MENTAL STRESS AT WORK The month of February

Mental Stress At Work

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I am seeing standards everywhere.

The other day, I saw my friend wearing a nice t-shirt with this word ‘STANDARD’ printed across his chest.  It struck me as it resonated with my recent thinking. My two most recent talks were about standards and excellence, how they are intertwined with each other. Jordan Peterson wrote in his twitter, “You can’t really achieve excellence without standards.”

Where standards are most held up as benchmarks, the more likely you will see excellence at work and also stress at work.  Is it possible to maintain a worklife that is fulfilling and not on the stress overdrive?

Some bosses expect extraordinarily high standards of performance and productivity.  Highly competitive and competent colleagues can also be standards we need to aspire to in order to climb the corporate ladder.  You yourself can also be the one who raise standards for yourself in the name of progress.

The flipside of having many standards that measure performance is that if you can’t keep up, you experience mental stress at work.  You can begin to worry excessively if you are able to keep your job, if you can advance your career in your present company, if you are the right person for this job, if you justify the pay the company gives you, if you are even intelligent as your resume makes you out to be, if you … You can see the relentless trail of worries that can be difficult to control.

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Sometimes it can even affect your health.  Emotionally, you get edgy, irritable or restless; physically, you tire easily than usual and you have difficulty sleeping and have muscle soreness; mentally you can’t concentrate well feeling as  though the mind goes blank.   This is not the way to live your best life! If these signs persist for periods longer than six months and you are getting no calm and comfort at all, it’s advisable to seek out a counsellor who can help you look at what’s triggering the stress and manage it successfully.

For now, I like to share on how you can reduce the stress roundabout you and to relook at the standards set by others or yourself so that they don’t become unrealistic expectations.  Unmet expectations is a great stressor and a demotivator as it can cause great disappointment and the body can retract to a posture that is unable to respond to the needs around optimally. 

Perhaps you can adopt the following stress-reduced lifestyles to have a better worklife:

  1. Responsibilities, not relentlessness

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Responsibilities are part and parcel of worklife.  Put it crudely, you are paid to take up responsibilities.  But you need to manage your approach to responsibilities or they can produce unhealthy stress and can reduce the effectiveness in your work. 

Stress is most felt when the demands constantly exceed your available resources.

I have heard responsibility being explained in this interesting way – responsibility is made up of two words ‘response + ability.’ Seen in this light, responsibility is essentially the ability to respond.  That’s a beautiful perspective of responsibility.  Life is great when you see a need and you can fill it; someone matters and you let them know they matter with your response.

But sometimes this balance can be tipped over.  You can be over-responsible when you over-respond, over-care, overdo.  You are relentless in making sure that everyone is happy and everything is done to perfection.  In your secret desire, you want the most positive outcome by being everything to everybody.  As  a result, you experience stress – the job becomes too big, people’s needs become overwhelming and you just don’t have the energy to do it.

At what expense is your relentlessness costing you?  And at whose expense?  It can cost your health when you are relentless in getting your work done in the most meticulous way, at the highest standard conceived –  constant long hours at work; giving in to every beck and call of people and duty. Yet you are hanging on an ever-active self talk that you have not done enough or that you are not as good as you look. 

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This is not your best worklife!  You suffer and most probably your family suffers along with you.

  1. Rest, not restlessness

Mental rest is a skill to learn if you want a stress-reduced lifestyle.  Taking care of the way you think around our abilities, the expectations of others, the meaning of work is important for your mental health.  You need to watch what you say to yourself and to others.

Words like ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ should and must not be overplayed in your minds and in your conversation.  Shoulds and musts can come across as unrealistic standards to keep up with.

Rather than often saying  to yourself  and beating  yourself down with “I should know better”, commit to a plan to ‘know better’ and improve yourself in those areas, rather than talking yourself down.  If there’s no need for a plan as it is not a priority to grow in this area, then don’t make it a habit to talk this way.  Talking yourself down  has longlasting negative consequences.

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Rather than reinforcing your negative belief about yourself by saying,

 “ I must be a pain to everybody”

or complaining about others and making yourself sick and angry like

“no one in this world is nice”

find ways to rest your mind.  You are creating mental stress for yourself when you have a poor self image.  If you think you are a pain, then you are thinking less of yourself, that your life doesn’t matter as much and therefore it’s hard to sustain yourself in work especially when you are under a heavy load.

Worse still life is even more unpleasant if you feel alone in this world where no one is nice and you can’t meet anyone’s standards.  You need to rest your mind, to recalibrate your feelings about your world, to trust the world again, to learn how to communicate your stress in a healthier way.

Rest is mandatory, be it mental or physical.  You feel better, others feel good around you, your bosses will get a better you when you know how to rest. 

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Really observe your Sabbath.  For most of us, the weekends are set aside by your workplace as rest days.  Don’t overcrowd those days with activities that don’t make you feel rested or with restless and guilty thoughts that you could have done more of something or done less of other things.

It takes discipline to charge up and pare down.  Take time and effort to tailor Sabbath weekends so that your week gets balanced with hardwork in the weekdays and good rest in the weekends.

For me, my Sabbath routine for the last 44 years  is stopping my usual daily grind (including not cooking on weekends 🙂 ) to take care of my spiritual health.   I go to church on Sunday mornings and spend time contemplating on God and interacting with fellow believers on spiritual matters.

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Sabbath rest is also spending time with the family, doing fun things together.  It’s playtime!  Engaging in whatever that charges you up with energy and delight.  Paying attention to your loved ones will yield great rewards in your mental health.

Take the Sabbath to rest from physical exhaustion, urgency and hurriedness, worry and major decision-making, official phone calls and technology, competitiveness and even talking (if you have been using up your quotas of words in the week).

Work needs not be toilsome, burdensome and stressful.  You need to declutter stress in your lives and minds.

Be responsible, not relentless.

Be restful, not restless.

Stress with its power to create imbalance will overwhelm you and make mountains out of molehills.  Therefore get better at occupying your minds and lives  with healthy ways of coping with stress and with good boundaries.  Enjoy your work!

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Month of January – GOING DEEPER WITH PEOPLE

Going deeper with people has something to do with staying alive.  In a Ted talk by Susan Pinker, she highlighted that social integration and close relationships are vital in helping us stay alive.  Being sociable and  going deeper with people increase your liveliness more than physical exercises and clean air. 

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In my recent trip to Singapore, I accompanied my mum to the wet market in Clementi and I saw how she integrated with the people in her surroundings.  Interaction started from the void deck of her apartment – all the hellos and asking after one another. There is more interaction at the markets with the stallholders and shopkeepers.  They would tease one another;  they would give advice;  Mum would complain about the price yet still willing to pay $9 for 12 spears of asparagus. Interaction is brief; it’s touch and go; it’s small talk mostly. But Mum was totally charged up by the time she got home.  I saw Facetime in person and in action!

We are created to integrate and go deeper with people.  Even our physiology reflects that! Mirror neurons are present in our brain to copy behaviour to be appropriate in our responses to others.  The more appropriate we are in responding to others, the more connection we would feel with them.

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Of course there are risks in going deeper with people. There is no guarantee that when you invest 100% in a relationship, you will get back 100%. The relationship may or may not work.  Still it’s worth initiating and investing in others.  Take some risks at the start of the new year to go deeper with people. I have 3 suggestions for you:

  1. PUT YOUR HEADS TOGETHER

The DISC personality profile that I use in my counselling practice calls putting your heads together ‘complementing.’  You have something I don’t have and I have something you don’t have.  But when we put our heads together, we HAVE.  The DISC has another word for putting your heads together – it’s called augmenting.  You have something; I have something.  But when it’s put together, it increases the value, efficacy, potency of that something.

John Maxwell, a leadership giant and author, shared how he wrote one of his books.  He wrote chapter by chapter, posted it on his blog and invited comments.  It was the taking in  of  readers’ feedback that shaped the original script. A better book was written as a result! Two heads or more are indeed better than one.  It takes an immense humility to acknowledge that your work has room to grow and a deep trust that there are people out there who are interested to see your work flourish.

I was listening to Michael Buble’s song , “Help me make it through the night”, which he sang with Loren Allred.  This song was composed but left unsung because he was looking for the right person to sing it with.  Only when he heard Loren Allred in the movie, “The Greatest Showman” singing the song “Never Enough” that he recruited her as his co-singer.  Putting your heads together with the right persons achieve the right results and outcomes.

What project could you embark on and achieve a better outcome by partnering with someone?  Perhaps this year is a good time to give it a try.  Start small; take a step forward.

  1. STICK YOUR HEAD OUT

It’s true that in putting our heads together, bigger and better things happen.  But the reality may be that we struggle with going deeper with people.  Larry Crabb, a psychologist and author, said that ‘the problem beneath our struggles is a disconnected soul and a need for authentic communities.’  Larry was writing to Christians in this book and he encouraged the formation of authentic Christian communities.

Perhaps we are that disconnected soul in need of deeper connection or we may be the missing jigsaw puzzle in someone’s life to experience wholeness and connection.

Not everybody comes in neat packages, with all the specifications that we desire to put them in the ‘close friends’ or ‘gifted people’  category.  We may need to stick our head out to reach out and in so doing spark a potential friendship or a working partnership.  When Josh Groban first came to the notice of public eye, he was an 17-year-old amateur, insecure and unsure of himself,  singing in the private studio and under the mentorship of David Foster. It was David Foster who opened the door for him one day – that “one day” when Andrea Bocelli could not be present to sing with Celine Dion in the rehearsal. That rehearsal became Josh Groban’s platform to go public.

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Sticking your head out for someone takes risks.  Ecclesiastes 10:8 (The Bible) writes that when you dig a well, you might fall in.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t dig wells.  It further wrote that when you demolish an old wall, you could be bitten by a snake.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t demolish old walls that are barriers and impediments to better communication.

In 2019, seize opportunities to stick your head out for someone who needs it – perhaps open a door, give a heads-up, write a recommendation, introduce some friends to them.  A lady entrepreneur of a soy sauce company that I am acquainted with said that she is influential in the market and it is her passion to use that influence to do good to people and to go deeper with them.  Do likewise!

SOLVE IT HEAD-ON

In a team or a community, there is that great intersection of tasks and people.  You use your giftedness in the tasks that are presented to you and you relate with the people as well as you can whilst you carry out your job.  This seems easy to say in 3 sentences but the outworking of tasks and people is a complex one and one that is susceptible to conflict. Worse still is when we don’t like to engage in conflict in an open and honest way.

Avoiding conflict almost guarantees that we will fail to build deeper relationally  and we won’t be able to make optimum decisions for ourselves and others.  When we don’t engage in healthy debate and discussions around the most important issues, we inject animosity and seething resentment into the relationship.  Over time, that inner conflict can escalate into something ominous and can taint a potentially powerful relationship.

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Nancy Ortberg, the founding partner of a consulting firm in California and the wife of John Ortberg, a speaker and an author,  said, “Conflict isn’t pleasant, but it’s your necessary friend.  Don’t avoid it. Insist on it.’  It is to solve the conflict head-on.  Literally with your heads on, being reasonable, fair-minded, rational and realistic!

Create the atmosphere to be more objective:

  1. Focus on the common goals.  Everybody has an opinion and anything that sways from that viewpoint can arouse emotions. When the heat is on, in an even tone, synch the conversation to the common goal, what is to be done.
  2. Get objective people involved. If the working together is important but the feelings are too strong, enlist a team of people (or even 1 more person) who are calmer, diplomatic and clever in steering towards the common goal.
  3. Make room in your heart to forgive. Be the noble one, the strong one to have enough capacity to forgive. Mahatma Gandhi says, “The weak cannot forgive.  Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.” 

Meeting the conflict head-on requires a buffer of forgiveness.  Words and body language may get offensive when people want to be honest.  Give them the benefit of the doubt that it’s not bad intentions but perhaps the inability to control the feelings.  Develop a promptness to forgive and bounce back to a healthy restart of the relationship.

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Conflict needs to be addressed.  When it is not dealt with head-on, it goes somewhere else.   My friend who is a counsellor says that we become fugitives, always running away from unpleasant situations and harbouring restlessness and a lack of peace.   And that feeling will always stand between you and life.  That’s how the word ‘unresolved’ comes about.  The feeling never goes away because it never gets to be looked at and resolved.

This year, take the risk of resolving conflict head-on – talk about the issue as openly as possible, come up with as many alternatives as possible, respect one another’s ideas, keep the communication lines open, be forgiving and willing to give relationships fresh starts.  Your relationship has a better chance of going to a new depth when you are vulnerable and transparent.  And if it doesn’t go the desired new level of intimacy, at least you have emptied yourself of enmity and ill-feelings.

Going deeper with people is an adventure. The Turkish proverb reflects that so well, “No road is long with good company.”  Have a good journey!

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Month of December – let’s talk Emoji – Explosive Joy

I struggled to get a scientific explanation of joy. An hour has passed  flipping through a stack of articles and I didn’t write a word about joy. I didnt want to be mechanical about it; I genuinely desire a stab of joy. Afterall I am writing about explosive joy.  I got that stab!

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I became conscious of where I am and the explosive joy I felt just being in here and not outside at this moment. My husband and I are now  staying in Santorini, Greece in a little shell-like apartment with the ceiling plastered to resemble a cave. The white curved ceiling and white walls are a warm welcome as we forged our way through the meandering walkways and stairs and the strong, cold winds. Once inside the apartment, all is calm and instantly warm. The wild winds are blocked by the clever architecture of the capsule-like apartment cleaved to other apartments in the steep cliff.

Joy is like that capsule that dwells deep in the heart, sheltered from the external environment. You need to know how to get to it often enough so that your life is in great tandem with the world outside. We have been in and out of the apartment since we checked in each time happier than before because we know how to better adapt to this breathtakingly panoramic island. We would rug up and let the island tug at our heartstrings.

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C S Lewis described his stab of joy as the plosion after ‘ a sudden, piercing pang of longing, a bittersweet ache and yearning for something far-off and other-worldly.’  He recognised these longings as a deep spiritual hunger for God and flashing sign-markers pointing him towards Christ. You long; you are lavished upon. Joy to the world the Lord has come, let earth receive her king!

Joy is a yearning and a receiving of an other-worldly sensation that will last you a lifetime.

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On this trip I yearned to go to Macedonia. But it was not possible as it was not accessible given our itinerary. Macedonia was the place where the angel of God waved Paul over to share the story of God – ‘Let us move across.’ We bought our present house in Perth simply by following what the angel said to Paul. It was a house across the street where we were renting! Since we were coming to Greece for a biblical tour, I thought I would like to visit Macedonia to recapture my heart of gratitude. I was disappointed when Macedonia was struck out from our list of places to visit!

That day was my birthday. We were in Kavala.  I have not heard about Kavala till now and didn’t think any good could come from this town. In the bus, the tour guide began her usual commentating. My heart exploded in joy when she said, ‘Kavala is ancient Macedonia where Paul set foot in Europe for the first time.’

So this was where I had always wanted to go to! The present Republic of Macedonia which I thought I missed was not the place that Paul was beckoned to. Wow! I didn’t miss anything at all.

Explosive joy is like a splash of colours on a white canvas. It comes to brighten you to the knowledge that you matter, you are noticed, you are important. In this case, I felt highly favoured by God to grant me this wish on my birthday!

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My takeaways on explosive joy from my personal sharing in this article:

– Joy is not an intellectual pursuit.
– You are a target of joy
– Joy can come to you where you are
– Don’t let the external world rob you of your joy
– Joy in the person of Jesus came to earth on Christmas
– The joy of God lasts a lifetime
– You are a recipient of miracles
– You are created to have joy.

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Have a JOYFUL Christmas! Have a blast!

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Month of November – LET’S TALK EMOJI – PAUSE

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I sound like a spoilt sport to write on this at this time of the year where Christmas shopping needs to be done, office parties need to be attended, year -end holidays need to be planned.  Why would anyone want to PAUSE now?  This is the season to have reasons to be busy.  I think all the more reason to PAUSE – the busier you are, the more you need to catch your breath.

What’s the perfect getaway?  It’s as simple and reachable as the chair in your study room or the garden and the bench in your neighbourhood park.   It’s a time of recharging yourself and increasing your margin of freshness for the next task and activity.

Give these three great getaways a try:

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplation is a time to ponder and to calm our souls.  It is to reflect on what has been most life-giving to you, both small and grand things.  Being appreciative gives you the greatest satisfaction in life.  You enjoy your present moments better and it makes you hopeful of the future.

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Something wonderful happens inside our brain when we are appreciative of things and people around us.  The amygdala which is the emotional region of the brain does not need to sound any alarm as no stress is experienced.  Stress hormones are not activated as they are not needed.  The body is at rest. The recalling of good memories and the experience of gratitude trigger the body to produce a feeling of well-being.

I took out my journal this morning and started to record the many blessings that 2018 handed out to me.

  • I am thankful for the 34 new friends I made in the mental health sphere. I was connected to them through a prayer network called Perth Together.
  • We had the first family wedding – my niece got married! The wedding was most touching and grand, held at the Capella Hotel in Sentosa, where President Donald Trump met President Kim Jong-un.
  • We grandparented Nudie and Jack, our daughter’s two cats

 

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I am already feeling my level of well-being rising as I penned these 3 blessings. Try it yourself. PAUSE and contemplate on the things you are grateful for this year. C S Lewis expressed it so well, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

Give yourself this sheer enjoyment of contemplation and the complete delight of giving thanks. The endorphins released in your contemplation will be a great energy booster for all that you need to do between now and Christmas J

SILENCE

Our souls need a quiet, secure place to rest from a noisy world.  A woman I knew recently said it so well, ‘I need a lily pad to rest quietly on.’  It is essential for the soul to have pockets of silence in our busy lives to rechart and recharge.  Scientists are discovering that the practice of silence actually developed new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that is associated with memory (elephant memory?), emotion and learning new things. 

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The Temple of Solomon, a magnificent ancient architecture,  is said to be built quietly. All the stones were prepared at the quarry.  No hammer, chisel or any other tool were used at the temple site.  This is a metaphor of the soul – quietness needs to be built into our psyche. The finest work is happening even though, judged by the level of noise, nothing seems to be happening.

As an exercise to be silent, I spent 20 minutes yesterday in my study room being quiet.  I heard the roar of the traffic because my window was open.  I also tuned in to the chirping of a bird.  It was a juxtaposition of 2 very distinct sounds, which I must confess I don’t hear much of because I don’t pay attention to them.  I drew a lesson from my 20 minutes of observing this silence – amidst the hurry and flurry of activities and the loudness of my active life, like the solitary bird, I need to find that space to sing and stay in touch with my voice.

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Are voices overcrowding your mind?  Is the noise around making you irritable and unhappy? Cultivate the good habit of practising silence daily.  Deliberately turn your radio in the car off and the TV off to allow for some quiet time.  Allocate a seat in your garden or your house where you could go and sit quietly and do nothing for a few minutes.  Plan silent retreats regularly to give your system a break from being overloaded by demands, expectations, agendas and programmes.

MUSIC

Dr Mike Miller, a research cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore, studied the effects of things that make people happy.  He found that music, both playing music and listening to music, is a destressor.  The inner lining of blood vessels are relaxed, they opened up and produced chemicals that are protective to the heart.  Music counters stress and brings joy and a sense of well-being.

Image result for animation musicMusic is a gift to humanity.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy a prisoner and the prison librarian was donated a record.  In wanting to share with every other inmates a song from the record, he went to great lengths to get hold of the microphone, activated the PA system and played the song on air.  For a few minutes, the prisoners were rooted to the ground, their faces shone as they were mesmerised by the song.  They didn’t understand a word of it as it was sung in a foreign language.  But their hearts were touched!

When the going gets tough, put on your favourite songs and let the tune wafts its magic into your soul.  When I first came to Perth and was incredibly homesick, music played a big part in unearthing my emotions and soothing my heart.  I would tear up at the sound of the song and after a good cry, I found new strength to prepare tea and dinner for my two school going daughters and husband. Now music for me is for pleasure. Music makes me happy.

PAUSE with Shakespeare and say with him , “If music be the food of love, play on.” (Twelfth Night)

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Month of OCTOBER STRONGER TOGETHER #2

October is a very special month for me as a mental health practitioner. The city of Perth set aside a week in October to create awareness of good mental health and organisations have linked arms with wholesome activities to be STRONGER TOGETHER.  

Image result for stronger togetherPerth Together Mental Health Sphere, of which I am a member, has gathered 35 mental health practitioners to pray for the well-being of one another and of the city for the whole of October.  Today being the last day of this initiative, I have indeed felt STRONGER TOGETHER, stronger enough to contribute my second article in this month.

It is no coincidence that the words ‘REACH OUT’ were so frequently mentioned in this month –  “Thank you for reaching out to me”; “I reached out to her”…  And they came from the lips of millennials!  That would make them cool words to use!

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Life in the fast lane needs good lungs. In jest, my young friend, when asked how she is, said, ‘Breathe.’  How apt was her reply! We all need to take  long and deep breaths to keep up with the momentum of the day. It is to live the Latin quote of ‘ardet nec consumitur’ which means burn and burn but not destroyed.  In modern terms, it is to work and work and not be burnt out.

How does one do that when you live in cities that do not sleep?

You need to REACH OUT and find the MARGIN, the amount by which you can win in life.  Who can help you build your margin? What margin do you need to live a winning life?  How much do you need to have to sustain that winning life?

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If you are experiencing isolation and loneliness, don’t shrink back and continue to live life in the corner.  Reach out to someone, a friend or a professional helper, to talk about your deep thoughts and feelings and to find a way out of that isolation and loneliness. You are living on a very narrow margin of support or even a deficit if you constantly think you don’t belong and you don’t matter. Things may happen in your past that cause you to think like that.  It’s time to reach out and uproot the past that has been occupying good space in the soil of your heart.

A MARGIN OF HOPE

Your heart needs to build a new margin of hope to enable you to look at the future with anticipation of good things happening.  This doesn’t come automatically.  The first step is to REACH OUT to someone trustworthy and skillful to help you start the process of healing and restoring.

Living a winning life doesn’t mean fame and popularity.  It simply means you have enough resources to live an enjoyable and satisfying life. When life throws you lemons, you have the skills to make lemonade.  Lemons are too good to waste.  In Perth, a lemon can cost $1 🙂 

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A test in life comes to give you a testimony! Chuck Swindoll says, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”  Every struggle has a meaning to life and a story to tell.  If that’s not your orientation in life, if you believe that tests are to destroy you and you have fallen into a dark hole,   REACH OUT to someone so that you can be STRONGER TOGETHER in testing times. A margin can be created in that supportive relationship to help you discover that life is still worth the living.

A MARGIN OF JOY

Find a margin of joy to help you enjoy life better.  Too many people don’t find life enjoyable because they don’t have enjoyable things to do – ‘I don’t like sports, it’s too expensive to eat out, I don’t enjoy watching movies, I don’t socialise.’  Rediscover what you like rather than dwell on what you don’t like. 

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Reach out to a more enjoyable lifestyle.  What energises you?  What replenishes your energy? I refer to these activities as the green zones – they grow you to win in life.  

For some of you, food may be a green zone.  Cooking good food for your friends and family or inviting them out for meals could be pleasurable and invigorating.  For others of you, watching a good movie may be a green zone.  Carve out time to watch a movie with friends regularly to recharge your strength.

Let’s heed the words of Winston Churchill, “Continuous effort — not strength nor intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.” Continue to make efforts to REACH OUT to build your margin of hope and joy, the two vital elements of your potential.

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Month of OCTOBER STRONGER TOGETHER #1

There is power in numbers.  The strength of one penguin is small but with many penguins, they can protect themselves against the shark.  One ant is defenceless but an army of ants is a strong fortress.  The pincers of many crabs dismantle the power of a predator. The takeaway from this video is obvious: It’s smarter to be in a group.  STRONGER TOGETHER!  This was the theme of the WA Mental Health Week 2018 that just passed!

 

The sense of togetherness creates a flourishing environment so essential for strong mental health. Just knowing that others are present with you makes you feel upbeat and courageous. When there is a lack of social support it increases the tendency for depression and vulnerability to stress and loneliness.

We are wired to connect; we connect with people innately.  From birth, we are already predisposed to connect.  Babies were shown photographs of many objects including the human face.  When their attention time was measured, the  results showed that the attention given to inanimate objects was significantly shorter than the time given to look at the photograph of a human face.

Our brains are wired with mirror neurons that would imitate another human person to increase the likelihood of being liked and forming a good relationship. We form bridges all the time and with many people even more so if we have not been prevented by bad experiences or hangups or bitter role models in our lives.   That’s why we use these words like ging gang, clan,  party of friends and  team.

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Recently, 11 of us most of whom knew one another from our teenage years travelled together.  We casually call ourselves the Golden Gang. All in our mid life, with adult children who have found their own pursuits in life and therefore not around us as much, we found one another great company.  And with SKI (Spending Kids’ Inheritance) tendencies, we plan holidays abroad and have lobsters and scallops for dinner.  Mental health when we are together is definitely optimal J

The 2 optimal benefits of being together is ENJOYMENT AND SATISFACTION  (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, The Bible). When you are in good and fun company, you belly laugh, enjoy better and are more satisfied. Endorphins are released in the brain to cause a high or euphoria. This elevates your mood and reduces your pain. Endorphin which is made up of two words   “endogenous”  and “morphine”  means it’s  ‘a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.’

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What are some activities that can bring about enjoyment and satisfaction as a group?  Enjoyment and satisfaction make you STRONGER TOGETHER.

Celebration

Recently I went to Singapore for my niece’s wedding.  The entire day was enjoyable and satisfying because it was filled with  laughter and anticipation. The hardware of the wedding was competently organised by my sister and brother-in-law – the house was cleaned, the food was set, the programme for the day was ready to go, 27 tables in the hotel were booked. The software was the guests, the people the family honoured and loved, who came to celebrate the very special day with the to-be married couple. 

I overheard that the family didn’t sleep well for a few nights because of the wedding preparation but no one looked fatigued on the wedding day.  Everyone was busy happy and the energy level was high.  The energy was palpable and contagious.

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Weddings are but one channel of celebration. A friend of mine made it his job to organise Christmas Eve Dinner every year to keep the family Christian faith alive; a family member threw a surprise birthday party for her husband.  Spread the joy!

Charity

While in Singapore, I went with two friends and my sister-in-law on a day visit to an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia. The orphanage houses 24 children of deprived family backgrounds.  The youngest orphan is 5 month-old and she was given up by a single mother; the oldest is an 18 year-old who was abandoned by her father in a hotel. The despair did not drown us into helplessness.

STRONGER TOGETHER, we worked out our roles and went about tutoring and playing with the children.

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We witnessed the passion of the Singaporean missionary who invested her heart, time and money into the orphanage. She is simply inspiring!  She mingled amongst the local Indonesians and the children were drawn to her like magnet.

“It’s not easy,” I overheard the helpers talking about the sacrifice of this Singaporean missionary.  But being involved in a group makes a difficult mission a little easier. 

Try it!  Get a group to do charity work where you are or overseas. The satisfaction of seeing the needs of others being met is energising.  It’s great for mental health!

Chowtime

“Let’s have coffee” and “Come and share a meal” are invitations for grounding.  Chowtimes are opportunities to listen and to be listened to, to express anxieties and to have others offer alternatives.  The informal atmosphere makes it easier to open up and to go away from the meal feeling more relaxed and socially connected. 

J R R Tolkien believes that chowtime can bring happiness.  He said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” In this day and age where food is so readily available and affordable, it can be used as a means of bonding and social interaction.  Great values are transmitted at tables; friendships are deepened when people share their lives over food.  Initiate chowtimes with friends; respond to the invitations of others for a catchup.

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I used to say that families who eat together stay together.  There’s truth in it and there’s also a window of opportunity for that to happen.  Make it a habit to eat regularly together.  With young children, make chowtime a pleasurable time.  Include them at the table and develop healthy eating  and social habits.  It’s not as easy to eat as frequently with adult children.  Still, make it a point to have regular chowtimes on a weekly or fortnightly basis.  In fact, it’s fun eating with adult children as they have broader food choices and can also afford to pay for the meals.

Enjoyment and satisfaction are so essential for our mental health. May we  carve out more time to be with others in celebration, charity work and chowtimes. Be STRONGER TOGETHER not only in October during the Mental Health Week.  Throughout the year, make efforts to be STRONGER TOGETHER.

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Month of September – LET’S TALK EMOJI – HOPE

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Hope is a life force. It sees life even in a dark place.  I have a picture of that. One wouldn’t expect any plant life to come out of the brick wall.  Yet beautiful flowers can grow out of crevices.  Hope, like the plant, defies the overwhelming darkness that surrounds it and pushes its way out of the crevice towards the light.

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In the articulate words of Shakespeare, “The tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms.” Hope pops its head out in great expectation and sees huge benefit in going forward into the tomorrow.

A boy that is promised a trip to the Universal Studio could not keep still in the car. His hope is irrepressible, ‘Are we there yet?’ he will ask countless times. He is promised a fun time and that hope lifts his head and spirit high.

We all need hope to survive and thrive.  It is a necessity and luxury of life. The more desperate the need is and the more despairing the circumstance is, the more hope is needed. Without hope one dies within.  Losing hope is a terrible place to be in.

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But when we are full of hope, life has its greatest meaning. We look with anticipation to the future and we enjoy our present moments. ‘Looking forward’ is not just a common phrase in a letter; it is a state of eagerly waiting for a desire to be fulfilled.  And when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy (Proverbs 13:12). 

If hope is so essential in life, what can bring hope?

  1. GOLDEN WORDS

What golden words do you hold on to each day that gives you the energy and vitality? Do you say, ‘Good morning Lord’ or do you say, ‘Good Lord, it’s morning?’ How you greet the day will determine how that day pans out for you.  The sense of respect you hold each day as a gift of life is a skill you can cultivate. Life is truly not to be taken for granted.  Every day lived well is a day gained.

Golden words make you feel good about yourself as you start the day.  Some people start off the day reading a passage from religious writings or inspirational stories and then let a word or phrase guide them throughout the day.  This has been my practice for 40 years and I find it very useful in keeping my focus and replenishing my energy and hope when I need it. Earlier this year, our radio station 98.5 also encouraged its audience to single out a word to live out each day.

I once had a 40-day collection of MY ONE WORD.  From a passage I read, together with my co-author, we both picked one word which impacted us the most and we illustrated it so that the message got to be registered even deeper.  This word resonated with us the whole day often bringing cheer to us when we felt down.  This collection of 40 words  kept me buoyant in my spirit for those 40 days and occasionally now, I still take out the hard copy and read the uplifting messages again and again.

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How about starting your own collection of MY ONE WORD? One golden word is powerful enough to shape your day!

  1. Golden connections

How many people in a typical day do you make contact with?  What kind of connections do you experience? Do you have close relationships? My junior school autograph book recorded, “Make new friends but don’t forget the old.  One is silver; the other is gold.”  Golden connections, the relationships we have in life, can fuel our lives with hope and vitality.

When you need hope, you don’t want to be isolated from people.  Ironically that’s what is preferred during those times – for reasons like you don’t want to trouble people; you feel shameful to be feeling hopeless; you want lots of quietness to process your thoughts.  Sometimes that isolation can breed more misery and loneliness.

Do open up to encouragers in your life.  Encouragers are people who come to you with ‘their heart.’  Like cheerleaders in a game, they can enthuse you with a new heart for the future.

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Underneath the glass of my study desk twenty five years ago was a collage of a few photocopied Singapore dollar notes with the verse from Jeremiah 29:11,  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was in my darkest hour wondering if I was going to be swallowed up in a financial crisis that this verse came to me.  My friend who was on holiday in Indonesia felt compelled to email me the verse.  That heartfelt message was a bright light that showed me the way out.  It helped me to join the dots in life’s meanders and mysteries.  I was grateful for that golden connection.

Hope is a life force as I said at the very beginning.  You can feed it or deplete it. 

A storyteller used the analogy of dogs to talk about the human nature, “Inside of me there are two dogs.  One is mean and the other is good.  They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins? I answer, the one I feed the most.”

Feed the hope in you.  Tell yourself constantly,

“There are always way outs.”

“When one door closes, another one opens.”

“I am a created to be a problem solver.”

“Nothing is too big to be handled.”

“All things are possible.” Etc…

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Believe more for yourself, for your family, for your future.  Root yourself in GOLDEN WORDS and blossom and fruit where you are planted.  Delight yourself in GOLDEN CONNECTIONS and let them be your sunshine.

                                       A BONUS PICTURE OF HOPE THIS MORNING –

                                                  fresh from my neighbour’s garden

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HOPE is looking expectantly at my neighbour’s fig tree with a few leaves and knowing that soon I will be enjoying the ripe and sweet figs.  He doesn’t eat them and so we get to pluck all the figs we want 🙂 Sweet!

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Month of August – LET’S TALK EMOJI – HAPPY

Would you believe that “HAPPY” is the password for the Virgin Lounge wifi?  I actually smiled when I keyed in “HAPPY” into my phone.  It’s one of those words that has a transforming effect.  You just burst into smiles when you greet someone HAPPY Birthday, HAPPY New Year, HAPPY holidays.

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How do I key in “HAPPY” into my brain system so that I can use the data to live well?  Is it as easy as wifi access in the Virgin Lounge?

It turned out, as Professor of Harvard Dr Daniel Gilbert put it, that the brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness when we choose to key in happiness into the system.  That’s why we often hear that happiness is a choice. Key in happiness and you get happiness!

HAPPINESS  IN MOMENTS

Image result for happy muffinHappiness is what we get when we get what we want.  A very happy moment for me was when I finally remembered the flavour of the muffin after a few hours of racking my brain.  It was a distinct flavour but I totally forgot the name of the ingredient.  Nothing could help me recall and I decided to leave the matter alone.  It was in the most unlikely phrase in an English comprehension book for senior school students that I found the answer to my search and prayer:  ‘A rhubarb is a rhubarb is a rhubarb.’ Imagine my happiness when I got what I wanted!

I have told the rhubarb story many times over and each retelling carried the same sense of happiness as when I opened that book with that phrase popping out of the page.  My brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness again and again for me as I repeat that beautiful story.

Can you recall some of your stories of happiness when you get what you want?

You wanted that scholarship and you got it; you wanted to learn cooking and you got into a cooking class; you wanted to visit your friend at his house and you bumped into him at the shopping mall etc.  Big or small things can make you feel happy.

Yet when you ask people what make them happy, many of them are tongue-tied.  Some don’t know what they want so they don’t know how to feel happy even when they get them.

Shawn Achor, the American happiness researcher, recommended writing a gratitude journal for 21 days recording 3 new things each day that you are grateful for.  Being mindful of what you want and being deliberate about how you get it will help you experience happiness at a tangible level.

Image result for writing happily“I am grateful that I could study on a scholarship.”

“I am grateful that I can cook green Thai curry.”

“I am grateful that I met my friend at the shopping mall.”

I am already looking forward to tomorrow to record another 3 new things I am grateful for.  The anticipation itself even makes me feel happy as it holds for me the great possibility of getting what I want.

Happiness gives the body a great boost. Endorphins are released into the blood and alter the state of the body. The mood is elevated and the pain is reduced. The body works out a new energy to cope with the challenge. “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (The Bible, Proverbs 17:22)

HAPPINESS IN MEANING

What if life is not so wonderful and memories are not so fond?  Dr Gilbert’s research revealed that the brain can still manufacture happiness even in unpleasant times.  He quoted the example of Moreese Bickham who was put in prison for 37 years for a crime he didn’t do.  Moreese made an astounding statement, “ I don’t have one minute’s regret.  It was a glorious experience.”   He is not alone.   St James in the Bible (James 1:2-3) says, ‘Is your life full of difficulties? Then be happy,  for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.’ What!  That’s furthest from how an average person would perceive happiness!

Perception is everything! How we view our external world determines our inner world.   Moreese and St James nailed it – their lives are testimonials of research findings that 90% of happiness depends on how you process the external world.

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Events in the external world are sometimes out of our control and if our happiness is controlled by them, then we will always be like a yoyo swinging with each twist.  But if we recognise that there are always alternatives and way-outs in every situation, then we can stay calm and can even be happy.

Work at being excellent in manufacturing positive perceptions.  It’s in the capacity of your brain.  Lead your brain to have a high level of ‘ikigai’, a beautiful Japanese word that means ‘the reason for living.’ We want to wake up every morning with a good reason for living.

In an experiment where people were exposed to 3 minutes of negative news and SOLUTIONS, it was found that they became more creative and not negative at all.  If you need to listen to negative news, do listen to the solutions as well.  Happiness pathways are created as problems become possibilities and walls become doors.

Happy are the problem-solvers for they will inherit happiness!

HAPPINESS IN MIRRORING

Happiness can be perpetuated.  The happiest people are the people who have people to laugh with, to smile at, to talk to.  There is a restaurant in Northbridge in Perth that is called “Pleased to meet you.”  I thought it was a strange name at first but it is slowly warming up to me with its great message.  When you are delighted to see your friends, it’s contagious.  They will be equally pleased to meet you.  We have mirror neurons in our brain that copy the behaviour of people around us. That’s how we brand cultures – that’s a fun-loving bunch; it’s  a friendly country; they are a happy-go-lucky family.

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Rather than waiting for another to smile at you and say hello, be the first one to do so.  You will get a mirror effect that will surprise you.  I had the funniest thing happened to me when I was a young adult.  I lived in an apartment and the lift stopped at every floor.  That day, the lift opened and I saw my elderly neighbour whom we called , ‘Ah Pei’, a respectful word in my Chinese dialect for an older male person.  I must have shocked him with my enthusiastic tone that he mirrored back to me, ‘Ah Pei.’  I had a good laugh after I exited from the lift.

What do you want mirrored to you?  If it’s happiness, then you need to project that image to get its expression.

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Month of July – SPIRITUAL SELF-CARE

There was a perfect lying -down spot on the sofa.   The beautiful sun of Sydney shone through the glass door into the living room.  The piano music from the YouTube album on prayer drifted through the room.

Nudie and Jack were already relaxed and suntanning at their corners.  Nudie is my daughter’s hairless Sphinx cat and Jack is her newly-acquired cat. It was a very beautiful picture of peace. Usually they would be chasing each other’s tail, running and plonking up and down the stairs.

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I was writing and rewriting a script for an upcoming talk.  I was anxiously cancelling and adding notes to the script. The empty space between the two cats called out to me. It was cold where I was; the sofa looked warm and inviting.  It looked like a zone of peace.

I laid down.  The cats didn’t move; they were transfixed by the peaceful presence of the room.  I started to pray. The peace was out of this world; it was beyond words. I entered into a sphere, a special zone of God’s felt presence.

Something happens inside when you pray. One of the ways to exercise spiritual self-care is prayer.

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Prayer is attached to your tranquillity system. When you pray, you release a healthy supply of GABA.  GABA is a tranquillity neurotransmitter that is distributed in the neurons of the brain and the nervous system. It calms you down, it brings perspectives, it vitalises hope. GABA is the braking system in your brain. Without GABA, your brain will go on an activity overdrive and burnout is the outcome of that kind of brain.

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Prayer has the force to change the state of your mind.  An anxious state can be changed into a less anxious state or even a calm state. John Ortberg an author said that a prayerful life experiences inner peace and  contentment.  Dr Catherine Hart another author said that prayer is a critical factor to recovery and well-being.

One of the peace-killers is anxiety. Modern life has many stresses – working for a living, health issues, matters relating to people near to us and dear to us etc. Your brain is designed to cope with stress.  One hormone which helps us cope is cortisol.  It’s a stress hormone produced in the brain.  It’s like an alarm bell in the fire station to tell you that there’s a fire to be put out.  It alerts and rallies the body and brain systems to put out that fire. All is well if the fires are put out.

But sometimes you are so harassed by the cares in your lives that you carry them all and find yourselves anxious about anything and everything. There are just too many fires to put out.  The mind can be so easily cluttered with toxic thoughts and worries.  Anxiety can cause a lack of sleep and a lack of appetite.

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Prayer helps you to unload your anxieties and cares to a personal God, whom you believe is interested in you and attends to you when you are in trouble.

In prayer you see possibilities in problems. One day I was asked to give a talk.  I was quite anxious about the title of the talk.  I prayed before I slept and that prayerful attitude must have been carried into my sleep for me to have a vivid dream that night.  In big letters, the title of my talk flashed out – MAX YOUR POTENTIAL formed with puffy clouds in the sky.

Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, did some research on prayer and the brain.  He found that prayer activates the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe processes space, touch, vision and language.  When you pray, you enter into the visual space where pictures can be accessed.  One phrase or one picture can change circumstances for you. Philip Yancey, an author and a public speaker said, “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”

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Spiritual self-care is a necessary part of life.  When you pray, it’s  like making  deposits into your spiritual bank account.  Your hopes are raised, your anxieties are lowered, your horizons expand, your resources and possibilities multiply. You are the richer for it when you pray!

 

Month of June – RELATIONAL SELF-CARE

With glistening eyes and a pristine voice, actor Ewan McGregor wooed Nicole Kidman with the song,

Love is a many splendoured thing
                                 Love lifts us up where we belong
All you need is love.”

Love is many-splendoured, uplifting and definitely needful in our relationships to give us the most happiness and highest well-being.  It’s great happiness to enjoy connection and chemistry with the people around us. Together, people make magic – love is shared,  ideas are sprouted, feelings flourish, lives are liberated, wounds are healed. Only in a loving community are all these possible.  People tend to be more generous and open when they sense the spirit of the community is a loving one.

That being the case, our relational self care plan is to learn how to love better so that we can create a sense of community and enjoy interpersonal harmony.

How do we go about relating harmoniously? Start telling yourself:

  1. “I love people”

           CAMARADERIE

Image result for Kelly Rowland with SamKelly Rowland in The Voice Australia was saying how camaraderie was formed among the contestants and her colleagues when they were working together to harness the singing talents of Australia.  Camaraderie, the mutual trust and friendship among people, is so needed in our social lives.

To be a friend, show yourself friendly (The Bible, Prov 18:24). When you are friendly, you send signals that you are ready and willing to befriend and develop the relationship. Scientists claimed that we have mirror neurons that help us connect. When someone speaks with a certain accent, we mirror back with a similar accent.  In so doing, we will appear friendlier and seek some form of connection for the relationship to take off. Mirroring can also come in the form of actions.  When our neighbour gives us home-made bread, we give them blueberry tarts.  The more people can mirror accurately and appropriately, the more social exchange can happen.  Love blossoms as a result.

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  1. “I love to help”

           COMPASSION

One trait that distinguishes us from robots is compassion, said Mr Jack Sim, the Founder of World Toilet organisation.  He is the right person to say that because his compassion for people who are not as privileged is admirable.  He raised funds and awareness to build toilets for developing countries.  Compassion is gut-wrenching but Mr Jack Sim goes about doing his charity work with humour and lightheartedness.

Image result for Mr Jack Sim founder of World ToiletWe may not have compassion that reached the United Nations level as Mr Jack Sim has achieved.  But we can show compassion in our own sphere. Doing acts of kindness not only benefit others, it strengthens our immune system, elevates our moods and makes us  likeable.

Ask ourselves frequently, “Who can I show love today?”  Start with small gestures of love.  Ask, ‘What do people around me need?’ I became a psychologist because I realised that people needed a listening ear.  And I couldn’t do much listening when I was a school teacher.  I resigned from the teaching service and started the counselling career in my 40s. My cousin in her 60s, a nursing director, said, ‘  People need help.  And I can still contribute.’  That’s compassion at work and that’s inspiring!

  1. “I love ideas”

           COLLABORATION 

Networking is a buzz word these days. People spend time and efforts to see how they can best come together to produce greater works and better effects. From business to religion to families, it is necessary to collaborate.  Why collaborate? Exponential effect is achieved when there is collaboration.   “One pursues a thousand, two puts ten thousand to flight.” (The Bible, Deut 32:30)  One  Belgian horse can carry 8000 pounds;  two can carry 24000 pounds.  And Belgian horses raised from 2-3 years old can carry 30000 pounds together.

Whatever capacity or opportunity you are given to collaborate, use it. It greatly benefits you and your social world:

  • Change your way of doing things and make it more effective. Writing a blog was as a result of collaboration with my husband.  I write and he teaches me how to publish it on the various media.  I changed the way I do things and it’s making it more fun and far-reaching.
  • Complement others and enhance the work outcomes. I have a friend who is excellent at organising people and another who is very good at making dumplings.  Together with their pastor, they decided to make 200 dumplings to raise funds for Cambodia. But on their own they couldn’t make that many.  They rallied a team to complement them. The support was so overwhelming that they made 500 dumplings in the end.    It was all win that weekend – they exceeded their target, in dumplings and money!
  • Capitalise your strengths as you get the opportunity to keep using your abilities.  People will seek you out when you are good in a skill.  That skill may even be regarded as your signature skill.  What are you good at doing?  Keep capitalising it.  It will bring much happiness to the people around you.

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                                                               “I love ideas”

                                               Ideas sprout via collaboration