Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Power of Community: How being part of communities can help you grow and flourish in life

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

A few years back, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to further my studies in Psychology. Besides adapting to the western individualistic culture, different education system and public transport system, it was also tough making new friends.

As I did not have a mentor or guide through university life abroad, I did it the traditional way, via trial and error. Throughout my undergraduate degree, it has been tough and I did not think I was successful in making friends that I could really connect with. Three years later, I am confident to say I have found my own communities and these wonderful people have enriched my life tremendously.

In The Village Effect by Susan Pinker, she emphasised that it is not just having social networks that is important, it is also vital that we actually connect to others in a meaningful way. Reflecting back, I realised just a year ago, I tried to fit into groups that do not really welcome me into their cliques. I also tried adopting new interests in order to have common topics with others. The problem which arose from such 'adaptations' or trying to be a social chameleon resulted in me becoming less authentic, and less real with others.

Time passed, I realised there was no point for me to keep trying to fit into a group which I could almost never blend in. I made a decision to leave that group of acquaintances. Subsequently, I ventured out of my comfort zone to find new people to connect with. Fortunately, the friends that I made were really positive for my wellbeing. We connected, shared stories and were open and honest with each other. These environments were incredibly supportive and I felt I could be myself with these people rather than pretending to be someone I am not.

Since finding these unique communities where I belong and am welcomed fully, I found social connections with them more nourishing than ever before. Conversations uplifted my spirit and gave me more energy to be productive. Meeting these people who I connect with also helped me find opportunities to bless others and contribute to the community in my own ways.

Based on my own experience and relevant research, I find that reducing the time we spend on social networking sites can help us connect on a deeper level with others face-to-face. Since meeting the friends I have now, I have deliberately reduced my social networking site usage and also had less need to go online to check for updates. Also, as Susan Pinker said, it is important to find friends that we can truly connect with, rather than just seeking for social connections just for the sake of having them. I personally found having friends with similar values and interests really helps us relate to one another. When I had friends with different opinions than I did, I remind myself to respect differences, and that also helped us build our friendship. Finally, social connections require maintenance. If we do not work hard to maintain our friendships, we can easily lose touch with our friends or community. With the current communities I have formed, I make an effort to meet them regularly even though I am busy with university.

Finding communities in which I fit in and meeting people who I click with helped me feel more confident about my abilities, improved my wellbeing and allowed me to contribute more for my local community. I hope you learned something from my post. Please share with your friends if you find it helpful.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Life update 2018: Studies, Social Life, Visions for this blog

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I have written anything on my blog. Some of you might wonder what I have been up to, some might have no clue I have a blog. Now you know.

My studies

Life, has as usual taken a huge part of my attention this past seven months. In July 2017, I have finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology and since February this year, I have been pursuing my Honours degree in Psychology at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. I have always wanted to get admitted into the highly competitive Honours in Psychology degree in Australia. Through sheer hardwork and determination, I made it, however, what came after admission was not something I could predict beforehand. The workload was heavy. We (students) had to deal with multiple assignment deadlines at the same time and meet with group members for group discussion as well. I had to learn one statistical technique every week, which was unlike in my undergrad degree, where we had the luxury of 3 to 4 weeks to learn a topic.

My first semester was tough. I did my best, and my results was satisfactory. Although there is still room for improvement, I am grateful for the marks I got given the difficulty of the course.

Social Relationships 

Unexpectedly, my social relationships improved tremendously this past 6 months. It was probably due to the small class sizes at my uni and friendly and understanding peers and lecturers. Given the difficulty of the course, I often rant to my friends (who offer their listening ears) and they would understand my struggles because they too are in the same position. Facebook chat groups and Facebook page were formed quickly at the start of the semester, and that offered a sense that "we are in this together".

As the course was demanding, I had to drag myself to uni almost everyday and motivate myself to get something done, no matter how small the task is. But when I feel discouraged or had an impulse to drop out of Psych honours, I remind myself that I have 39 other friends doing the degree with me, and that gave me comfort and courage to carry on.

Besides, there were lots of changes and pressures which came as part of the nature of this course that we had to adapt to. For example, I came up with my thesis topic idea the night before I submitted my research proposal. Due to insufficient time for detailed research, I changed my hypotheses and variables multiple times. Also, due to the lack of time, I had to creatively choose the questions I wanted to do in an assignment in order to make my life easier. But through it all, I am grateful and happy that I had my friends' support.

Another part of my social life that improved was the new circles of friends that I have made. In the past, I used to (perhaps unconsciously) stick with friends that neither shared my values nor particularly want me in their circles. However, this year, I have deliberately sought out new friendships with people who shared my values of mutual respect, authenticity and openness. This has led to experience greater fulfillment in my life and improved my wellbeing.

Vision for this blog
It has been interesting reading my old posts on this blog. I have realised that my ideas for blog posts now has changed quite a lot compared to what I thought were good blog post ideas in the past. To me, that isn't a bad thing. Rather it's evidence of growth, of learning, of new reflection on life. It has been a journey these few years. I have learned to be more empathetic, understand other's perspective and hold back of judging others. I have also been more sociable and outgoing.

One of the main reasons I have not posted much these past 6 months was that I feared what others would think if I post content that my viewers may disagree on. I had fears that I may be judged for my values, beliefs and perspectives. However, if I don't put it out there, how would my blog reflect my aim of being authentic?

So, after pondering on it and talking to some people about my concerns, I have decided to write what I think will benefits others, regardless of what others think of me as a person. If I wanted to please everyone, I probably will never write another word on my blog. I am always open to others commenting their views on a certain topics, all I ask is respect for each others and be civil.

My vision for this blog in the near future will be posts about spirituality, studying psychology, reflections on life and learnings from people. Even though I am not the most creative writer or a know-it-all, I hope some of my posts will benefit you and you would be happy to pass them along to a friend who may enjoy them.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Minimalism: A tool that will allow you to pursue what is meaningful in you life

It’s been a long while since I have written any blog posts. The reasons are that I have been rethinking what I want to write on this blog as I learn and grow everyday to become a better, kinder, more compassionate person, hopefully, and also have just been caught up in life, hence did not have much time to write.

In the past few months, I stumbled on a concept called “minimalism” on Youtube while searching for tips to organise my study space and wardrobe. After watching a few videos, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of more and more minimalist inspirations. Minimalism does not really have a fixed definition. It generally means that we reduce our possessions and live with only the essentials for us. Minimalism helps bring clarity into our lives, reduce stress associated with cleaning and tidying up if we have lots of things, and helps us focus on the important aspects of our lives.

I am currently studying psychology in Melbourne. And I have a confession to make: I rarely use my own study table to do my assignments, throughout my two years of university life in Melbourne. Instead I always do my assignments in the library. The reason I won’t or couldn’t use my study table to do my work was because it was always cluttered with other things! Without my conscious awareness, the clutter in my study environment made me feel annoyed, yet I have never really tidy up my table and my shelves. They would always be filled with papers and books I never touch or read again and other knick knacks. After reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and watching numerous Youtube videos, I decided to begin decluttering the things I owned and start my journey towards living with minimal things.

While I was back home in Malaysia, I sold about ten of my books to different people. I did not reallyread the books although I had purchased them several years back. Initially, it was difficult for me to let go of my books, but because I did not read those books since buying them, I thought it may be better for someone else to benefit from them. After I have sold those books to people, I felt quite happy, surprisingly. I was happy not because I had gotten some cash for those books, but knowing that these people may very well benefit from reading those books. Among the buyers, some of them are even school teacher /university lecturer wanting those books so that they can place in their institution’s library collection! How amazing is that? Knowing that my books can be read by others at a cheaper rate just makes me smile.

Since I have returned to Melbourne, I have decluttered my kitchen, pantry, book collection and also some stacks of paper and miscellaneous items. Even though the process of taking everything out, seeing them all in one place, then choosing things to keep, donate or throw away can be a long one and feel daunting, once I started the process, I gained some insight into what exactly I had in those piles of clutter. Turnsout, apart from University lecture notes, most of them were brochures, advertisements, flyers, freebies from events, other people’s namecards etc. I had a problem of taking what everyone promoting stuff on the street gave. I never threw anything out apart from weekly food scraps, and that over the years have created 10 bags of random things that I needed to look into.

Becoming minimalist is definitely a tool I want to use to simplify my life. These few weeks of exploring this concept has led me to truly realise that things do not and can never make us happy. Owning more does not mean that we become happier. I have seen people from the USA having 50 pairs of shoes to declutter, I only have 4 pairs, and I think that’s enough for me. Things that are excess are different for everyone. For me, I had minimal shoes and socks, and minimal number of bags, however I have lots of books and papers, and also lots of clothing. These things, unfortunately create the visual clutter around our living space.

I truly think that minimalism is a great tool to help us live more simply and find more time for meaningful pursuits in life. Personally, I would like to connect with friends and family more regularly, and able to take self care breaks exploring a nearby suburb or a local park or library. Of course, there are more to minimalism than what I shared here, and I will in time explore different aspects of minimalist lifestyle.

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