess I have since evolved.

By the way, I hope you noticed the title. There is a world of difference between ‘winning a communication’ and ‘winning in a communication’.

Don’t wake up for your job. Wake up for your work.

The alarm rings, you silence it, and then try to get out of bed, sometimes unsuccessfully. You wash up, change into your work attire, have a quick breakfast, and hurries out of the house to head to where you will spend a good part of your day. Or maybe you will even skip the breakfast.

Sounds familiar? I’m sure it is for the most of you. At least it was true for me, until a few days ago when an expansion in perspective and understanding led to a significant change in how I view my work and my life.

A big part of it came from the distinction between my definition of a job or career and that of work, much of which is inspired from David Allen and Alice Sommer Herz (by the way, I would give anything to have dinner with her!).

To me, work is anything and everything that I set out to do. It can serve a multitude of purposes. My job is my work; my projects are my work; my interests and activities are my work. We all have work to do on this planet that we live on called Earth, and we need to see how it is playing such an important role in our life – because it is through our work that we excel and thereby tap into our magnificence. It is through our work that we serve this world.

Reclaim your purpose.

I realised that I was waking up the wrong way, literally. I was waking up so I could be in office by 9am, and it was a have-to thing. I was waking up for the job. I was not waking up to my best, and that needs to be changed. I decided that I would rise a few hours earlier, daily, go for a morning walk, come back for a shower, have a good and proper breakfast and then head off to the office.

It was easier said than done! Friends who have tried to fix morning appointments with me, and colleagues who have worked with me before, would tell you that I am not what you would call a ‘morning person’. While I am still working on getting to a 100% success rate with the new daily morning routine, I have been impressed at my own progress and at how much energy-giving it is to function at that level of purposefulness.

Habits are sticky; they win leeches hands-down. In changing the old habit and creating a new one, it is critical to take care of the following:

1. Address the barrier to success

I sleep late, and the lack of sleep was making it difficult for me to climb, or even roll out of bed in the mornings. A key change is to start sleeping much earlier, simple as that! Once it is time for bed, even though there are still many things which I want to complete, I put them down and head to bed. It is only when I take care of my well-being that I can better accomplish all that I want to.

2. Set yourself up for success: make it easy and convenient to change

I strategically laid out the clothes, shoes, and water (to wake me up), so that I can jump into them and head out as soon as I am awake. Well actually, they are to silence the excuses that creep in… ‘I’m tired’, ‘it’s cold and dark outside’, etc. We humans are such amazing creatures when it comes to generating of creative excuses!

3. Have a clear and strong Why

There are two big ‘Why’s for me changing.

One, there is a kind of magic in the morning air which I absolutely love. It feels very special and sacred to be out in nature in the mornings, peaceful and quiet, watching and listening to the world wake up little by little, and catching a beautiful sunrise on good days. Missing the window of dawn often results in a feeling of pity and regret.

Two, I want to take care of this body; it is what allows me to do what I want to do and go where I want to go. My body houses my soul and essence. It is the best vehicle that I have.

It helps too, to have a source of inspiration. For me, this source comes in the form of a quote: No matter how you feel, get up, dress up, and show up.  Show up to the world, and more so, show up to yourself.

And the payoffs for my job? What used to be sluggishness and fatigue have now given way to alertness and increased focus and productivity. It was amazingly ironic how I have been waking up earlier, and yet, it has brought me a lot more energy throughout the day!

Everything can be turned into a golden opportunity. Everything.

I have recently gotten myself a new pair of spectacles, figuratively. It is called the Sight of Opportunity.

This is the Chinese word for Crisis, an illustration which you may have seen before. Taken separately, the two characters each mean danger and opportunity respectively – perfectly illustrating the presence and co-existence of both in any crisis. This is something which I have known theoretically for a long time. However, it is only recently that I begin to see the amazing outcomes that can result from adopting this knowledge in anything and everything that happens in my life.

1. Turn a seemingly negative customer feedback into a marketing and sales opportunity.

In July 2011, armed with a desire to kick-start Pro Action Café in Finland, I went about securing a venue for the event and selling this idea to get people coming through the door. It was amusing how I always signed off as Your Hosting Team, knowing full well the current manpower strength of the ‘team’ – One. My initial charged-up confidence was soon dampened by a lack of response/interest. Then came a response on the Facebook page which I had created for the event:

My heart fell when I read this. This seemed to be a rejection that says “I’m not interested in this”.  I sat in that disheartened feeling for a few seconds before realizing that it would be a good chance for me to share more, and to possibly turn the tide. This was customer feedback staring me in the face! The lack of confidence that the customers had was due to the fact that this was something new and unknown, so all I really needed to do, was to share what I knew and what was true about Pro Action Café.

The café went on to garner more interest, and eventually closed with a very successful evening which left participants transformed and asking for more. Read what some of them have to say about it at https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=171849586215237&ref=ts.

Now, after the success of this pilot run, the ship has already been set in motion for a bigger and bolder run, partnering with The Hub (http://the-hub.net/) at Helsinki, a global community where people and ideas converge. If you are planning to be in Helsinki on the evening of 11 November 2011, mark the date. Let me know and I will drop you an invitation.

Lesson: Any feedback is better than no feedback, and every feedback is an opportunity to sell.

2. Conflicts and differences can be opportunities for communication and connection.

I share an apartment with two other tenants. We are three people from three different continents, three different cultures, and as you can imagine, three different ways of living. To help us learn to live together, we have meetings and agreements, which are anally recorded in a shared Google document. Nevertheless, small things still get in the way now and then, and it is imperative to keep the communication going.

Throughout the last few months of living together, an issue that has constantly surfaced is that of not cleaning up the dirty dishes after use, even after this has been pointed out many times and change has been promised. Even though I had been mindful to communicate that I am not ok with having agreements broken time and again, I have been doing that in a ‘nice’ way, not wanting to invite conflict.

I decided that if the old method was not working, I would need to change the way I communicate. I have been ‘nice’ pretty much all my life, misinterpreting being assertive as being unkind or aggressive, and I did not want that. Last month, I learnt a definition of what it means to be assertive*, and it has served me greatly. On my way to work yesterday morning, I sent a message to the flatmates:

“I’m upset and disappointed that the dishes are still unwashed, even after we spoke about them last night. They have been there for days. It’s a big trust-breaker when agreements are being broken, repeatedly. Maybe the google docs and communication are simply not working.”

This was one of the most provocative messages that I have communicated, and I know that it is something that would not be pleasant for anyone to receive. True enough, the housemates felt that there was no need for this, as it was ‘just dishes’. I noticed my wall of defence come up, and heard my internal dialogue telling me that it was not just about dishes but about keeping agreements, and that the dishes was just one out of the many other symptoms. This defensiveness clouded me for a while before I decided that I would make time to speak with one of them that night, the one whose behaviour I have been upset with for a while. We agreed on a time to sit down and talk.

I prepared what I was going to say, and how I was going to give the feedback in an assertive, effective, and kind way. When it was time to meet, you could feel the sense of dread hanging imminently in the air, it was as if the other felt like Judgement Day has arrived.

The conversation turned out to be the best that I have ever had with him. It was transformational for the both of us, and it was the first time in three months that we really talked. We sat in the kitchen and talked for an hour, before I excused myself to go to bed as I have to be up early the next morning.

Had I settled for mediocrity or gotten defensive, I would have missed the chance to make a critical difference.

*Being assertive (personal definition): Being confident, able, and willing to communicate insight, knowledge, and know-how.

3. Add value and create a win-win situation out of what started as a personal benefit.

Last week, a window of opportunity opened up for me to sit in for a week of classes at the prestigious Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm – the largest, oldest and most international technical university in Sweden. It sounded like the perfect opportunity, only that I received the news on Sunday night and I have not gotten permission to excuse myself from work for a week.

Which meant, for this to happen, I would need to pack my bag for a week’s trip, go to the office with it the following morning, obtain permission from my supervisor, get a ferry ticket, and jump on the ferry after work in the evening. If I am not granted permission, I would go back home with my packed bag that Monday evening after work, opportunity missed.

What will get my supervisor to say yes given the short (almost non-existent) notice, and how can this become a win-win situation?

By 5pm that Monday, I was on the deck of a ship in the Baltic Sea heading for Stockholm. I spent a beautiful one week there – sat in for insightful classes, lived in an old, traditional Swedish house where almost everything seemed to be falling apart, took three-hour walks in the mornings by the lake and the forest, in good company with treasured conversations, and visited the city centre which is one of the sweetest places around. How did all these come about!

The evening sun in the middle of the Baltic Sea

Student once more, out on the grass on a sunny autumn afternoon

Outcomes of this project:

  • An amazing week in Stockholm
  • A schedule negotiated – my colleague got to be away from work on a Saturday while I covered her duties
  • A professional report completed and distributed to the people who needed that information
  • A timely faculty recommendation for the company which has a high potential of being the solution to a current need
  • All other possible implications that could result from this project

Yesterday, the management surprised me by presenting me with a bouquet of flowers, in appreciation of my contribution and initiative, citing the Stockholm trip and the report as an example. What an honour!

In recognition: an appreciation

Everything can be turned into a golden opportunity.
Every.single.thing.