Discipline, motivation, or willpower?

I’ve been thinking a bit about what enables growth. Obviously a lot of people feel stuck and unable to change their situation. It’s confronting to admit that we have responsibility over our environment, whether physical or mental. It can be scary to leave our comfort zones. It is very hard to break out of old habits and thought patterns and accept uncertainty instead of blaming external factors.

Within self-help communities, it seems that one of the most popular attributions of success is to nurturing self-discipline. A few months ago I concluded it was one of those big fat lies that mainly people who had no real problems with discipline would tell people who did. The reason I settled on that conclusion was because I had tried the path of self-discipline for two months and even though it became a habit, it slipped away easily simply because I didn’t care enough about the benefits. I didn’t care enough about myself. Naturally, I jumped on the idea that the real answer must be motivation, which is what most of the self-discipline supporters slate as being unreliable. Without motivation you can’t maintain discipline, and therefore motivation is the foundation of self-improvement.

I hit a temporary rock bottom after that, which I welcomed helplessly in some sense as I knew I could not grow without shedding away parts of myself that were unsustainable. I knew I needed help and so I’ve been seeing a therapist for two months as well as a personal trainer for almost a month. I guess I knew it would come to this eventually but had been delaying it until a clearer time of need. The past while has been really good. I’ve been really productive in facing the challenges of daily life that I had all but given up with. I’m communicating and negotiating with myself again and kicking into action with far less thought or struggle about it just because it feels right even if it feels uncomfortable or unfamiliar or troublesome. I think I also realized that motivation isn’t the foundation of self-improvement because I didn’t really seem to have much of it at all despite my improved behavior and consciousness.

The third and by far least popular basis of self-actualization is willpower. Its practitioners state that willpower is like a muscle that you can strengthen through exercise, by consistently forcing yourself to do what you need to do regardless of the circumstances. Eventually you can become an unstoppable force of productivity. I really don’t like this theory even if it does work for a few people. Just because it’s not wrong doesn’t mean it’s right. But I do have an alternative theory of willpower to explain my sudden productivity and how people who are really struggling at the base level can empower themselves. Between the weekly therapy sessions, there really was one specific day when I basically flipped a switch. I realized the only real thing holding me back from trying to do something I wanted to was me. Life is hard, improvement is hard, but getting out of the house to start doing something, isn’t that achievable? The reason I thought it was hard was because I thought it was hard. I also thought everything was hard because I had long since stopped convincing myself to do anything or making promises to myself. I could never give certain answers to anyone because I didn’t have the agency to hold myself accountable because I was afraid of facing the disappointment of failing myself. Because things were hard to achieve (without real commitment), I saw myself as incompetent or incapable of creating action or change.

While this perspective appears to be an unfortunate cycle of feedback, there is no such cycle in reality. If you really want to do something, nothing short of exceptional circumstances or a tornado will prevent you from trying to do it. If you aren’t doing something, it’s because you don’t want it enough. When someone says they want to become more active but are not doing any exercise, then clearly they don’t want it enough to give it priority and take action. If you want something enough you will try to do it, through sunshine and rain, or during the season of your choosing. If you aren’t doing something you thought you wanted, either admit that you didn’t want it enough (in which case you’re not really missing out according to your own judgment) or realize that you have to want it more in order to achieve it.

The complete absence of action or effort cannot be attributed to lack of discipline. I would even go as far as to say that people who struggle with depression, loneliness, and insecurity—people who do nothing about it for years despite any encouragement and support they might have received—in some sense they do not really want to resolve their issues or live a better life. Don’t get me wrong: I know what it’s like to be in the abyss, to be a Google search away from finding a path to recovery and healing while being totally unaware of what terms to search for, that anything is even wrong to begin with, or the possibility that we can even be allowed to live a better life. I know that the shell is hard to crack and that there are numerous reasons why people wouldn’t want to. But we cannot just sympathize or relate to those people because that alone is futile. We have to tell them that they do have a choice and they are making the wrong choice and that there is another way.

Each of us is capable of choosing our own paths. Even when our choices seem limited, the weather is against us or culture is against us or our genes are against us, in fact we still have the freedom to decide how we behave in those circumstances. No one is truly forced to do anything; we simply choice one set of outcomes over other possible sets of outcomes that we value less. Accepting responsibility over our own lives is what grants us freedom.

Returning to the topic of escaping the abyss, the solution is just to make life easier. If everything in life were easier, we would want more from it because we know we could have it. The people who struggle with accepting themselves and improving their own lives, especially when all their material needs are met, often feel helpless for the same reasons I described. But a lot of the time it’s mainly our perception that shapes our experiences and struggles. Most people cannot magically build self-discipline or motivation or willpower, as I myself could not either. The only difference between me now and two months ago was the realization that I could do anything I really wanted to. As it turns out, what I can do may not sound like a lot: going to work, being mindful of cooking/eating, attending the therapy and fitness sessions I pay for, and putting a few hours into something of my own interest in the weekend. Actually this is a lot for me given that I haven’t really had to focus on more than one thing at a time (study) throughout my life and even balancing one thing alone has been a struggle. Since realizing that I can actually do things that I want to, this has meant that my desire has increased slightly and that I can achieve things even with the same limited amount of willpower because I know I’m committing to things that are possible even though I once thought them out of reach. In terms of debilitating issues of self such as loneliness, insecurity, and low self-worth, I do think often the missing link is that people don’t realize there is a way out, and the way out is not actually that long and difficult even though it is painful. You’d be surprised how quickly your mind can adapt and break from a toxic thought pattern that you’ve lived with your whole life. We should share our stories of change and simple empowerment, because those experiences help us dispel our false perceptions of helplessness, impossibility, and being undeserving of love. So I guess in effect I’m saying that neither discipline nor motivation nor willpower are really the first plan of attack. Rather, the way to build ourselves from rock bottom is with reality checking and the right attitude of responsibility and freedom and empowerment.

I don’t tend to believe in absolutes when it comes to different ways to life. And perhaps one reason I’m opposed to the absolute willpower theory is because I’ve come to appreciate how much of a difference the right environment can make. If willpower really was like a muscle, then it would make sense to do intense training and test ourselves near our limits, but I don’t think that’s true at all. It’s not a good idea to knowingly put ourselves in situations where we may succumb to distraction or temptation or resignation. If we can set ourselves up in an environment where success is easy, why shouldn’t we do that? Every choice has a downside, since an easy success requires less commitment and effort and builds less resilience or willpower, but surely success obtained at any level of exertion is better than the most common alternative which is the failure to try at all.

My next upcoming theory is that the best environment for growth is when you have enough space to grow as well as fail safely. My mind is starting to challenge the notion that growth as an adult even has to be a challenging process that requires a lot of effort. I don’t have much of a grasp on the overall idea though yet.


Review: Inner Health Hayfever Relief

First review of this on the internet!

I’ve finished trying out Inner Health’s hay fever pills (40 per capsules, one per day). It provides the bacteria Lactobacillus paracasei. From the brief research I did on this it seems that the benefits of this strain for hay fever are purely speculative and can potentially make things worse for a minority. I still thought it was worth trying but ultimately these pills don’t work for me. No clear effect on my hay fever, positive or negative.

Shortland Street characters 2018

Here are just my personal thoughts on the characters this year.


I thought she was a competent person overall with low confidence, but I guess I was wrong. She’s not dumb, just makes dumb decisions all the time. 🤨


Holy shit, can she just die already? Although her friends describe her as kind, I would describe her as being hands down the most pathetic woman on the show. Constantly aching for love and leading her love interests on while simultaneously pushing them away because of her insecurities and health condition but then begging them to stay later, she just decides to love whoever is willing to be with her in her supposedly doomed state almost at the flick of a switch.

I mean, her presence in the show is built all around the theme of yearning for love but not wanting to put other guys through the pain of being with someone who will die young but her “innocently manipulative” behavior is way more toxic and shallow than any of the characters you’d immediately think of as shallow. While everyone is looking for love, for some reason the love she needs is more special than everyone else and she just sets such a poor example of true love, who would want that after watching her??? 😥


What an idiot. 🙄


A refreshing new character who is reasonably mature, easy to root for and not without flaws. The good guy stuck in a bad situation 😉.


A double-edged sword and loose cannon, it’s satisfying to see him succeed (aside from his love life) only because of all the doubters, including himself. 😊


I know he’s meant to represent the working-class with privilege working against him, but what a dickhead of a dad, constantly assuming the worst of his kids and barely being able to sincerely congratulate them when they do well. Although Mo isn’t a confident person he manages to still be incredibly stuck-up. I wasn’t around to see the Pixie stuff in 2015 but I doubt it justifies what a self-righteous prick he can be. 😠

Te Rongopai

Given the way she entered the scene, I can’t see past her being a bit of a snake despite her subsequent vulnerable moments 💁‍♀️.


I like that despite being the privileged doctor that all the characters can hate on, Chris fundamentally remains a good guy through both his good and bad moments.


If one character could be real and part of my life, it would have to be Dawn. Who could resist such an amazing and suggestible person with limitless energy and dedication and enthusiasm? Being a nurse AND being a good cook AND being a farmer pretty much makes her a superwoman.


Although greatly underappreciated, Boyd really isn’t that far off from being a perfect friend.


Almost like a male variant of Esther, Jack really is pathetic in how insecure he is and how he falls in love so easily. No one is exempt from needing a love life in Shortland Street, so for some reason his sexual orientation has to be relevant in every scenario. It’s just too much.


Everyone has their chances to be a hero one moment and a villain the next, but Drew has really caught me off guard in terms of how many times someone can screw up before they redeem themselves. Unlike with some other characters, his immaturity is entertaining because it always comes back to haunt him and not other people.


One of the most sensible characters on the show, she brings a good balance to the on-screen narrative.


Although I believe in second chances and third chances, I think Zoe is completely irredeemable. Given how much of her unfortunate state was caused by her own choices, I find it hard to feel sorry for her at all. She deserves help but she doesn’t deserve trust or sympathy.


Unethical, remorseless, unpredictable, and not governed by reason. Fun to watch.


A fairly balanced and stable person, I’m glad that Nicole manages to be a bit of a naughty party animal regardless of what’s happening in her life.


What can I say other than that he’s a really decent guy?


Damo definitely makes things interesting with his social awkwardness and obliviousness. His unpredictability and humor is a surprisingly consistent tool for storytelling.


There’s something about her ruthlessness and arrogance and total lack of respect for other people that I enjoy overall as she causes trouble for others. I’m secretly rooting for her to achieve success unethically (partly because it seems unlikely to happen; she is a complete underdog) but I also think she deserves any suffering caused by her mischief.


Kate’s struggles are way too normal and predictable and domestic and I wish she would have moments where she’s cool for once.


I feel like there’s almost zero depth to this character. Sorry, but giving him sudden big life problems to deal with doesn’t change that.


I used to think TK was cool but being a nice guy got him nowhere this year.


Ezra is a bit of a simpleton and he brought all of that weird cult stuff, but in a way he challenges others with his ignorance.


The worst excuse of a character with a half-baked backstory created just to play tricks on other characters.

The one that got away

I had a crush on a girl a few months ago. She was a student. From the moment we first interacted I was all flustered and blushing helplessly. Aside from being cute and smart, there is something about her personality that I have a weakness for. When she called for help she would smile and look at me in a way that seemed to demand my undivided attention and full responsiveness. There’s a kind of child-like innocence in there mixed in with a playful demand for emotional presence and a commanding yet feminine presumption that I would take interest in everything she had to say and notice everything that was happening.

There are some women with which attention is a prominent currency to be traded, women who tend to be easy to talk to because they enjoy telling you about things you didn’t ask and who give trust and attention so much more openly than, let’s say, introverted women tend to. But she didn’t seem to be quite in that category, and was more focused and private yet far from being shy. I guess I didn’t manage to figure out whether she was really good at subtle but powerful manipulations through body language or if she really was as pure as she seemed from all external accounts and just happened to develop that certain rare presence that I would describe as being so innocent and intelligent and irresistible.

Out of the few times I saw her, I never had a good opportunity to talk to her. As tutors we were just way too busy with queries. Realizing the odds were not in my favor, I told myself I’d chat with her if I ever had 60 seconds to spare, or approach her if I ever saw her outside of the course. I never got a such a chance. But in hindsight, the reason I didn’t talk to her is because I was too stubborn to put professionalism aside for even one minute. When I weigh that up against the possible outcomes of approaching her boldly and testing my own instincts, I hope that in future circumstances I would be willing to be more open-minded about it. I don’t think it matters how you meet someone. All that matters is that you met. It’s worth the risk of looking like a fool in order to open a world of possibility that seems inaccessible when constantly trying to play by the arbitrary rules of social convention.

I wrote a cheesy poem to sum it all up.


Her eyes as pretty as a lake
peering deep until I cannot take
the distance that’s becoming fake.

Is my reaction is so opaque
unlike a gift of mandrake
though I wonder if she’s with Jake?

So why then must she quake
my feelings right awake;
till night my heart does ache
for the warmth of this snowflake.

But it’s better for her sake
if the truth I don’t break
yet it’s hard for me to shake
thoughts of fancy dinner with cake
which is not something to half bake
for what a wife she would make.

Despite what’s at stake
though anticipation does not slake
doubt stalks me like a snake
and without clear mistake
now there’s no chances to retake
no opportunity left to forsake.


Commitment to well-being

Now that I have a full-time job I’ve promised myself that I’ll spend $5000 between now and the end of 2019 on my physical and mental well-being. (I haven’t decided whether this includes holidays.) I’ve suspected for a long time that I’d need professional help after completing my PhD and I’ll probably need external guidance if I’m to get anywhere in terms of fitness too. They say that wealthy/successful people invest in themselves, and although I’m not one of those people, I’m going to try investing in myself even though I hardly feel assured of the consequent benefit.

For starters I’m experiencing hay fever again at a level that may hinder my work or eagerness to go outside. Although 4Life Tri-Factor miraculously worked for me in the past, I’ve run out of pills and have decided to try something different: Inner Health Hayfever Relief as well as Inner Health Plus. Although Inner Health is a respected name here, I may well become the first person to review their Hayfever supplement. I will report my experience in about a month or so, hopefully.

Looking back on my PhD

I finished my PhD recently. In the last few days before submitting, I made over 400 corrections. It turns out I had never properly proofread my thesis at the time I submitted it in a rush. My supervisor hasn’t read my full thesis and my examiners didn’t pick up on that many things (but wanted some quite annoying “administrative” changes to make). I was already working so I procrastinated for a whole month not doing my final revisions and in the end realizing I had an unreal amount of work left to do in just a week. In a way, this was a testament to the power of procrastination because I totally achieved what I thought was impossible. Though it did take me a whole week to recover from that effort. Ultimately it’s inevitable that every thesis will have several mistakes, but I’m so glad that there are 400 less inaccuracies (about 2-3 per page) than I might have left in there.

I just wanna take this chance to moan about how it’s literally impossible to do two things properly: referencing and permissions for reusing images. Freaking references. I’m pretty sure no one knows how to do them correctly, and even if people could really agree on the correct interpretation of the rules, it would still be practically impossible. As an example, there are semi-well-known conferences that don’t have a proper online records. You might need to cite a paper from that conference but there are five different variations of its title/subtitle. Even if you know what you’re meant to be doing, every online database has a different record of those conference proceedings and there’s no way to verify which is correct. Heck, sometimes you can’t even find out where the conference took place!

Getting permissions for reusing other people’s images was almost nightmarish for me. I wrongly assumed that I could use images under fair use and I also didn’t keep a record of where I adapted my images from. Anyhow, there’s so many things to think about if you want to do things by the book, and frankly it’s not worth it. The goal instead is to put in enough work to protect yourself probabilistically. Here’s an example where you’re technically breaching copyright even though you’ve done your due diligence. You saw a nice image in a journal paper with two authors. The policy for this journal is for authors to hand over copyright to them, so it seems you can just ask the journal for reprint permissions (usually a fast, painless, and automated process) and then you can reuse the image as long as you reference it correctly and use the acknowledgement message they requested. Although this seems like the right thing to do, it doesn’t mean you’re safe.

What if the author had published that image in an earlier conference paper and neglected to make that acknowledgement in the journal paper? (Because no one knows to do that…) So technically, you, the journal, and the author themself have all done things improperly, and it’s the authors fault. Does the fact that the author was sloppy mean you can’t be fined for their mistake? There are also weird traps to do with different copyright laws with different countries. For example, one can argue that figures that simply plot data are not copyrightable in the US. So if a non-US citizen publishes in a US journal, the author may unknowingly retain copyright if plots are copyrightable in their country. So there are times when you should ask the author, times when you should ask the journal, and times when you’d have to look up every single publication an author made to try and track down when they first published an image that everyone else is reusing without permission anyway.

Things I probably should have done differently

I don’t really have many regrets yet, not because things went smoothly or anything but more because I’m trying to just forget about everything. I’ve definitely been bracing myself for the inevitable PTSD that often comes with a PhD. Anyhow:

  1. I wish I had been more aggressive with asking my supervisor for funding. It really wouldn’t have hurt to do this and there’s no shame in wanting money that’s available.
  2. I wish I had known from the start that I needed to obtain image permissions than left it to the last week where I couldn’t track down all sources and had to redraw a lot of things or just cover my ass barely enough.
  3. Writing 150 pages is much more efficient the sooner you accept you have to just put things on the page, even if it doesn’t all make sense and seems like your worst writing ever. My natural style of thinking about things for ages and finally only writing when things make sense in my head, it’s not good in terms of overall productivity in this context.


No friend zone

I successfully asked a girl to hang out. She said no.

There’s a girl I interact with from time to time who I believe is one of the most amazing people I’ve met. If I had to describe the rarity of someone like her with an arbitrary number, I’d say she’s 1 in 10,000. She’s bubbly, full of adventure, easy to talk to, always smiling or laughing, competitive, cheeky but pure, dedicated, steadfast in her values, sympathetic, and scarily good at any indoor or outdoor games you might play at a social occasion. In terms of faults, I can’t help but point out that she completely misses my self-deprecating humor and that has backfired embarrassingly at my expense a few times without her even realizing. Anyhow, for some reason I never really felt like becoming friends with her regardless of how great I always thought she was. My instincts told me not to look further than acquaintanceship. I could come up with many reasons why we didn’t need to be friends and why things wouldn’t be better if we were. At the same time, I knew she was great friend material and couldn’t quite understand why I shouldn’t try befriending her. To clarify, my admiration for her is purely platonic, or heck, maybe it isn’t even that. I admire her as a human being; that is all.

Such was the status quo for a few months, until recently. Starting a new phase in my life now, I figured what the hell, I’m going to go against my instincts (even though it hasn’t been wrong in the past) just to see what would happen. One of my mantras in the last two years has been about being willing to risk losing things to see what is worth keeping, especially knowing that it would be fine to lose most things that are currently part of my life and that I often cling to things purely out of habit or comfort or even less productive reasons.

So I invited her to meet for coffee and she said no. I admired her reasons though she gave but one, and the conversation following that was not awkward at all. I admired my courage and resolution too, as the setting in which I was determined to act was not the most favorable for someone with social anxiety. And ultimately I’m glad she said no because her answer confirmed my instinct all along, that we were both better off not being friends.

At present, my personal definition for a friend (assuming they live in the same city) is simply someone who I’m willing to meet up with individually on a regular basis. (I’m not sure when I came to such a simple but seemingly practical definition, given that I continue to have highly involved notions of friendship in general.) Her own rule being to avoid meeting individually with the opposite gender, it is clear that we cannot be friends. I’m also thankful and relieved because of this news and its certainty, as it clarifies my doubt about how to approach the current #1 on my social bucket list.