I tend to believe I know what I'm doing, where I'm going, I'm in the control of my life, but that's not the truth and it's really easy to derail from the path you committed to go by living with a demanding work and all sorts of unknown encounters.
The most dangerous thought you can have as a creative person is to think you know what you're doing. - Alan Key
I think I found a good way to organize and regain the control of it.
If you work on a corporate company you must be familiar with the annual or quarterly performance review and evaluation, often times it's mandatory, and it's officially scheduled in your and your organization's calendar. Process varies but I always feel that's not really reflecting myself, that's only a tiny part of the professional work, why don't I do it for myself not for anyone else, to tru?
So last Friday I took one day off for this "Personal Quarterly Off-site", to review my last 90 days of personal and professional life and set goals and plans for next 90 days. The end result was so great, I got way more than I expected, never thought I could get that much out of myself. Besides the basic concept, I'll also share the process and tips I found that works for me.
Every 90 days, you take a day. You evaluate what you’ve been doing during the last 90 days. You have what I call the most important hour of your life, which is when you go through a set of questions. Then you set your (very few) goals for the next 90 days to make sure you’re in alignment with what you really want to do ultimately with your life. This is it.
This is the first step and perhaps the most important step. I didn't do it immediately after I heard the idea, even though I felt interesting. I intentionally scheduled it for 1 week later, and told my boss I'm gonna that day off in advance.
Until that day I chose some of my favorite podcasts, book highlights and articles to read related to the topic, by consciously telling myself, that day is coming and I'm gonna do some serious work, I was able to let my brain be prepared subsconciously. It builds up the right mindset in the downtime too. I also shared that schedule to get some peer pressure.
One thing needs to mention, very soon there's a deadline in my current project, it wasn't easy to bring it up in this season and I did feel somehow guilty about being absent while others working hard to meet the deadline. But let's admit there's no perfect time you could work less, there's always something that needs you to look at, but only you can be responsible for yourself, in professional and personal. So this time I was bold enough to take the chance.
How many notifications do you get every single day? It's so easy to "connect" to something that doesn't really matter at that time but "disconnect" to something you really want to focus. So strategy No.2 is to turn off your phone. It's easy to turn on the "Do Not Disturb" mode in iPhone.
Then go to somewhere you're familiar with, where you won't be disturbed by new "discoveries", like the big SALE label in the store, or completely lost that you have to look up your phone to locate yourself. Maybe one of your favorite cafe would be the best at first. I found it's easy for me to concerntrate and get serious work(thinking) done when I'm in the place where I'm really familiar with. It helps me to build up the routine and get into the "zone" so be conscious about the place would be helpful next time.
The key point is to become a journalist, to ask good questions to yourself that drive you to focus on the essential area of your life, and don't rush to answer them first.
Often times as an engineer when I hear a concern, issue or trouble I tend to quickly response with a possible solution. But this time I need to shut down that if-then thinking, to allow myself to dig deeper, pause and think more. I think you'll be surprised too how much you could get just by pausing for a while.
Here are the questions I asked to myself:
I had some blur images but I definitely didn't prepare all questions, most of them were improvised at the time, or should I say I plant the idea 1 week ago and had exactly what I expected.
I set a timer for 2 hours before I started writing the first question. When I finished I was right on time and I felt that's the right amount of time needed.
It's not a competition, it's not more you write/ask/answer the more you gain. The process and experience is sharable but the end result is not, it's for yourself, so don't try to get more done during the process. Remember the "Less But Better" principle.
I did this with a real pen and notebook. Even though I turned on "Do Not Disturb" on my phone, and I did bring an iPad with me, I still like the feeling of writing on physical paper.
It's easy to get distracted on digital devices. For me I always care about the styling, spelling and using the right tool, which really doesn't matter that much.
Plus the physical note has a limitation, you can't write endlessly on one page, which conversely set a boundary to keep you on the right course. I brought a B5 size kinda small notebook in which I tend to answer each question within 1 page, that limitation forces me to describe more precisely and not to bring up everything. Compare to that digital note is border-less and "cheap", even though it shows Page 1 and Page 2, navigation is so "effortless" that it won't occur to you that you have written "too much".
After I finished it I felt much better, I've dumped lots of concerns and worries, set only few goals for the next 90 days, moved some of the actionable items to OmniFocus(my GTD/TODO app). The next thing I did was to schedule the next Personal Quarterly Off-site on my calendar, to reinforce the benefits of Strategy 1 and be more aware the importance of having such kind of self retrospective day.
Although whole thinking and writing process only took 2 hours to finish, I still think utilizing that whole day to build up the mindset, to allow yourself to pause, to wander is critical for creativity. If you feel like you've got lots of tasks done but not moving towards your goal, maybe it's time to do something good for yourself.
"Sorry I failed to give you a complete family". I heard it from both my mom and dad, from time to time.
Every time I go back China, I'm actually scared in some level to spend nights with either of them. I could sense it, "Oh my god he/she is gonna bring that again...", then we all drowned in the emotional flood.
Although I do refer to them as a convenient "excuse"(joke) for my inappropriate behavior or inability of communication, in my heart I never ever blame them for anything. But as parents with good will and intention, I guess they may never forgive themselves, I don't like to see that kind of face...
Writing these because I had a dream this morning, for the 30 years in my life it is the first time to have such a dream seeing them being together, happy, smiling, doing things together, worrying about my marriage(this part is so real hah), I just can't forget that warm feeling. If one day human technology is developed enough to make a machine that could control your dream, I might surrender to that.
Phew, what an emotional morning! And I won't surrender! I was just being weak for now. And no such thing as a "functional family" so take it easy :)
2014 has passed, this is the perfect season to write a personal review post. This one is organized in the perspective of family, relationship, friends work and self development.
At the end of 2014 I took some day off and came back to China to visit my mom and dad. Probably 3 years since our last met.
As always my mom prepared everything for me: new clothes and coat, cloves, shoes(-20 degree in my hometown), good foods, money for me to use here… She kept all the gifts in the perfect shape I gave her before, always seek to connect, always support me… Amazingly I really can’t find any flaws from her as a mother, she’s perfect.
My dad is the same, so unique in his own way… I’m not a good talker just like him, we don’t talk that much, and don’t feel the urge to, which made me really relaxed, felt home. Sometimes I take the initiative and tell him my life in Tokyo, and after my talk he either suddenly leaves without a comment or change the subject completely to something he wants to talk about… And we’re totally fine about spending the time separately even though we’re in the same room, he checks his computer while I write blog, just like the old days.
Strangely for one moment I dreamed about, what if, what if they didn’t get divorced, how would it look like now? What if I look at the left there’s my mom, and turn right there’s dad? I know it’s 200% impossible already, but this is the first time for the last 10+ years I imagined such scene and I kinda want to say, “please don’t wake me up”.
I remember early 2014 we were sitting at the dining table in our brand new house, having afternoon tea and cakes, enjoying the beautiful view from 27th floor and sharing stories to each other. That was such a peaceful picture in my memory, I wish I could freeze the time forever, I thought after all these years we finally managed to get the harmony moment, but we didn’t.
After that our relationship hit the bottom, it was the darkest time for me. I suffered a lot from distrust, every couple have fights and may even say some harsh words too, but nothing hurt more than distrust. I felt my character, loyalty and integrity was doubted, it made me feel all the things I had been fighting for was nothing, worthless. I started to ask the wrong questions. “Why me? Why shit things always happen to me? Why I can’t have a peaceful day? I’m not a perfect boyfriend but also not a bad guy shouldn’t I deserve a little better? Why I did nothing but is treated like I was cheating on her? It’s so unfair why?”
Question shifts focus. Asking the wrong questions could only drive you crazy, making all possible negative impacts, so stop. Pain is a powerful tool, if you can make good use of it. There’s a technique introduced in the book “Awaken the Giant Within”, saying if you want to quit your bad habit, you should link massive pain to that. In my case this trust issue was such a huge pain for me I don’t want to experience it anymore, ever. So I tweaked the questions like this:
“What’s the root cause? Am I misbehaved? Or lack of communication makes me appear suspicious? Is it related to our past issue? Is it her issue? Is it fixable? What could I do now on my side? What are my choices?”
Immediately my focus shifted to the present, and helped me made a big decision then. I’ll leave all that pain to 2014, 2015 I will have a better, brighter life.
I like to hang out with friends, but not doing good job at inviting them. Always reluctant to send the message. 8:00 AM, maybe they’re on the train. 10:00 AM they must be working. 12:00 AM they’re probably having lunch with colleagues. 6:00 PM, hmm maybe working hard to get things done. 8:00 PM maybe they’re enjoying dinner with family/friends. 10:00 PM maybe too late… I’m such a genius to find no good time to contact during a whole day lol!
And even though I’ve been living in Tokyo for 7 years, I still don’t get the distance with Japanese friends(not those have experience abroad). I consider some are good friends, but not sure how they feel about me, the distance is still there. Don’t get me wrong they’re good people, polite and kind, but that also confused me about where we are, and how to develop it to the next level.
On the contrary, I’m glad the “gaijin” group get together regularly. BBQ, Chicago Pizza, fireworks, Bounenkai. The psychological guard is low, people are more open, more casual, easier to talk to.
Also appreciate my friends in China. Every time I come back, they all manage to come no matter how busy they’re, give me the welcome party and farewell party within 1 week, I’m flattered. I’ve known each other for over 10 years, I’ve seen them from slim to fat hah, from a boy to a father, yet we still drink like a teenage, talk in the same way, as if time never passed us.
Another big project is Cookpad global, it’s like a database-less rails app, we’re using API to transfer all the data we needed. At first we were using a gem called Her to let the model have ActiveRecord like interface, but due to performance problems and lack of maintenance we shifted to spyke.
Oh and almost forgot that I switched to VIM from Sublime Text, felt like long long time ago :) The transition phase didn’t take long, I used janus for a quick bootstrap then tweaked the parts one by one everyday. Love it so much.
Some achievements on personal development:
2015 = 1024 + 512 + 256 + 128 + 64 + 16 + 8 + 4 + 2 + 1. Such a beautiful number isn’t it!? Happy new year~!
This year August I turned into 30, I wasn’t happy at all. In fact I was quite desperate. I felt I accomplished nothing, far away from who I expected to be. Now 4 months later, I finally managed to see the bright side, accepted myself and got physical and mental positive changes in life.
Turning into 30 is quite a big thing in China. There is a saying “三十而立”, directly translated to “a man should be independent [steadfast] at the age of 30”, nowadays it’s interpreted as financially independent, emotionally mature, have a good family to take care of. I was born and raised in that culture and unavoidably affected by it. When I was in high school, I dreamed about the day when I’m 30 I’d be mature for sure like a real adult, disciplined and principled, knowing everything about life, handle any tough situations well, have a lovely wife, a happy family, maybe even with 2 children, a boy and a girl, and doing my best job to protect them. Sadly none of these happened.
Goals are dreams with deadlines. Even though I had been working hard these years, but I didn’t make it like a real goal with concrete steps to make it happen. That explains why I ended up like this.
I didn’t celebrate that day, I wanted to write a post but couldn’t finish it because of the dark energy. Part of me was still refusing to accept the fact that I’m 30, I felt not young anymore.
So what would you do if you’re not happy about the situation? You simply change it. One thing I know for sure that if I take the action it would definitely make a positive impact but I’ve never done it yet, is exercise.
Unlike early 20s when I could play intense games 12 hours straight overnight then still manage to finish a whole day lesson in college, nowadays even 1 hour Starcraft II game would make me feel exhausted. Sleeping 7-8 hours is supposed to be enough but I still have to drag myself out of bed each day. I know there must be so many rooms for improvement.
I’ve read it many times in different places that exercise regularly will generate more energy and boost your creativity. Understand it is one thing, but taking actions is another thing. This time I showed no mercy to myself. I went to the gym near my place, asked the staff to give me a tour and immediately signed the paper for the membership. They was suggesting there’s a program will be available soon that I could use a coupon to join with relatively cheaper price, only thing I have to do is wait for it, but I turned it down said I want to do it now, today, I commit to do it, don’t wanna give myself any other chance to make any excuses. I know taking the actions now is way more valuable than the extra percentage of the price for me.
My goal is not getting big muscles to make myself looking better to attract any females, I want to regain control of my life, to know that I’m capable of improving myself, to have more energies to accomplish the essential things in the future. I have the clarity, I’m absolutely sure about the direction, everything else just naturally happened without any resistance. It was as simple as that.
I am planning to write another post about my routines about going to the gym and some extra benefits.
Another side effect of having physical exercise is paying more attention to health. I became more conscious about what and when to eat, not like before I ate whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted without limitation. Have vegetables regularly, try to have dinner at least 3 hours before sleep, push dishes away even though there’s some left if I know it’s enough already, etc. I’m still have little knowledge in this area so I’m also gonna take a cooking lesson to learn more systemically.
Also found myself have more time to read books. Reading is such an effective way to learn great thoughts from great people, *asynchronously*. It allows me to constantly revisit my past and recognize which part could have been done differently to have better result. One great thing for getting older is that you could find so many references from your past when reading, to fully explore the idea in your context, in your real experience.
By reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I realized I had been living with impulse not correct principles, and that was why I was so weak to temptations, made several bad decisions and hurt the people around me. I followed the suggestions from the book and got my first draft of personal mission statement done. Whenever I have to make tough decisions it’s the reference for me to look up, who I want to be, who should I put first, what’s my responsibility. Decisions are never easy, but having correct principles guide me, it makes me look from the big picture, be more determined to my choice and commit to the result no matter it turns out good or bad at that time.
I was never a fan of making long term plan. Even just think about it made me headache. “I just want to enjoy everyday and forget those complex things”, I said to myself.
But now I’m really willing to take the challenge. I know I actually like to plan things, like for a trip, for Christmas, even plans in games. What stopped me from planning my life, was the fear of the future. Family issues, relationship issues, unresolved conflicts, fear of the unknown… Made me feel stressed and overwhelming, so I ran away, used “just enjoy everyday” as the excuse.
Every family has a issue, so does relationship. You can’t run forever. I started to explore the options and possibilities, it wasn’t as hard as I expected. I could still breathe, it didn’t kill me. Be proactive, take the initiative also applies here. It has to be me to handle these things.
None of these changes require you to physically be the age of 30, but I surrendered to the fear of the future before and was unable to see things clearly, unwilling to deal with them, until now. For what it's worth, I’m glad I overcame all the internal struggles, it’s never too late to make a meaningful life.
I'll end with some of my favorite quotes:
Life is a gift, go make it count. - Michael Hyatt
The only true security in life comes from knowing that every single day you are improving yourself in some way, that you are increasing the caliber of who you are and that you are valuable to your company, your friends, and your family. - Anthony Robbins
When I was reading book this afternoon, not directly related to the its content but somehow it inspired me to realize some of self improvements I've accomplished through past couple of months or the past year. Most of them were changed subconsciously, like a good "by-product" thing.
I can't remember the last time I grabbed a burger at McDonalds. Maybe for you it doesn't sound like a big deal, but for me it's totally a different story.
When I was still a poor student in China, having a McDonalds burger is like a "highs in the month" event. It was quite expensive compared to the salary, or the pin money I could get from my dad. Plus it was, and still is so so delicious, way better than Japan. So at that time, my image of an ideal life was I can at least afford to have McDonalds every day.
Then after graduated from university, I came to Japan to work as a full-time software engineer. My salary was good enough to have as many burgers as I want. Even though I knew people call it junk food, but for me it was not. I could eat McDonalds for one week straight.
I enjoyed it, I was happy. It seemed like that this was one thing impossible to change, not to mention I was not willing to change at all.
But what really changed me was after I joined cookpad, my current company. The company's goal is to make cooking more fun, make people healthier. So more or less I got the point of why processed food is bad, then one day my boss sent me a link to Jamie Oliver's talk in TED. That 20 minutes talk was amazing. Then I searched him in Youtube about his "Food Revolution", and I watched all of them. That thing really changed my mind.
So from that moment, I started to review my pst, I found myself willing to change the habit of eating junk food.
But change is never easy. Even though I wanted to do more cooking, work fatigue, working overtime and a failed relationship made me feel extremely drained, exhausted and frustrated. Every time I got home I felt so powerless that I'd rather just skip the dinner. Shopping ingredients, looking for a simple enough newbie friendly recipe and cook it felt so unreal.
But thanks to some good books I've read, I adjusted my attitudes toward work and relationships, I managed to keep myself stay positive and made some changes in working environment. Now I go home earlier than before, rarely any overtime, I'm still a little tired after I open the door but I get the energy to go shopping and cook. Even though my cooking skill is not good, I can only cook several recipes and sometimes the taste is awful, I enjoyed it, I'm happy to serve myself, understand more about foods, balance diet nutritions from various ingredients, try out some new recipes in the weekend, etc. I feel content.
And what amazed me is that this change was much easier than I expected, especially judging from my past diet habit and "dreams". I didn't track my activities and mark them on a calendar. More like happened subconsciously, so, congret to myself! (But I'm still uncomfortable to cook with someones else cuz I'm clumsy and slow in the kitchen >_<)
OK I'll stop here today but I want to share a very touching video with you. I'm 100% sure it's worth watching so don't miss it! You won't regret! No spoiler here~