How I Started the Journey of Self-Development

Photo by Nathan Peterson

In my early 20s, I was a seemly happy person.

But I also developed some confusing behaviors such as drinking too much or drowning in crazy parties. I was completely unaware of the reasons behind my behaviors and frankly I did not care to think too much about them.

Now I know aside from the craziness of my youth, it was actually from a damaging relationship before college that I never knew how to recover from. Everything I did was just to avoid feeling the same hurt again. Part of me indulged in the feeling of being out of control or being the victim, and my attention was always on others to make myself feel validated or loved. This was all when anxiety slowly crept into my life.

But of course, back then, the young, naive and irresponsible me had no clue. These realizations came later once I started to experience things in the adult life, and made the decision to work hard on and better myself as a person.

You can never wake someone up if they are pretending to be sleeping.

After college, I moved from North America to Hong Kong involuntarily due to pressure from family, and listened to them to pursue a Master degree in something that I was not interested in. Such choice put me in a state of being deeply unmotivated and eventually mild depression.

Not long after the move, I also broke up from a 4-year relationship in which I felt toxic and unhappy in. Everything in life seemed to just crashed and burned. I was devastated, angry, and truly lost. I felt like I was trapped in a non-stop washing machine and an emotional black hole. Such mental state took a huge toll on my emotional and physical wellbeing.

It was by going through such a phase that I finally realized enough is enough. I needed to take complete control and make actions to pull myself out of the misery.

The feeling of being stuck, resentful or powerless stems from your lost of self. You have not been responsible with your internal state of being by looking into your mind and heart. Letting other people, their opinions or external environments become your life’s anchor will only guide you towards misery.

But how?

I felt like it would be impossible and most likely deadly painful at the time. But “f*ck it you know what,” I thought to myself, “nothing can feel any worse than this. I have nothing to lose.”

I’ve just realized I’ve been in a bad place for several years, I wanted to change everything and I was willing. But I needed more guidance than just a “believe in yourself, you can do it” kind of conceptual thing.

So I started meditating on Headspace app. The first time I did it was only because I have not been able to sleep and I just wanted to feel “relaxed and good”. As a beginner, I could only do 3–5 minutes of basic meditation per day, but that small step I took started to make a huge difference in my life in general.

I started to understand more what meditation is truly about. I started to become more aware of my thoughts and emotions. I started to become more at ease with my own being and separated that from external provocations. I found a tiny but safe space for myself in the world again. I was still feeling lost, but I accepted it all and told myself it was gonna be okay.

Andy Puddicombe. Photo by NBC News

“For some reason we’ve come to believe that happiness should be the default setting in life and, therefore, anything different is somehow wrong. Based on this assumption we tend to resist the source of unhappiness — physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s usually at this stage that things get complicated. Life can begin to feel like a chore, and an endless struggle to chase and maintain that feeling of happiness.

We get hooked on the temporary rush or pleasure of a new experience… food, drink, drugs, clothes, cars, relationships, work, or even the peace and quiet of the countryside. If we become dependent on it for our happiness, then we’re trapped. What happens when we can’t have it any more? And what happens when the excitement wears off? For many, their entire life revolves around this pursuit of happiness.

Yet how many people do you know who are truly happy? And by that I mean, how many people do you know who have that unshakeable sense of underlying headspace? It’s as if we rush around creating all this mental chatter in our pursuit of temporary happiness, without realizing that all the noise is simply drowning out the natural headspace that is already there, just waiting to be acknowledged.”

― Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace

I did research and looked into books. I was an extremely easily-distracted person back then and I could hardly put my fingers on any books for more than 10 minutes. I gave Audible a try because I always enjoyed being around or talking to people. I found and started reading the following books:

“The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life”

This book worked for me because it is written in reversed psychology and delivers truths in the most upfront way, as I’ve always appreciated direct or honest communications. I sometimes even laughed out loud when I was listening!

This book was the slap I needed to grow up and become responsible for myself. I needed to stop resenting or focusing on everyone else and just realize that the power was in my own hands. Being always told I was “smart”, “good” and “deserving” growing up, it was time to stop hearing those things and just see things in life for what they really are. I needed to stop giving so many f*cks out to irrelevant things or hurtful people, and just focus what truly mattered to me. Listening to the book felt like talking to a funny, brutal, and wise friend.

“Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.

— Mark Manson

“The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business”

This book was the more research-based and scientifically backed up one that focused on the methods of how to change. The book provides real life cases and explains the psychology of how bad habits are developed or how this can be changed.

It is great for not just individuals but also business, as the writer also touches on the science of habits and healthy systems in the context of organization and social pressure. Overall, if you believe in science and like logical explanations, this is a great book to read for some tangible solutions to your habitual problems.

“Habits are choices that you continue doing repeatedly without actually thinking about them. At one point, they started with a decision, but they eventually became automatic.

They’re very powerful, and sometimes destructive.
But if you can understand how habits are triggered, you can overcome them.”

— Charles Duhigg

Photo by Artem Beliaikin

Last of all, the journey of self-help can seem overwhelming and difficult. But trust me, it’s much easier than you think it is. You are a much better and stronger person than you think you are. It’s not hard at all to learn to accept both the goods and the bads of ourselves — it’s simply about taking that first small step without any expectations or fears.

If you absolutely do not feel the will, or you are just clueless how you can take a first step, here is a simple tip to start adopting change in life for you:

Just adopt a doable and small change in your daily routine. For example, replace the first things you always do after you wake up such as checking your email, with making your bed and drinking a glass of water first. Try to stick to this for as many days as you can. Whenever you break your routine, just gently try to get back to it. The goal is to start your day with the smallest sense of achievement and structure to boost greater confidence and willpower.

“Willpower isn’t just a skill. It’s a muscle, like the muscles in your arms or legs, and it gets tired as it works harder, so there’s less power left over for other things.”

Hope you liked the post!

Melody Zheng :)

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Being in late 20s is slightly awkward. My writings focus on love, mental health and mindfulness through reflections and notes-taking.✨

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Melody Zheng

Melody Zheng

Being in late 20s is slightly awkward. My writings focus on love, mental health and mindfulness through reflections and notes-taking.✨

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