Friday, 28 June 2013

How to bounce back from failure

Nobody wants to fail, but we still do, from time to time. Here are 4 tips to help you get back in the game, fast.

By Nila Sweeney

I don’t like failing. Failing sucks and it’s painful. It weighs you down and makes you just want to give up. Unfortunately, despite my best efforts, I failed many times and I still fail in some of the things I set out to do.

For example, I set out a goal to do yoga every day. I do it most days, but not every day as I aimed for.

I still procrastinate. I aimed to be more decisive and productive, but I still put off doing things or making crucial decisions. Sometimes for days. No wonder, I'm still nowhere near the size of the property portfolio I need to retire on.

I wanted to be organised particularly with paperwork, but my bills and other important documents are still piling up in the box under the bed for me to sort out.

I had many failures in the past, including losing money on ventures that bombed and getting involved in relationships that were doomed from the start.

There were many occasions I was tempted to just throw in the towel. And I did, a number of times, albeit briefly. Somehow I keep finding myself back in the game.

It’s never easy to motivate yourself when you fail, but there are steps you can take to get you out of the rut quicker. Here are four tips that I use to pick myself up after a humbling defeat. You may want to give it a try too.

1. Take a short break to refocus
Taking a short break to regroup helps you to see things clearly. When we fail at something, we have the tendency to magnify its impact. We think the fall out is bigger than what it actually is. And it could be really big, but if you look at the grand scheme of things, you’ll likely to see it’s not that serious. It's not insurmountable. It’s not the end of the world. You can only do this if you take time to refocus.

The other benefit of taking a breather is that you avoid knee-jerk reactions that could exacerbate the damage. Dealing with failure is uncomfortable and it’s normal to want to make the discomfort go away as fast as possible. If you're not aware of your actions, you could end up making riskier moves that would compound your loses.

2. Don’t take it personally
Easier said than done, I know. There’s a big difference between failing at something and failing as a person. When we fail in our ventures or projects, we tend to take it personally. We make it mean we’re failures. We think we failed because we're not good enough, that we're stupid or losers.

When you had a lapse and ate a whole block of chocolate for example, this doesn’t mean you’ve failed as a person. It just meant that you broke your diet, a sign that something in your method is not working.

When you bought an underperforming investment, it means your methods were flawed, not you as a person. It doesn't mean you suck as an investor.

When we just see failure as it is: a sign that a process is not working, we'll be able to find a way to improve it to prevent it from happening again.

3. Change the way you do things
Once you’ve identified the ineffective ways of doing things that led to this failure, you can  change it. You can look for a new or different method of doing it. Maybe ask other people for help. Maybe set up a system to keep you accountable. Maybe you need to overhaul your whole process of doing things. The important thing is that you’re making a distinction between the failure of the methods and your failure as a person.

4. Take action, no matter how small
Failure makes you want to stop and just crawl under the bed and never get out. It’s tempting to quit and not do anything. But this will only postpone the inevitable: dealing with the consequences of that failure.

When you take action, no matter how small, you’re sending a message to yourself that this failure that you’re dealing with is not insurmountable. You start feeling better. 
Before you know it, you’re back in the game.

You may also want to read my article Are you still making excuses? for an extra dose of motivation. 

Other inspirational articles you may want to check out:
Could this be the missing magic ingredient in your relationships?
No time to lose 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

How I found inner peace in Japan

Strange things happen when you travel to places like Mount Koya. If you don't watch out, you might just find serendipity in places you least expect.

By Nila Sweeney

A temple near Danjo Goran, Mount Koya

I knew this part of the journey would be very special. Why won't it be? I’d be staying in a Buddhist temple and I'd be able to sample, albeit in small doses, the monastic life.

What I didn’t expect was for my stay here to eclipse the heady experiences I've already had with the cherry blossoms and Mount Yoshino.

I thought things couldn't get any better. Well, Koya San, you proved me wrong!

Even with a few false starts in the morning, such as getting lost on my way down from the guest house because I thought I'd follow a different route (Yup, I know, I never learn), arriving in Mount Koya or Koya San made me instantly forget these niggly little things.

Temple near Okunoin

The place has mystical written all over it. The crisp spring air was colder and the town seemed to move in slow motion.

Koya San is certainly special. It's been recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Area and is the centre of Buddhist study and practice. As such, Koya San features a lot of temples, with a few offering accommodation to guests who want to experience a bit of monastic life.

You can walk around to explore the town, which seems to be the norm in Japan, although buses run regularly to take tourists from one end of the town to the other. I arrived well before the shukubo or Buddhist temple lodging opened for check in so I dropped my bags and started exploring the place.
Danjo Goran Temple, Mount Koya

First stop was Danjo Goran, a big red temple, which stood proudly in the middle of a large compound. A few of the monks were bustling about, preparing the temples for a festival of some sort. Inside was a different story altogether.

It was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop. The main hall featured a giant golden statue of the Buddha flanked by his disciples. The peaceful energy was palpable.

An elderly Japanese woman was praying quietly when I walked. She smiled and showed me how to do the offering. I wasn’t sure if I should, but I gave it a try anyway.

Perhaps the stillness of the place got to me, but I felt a wave of calmness wash all over me as I sat quietly, taking in the surrounding. I could feel my pulse and breathing slowing down considerably. It was an unfamiliar sensation after having been running on adrenalin at full speed.

Koya San does that to you. You just slow right down. I actually found myself walking slower and speaking softer than normal without even realising it.

I could have spent the whole afternoon there but I knew I had a limited time to explore the area before I headed back to Tokyo the next day. So I made my way to Dai Mon or Big Gate, featuring two fierce-looking deities guarding the town. With the sun shining brightly, I thought I'd fit in as many sights as possible.
Dai Mon, Mount Koya

Next stop was Okunoin, the most sacred site in Koya San where more than 200,000 monks, lay people, prominent people and royalties have been buried, some hundreds of years ago.
Okunoin, Mount Koya

I've seen the photos, but seeing it in real life was simply mind-blowing. The towering, centuries-old cedar trees sheltering the tombs with the sun's rays peeking in between them created such a glorious sight.
Ancient stupas in Okunoin

The graveyard, Japan's largest, also featured hundreds of stupas, some dating back several hundred years ago. Stupas are Buddhism’s sacred symbol of enlightenment.

At the centre of the graveyard was the mausoleum of Kobo Dashi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism in Japan, who is believed to be in eternal meditation since 835 AD.  

There was nothing morbid about the graveyard and I found myself happily spending the whole afternoon exploring the 2km stretch. The tranquillity of the place was infectious.

Without even noticing, I started thinking about my own transient existence and how I’ve been living my life. It was one of those moments when you’ve got nowhere to go but inside your head. It was confronting but liberating at the same time. I realised I’ve squandered a large chunk of my life living the way I did, but also joyful that I’m still alive to make things right. The setting was perfect for these kinds of contemplations.

Okunoin, Japan's largest graveyard

It was very tempting to stay longer, but it was starting to get dark so I decided to return to the temple where I’d be spending the night. I was warned by Lonely Planet that I should not be late for dinner which was to be served at 6pm. 

I arrived with plenty of time so I’ve decided to try out the much-raved about Japanese bath. I was a bit nervous but relieved that there was no one else when I got there. What followed was an out-of-this-world experience.

Buddhist temple lodging or shukubo

I didn't know what to expect, but the bath in this temple was above what I’d consider top notch. Everything was perfect and oh, so beautiful.

As I slowly slid into the large bath and felt the warm bubbling water on my skin, my brain just froze. I was totally lost in the moment. I lost the sense of time, place and self. The experience was so profound that I felt a sudden urge to cry and laugh at the same time. Perhaps I was just tired, but hey.

The bath left me feeling like a jelly when I emerged, 30 minutes later. I felt so light and fresh, with no care in the world. All the worries about work melted away. It was cleansing in more ways than one. I felt like a new person, inside and out.
My shukubo room. Simple yet elegant

As I staggered out of the bathing area and into my room, a monk asked if I wanted dinner served to which I said yes please. Within a couple of minutes, he came bearing not one, not two, but three trays of neatly presented traditional Buddhist feast!

Buddhist vegetarian feast

I was almost reluctant to eat them. They looked too perfect to touch, let alone eat. So I spent at least 10 minutes admiring the food and taking photos, as you would when presented with something this exquisite.

Don't know where to start! 

Best food I had in Japan

The food tasted as good as they looked. It's the best food I’ve had in Japan so far. As I tucked into this marvellous feast, I felt so much gratitude for the good fortune I have been given, to be here, right now.

It tastes as good as it looks

Perfection in every way

I felt incredibly privileged to be able to experience all these wonderful things. 
Peace, it seems, had come to me, at last.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Still making excuses? Now you can stop with these 4 simple steps

We know excuses hold us back. Yet we all make them. Here’s how to get rid of this self-limiting habit once and for all.

 By Nila Sweeney

I’m full of excuses. At least I used to be.

I had a lot of excuses for the bad decisions that I’ve made in the past. I had a long list of excuses for my bad behaviour and certainly made excuses when things went wrong. Of course I also had many reasons for not doing the things that I’m passionate about.

I used to believe that if I had an excuse, then I didn’t have to be responsible. I could get away with anything. And I did get away with a lot of things.

But I also paid a big price. Because I was too busy making all these excuses, I didn’t learn from my mistakes. I kept making them over and over again. I’ve wasted many precious opportunities to improve myself and my situation.

I was stuck in a rut, which is not exactly the kind of life I dreamed about.

I wanted an extraordinary life where I’d be doing what I love while making a difference to others. I didn’t want a life where I was just getting by.

So I knew my excuses had to go. Once I made the decision to let go of my excuses, I was able to focus on actually doing what I'm passionate about. I've been a happier person as a result of taking action instead of hiding behind my excuses.

Here's how I banished my excuses and how you can do it too.

Get clear about what’s important to you.
Once I got clear about what I want in my life and what’s important to me, I was able to see my excuses for what they really are: obstacles in my path to living my dream.

Once I realised just how much my excuses have been running the show and preventing me from living a fulfilled life, it was easier to let them go.

You can do it too. Ask yourself, what excuses have you been telling yourself and others for not pursuing your dreams? Why are you holding on to these excuses? Are your excuses more important than living the life you want?

Realise that having an excuse is not a substitute for taking action.
If you missed a deadline for example, having an excuse doesn’t make up for the fact that you missed it. You’re still late. You still have to bear the consequences, like it or not.

If you want to travel but always have an excuse not to do it, you’re still stuck in wishful thinking territory. You’re still not going anywhere.

If you want to start an exercise regime but always finding an excuse not to do it, you’ll still end up in poorer health despite your excuses.

Until you realise that your excuses are not substitute for taking action and responsibility, you’ll always be stuck. You would continue living a comfortable, but pretty ordinary life.

Take responsibility.
I’ve used my excuses to get out of owning up to my mistakes. I’ve also used it to justify my actions, no matter how damaging they were.

When you take responsibility instead of making excuses you'd find solution to your situation. It compels you to take action.

Realise just how much your excuses are hurting you.
Holding onto your excuses is pretty twisted. Yet we do it because it's an easy way out.

But if we’re really honest about it, we can see how it’s hurting us. Our excuses are holding us back. They prevent us from reaching our potential and living a fulfilled life.

Next time your excuses crop up, remember to see them for what they really are: ineffective and damaging habits that are obstructing your way.

Once you stop believing in your excuses, you can start living your life.

Please feel free to share with others. You may also want to read How to bounce back from failure.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Random plans, cherry blossoms and disappearing crowd

High Drama in Mount Yoshino

A dream trip took an unexpected turn when I decided to follow the path less travelled.

By Nila Sweeney

Mount Yoshino

Waking up at 5:30am, my day was wide open. So many temples to see, so many cherry blossoms to view. What shall I do today, I asked myself  as I checked the weather forecast.

I wanted to make a quick plan on how to tackle Kyoto today. Apparently, one doesn’t just show up in Kyoto.

Over breakfast of two very thick slices of white bread and a sad-looking fried egg, I brainstormed with my roommates; a German girl named Meike and a French girl whose name I didn’t quite catch.

I thought about going to the bamboo forest, which was about 45 minutes from Kyoto, but then I remembered the crowd I encountered the day before. Do I really want to bump into so many pushing and shoving tourists today? The thought of it made me recoil a bit.

There was another option: Mount Yoshino, which boasts 30,000 cherry blossoms - the ultimate destination for a cherry blossom junkie like me. It was a no-brainer.

Cherry Blossoms On Mount Yoshino

The two-hour train ride to get to Mount Yoshino was quite pleasant. The announcements were all in Japanese, but I understood a lot of the words and the accent, so I knew when my train stop was coming next. It was nice to leave the mob behind.

As soon as I arrived in Mount Yoshino, I took the bus halfway up the mountain to give me a head start. It was all uphill, but what a view! The sight of the thousands of cherry blossoms clustered along the top of the mountain was simply stunning. Funnily, they look like a bald patch from afar.

30,000 Cherry Blossoms on Mount Yoshino

There were some tourists too, but nowhere near as many as Kyoto so there was no chance of elbowing someone off their place so you can take that perfect shot.

Mount Yoshino

I lingered at the mountain top for another half hour and then decided to make my way down when the heat got too much. It was a bright and sunny day. Just the perfect day to be in Yoshino.

I could hear the bus announcer from a distance, so I thought I'd just follow the sound. However, my curiosity got the better of me so I followed a different route and I ended up in the main village. 

It wasn't a wasted effort because the village itself was fascinating. I wandered around for a few minutes before asking an elderly gentleman for direction to the nearest bus stop. 

While the helpful gentleman was giving me directions, I saw from the corner of my eyes that the train station was 4.6 km away.  I asked him if there was a shortcut to the bus station. He said yes, and pointed me to a road going downhill. It looked right so I followed it. After walking uphill over the past hour and half, I was ready to take the easier way down. My legs were starting to fatigue at this point.

When I first started my trek down the mountain, there were a lot of people walking in the same direction. Then, they became fewer until I was the only one walking down the isolated road. I looked around but there was no one else.  It was eerily quiet.

The long way back to the train station

I wasn’t worried during the first 2 km. The scenery was so captivating I forgot that I was on my own in the middle of Yoshino. However, after walking alone for an hour, I started to wonder if I was lost. My eyes also started playing tricks on me at this stage. At one point I thought I saw the top of a bus, only to find out it was actually an abandoned building. 

I started to worry a little, and contemplated calling my friend Tomoko to send in a rescue party. I quickly checked if my phone has reception. Nothing. Oh dear.

Alone in the middle of Yoshino

Then, out of nowhere, an old woman, probably in her late 60s, appeared behind me, and walked briskly past me. Where did she come from? I didn't hear anyone walking behind me. I nervously looked around to see if there were others. None.

I tried to catch up with her and asked if I was in the right direction to the bus station. She just laughed. She told me in Japanese that I’d just have to keep walking. Then I lost her.

At this point I was really worried. Was she for real or was I just imagining her? I walked faster, almost running down the mountain as the sun started to set. I desperately wanted to see a lot of people. Then I chuckled at the irony of that thought as I started to sprint.

To my relief, the sign I was looking for appeared just around the bend: the train station!

I was so happy to finally get back to civilisation. I’ve never been happier to see so many people again. I jumped into the first train back to Kyoto, even if I have to pay another $10 for the ticket.

As I sat on the train, I was quietly laughing at my adventures today. I wanted to escape the crowd and got my wish. I also got to see one of the most breath-taking sights I've seen so far in Japan. What else could I ask for?

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

No time to lose

Are you still putting off doing the things that you're passionate about? Time could be running out.

By Nila Sweeney

You’ve dreamed about visiting Norway to see the Northern Lights. You've always wanted to learn the tango and speak French. You've been thinking about quitting your job to start your own business.

Yet when push comes to shove, you get cold feet. You talk yourself out of it before you can say go!

You rationalise that there will plenty of time to pursue all these things. For the time being you need to make more money. You need to stick with your day job so you can save for that dream house or car.

So you go on living the same old life, doing the same thing, day after day, year after year. 

Occasionally, you notice a nagging feeling that perhaps there’s more to life than this. Then you look at where you are now. You’re comfortable. Why rock the boat? Why change anything now? So you revert back to living in autopilot. Possibly a mediocre life.

Then a big jolt. Someone you know has just passed away.

There’s nothing like death to shake you back into reality.

Like today, when I found out that one of my college friends has passed away. I simply couldn’t get around the fact that she’s gone. How did this happen? When did people in my generation start dropping dead? 

I guess I've been living under the false security that we’ll live a long life and that dying wasn't an option.

I was stunned at first and then I panicked. I mean if she died that young, then it could be my turn any day now.

I know it’s irrational to think that people should only die when they reach a certain age, but how often do you think about your own mortality? Exactly. Why would you even think of such a morbid thing, right?

The reality is we’ll never know when the time comes. And most of us don’t want to know about it anyway because we don’t want to face the reality of our own demise. It’s too horrifying. It’s such a dampener.

But just because we don’t want to face it doesn’t make it go away. By pretending it’s not there, we go on with our lives as if we’re going to live forever. We make plans, we party like it's 1999 and we can’t get no satisfaction (ok that’s really cheesy) as we work like crazy to build security around finances and our career. As if we’re absolutely certain we’re going to live long enough to enjoy the fruits of our labour.

But what happens if you don’t get to the end of the line? No one can predict how and when one person expires from this world. You hear it every day: people who are young, healthy, rich, beautiful, famous, poor or old people who are dying of various causes. So what makes us immune to this eventuality? When it comes to death, there’s nowhere to hide.

Stop putting your life on hold
It’s good to make plans and prepare for the future. This would be the responsible and sensible thing to do. However, it’s important not to get fixated by the end game that you put your life on hold for the time being.

We only get 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and if we’re lucky to live to a normal lifespan, we might live till we’re 80. You might think you’ve got all the time left in the world that you put off doing what you love. The truth is you may not have.

Death does not discriminate. When your time comes, ready or not, you will have to go and leave this world.

In your death bed, can you honestly say you’re glad that you held off living a full on life or you wished you’ve done more of the things you thought you’d have more time to do?

Next time you find yourself deciding whether to do something that’s exciting and scary now or leave it for another day; I’d challenge you to do it right away. You may not have a second chance.

That phone call to your mother and father that you’ve been meaning to make? Make it now. Tell your love ones how much they mean to you. Hug them; hold them close to your heart. Enjoy this moment while you can.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Why I keep falling in love with Sydney

 By Nila Sweeney

Amazing Sydney

It’s Friday and I was feeling good about my progress this week. It’s been a week of high drama, but the weekend was only a few hours away. I was looking forward to the well-earned break.

Then I found out that it’s a long weekend and everyone has already made their grand plans on how to spend the next three days. I’ve been so wrapped up with work that I didn’t realise I’ve actually got three days to play, not two.

Dang, I haven't planned anything. I frantically searched for last minute deals, as you do, even if you know how futile would be to think you can make a last minute arrangement to leave town.

I remembered seeing some cheap flights in my inbox and briefly contemplated booking a trip to Queenstown, New Zealand. Maybe Gold Coast. Anywhere. 

Then I realised Joe was scheduled to work some this weekend so going out of town was not an option. That's when I remembered that the Vivid Light Show was still on. I’ve heard about it and saw some amazing photos but haven’t paid close attention to the event. Then the phone rang. Joe.

Goodie. He wanted to go see the lights and so did I. Done. Friday night sorted out. I made a mental note to arrange something for Saturday, Sunday and Monday as well to make the most of the long weekend.

Sydney explodes

There’s nothing like a mild and clear Friday night to bring the whole population of Sydney out to the Opera House. I’ve never seen so many people jostling to see the display on the famous sails. Children, senior citizens, families, out-of-towners and people who didn’t plan their long weekends have all flocked along the harbour.

Sydney Opera House, Vivid Festival

Sydney definitely knew how to put on a great show and this was just one example of its brilliance. The way the projected images flow with the music was simply stunning. The Sydney Opera House provided the perfect canvass for the mind-blowing displays.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera House

As the Sydney Harbour Bridge watched quietly next door, a giant ship slowly made its way. I could see camera flashes twinkle in its cabins as it moved out of the harbour.

Sydney Harbour Bridge

From a distance, I could see Luna Park with that taunting look. I wasn’t about to succumb to it, so I returned my attention to the ongoing display of lights and colour at the Customs House, the buildings along the harbour and then back to the star attraction of them all: the Sydney Opera House.

Somehow Joe managed to find a place to set up the tripod for my camera. It wasn’t easy, as people were pushing hard behind me to get that perfect shot. I tried using my phone camera to see if it can capture the display. Not even close. I was glad to have a ‘proper’ camera to use.

By the time the set up was complete, I was already standing in the front row. I was ready for action. I checked all the settings. So far so good. I took my first shot. 

Whaaat? How did that hand get there? As soon as I thought I had the perfect shot, a head, a hand or a camera suddenly appeared on the viewfinder. 

I started to feel a bit frustrated, then I realised, I actually don’t have exclusive rights to this space. Everyone has the same right as I do to enjoy the show. So I waited patiently until the next cycle started and the people with offending heads and hands have moved out of the way.

Finally I had my chance. Knowing that the vacated space would soon be taken by others, I frantically took as many shots that I could manage.

Sydney Opera House, Vivid Festival
Customs House

After 10 minutes of snapping madly at the display, I decided that I've taken enough photos. Time to enjoy the show. That’s when I noticed a little girl trying desperately to squeeze in to have a look. My heart just melted. So we offered her family our space. It was time to move on to the next location.

Darling Harbour. Joe and I arrived just after the fireworks display but we were told there was another show within half an hour. We decided to wait as Joe traded tips with another photographer.

Darling Harbour, Sydney

The water display was different, but was equally impressive. The crowd were a bit more subdued, but it was still a large audience.  There were also a few street performers, which added to the party atmosphere.

After briefly losing Joe (I thought he was right behind me), it was time to go and have dinner. I was kinda glad we didn't have much planned this weekend. The activity tonight has given me fresh ideas on how we can enjoy Sydney even more. 

It rekindled my deep love for the place. 

As we walked towards Town Hall to catch our train, I can’t help but feel grateful to be in this city where everyone could enjoy amazing shows like this one for free. 

There's no other place I'd rather be stuck on a long weekend than here in gorgeous Sydney.