It’s hard to believe but I’ve celebrated Chinese New Year over 15 times out here in Asia.
And one of the biggest Lunar New Year traditions in China, Taiwan, Singapore, and here in Vietnam, besides the red envelopes, the reunion dinners, the lion dances, is cleaning out the house before the new year, otherwise known as 大掃除.
This translates to the “big cleaning.”
Days before the New Year families clean their entire house, scrubbing down every nook and cranny in hopes of sweeping out bad luck from the previous year.
To clear room for a New Year full of good luck and prosperity.
I hate to clean but it’s beautiful to spend half a day doing this.
There’s so much to donate, so much to dispose, and I made a point to scrub down every corner of my apartment, spic and span. Making it lighter, airier, fresher…
Like Daniel in the Karate Kid,
[Mr. Miyagi: Wax on right hand, Wax off left hand]
I learn through each wipe that I must: sweep out the old to let in the new.
[Mr. Miyagi: Don’t forget to breathe. Very important!]
And what a metaphor this is.
Not just for the Lunar New Year but for life.
We must breathe out to breathe in.
We must empty our cups to be filled.
We must make space for luck and opportunity to enter.
And what about scrubbing our digital homes and our inter mental space too?
If our closets and laptops and minds are full of clutter and dust, how can life add anything new?
So my first question when welcoming a new year or welcoming something new into my life is not what to do? but first, what must I let go?
And that’s what I’m reminded of each Chinese New Year, especially this year cleaning out my small apartment in Saigon, Vietnam.
So I want to wish you all a Happy Chinese New Year.
心想事成 (xīn xiǎng shì chéng) “May all your wishes come true.”
步步高升 (bù bù gāo shēng)“May every step take you higher.”
恭喜发财 (gōng xǐ fā cái) “Wish you wealth and prosperity.”
年年有餘 (nián nián yǒu yú) “May you have abundance every year.”
Chúc Mừng Năm Mới, “Happy New Year.”
Sức khỏe dồi dào, “Wishing you plenty of health.”
And as a public service announcement, please remember don’t use brooms the first few days of the New Year… you’ll sweep away all the good luck.
That’s what my mom told me and I still do it to this day
So happy Chinese New Year here at ASE. We’ll see you next week.
Our motivation is closely tied to our expectation of success.
The Pull-Up Principle.
This is Jimmy.
He’s an amazing salsa dancer and teacher, and he also loves food, especially this Mini Stop ice cream.
This is what he taught me:
PRACTICE EVERY DAY.
Plus , it’d be nice to have some guns like that guy.
So I did. I started at 10 pull-ups a day along with Jimmy.
I mean this guy was a beast. It sucked. My hands were ripped, my shoulders were sore, but I kept going.
Honestly, the first two to three days were the toughest to continue, but I did.
10 pull-ups became 15 pull-ups. Then a couple weeks later 30 pull-ups a day. Then a couple months later 60 pull-ups a day
But I still couldn’t do a damn muscle up.
Being a gymnast I used to visualize my routines so I thought this should work here. I’d literally imagine myself doing one muscle-up, but I couldn’t get over the bar.
Then one day, when Jimmy wasn’t looking, it happened. And I did it again.
This was a special day. I did my first muscle up on September 23rd and that was also the name of our beloved park in Saigon. Full of savory and unsavory characters, kids, randomness, and of course, the bars.
It took me two and a half months to go from 10 pull-ups to 1 muscle-up. Two days later I did 10 muscle-ups. And a week later I even added my own moves.
So why does the pull-up principle work?
Our motivation is strongly tied to our expectation of success.
When you’re sure you can win your motivation is high.
I knew I could do at least the same number of pull-ups as the day before, and while I was there, why not try to do one more?
Plus, by consistently doing something I valued every day, I was telling myself, “Yeah Darren you’re getting stronger homie!”
So back to the bars.
How can you apply the pull-up principle to your fitness, to your work, and to your play?
How can you design tasks so that you know you can win?
So that you look forward to the challenge?
[Jimmy: I don’t know if I can do another one.
Darren: You better try!]
Last year I started asking friends and strangers about their perfect day. I realized 90% of my Kindle books were written by white males from western societies. The thinkers I admired shared a similar worldview. Where could I find different ideas about the good life?
I wanted to learn from a broader spectrum of lived experience. Rich or poor, young or old, accomplished or not – it didn’t matter. I wanted to listen to everyone, even that random dude across the street in Vietnam. We idolize the rich, famous and powerful. Maybe the average, everyday man and woman had something to teach me.
The interviewees were 17-69 years old and hailed from 10 countries. Most were from the US and Vietnam, not surprising given I’m an American living in Vietnam. Slightly less than half were females.
I had no expectations. If anything, I yearned to hear wildly different ideas about their perfect day. Yet after 30 interviews, I’ve found that people mostly want four things: connection, autonomy, progress and a peaceful state of mind.
Seventy percent mentioned spending time with close friends or loved ones.
Sixty four percent wanted what I call a “peaceful” state of mind achieved by entering a flow state, or having a clear mind absent of frustration and anxiety. A few described this as feeling thankful. Peaceful seems the best word to describe this present, balanced, and grateful state of mind.
“Everyday waking up and not thinking about anything. Just relaxing.” (Thoi, Vietnam)
This survey is far from scientific, and maybe I can ask better questions. Still I was shocked to see these four elements appear again and again, no matter the age, sex, and nationality of my interviewees.
Maybe autonomy, connection, progress and a peaceful mind were deep human needs.
Researching theories of human needs, I came across Edward Deci’s and Richard Ryan’s self-determination theory (SDT).
Their theory, developed over 40 years and backed by hundreds of studies, posits that humans have an innate psychological need to be autonomous, self-determined and connected to one another.
This matched fairly well with what friends and strangers were telling me about their perfect day. They wanted:
Autonomy: a sense of willingness, volition and choice
Relatedness: to feel cared for by others, to care for others, to feel like they belong in various groups that are important to them
Competence: to feel confident and effective in relation to what they’re doing
When these needs are satisfied, we’re motivated, productive and happy. When they’re thwarted, our motivation, performance and wellness plummet.
I plan to interview dozens (if not hundreds) more people, so the conclusions might change. But so far…
Perfect days are mostly within our grasp.
They are not full of expensive vacations or private yachts. In fact, they are quite simple, even mundane.
What’s stopping us?
I’m left with two questions to investigate.
How can we structure our environment to support our need for connection, autonomy, and competence? This will lead to optimal performance and wellness, and more perfect days. Is our current environment antagonistic or supportive of these needs?
Marie Kondo has changed millions of lives with a simple rule: get rid of what doesn’t spark joy.
I followed her method; the whole exercise took two days. But afterwards, looking at my tidy closet and empty desk, I felt light, refreshed, and more available.
Her book taught me that we must get rid of what we don’t want to make room for what we do want. Before we bring anything new into our lives, we must first create a vacuum.
Before going on vacation, we hustle to finish our work and tie up loose ends so we won’t be bothered. We create a vacuum to be present, relaxed and inspired by a new place.
But more transformative is to create inner vacuums.
Whenever I want to create a new reality, I try to first ask “What am I willing to let go of within myself in order to create my desired outcome? What beliefs, attitudes, or emotions are preventing me from creating success?”
Right now I am starting a podcast that I hope will help thousands of people. This means letting go of:
being, sounding, or looking smart, so I can approach guests – and my audience – in the spirit of true curiosity, learning and sharing
making a living with this show, so I can create openly and fearlessly
late nights, so I can create during my best hours in the morning
being stingy, to create the best content, I need to invest in good equipment
We must create inner and outer vacuums for our perfect day too. If our minds and calendars are full, how can life add anything new?
So my first question when taking action is not “What to do?” but “What must I let go?”
Empty your cup so that it may be filled; become devoid to gain totality.
There are many astounding scenes in Joker, but what I remember most is an aerial shot of Arthur Fleck lying in bed, alone in his room, with nothing but a pistol and a notebook.
One lonely man’s thoughts – and subsequent violence – would disrupt Gotham’s power structure.
Joaquin Phoenix also used a journal to become the Joker:
“Very early on in the rehearsal, I was given the journal that he had — his journal and joke diary. And that was really helpful, because I had been there for a couple of weeks and wasn’t sure how I was going to start, and Todd sent this empty journal,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what to write, so I asked Todd for some suggestions, and after a few days, I ignored his suggestions and suddenly it was coming out. It became a really important part of the discovery of the character at that time.”
– Joaquin Phoenix, interview with Daily Beast
It reminded me of how Heath Ledger, in preparation for the Joker in the Dark Knight, locked himself in a hotel room for one month. His tool? A diary full of images, clippings, and thoughts.
“He would immerse himself in any upcoming character.”
– Kim Ledger
Natalie Portman’s first advice to aspiring actors is to keep a journal and answer two questions: 1) how does the character relate to others and herself? 2) how does he enter the room and what type of energy does he bring? An actor should research and know the character so well that it just comes out of him.
When we are in transition, and evolving into something new, shouldn’t we use the same process?
You can fill this journal (of the future you) with as much detail as possible:
How you move i.e. how do you enter a room? what’s your energy?
How you speak i.e. how do you talk to yourself and to others? who do you look up to?
How you dress i.e. what’s your appearance?
Images, words, and people that inspire your character
Key historical events and backstory that shaped you i.e. what motivates you?
Acting out scenes and situations as if you were the character
We learn from great actors that to become someone new you need to start with your imagination. Rehearsing, in your mind or in an empty room, your character. Making the character’s psychology and physicality so vivid that others can’t recognize the old you.
Intuition is not a mystical power held by a few, but rather an innate tool that we need to exercise daily. A universal, higher wisdom is always available to us but we have to fine-tune our biological antennae to access it.
Simone Wright is an internationally recognized expert on intuitive intelligence. She has worked with top achievers in a broad field of specialties including law enforcement, health care and business, and has appeared on radio and television programs across North America, including the OprahWinfrey show.
What does intuition feel like? How is it different from fear? And how could I use intuition more in my personal life and career? I had listened to a few podcasts featuring Simone and aligned with her goal of explaining intuition in a fluff free, practical way.
There is so much to learn from this book (please read the whole thing!), but I’ve summarized a number of Simone’s principles into three steps.
(it’s important that I use Simone’s precise language for these intuition exercises, so I’ve quoted liberally from her book)
Exercise 1: Clear the Static
“Be calm in your heart. This is the most powerful understanding you must carry with you when developing your intuitive intelligence. A calm and peaceful heart creates a calm and peaceful mind, and a calm mind is the center of all creative power.”
To access the higher mind, our intuitive intelligence, we must first free our mind of energies and patterns that could disrupt or distort any message. This is done by being calm in heart and mind.
So in this first exercise we want to clear our mind and body of any distortions, and generate a coherent, peaceful state of pure potentiality.
“Close your eyes. Sit up straight so your spine is erect but relaxed. Find a position that allows you to be engaged with your body but not strained or uncomfortable in any way. Take a few deep breaths to release any tension you may feel in your body.
Sit for a few moments and feel the energetic vibration of your body without doing anything. Simply notice what you notice. Noticing your noticing is an important part of your intuitive practice, and this is an easy and elegant way to begin.
You may notice a buzz, a feeling of opening, a vibration or bodily tingle; it may be very subtle or quite pronounced, and either way is fine. This subtle or pronounced buzz is the electrical field that all your cells and the DNA within them are using to communicate with one another and with the environment, both locally and nonlocally.
Now, with your eyes still closed, cultivate a deep, inner smile, one that moves from your face and into your heart. If it helps to place your hand over your heart to help you focus and isolate this area, then do so.
Gently say to yourself. ‘Peace. Peace. Peace.’ Continue to observe what is happening in your body without having to control it. Let your breath fall into its own natural pattern.
Focusing on the space around your heart, cultivate the gentle feelings of gratitude, appreciation, and care. Find something in your life that you can feel grateful for, or think of someone or something you care for.
Now gently bring to mind the feelings that you consider life affirming, and allow them to fill your heart. Feelings such as ease, grace, flow, confidence, certainty, expansion, abundance, and joy can and will assist you in further amplifying your energy.
Allow yourself to just soak in this feeling for a minute or two. Continue observing what you notice in your body.
From this point of activated peace, you have generated a coherent energy that has quieted all the habitual patterns and discordant functions of the lower mind that stand in the way of your expanded perceptions. Continue to sustain this calm yet elevated feeling for a few more minutes. Become intimate with this feeling, and begin to imprint it in your mind and body so you can shift back into it whenever you find yourself feeling out of sorts or stressed-out. This is the frequency and energy that I invite you to maintain all the time.
Gently say to yourself, ‘This is my peace. This is my power. I will remember it.’”
Exercise 2: Remember the Future
I found this to be the most interesting exercise in the book. The beneficial outcome you desire already exists in the universal field of possibilities, so in order to connect to those energies, you need to generate all the feelings of your desire already having been achieved.
This should feel like remembering a pleasant event, except you’ll be remembering the future. It’s easy and light to recall a pleasant memory, right? Remembering the future should feel the same.
But first it’s important to make a strong choice about what you want. This is to activate your conscious and subconscious mind.
Have you had a turning point and thought, “I am done with this! I cannot, will not, am not going to do it anymore!” Or “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to work and live in Asia!” Those are brave choices. Don’t make a wimpy, half-hearted choice, but mean it for real.As Simone says, “Mean it as if your future life depends on it… because it does.”
I choose to be wealthy. I choose to have a healthy relationship.
Then, how would achieving your goal make you feel?
Having more money might make you feel more secure, accomplished, and free. Being in a healthy relationship might give you feelings of love, comfort and connection.
After generating coherence (Exercise 1), use your imaginative power to craft your ideal outcome. Start with the thought “I remember…”
“I remember the day I sold my company.”
“I remember the day I walked down the aisle.”
Then play it out as a memory, with as much detail and feeling as possible.
Experience all at the feelings of your outcome achieved. Meditate on this feeling and frequency for a few minutes so that it becomes completely organic, and natural to you.
Exercise 3: Ask for Guidance
Now that you’ve saturated yourself with this energy, ask for direction.
It’s important that you ask precise, empowering questions. None of your questions should include the words “is there,” “why,” “will,” or “should,” because those are energetically ineffective.
Instead of asking “Is there a solution?” ask: “I know there is a solution to every problem, and that my intuitive mind is directing me toward it now. What is my most appropriate first step?”
“Why…” carries the vibration of helplessness and victimization, and seeks for a logical explanation (as opposed to wisdom or direction). Instead ask: “I know there is a creative purpose for all things. How can I best use this circumstance to propel me forward?”
Asking “Will I…?” is disempowering. Instead ask: “I know my choice has great power. What action can I take now to further empower this choice?”
“Should I…?” is a question of limitation, not expansion. Instead ask: “I know my higher mind is leading me to the best outcome in this moment. What is the wisest choice to make at this time?”
Simone offers five guidelines for your ask:
It activates and uses the conscious and subconscious aspects of the mind.
It ask focuses on your current need in the present moment.
It addresses a single concern at a time.
It provides direction.
It uses the positive form of the question.
Here are some examples from the book:
If you are facing financial issues, which question would you ask:
I’m screwed. How am I going to make payroll? OR
What is the most potent step to take to immediately improve my cash flow?
If you are facing a personal financial issue, which question would you ask:
I can’t make ends meet. How am I going to get out of debt? OR
There is an ideal solution available for me now. How can I begin to improve my finances right away?
If you are considering making a financial investment:
This is risky business. Am I going to make any money on this deal? OR
I know I am guided to make the best choice. Is this investment the wisest use of my money at this time?
If you need solutions to a health problem:
I am miserable. How do I stop feeling like crap? OR
I know I am meant to experience perfect health. What can I begin doing today that will improve my wellness?
If you have concerns about whether partnering with someone (personally or professionally) is in your best interests:
I really don’t know what to do. Should I be worried about this guy? OR
I know there is a perfect outcome for me. Will a partnership with (the person’s name) promote my highest good at this time?
When writing out your ask, do you feel expansion or contraction? Adjust your ask until it feels right energetically.
“Hold the vision of the answered prayer or solved problem. Now quietly state your ask. It can be said aloud, or silently within your mind and heart. Repeat it gently several times. Once you have repeated it a few times, continue to maintain the coherent and peaceful energy of your source code and simply notice what you notice.”
A key part of this exercise is releasing your ask, as well as any judgement or ideas of what the solution could look like.
“I release this ask to the power of my higher mind. I know without a doubt that the perfect answer is available for me and is coming to me with perfect timing. Thank you.”
Your intuition will speak clearly without emotion.
“I have come to call this intelligence ‘First Intelligence’ because it develops long before we possess the ability to reason or learn anything the external world has to teach us, and it is in operation before we even know that we can know. It is the intelligence of life. Intuition is specific and precisely tuned to each one of us as individuals, and it guides each of us to our highest potential. Intuition does not rely on previous knowledge; it does not find its information in studies, research, analysis, graphs, or statistics. True intuition (which is not the same thing as instinct) seeks the routes, solutions, and innovations that align with the potential of our evolution and guides us beyond the tired, worn, unproductive patterns of our past.”
“The only thing you should be doing is living your life in a way that supports you in greeting every day with joy, peace, and purpose. Life wants you to be healthy, abundant, successful, filled with love, and constantly expanding, because those are the very principles of life itself. And if your joy lies in being a sanitation worker or a surgeon, an artist or an accountant; or in being in a relationship or out of one; or in living in a mansion or a small studio, then that is what you should be doing.”