Changing our mind

(Originally published on 20/04/2020)

The topic of changing one’s mind is something that has been on my mind for the past couple of months. It all started with this phrase I heard from my favorite podcast “Not Overthinking” that got me thinking about the way we form ideas and opinions on things, and how easily they can be influenced by things that we are not aware of such as our friends and our surroundings. What is more striking is that we all have the ability to go back and change our mind on things if it’s not so much for the social norm.

Before we go any further, I would like to get something out of the way. I’m no expert in this field of decision-making theory since I’m not a good decision maker myself and this article is not about how to make good decisions. In this post, I would like to lay out the possibilities of how not being fixated on our past decisions can be a good thing for us in the long run.

“What was once decided, can be undecided.”

Not Overthinking Podcast

Let’s start from the top! How do we know that the decisions that we make are truly ours and not something that we’re told is the right decision? It’s really tricky to answer that question without first taking a defensive stance. I’m talking about external influence that we don’t have control over but has control over us.

Think about it. We’re constantly bombarded with conflicting information on any given topics from left and right. How much of that information is actually useful to us is anyone’s guess.

Getting rid of the stigma

Most of us like to think of changing one’s mind as a weakness in character. It’s a stigma that was ingrained in us from a young age. We were told as a kid to develop a belief system by our parents and through our upbringings. Furthermore, we were taught to stand by those belief systems by the society we grew up in regardless of its merits and appropriateness.

However, I personally believe that it’s the wrong way to look at it. We don’t have all the right answers to the questions out there. Therefore, we should not feel obliged to have a fixed mindset and instead we should be open minded and willing to change our mind when new evidence comes to surface or when we have a change of heart.

So, who’s to say that the belief that you hold true right now will still remain true a few months or years down the road?

For instance, I was brought up in a Buddhist household in Myanmar and that was all I knew for all my life until I went overseas to live with my mother after I finished high school in 2009. Instantly, I was exposed to different cultures and traditions that are completely different from what I grew up with. For me, adjusting to the changes was rather quick since I was still young and thus more open-minded at the time so I felt right at home.

However, I started to question the religion that I was taught to believe in from a very young age. It was mostly due to the amount of reading and research I did which led me to leave my religious beliefs behind. If you’re interested, the very first book I read that made me question my religion was this fascinating book called “God Is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens.

Taking the first step

Often, it’s pride that usually gets in the way of our willingness to change our stance, whether it’s a trivial decision or a life changing one.

Just because you are more susceptible to change doesn’t mean that you have a weak character or a weak “pillar of morality”. In contrast, it simply means that you’re more open-minded and that you’re more willing to change course if and when you feel it’s necessary.

It takes a lot of courage to admit your mistake and change your mind because you don’t want to seem weak in the eyes of your peers. So, take pride in that instead of hiding behind a mask of this “ideal person” with strong morals. It is simply a big lie that’s sold by the mass.

There is no shame in admitting that your previously held beliefs were wrong and change it to better fit your current situation.

Living intentionally is what really matters at the end of the day.

So, go out there and rebuild the bridges you may have burnt with your favorite people.

Building up good habits | Reading

(Originally published on  14/04/2020)

For a while I have been getting questions on how I picked up my reading habit and kept it consistently over the past couple of years. I didn’t think much of it at first; however, after coming across many people with the same question I realized that some people do, in fact, struggle with making good habits stick.

So, in this post I’m going to share with you on how it all started for me and how you can do the same if you follow the tips that are provided in this post, regardless of the busy schedule you may have. I also believe these tips would be helpful for those of you that are looking to pick up a new hobby when there is plenty of downtime during the lockdown period.

Although these tips that I’m laying out are specifically for picking up the reading habit, I believe they can be applied to forming any other habits as well. For me, there are four essential elements to picking up any good habits. You have to:

  1. Willingness to get started
  2. Discipline to keep it up
  3. Keep it fresh
  4. Keep it challenging

Willingness to get started

First and foremost, you gotta have the genuine willingness to form any new habits or skills. Keyword being “genuine”. Without it you will have a hard time keeping up even for a week, let alone a year.

Nonetheless, all is not lost for those of you that are asking yourselves if you have it in you or not, since it is something that you can build from the ground up with enough discipline and willpower. I, like many of you, went through the same stage of self-doubt at the early days of my habit forming.

To provide a little back story, it was in late June of 2017 that I decided to give reading another go. At the time, I just got my first ever full-time job training as an apprentice at a woodworking workshop and the place was really far from my house. Therefore, I had to face the reality of taking a grueling and long commute to work and back every day. So, I felt the need to occupy myself with productive means of reading and I thought it was a better use of my time as opposed to having my face glued to a phone.

So, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to start with what I had lying on my bookshelf at the time which happened to be this mesmerizing book titled 1984 by George Orwell. I read a few pages of the book when I first bought it but for some reasons, I never managed to get past the first chapter. I brought the book to work and read a few pages on public transport every day of the month and that’s basically how I picked up a reading habit. How did I keep it up?

Discipline to keep it up

In the beginning, I was worried that I would not be able to focus on the book due to motion sickness I usually get from reading or focusing while on a moving vehicle, but they all came to pass overtime. I had another mounting fear that I would lose interest and stop reading after a month or two. So, I had to mentally convince myself to read even if I don’t feel like it on some days. Over time it became second nature and I’d just open up a book the moment I’m settled in on my seat on a train.

“Self-control requires attention and effort.” – Thinking, Fast and Slow Daniel Kahneman

Some of you might be wondering that what I did to myself was not entirely nice since I basically coerced my inner self to do something I wasn’t really into. Well, I do believe that we all have to dig deep and win over our inside voice to pursue what we really believe is the right thing to do regardless of how cruel it might seem.

As a matter of fact, I used to pull a similar trick on myself when I was in high school. I would convince myself to memorize another line of class note or solve another Math problem before I treat myself to a sweet snack. The real kicker is that I would tell myself to push a little further before I get to open up that sweet, sweet snack! That little psychological trick I played on myself actually paid off and got me through the last year of high school with a distinction in Math. Winning!

In short, you have to train your mind to resist the temptation of instant gratification. Just try to keep in mind the potential benefits of reading consistently, which includes exposing your brain to vivid imagination with intriguing fiction stories and growing your mind to become a better person with informative non-fiction novels.

For those of you that need a little push with self-discipline, I highly recommend checking out Jocko Willink’s video on Discipline = Freedom on YouTube.

Keep it fresh!

One of the best ways to maintain a habit is to expose yourself to it more often. It’s as simple as that. The more you read, the more you will want to read!

It goes without saying that you got to be interested in what you’re reading. Otherwise, you will lose interest before you make it past the introduction. Start with a genre that you really love, for me it was a “dystopian sci-fi”. I started with what I had the most interest in, which allowed me to stay hooked on reading for over six months, before I started considering reading non-fiction for a change.

It does take time to make such a transition and it might take you longer based on your preferences. So, go easy on yourself and pick up the book that you have been thinking about reading for the past couple of months and start from there. No pressure!

After sticking to a specific genre for a while, you will naturally get an itch to explore other intriguing topics out of either boredom or curiosity. I dipped my toes into a slew of non-fiction topics such as investment, behavioral psychology and historical autobiography. Topics that I wouldn’t have imagined touching with a ten-foot pole a few years back. Some of the non-fiction books I have read have given me a new outlook and various perspectives on life and I’m glad I took that leap.

However, I found a good balance to keep at the start of this year. I started switching genres after every book I read. I would start the month with a mind-blowing science fiction novel and follow it up with a book on probability and randomness. I think it’s one of the great ways to keep things interesting. So, if you feel like you’re trudging through the book that you’re currently reading, you will have something potentially more fun and exciting to look forward to, which will allow you to swiftly get through the pages of your current read.

How do you make sure you pick the right book? Well, I don’t have a solid, unbiased answer for that, but I have written a separate blog post on that so you can give it a read if you want to know how I select my next read.

Keep it challenging!

Last but not least, I have to bring up the natural tendency for how things can get stale after a while. So, it really comes down to you to make it entertaining and the best way is to start by giving yourself an attainable challenge. Start small! Give yourself a challenge to finish one single book this month. See if you can hit the target and make adjustments as you go.

Another way to keep reading fun is by joining Goodreads and making new friends over on the platform. It’s also a great place to browse for your next golden read. If you’re old school, you can look up and join local reading groups although you might want to keep that idea on hold for the next couple of months due to “you-know-what”.

Well, I do hope you get something out of reading this long post and if there’s any tips that you personally find useful and think that could be useful for everyone, you can leave it in the comment and I will look right into it.

Stay safe and happy reading.

5 books that made a huge impact on my life

(Originally published on 30/03/2020)

These are the 5 non-fiction books that I learnt the most from in 2019 and in this article, I’m going to explain why you should pick them up as your next read. As I mentioned in my previous post, I made a personal quest to dive deeper into the topics of personal development and personal finance in 2019. Initially when I started out it was quite challenging to be fully engaged in non-fiction books, I was always worried that I would be overwhelmed by dry topics. However, it didn’t seem to be the case as I breezed through most of the books without ever a hint of boredom.

So, here are my “official reviews” on the books and I believe they all have something valuable to offer and they would be certainly worth your time if you do decide to pick them up. Nonetheless, I do hope you find my take on these books useful.

The books are listed in no particular order as they all have something unique and valuable to offer.

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

This book is written by Nobel Prize laureate Daniel Kahneman and his collaborator Amos Tversky on the topic of behavioral science, cognitive biases and prospect theory. The book’s primary focus is on the two trains of thoughts that we rely heavily on a regular basis, System 1 being a fast and reactive one whereas System 2 is slow and deliberative. 

Thinking, Fast and Slow

The book delves deeper into how our brains function when making decisions and how they can be prone to errors and misjudgments, especially when you end up using System 1 to make snap judgments that would in fact require System 2 and not being aware of the substitution.

“This is the essence of heuristic: when faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

I have had many incidents where I made bad decisions on a whim based on the facts that were available to me at the time, which has gotten me in a lot of trouble at work and sometimes even in my own personal life. This can be very problematic when you are confident of your decision-making ability without realizing the flaws in the process of making the wrong decisions.

Inevitably, we all fall victim to our laziness and make bad decisions from time to time; however, we can improve our decision-making ability by being more self-aware of our shortcomings which will allow us to take a step back and analyze our mistakes a bit more critically and re-configure ourselves not to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

The Tipping Point by Malcom Gladwell

I was introduced to Malcom Gladwell by a student of mine during one of our conversations on books we’ve read. In this book, Gladwell explained how some ideas and events trigger a huge following by drawing convincing examples from historical events such as the rise of popularity and sales of Hush Puppies in the mid-1990s and a sudden drop in crime rate in New York city after 1990.

The Tipping Point

 I was sucked in right away because of Gladwell’s brilliant storytelling and his convincing evidence on human behavioral sciences. Yes, I’m a sucker for well-written narratives even if they sound slightly far-fetched! Gladwell has a reputation among academics for oversimplifying some theories on human psychology and making them too dumb-down to fit into his narratives. To that I say, always take what you see with a grain of salt!

In the first chapter “The Law of the Few”, Gladwell revealed the three main factors that are required to trigger such serendipitous events and they are: Connectors, Mavens and Salesmen.

The second chapter deals with “The Stickiness Factor” which explains how a subtle but significant change in presentation can make a big difference to the interaction and participation of viewers, Gladwell uses the popularity of Sesame Street and Blue’s Clue as examples in the book.

The third and final chapter touches on “The Power of Context” which explains the dramatic drop in crime rate in New York city after 1990, which the author attributes to Broken Windows Theory that was introduced by James Q. Wilson and George Kelling in 1982.

The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham

In the later part of 2018, I got really interested in investing when I stumbled upon a YouTube video on personal finance which covers some basic knowledge on how to save up money and invest in the stock market. Back then I had little to no knowledge about how the stock market works and the whole thing just seemed really intimidating to me. So, I did what any responsible adult would do and started consuming all the information that I could find on investing both on the internet and in the library till I finally stumbled upon this book. 

I’m still a beginner in the world of investment and I have only put in a small portion of my savings in buying ETFs. So, I do not qualify to tell anyone which stock to buy, but Ben Graham can indeed give you all the best advice you would need on picking the right stocks based on his famous value investing.

You don’t have to buy into my words. Even the world’s greatest investor a.k.a Warren Buffett, who also happens to be Graham’s disciple calls this the bible of investing. So, you can imagine how important this book is if you’re planning to start your investment endeavor.

Why Nations Fail by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

I’ve always been intrigued by how some countries like Singapore, the country that I’m currently residing in, becomes one of the richest countries in the world whereas my home country Myanmar, although it’s blessed with abundance in both natural and human resources, is still struggling to make its way out of third world countries list. Lo and behold I got all the questions answered in this book, and they are incredibly eye opening.

Why Nations Fail

However, my main takeaway from this book are the economic concepts of Inclusive institutions and Extractive institutions that enable the governments to act in a certain way. In short, inclusive institutions encourage people to move and trade freely without much involvement from the central government. This also allows people to grow wealthy and lead a fulfilling life while also having the freedom to elect the government through democratic system, which means the government is responsible to keep people safe and happy if it wants to stay in power, which means the government is responsible to keep people safe and happy if it wants to stay in power.

You can see the extractive institutions in practice in countries such as North Korea and most African countries. In extractive institutions, the government and a handful of elites are in charge of making both economic and political decisions with no checks and balances. You can imagine how such government can be more corrupt compared to democratic government. That is not to say that democratic governments are all saints as the authors provide some historical events on how people can still become corrupt even under inclusive institutions.

Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin

One of the best ways to learn about life is by studying the great men of history. This book depicts a remarkable journey of Abraham Lincoln starting from a child who lost his mother at a very young age to becoming a circuit lawyer by reading and self-studying day and night, then to finally become one of the most powerful and influential leaders in world history.

Team of Rivals

Goodwin did an incredible job depicting the lives of Lincoln and his cabinet which includes Henry Seward as Secretary of State, Salmon Chase as Secretary of Treasury and Edward Bates as Attorney General. The rivalry dynamic between him and his cabinet is something we can all learn a great deal of leadership lessons from. There are some gripping stories of Lincoln successfully bringing the broken/divided nation through the civil war and reuniting the Southern States back into the Union.

You can feel Lincoln’s unwavering effort to bring slavery to an end against all odds with the primary support of his closest advisor Henry Seward. Lincoln’s capacity to understand and empathize the inward feelings and intentions of others are displayed throughout his career.

Lincoln always believed, he later said, that ‘if slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.’

I do have to admit that this is a really long book, and it will definitely require some time commitment; however, Goodwin’s writing is really intriguing and will keep you riveted throughout.

Well, that was quite a list eh! Congrats if you made it all the way down here and I’m incredibly humble that you decided to spend your precious time on this post. Please let me know what you think of my list and if you have any recommendations for me.

As always, stay curious and keep learning!

Books in Review | 2019

(Originally published on 23/03/2020)

Every year, a whopping 2.2 million books of different genres are released into the market, but we only have a limited amount of time and attention span to go through just a fraction of it. So, how do you make sure that you pick the right book that deserves your attention? Well, I think it is a broad question to answer and quite frankly it is something I cannot answer without being biased. However, I believe it all comes down to individual preferences and I’m going to show you my way of picking the right books.

If you are like me, you don’t want to spend 2-3 hours reading a book just to realize the subject is either too dry or you simply can’t immerse yourself in the book for whatever reasons. I have a neat trick to prevent that kind of thing from interrupting my mood to read. That is to spend a few hours going through book reviews on Goodreads, whenever I have small pockets of time on my commute home, and of course you need to make sure you’re following the right sources while you’re at it. It has helped me pick great books for my next purchase and has given me something to look forward to when I’m about to finish the current book.

However, if you don’t have enough time to read through other people’s reviews then the next best option would be to listen to podcasts. My favorite source of podcasts is without a doubt Spotify, it offers a plethora of free podcasts on any topics you can think of plus it’s a great platform to find amazing music playlists. I would definitely recommend listening to “Not Overthinking”, “Freakonomics Radio” and “Philosophize This” just to name a few of my favorite podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis. Believe me, I have come across some of the best book recommendations just from listening to some of their episodes. 

With that out of the way I would like to segue into a topic of reading challenges and how I almost hit my personal challenge in 2019, which I set out in the middle of the year. It was a great achievement to have been able to read 41 books in 365 days. Although it’s 9 books short of the target I set out, it’s still definitely more than what I’d read over the last few years combined. Kudos to me!

A collection of the books I read in 2019

Unlike last year, I finally stepped out of my comfort zone a.k.a Science-Fiction genre to start reading more Nonfiction titles on such topics as money/personal management, human psychology and a slew of other intriguing topics and oh boy it was such a wonderful learning journey! On top of all the knowledge I gained, I got to make friends with so many great people through our mutual love of the books we read; mainly through my friends from social media and some of which I met at the workshop I teach woodworking classes.

Overall, 2019 has been a great year for my personal growth and I never would have imagined how picking up a reading habit would lead me to meet so many interesting people and establish myself as someone with a little bit of credibility when it comes to books. 

You can follow me on Goodreads if you’d like to keep up with my reading activities.