My world changed forever at the Duty-Free located in Terminal 3, London Heathrow Airport. I had some extra cash to burn, and I was looking to spend it on a keyboard for my iPad. However, my eyes lit up when I saw something else. It was the Kindle, and I’ve been eyeing one for quite some time.
Minutes away from boarding on a flight returning home, I paid for the Kindle without hesitation. I had just enough Sterlings left in my pocket to buy it before rushing to make the flight.
This simple transaction had the highest return on investment on anything I’ve ever bought.
Since I got myself a Kindle, I started reading more. I read at least 20 pages a day, and the books I read shaped my emotions, habits, and relationships - all thanks to some digital ink.
“How could you not get it right? It’s so easy! Are you dumb?” said my lecturer.
It is time to go for a run, overthink what happened, and be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.
That was me a year ago.
These days, when I hear these comments, I shrug it off and move on with the rest of my day. It’s all thanks to Stoicism.
My emotions had a paradigm shift when I discovered Stoicism in the book Happy by Derren Brown.
According to the Stoics, you don’t feel angry or sad because of an event. You feel these emotions because of how you react to them. You feel these emotions because of the story you tell yourself.
If someone were to say something hurtful to you, you might feel immediately insulted. I used to think like that. Since learning about Stoicism, I regained my power over my emotions. I can control my reaction. I can now move on with my day instead of being affected by small things that don’t matter.
I know that I’ll face more toxicity as I further my medical career. Thanks to Stoicism, I have faith that this won’t faze me. These days, by the time I leave the hospital, I leave all my problems behind. No complaining to my friends or family about the treatment I get. No sleep lost over being insulted. I learn from my mistakes, and I move on with my day.
Laws of Behaviour Change
One of the habits I wanted to cultivate in college was exercising. I know it’s good for me, and I know I should do it, but why can’t I make it stick?
I always end up blaming myself when I can’t make it stick. “You’re lazy”, “You have no discipline” is my inner dialogue all the time.
I’d get inspired to go on a run, run for 10 km, get so sore from the experience the next day, and never run for at least another month.
But that was me a year ago. These days, working out and exercising is effortless. I’m proud to say today that I’ve done some sort of cardio almost every day, without exception.
And it’s thanks to the Laws of Behaviour Change.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear explains the 4 Laws of Behaviour Change, a framework to design good habits and eliminate bad behaviours.
To create a good habit, make it obvious, attractive, easy, and satisfying.
To break a bad habit, do the opposite: make it invisible, unattractive, difficult, and unsatisfying.
I use this framework to influence my behaviour every day.
For example, I built an exercising habit by following these four rules.
- Make it obvious: I plan where and when I will exercise the night before
- Make it attractive: I paired an action I want to do with an action I need to do. I love to listen to podcasts, so I make it a rule that I can only listen to podcasts when I’m working out.
- Make it easy: I make it a rule that I only need to work out for 2 minutes, then I can quit. I set a timer for 2 minutes, and once the timer goes off, I can stop working out if I don’t feel like it.
- Make it satisfying: Besides using a habit tracker, I only do exercises that I find satisfying. In my case, I love playing tennis, so I have no problem motivating myself to get some cardio by playing tennis.
You can do the opposite to break a bad habit. Take, for example, my bad habit of wasting time on the Internet.
- Make it invisible: I keep my devices inside a drawer before I go to bed. When I wake up, I’m not tempted to use them, as they are out of sight.
- Make it unattractive: I made a list of all the benefits of not wasting time on the Internet. I keep it on my desk to remind myself about it.
- Make it difficult: I increase the number of steps needed to waste time on the Internet. You can do this with a website blocker like Freedom.
- Make it unsatisfying: I ask a friend to become an accountability partner by checking up Internet usage. Not wanting to disappoint them deters me from wasting time on the Internet.
Sharing Your Work
I’ve never been one to share anything on social media before this. My Twitter and Instagram page is even drier than my DM’s. I’ve always been terrified of putting my work out there for the world to see.
What would they think about me?
Wouldn’t others cringe at my work?
My work isn’t good enough. Who would bother?
That all changed when I read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. In this book, Austin Kleon describes the idea of putting yourself out there on the Internet and sharing your craft. By sharing your work online, you’ll attract like-minded people. By sharing your art, you’ll find your tribe.
People are interested in how the sausage gets made. They want to see the behind the scenes of your craft. You don’t need to be an expert to share your work. In fact, amateurs might have more to teach us than experts.
This book gave me the push I needed to share my craft as a medical student. I started writing online. My fingers shivered as I pressed enter to publish my first article. It was pretty crap in hindsight, but I’ve improved my writing because I’m sharing it with others. These days, I’m publishing an article every week. It’s still a struggle, and I have a long way to go in terms of my writing quality, but I’ll get there one day.
Because I shared my work, I found friends from all over the world. Hopping into a Zoom call at 11 PM with someone who just woke up is a familiar occurrence to me. These conversations are idea sparkers. They are learning opportunities. No book or article could substitute these conversations and relationships. All I did to get there was to share my work online.
Before I got myself a Kindle, I wasn’t reading as much. It’s too much of a fuss to go out to the bookstore to get books. And there are too many distractions to read on my phone.
I think back to that day at Heathrow when I bought the Kindle. Thanks to that simple transaction, I started reading more often. I discovered new worldviews. Without the Kindle, I would not have come across them at all. Without the Kindle, my world would pretty much be the same as it was a year ago. The Kindle is like an intellectual cheat code - with one click, you'll be able to learn anything you want.
If you’d like to start changing your life, start reading now. Pick up a book or get yourself a Kindle. Read.
P.S: Again, big thank you to my Write of Passage friends: Baillie Aaron, Adam Tank, Adam Cotterill, Henry Finkelstein, Gayatri Taley, Gwyn Wansbrough, Tobi Emonts-Holley, Aravind Murty, Gad Allon, Ammar Kubba, Michael Dean, and Charlie Bleecker for their priceless feedback and help in turning my article from a shitty first draft to something I'm proud of!
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