At the end of every year, I sit down to reflect on what I learned, what I did well, and my goals and plans for the next year. The past few years have been in my journal where there is a section to do a post-mortem of your year, but I’m so thankful for my blog because everything I publish on here takes me to depths of exploration and research that I normally don’t reach.
When you write publicly, you tend to be more thorough (for me, at least).
Here are 21 lessons I learned in 2021:
- Sleep deeply, exercise daily, eat well and bath in sunlight
- Everyone is going through something.
- Healing isn’t linear.
- Humans are extremely resilient.
- Understanding how your brain works may be the secret to happiness.
- You have to heal your body (as well as your mind).
- Being able to sit with yourself in silence is a priceless skill.
- Your daily habits are more important than your end goal.
- Aggressively eliminate social media, news and TV— and negative people.
- There is no such thing as normal.
- Choose people over things.
- Do your innerwork to unwrap your soul.
- Nothing lasts forever.
- Don’t forget to dream.
- People come into your life for a reason or a season.
- When you truly begin to focus on yourself, you attract everything you need.
- Embrace change and uncertainty.
- Give gratitude to receive gratitude.
- You need to be happy in your home.
- Focus on what you can control.
- Don’t forget to pause.
1. Sleep deeply, exercise daily, eat well and bath in sunlight
Your well-being is above EVERYTHING. Funny enough, we go back to the basics: quality sleep not quantity), sweating everyday, eating wholesome and nutritious foods, and getting as much sunlight (outside) as much as possible during the day to honor our internal circadian clock.
These are the most important things you need, and what you must prioritize for a truly happy and healthy life. Perfect these four things, and your life will be SIGNIFICANTLY more enjoyable.
How are you going to take care of anyone around you, be successful, love and be loved if you have no energy, an inflamed body, and a toxic mind? Love yourself, and everything falls into place.
2. Everyone is going through something.
Physically, emotionally and financially. When angry people lash out, I rarely react because I know angry people are usually sad people. It’s easy to be kind and compassionate when you understand human behaviour.
But society stigmatizes talking about mental health. And guess what? You’re not contributing to our broken society by pretending your life is perfect because our instinct is rarely wrong, and people will subconsciously read you as “phony.” Sharing your problems will inspire others to open up— and talking about your issues is one of the best ways for relief.
3. Healing isn’t linear.
Just like life, healing is a messy process. You may think you are finally okay one day, and a mess the next. So can your friends. Understand this concept to help you weather the ups and downs. There’s always sunshine after the rain.
4. Humans are extremely resilient.
This may sound morbid but a friend of mine told me a story of how rescuing his cousin from the Downtown Eastside after the family, and the world gave up on him. He got him clean but after a couple of years, his cousin hooked up with the wrong girl (also in recovery) who pretended to be pregnant with his baby, he spiraled out of control (anxiety), and ended up overdosing. We even took those two out for dinner once.
When I heard that story, I thought of everything this young man went through for years, surviving the hardship of the streets, being homeless, destroying his body and soul— yet people like him survive for years, and even decades in this state.
Your brain dies way before your body.
I once had a business that served a similar demographic so I experienced everything firsthand, and it broke my heart to see all these empty bodies with a deteriorating soul. There is nothing more lamentable than a slow death that eats away at your mind.
5. Understanding how your brain works may be the secret to happiness.
I’ve been fascinated with neuroscience the last couple of years, and the Huberman Lab podcast leveled my interest up to obsession. I’m a sapiophile, and I’ve always preached, ‘knowledge is motivation.’ There is nothing I treasure more than a calm and peaceful mind which I unveiled when I learned how, and why, my thoughts, and emotions came to be.
We hear a lot about mental health but it’s mainly associated with brain health. According to Dr. Daniel Amen, there is no such thing as mental illness but a chemical imbalance in your brain. What if we re-imagined mental health as brain health?
Every great idea began with an idea. Your thoughts become things, and if you can understand and regulate all your thoughts, your destiny is …in your head!
6. You have to heal your body (as well as your mind).
Have you entered a place and suddenly felt tense, your heart begins racing, and your tummy bloats up? Perhaps it’s a certain park where you spent a lot of time in your darker moments. Or a home where many fights occurred. The truth is that memories and trauma are buried deep in your DNA so your body remembers everything.
People often manifest illnesses and stressors into physical illnesses. That’s why you hear of people ‘dying from heartbreak’, you get ‘sick to your stomach’ after a break up, or older couples passing away minutes apart.
For your peace of mind, know that you can heal from this by resetting your autonomic nervous system by increasing your vagal tone. The vagus nerve is a nerve which connects your brain to the rest of the body, constantly sending signals, and modulating essential processes such as breathing, heart rate, blood sugar, and digestion. Research is discovering the importance of the brain–gut axis as a therapeutic target for gastrointestinal and psychiatric disorders such as IBS and PTSD.
7. Being able to sit with yourself in silence is a priceless skill.
Stimulating your vagal tone is the key to being in the ‘rest or digest’ mode. Increased vagal tone is correlated to positive emotions and wellbeing. This can be measured through tracking certain biological processes such as heart rate variability (HRV), and respiratory rate.
Meditation, breathwork, cold exposure, and exercise will help you increase your vagal tone, and fortify your mind– which is constantly communicating with the rest of your body. When you breathe in, your heart beats faster to pump oxygenated blood around your body. As you breathe out, your heart rate slows down. Your body is “safe” and it sends a signal to your brain thus regulating all your essential systems.
On top of that, you can never be bored or anxious if you can be alone with yourself. You will reach depths of consciousness and enlightenment by practicing mindfulness practices such as meditation.
8. Your daily habits are more important than your end goal.
We often underestimate a day, yet overestimate a year. Soon, a year has passed and you achieved nothing! Hence the importance of being consistent with small actions and habits you perform daily, no matter how short or long that day. All that matters is that you did it because that maintains momentum. The difference between those who succeed and those who don’t is consistency.
9. Aggressively eliminate social media, news and TV— and negative people.
I stopped watching the news, and unfollowed all toxic people and accounts by May 2020. I occasionally hop on the med-Twitter community to get an update on what’s happening around the world but I noticed my heart rate goes up when I am on my phone for too long.
10. There is no such thing as normal.
Searching for normal or what “once was” is a limiting mindset. Normal is whatever is happening today. If it’s different than yesterday, you either adapt, or get left behind.
11. Choose people over things.
The clothes you wear, the purses you have, the designer shoes you have— trust me, NO ONE CARES. People are inherently social creatures, and all these distractions are what drives us apart because we preoccupy our time with judging, or trying to impress others. Always c people and experiences over things.
But on the other hand, I am all for: ‘do what makes you currently happy.’ People need time, experience and lessons to revolve and recognize what really matters so don’t be judgy. Do you!
12. Do your innerwork to unwrap your soul.
The only way to find happiness, fulfillment, and success is to find where your passions and skills align. What did you want to be when you grew up? What did you fill your free time with? What made you happy? What did you collect?
I grew up obsessed with science, learning, and exploring the infinite mysteries of the universe. Astronomy was my favorite subject but then I read everything I could get my hands on. I read and wrote stories like a maniac.
I’ve had a diary since I was 5, a blog at 11, and started mindfulness journaling daily at 32. I wanted to be a doctor growing up, and of course, I was always outside riding bikes and exploring the world.
At the same time, I thought I hated weak people, and my teenage self made me think I was a psychopath because I truly did NOT care what anyone thought of me even though I was always compassionate. I simply had no patience ‘waiting for people to catch up.’ I ended up with a successful career in design and tech— where I got to sit behind a desk, not dealing with people directly.
Today, the trajectory of my life seems to be going towards what originally satisfied my curiosity in my childhood— my true passions. I had to unlearn who I thought I was, let go of my attachments, and uncover what my true motives were. The lesson is not over yet, and it will never be over because life is a never ending journey.
13. Nothing lasts forever.
Life is forever transient. Once you understand this and learn the importance of adapting, your life will be much easier because you are mentally prepared for everything. The pandemic bright out all the flaws in our society, uncovering our unhealthy habits that doesn’t align with nature, and inability to adapt to change.
Feelings and emotions are also temporary. Knowing they don’t last forever is an agile technique to quickly switch your mental state.
14. Don’t forget to dream.
I’m an INTJ, and we are outwardly logical, and inwardly philosophical. I am all for asking questions, and searching for logic but when do you stop? Faith plays an important role in the universe, the placebo effect proves that.
I’ve dated a few guys in the past who were so extremely logical, always overthinking, and asked way too many irrelevant questions that tested my patience. Although it made sense to question things, I sometimes had to finally say, “who cares, just chill.” One of them kept on asking how much of a difference expensive bike parts could possibly make, and all I could say was: ‘STFU and just ride.” I wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny but we don’t talk anymore. Lol.
15. People come into your life for a reason or a season.
People enter your life to teach you a lesson. Some of them stick around for a while, and others flitter away as fast as they come in. Understanding this is how I learned to get over things, and people faster.
I never regret past relationships and friendships long gone because when you reflect, you will realize that the dots always connect. You won’t be where you are today without that lesson you learned at that time.
You also date to find out what works and doesn’t. Better to do it quickly with a bunch of people while you are young, than be married to your significant other for 50 years only to realize that it was everything you’ve never wanted.
16. When you truly begin to focus on yourself, you attract everything you need.
You can’t make authentic connections, and attract what you need if you don’t truly love yourself first.
People may give up on dating because they can’t find a real connection. I learned it was because those people usually had personal blocks they had to work through. You can’t form genuine relationships when your energy is blocked.
This means forgiving yourself of anything you’ve done in the past, unrooting shame, uncovering your trauma and limiting beliefs holding you back from being the best version of yourself. Once you begin this hard but worthwhile innerwork, you will level up as a person. You meet people at the level that you are at. The higher and more evolved your mind is, the more like-minded people you will attract.
17. Embrace change and uncertainty.
Change is hard. Not having a clear vision of your future is distressing. Just like challenges and doing hard things, many people tend to avoid them. When I started, I LOVED hard workouts so I used the same strategy for ‘change.’ I kept on telling myself over and over: “I love change” and “I will embrace change”… and soon it came true.
This is how I taught myself the Grouse Grind (repeatng ‘I fucking love this’ over and over until I truly fucking loved it. Try it! You can truly harness the power of intent.
18. Give gratitude to receive gratitude.
I learned from Huberman Lab that to truly benefit from the effects of gratitude, you must receive genuine gratitude or thanks from another person. So start saying thanks to those who deserve it, hoping it will inspire them to do the same, and perhaps back to you at some point. Seeing other people show thanks to each other will also increase your fulfillment. This proves we are truly wired for social connection. We regulate each other’s nervous systems.
19. You need to be happy in your home.
Your home is your safe space… if your home doesn’t make you safe, what else will? Metaphorically, your home could be your condo… and your body. Treat them both like a temple.
20. Focus on what you can control.
I have a deep and overactive mind. When I was younger, I used to feel overwhelmed because I understood so many things but felt helpless. As I got older and wiser, I learned the importance of protecting my energy, and focusing on things that I can control. You make a difference by patiently planting seeds, and inspiring one person at a time. Stop trying to save the entire world otherwise you will be faced with perfection paralysis because that’s an overwhelmingly impossible task your mind can’t even comprehend. Start small and focus on what you can change.
There are a billion issues to fight for, and the beauty of our world is that everyone has their own cause. This is the only way to ‘tackle everything’ in a sense. This is also why we need to stop aggressively projecting our beliefs on others. Aggression never inspires change and action.
21. Don’t forget to pause.
Letting your life pass by without truly experiencing it is one of the biggest deathbed confessions. Don’t let this happen to you. I wake up every single day excited to have my first cup of coffee, and end the day ecstatic to curl up in my warm bed, also knowing that I cannot wait to wake up again the next day. The sunrise and the sunset— and everything in between is an enigma to me. I’m not exaggerating but this is how I truly see life. Every-fucking-thing delights me.
I LOVE seeing the daylight from my window as I walk into my living room every morning, the thought of having a productive day, exercising, cooking healthy food, and even relaxing on my couch at the end of the day energizes me. I genuinely find pleasure in every single thing I do. My phone is filled with the same sunrise and sunset photos from thousands of bike rides over the last decade because everytime I see one, it’s as if I’m seeing it for the first time.
It is truly a magnificent way to live life.
You can develop this mindset. Think of nurturing a mindset like building muscle at the gym. Practice it everyday. Say it to yourself everyday. Mantras can rewire your brain