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Archive for the ‘Cool skills/Habits’ Category

Cool skills to have / habits to form for personal development – Learning Theatre / Drama

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

I am not sure if learning and participating in amateur drama can be listed as a cool skill, but there are tons of advantages.

I never took part in school plays or concerts. And in University, I was in the Science stream, majoring in Physics. A major more associated with guys with thick spectacles carrying even thicker books and having their noses buried in these books all day and maybe even all night.  

Luckily for me, I had friends who, though were Science students, were also into drama. They allowed me to take a peek into this world. They participated in a couple of plays and I would attend their rehearsals quite frequently.

I got to meet their fellow drama artists and the others involved like lighting people, props people, costumes people etc. I enjoyed the easy and close camaraderie the group had and the seemingly intellectual discussions they had. 

I think the benefits of drama in shaping children have been well documented. It helps in improving vocabulary, reading comprehension, and other areas like building trust and self acceptance. 

What does drama have for those of us adults, perhaps just starting out in our working lives?  

My friends who were amateur actors were confident and articulate people. They had great people skills, mixed around easily and could always make interesting conversation. Though I did not know at that time, I now suspect much of this had a lot to do with their participation in theatre.  

They are using these skills to great use in their current carriers.  

One is a business journalist. His views are respected and he is often called upon to give talks to A-list foreign investment banks and fund managers on what his thoughts are on the future of our country. A task he does with such creativity and credibility that he has a waiting list.  

Another is holding a senior post in an ASEAN organization, where he meets with very senior Government leaders and talks about policy issues that should be implemented. 

Though I had the chance to audition for some roles, I flunked them. My two experiences with amateur theatre were being part of the lighting team for a play and being the stage manager for another.  

Is theatre impractical? Nay! says Gallaudet University.  

It lists the practical advantages of theatre.  

Better self-expression, creative problem solving, motivation and commitment, willingness to work cooperatively and ability to work independently, better time management, adaptability, flexibility and ability to focus under pressure, self discipline, self confidence and a healthy self image to boot. 

The Simple Dollar listed at the top of his 9 simple ways to stand out in our career, the act of “making presentations.” He implores us to volunteer each and every chance we get for an opportunity to make any presention. 

For those of us who fear public speaking, (and this article confirms that we are by far, the majority), SD’s advice seems like a death sentence. For theatre participants, it becomes more like a walk in the park. 

So if you have a chance, join a theatre group and become an amateur actor or actress.  Besides learning skills that will catapult you ahead in your career, you’ll get to meet new and interesting friends and have fun!

And be cool!


Cool skills to have / habits to form for personal development - Handyman skills

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Wikipedia’s definition of a handyman is a person competent in a variety of trade skills, inventive/ingenious repair, and maintenance work.

We must all know these kind of people. People who have their weekends full repairing various parts of the house or building extensions like car porches and such. Lighting fixtures, plumbing work, window replacements are all a breeze.

Others (like me) have to pay someone to do it.

Handyman skills have been underrated for some time, though there may now be a resurgence as shown by the popularity of DIY items in outlets like Home Depot etc. 

Popular Mechanics wrote about this in their October 2007 issue.

The savings the families rack up in having a handyman in the family is incredible. Emily of Remodeling this Life estimates her family’s savings at almost USD100,000, and still counting. And if we take into consideration the fact that a $ saved is better than a $ earned, these amounts seriously mount up.

There are now many resources available for us to learn these skills. TV programs, websites, books and classes.  All we need is interest and willingness to invest and learn.

Handyman skills can also be easily leveraged into a ready source of  side income. Lawn services, housing repair jobs, plumbing jobs, lighting and air conditioning jobetc. should be quite easily available in most of our immediate neighbourhoods.

These skills are also handy for those of us in real estate, who buy, rehab and flip homes.

My father in law is an outstanding handyman. When we purchased our first home a number of years ago, he built us a retaining wall and did all the minor repairs. He is quite advanced in age now, otherwise he would be a great partner in a “handyman business” that I often yearn to set up.

Now one of my wife’s many uncles helps us out with home repairs, plumbing works and sometimes electrical work.  

In school, we had classes called “Industrial Arts”, where we were taught skills in handling the basic carpentry tools. I was never good at this and can still remember being fascinated by the elegant pieces of furniture some of my classmates could craft up.

Want to rate yourself. Have a look at the 25 items Popular Mechanics has listed in their choice of skills everyman must know.

Cool skills to learn/Habits to form for personal development – Learning how to cook

Monday, January 14th, 2008

You think this skill is not cool? Or do you think this has nothing to do with personal development? 

Hear me out. 

If there ever was a skill that is easy to learn, a skill that would save you tons of time, a skill that would save and / or earn you money and a skill that will make you as cool as anything else can, it is cooking. 

Cooking used to be a skill that almost everyone learnt as part of growing up. Now with so many parents working, time for cooking is less available, and is easily replaced with fast foods and take-aways.   

As a result, many children are growing up not having this useful skill. Just see the benefits: 

a)    Cooking at home, taking lunch to work, planning our meals a week in advance, etc., are all rated up there, not only in the world of personal finance, but also in the world of healthier living. 

This alone should rate cooking skills as a must have. 

b)    Flexibility in being posted overseas. In 1998, a bunch of us turned up in Ghana to work. Food was something that we did not put much thought on. (We were a small company, not a huge conglomerate that would have had checklists for these kinds of things.) 

Ghanaian local cuisine was not something that many of us could adapt to. Meals at hotels and restaurants were not affordable as an option for meals. Thank God, we managed to find house maids, who could cook   some basic food that we were used to. 

c)     As we all must know, restaurants that serve good food are a great way to make money. So knowing how to cook opens up yet another option for earning money. 

d)    In many of the movies that I have seen, the line that seems to impress the ladies the most is the hero coolly explaining to his date, (after serving her an excellent meal), that he cooked it. I strongly suspect this spills over into real life.

e)    Restaurants generally do not make food with our health in mind. They usually serve what is saleable, what makes money for them and what is easy to prepare and serve.  Knowing how to cook would assist us tremendously in selecting better ingredients and making far healthier food. 

f)      Just like we like frequenting restaurants that have a reputation for serving good food, we look forward to visiting relatives and friends who serve delicious stuff. The great cook has a great way to widen and strengthen his/her network! 

I have a young friend who likes food and his wife is an excellent cook. Together they are now planning to launch a small catering service, whilst he still holds on to his full time job.  

I have no doubt that with cooking skills getting to be less and less common and with my friend’s passion for food, his venture will grow from strength to strength.                                                       

Cool skills to learn/Habits to form for personal development – Basic Car Maintenance

Monday, December 24th, 2007

It may be a little stretchy to say that learning this skill may make us more productive personally.  

However, most of us will agree that reducing the probability of our car breaking down on us; will be good for peace of mind. And anything that improves our peace of mind should be good for personal development. Shouldn’t it? 

I worked in a company in Ghana, West Africa for about 3 years. During that time, our company had 17 cars with most of these driven by my Ghanaian colleagues. And most of them did not have their own vehicles and neither had they ever owned vehicles.   

We had horrendous vehicle maintenance bills. Diesel vehicles were filled with petrol, cars were run with no water in their radiator, and tires would have been semi deflated…… 

The list was long. Some of the cars were driven until they came to a complete stop. It would have been so much cheaper had the problem been arrested earlier.  

Reputable workshops were also few and far in between.  

I really wished then, that I had learned basic car maintenance, and could send my colleagues for such courses.  

We solved this problem or rather mitigated it by:- 

a)    Assigning Musah Swallah, (who knew more about cars than the rest of us) to a department we set up for Vehicle Maintenance. 

b)    Opened Car Maintenance Cards for each vehicle, where we recorded the maintenance record, the items being changed, total costs etc. Cars whose costs of maintenance were high were subject to query and more often than not sold off.  

c)     A checklist of basic things to do, like checking the oil, water/coolant, tire pressure etc. was drawn up by Swallah for all drivers to follow.  

This helped to control the costs.  

The YMCA in my country’s capital used to give lessons in Basic Car Maintenance. This course would not, exactly enable you to repair a Ferrari, but it did teach you at least some basics about all the various lights and levers on your dashboard and the steering, how to change tires, oil checking, etc. 

Now there also seem to be a number of online resources, like here and also here.  

I believe many car owners are just like me. They take the car into the workshop at the prescribed intervals and just let the mechanic do his job. And we have no idea what he is doing, or not doing.  

And there are some who may be a little worse. They see a light blinking on their dashboard and they do nothing. The car continues to move so they just ignore the light. Until the car comes to a dead stop, and if Murphy’s Law has any credence, at the most inconvenient of times. 

Now many insurance companies and car dealers offer toll free numbers to call in event of an emergency. The AA also provides this service.  

Nevertheless, basic car maintenance is a skill worth learning.

These days a car is almost a necessity. For many of us, the car is about the most expensive thing we own after our homes.

A little regular maintenance done by ourselves will help lowering costs as well as lengthen the life of the car. 

I have to admit, that I am still amongst the uneducated when it come to vehicle maintenance.  

However, we do keep vehicle records, where we note the mileage at the beginning and end of the day and the cost of fuel put in.

And we follow the maintenance schedules quite religiously.  

For the two elder girls, my wife and I shall make sure they attend basic car maintenance classes before they get their own cars.  

Cool skills to learn / habits to form for personal development – learning Qi Qong

Tuesday, December 18th, 2007

Health is wealth. So true, but so unappreciated.  

So many of us spend plenty of time chasing the elusive $ to add to our bank accounts, chasing the next promotion, queue up for the “to die for” I pod, but exercise is not in the list. 

Like other really important matters in life, exercise is never urgent. The ill effects of not exercising creep up on us, slowly but ever so surely. 

And like so many people before me and I am sure many people after me, I have set goals to exercise but never went anywhere near meeting these goals. The motivation was just not there….and why? Exercise is important but not urgent. 

This year 2007 is a paradigm shift year for me. The year I conquered another unmet goal of many years. I believe I now have the habit of early rising.  

Now I feel ready, willing and able to take on and overcome this exercising goal. 

I shall go for morning walks at least 4 times a week. The neighborhood I live in is a great place for morning walks. Cool, quiet, and one round will take me about 3.5 km.  I have fortified myself with “overcome my lethargy” tips and guides given by Zen Habits here and here.

Second, I shall learn Qi Qong. 

This ancient Chinese art is well explained by Wikipedia.  

What really motivated me to want to take on this art is this great book “Indispensable Qi Gong” by Joan Foo Mahony. A former high flying international lawyer, she discovered during medical tests done after a ice skating accident that her bone density was 60% of a normal woman her age. 

Batteries of complicated medical tests done in the US did not give any insight on how to resolve this. It was finally her taking on the practice of Qi Gong that she fully recovered. 

The book is written for those of us who are on the go and do not have much time for exercising.  She lists a number of simple exercises that can be done whilst commuting (by plane, train, bus or driving), whilst watching TV, whilst at the computer and even whilst doing housework. 

In Malaysia, a common early morning sight at almost all our public parks, is groups of people, many of them chronologically well advanced in age, gracefully going through the steps. Slowly and almost effortlessly, as the age old exercise works on all the right places.  

The saying that you can fool all the people some of the time may be true. Somehow I don’t think it applies to the millions of Chinese practicing Qi Qong in one form or another over the last 3,000 years or so. 

A major goal for me for 2008 – learning and practicing Qi Qong, my supplement for exercise and better health.


Cool skills to learn/Habits to form for personal development – Rising Early

Friday, November 23rd, 2007

For the longest time, I have had a goal of getting up early and exercising. I am ashamed to admit, that, year after year, this goal has just been carried forward. Sometimes, I’ll rise early, but not exercise. On other days, I exercise but not in the mornings etc. But most days, I’ll get up late. 

I think the best description of the benefits of early rising, is the saying …”early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”. 

(Though the poor worm may have been caught by the early bird, I tell myself this is the worm coming back from its previous night’s frolics, whilst the bird is part of the “Early to rise……. fraternity.)  

Rising early allows for more productive hours in a day, the early dawn is an excellent time for spiritual rejuvenation, and we can get a lot of tasks done uninterrupted. 

Now exactly how do I make rising early an unshakeable habit? I looked to the blogosphere for inspiration as well as guidance and found ample. I read the following blog posts (by the way, all of whom are down and out fervent supporters of the early to rise habit) and summarized their “how to’s”. 

a) Kronikulz.com’s Being an Early Riser, 

b) Steve Pavalina’s How to become an early riser,  

c) ZenHabits’ 10 benefits of Rising Early and How to do it,  

d) Dave Cheong’s Waking Up early – 15 Tips that work,  

e) Real Women’s Fitness’ How to get up early everyday,  

f) How to wake up Early’s tips on how to sleep well, waking early and what to do then.   

The main factors they had in common were:- 

a)                Get enough sleep / rest. Before bedtime, do something either mentally or physically exerting, so that your body wants to rest.   

Our body has its own inbuilt mechanism to tell us if we don’t have enough sleep. We’ll just feel sleepy. So this should not be a problem to follow. 

b)                Have a good reason/(s) to get up early. Set yourself a morning ritual or a list of tasks that you want to do. Make yourself a promise to get up early and/or use your subconscious mind to remind you of the reason to get up.  

This makes a lot of sense. We get up early without any bother when we have something lined up like an early flight or an important meeting etc. So we have to have a set of things to do, things we can look forward to, so that there is an inbuilt “desire” given to the mind to get us up early. 

c)                 Set the alarm a little away from the bed so that you can’t just shut it up and go back to sleep. Jump out of bed as soon as the alarm rings. No matter what!  

This may be a tough one, as it is very, very tempting to shut the alarm up and then sleep for “ten more minutes”. We all know that this ten becomes twenty and thirty.

But, if (a) and (b) are solidly anchored, I think this can be overcome.  

As I write and read this post, getting up early seems doable.  

For the past five days, this system has worked well for me. I think (and hope) that this habit can be continued.   

And to others, may you rise as per your desired times, with a spring in your step and a smile on your face.  

Cool skills to learn/Habits to form for personal development – Speed Reading

Tuesday, November 20th, 2007

Today’s installment is on “speed reading.” 

Whenever, I go through the Simple Dollar’s book reviews, I wonder how he gets the discipline, energy and time to be able to read and write an in depth review of one book a week.  

The Simple Dollar modestly says that “he has taught himself to read quite quickly.” Well, I say that, the Simple Dollar clearly seems to be an accomplished speed reader.

I like YourDictionary.com’s simple definition of speed reading as a technique for reading texts at an extremely rapid rate with adequate comprehension. 

MindTools.com, an online resource for management, leadership and career training has this to say about speed reading.

Speed Reading helps you to read and understand text more quickly. It is an essential skill in any environment where you have to master large volumes of information quickly, as is the norm in fast-moving professional environments. And it’s a key technique to learn if you suffer from “Information Overload.”

In most executive or management level jobs, there is an awful amount of things to read. Manuals, memos, office email, letters, reviews of our products, reviews of other people’s competing products, industry updates…..well, you get the idea. 

Then there is the need to stimulate our minds by reading non work related stuff such as autobiographies, history, current news, religious / spiritual reading, etc.  

Then comes the reading of “fun books / magazines / articles.” Reading about our hobbies and fiction novels come under this classification. 

Even for those of us who actually want to read, this would take an awful amount of time.  

It’s no wonder that, many of us just give up and this is shown in some of the available reading statistics. See here and here.

Maybe, just maybe, this also stops us from reading and understanding some really important stuff.

Why don’t we learn speed reading? Whilst this may not completely eliminate the pressure of reading the tons of stuff that comes our way, in this information overload society, this skill will at least reduce this pressure. (The other skill is of course, to send the useless bits to the waste paper basket immediately.)  

There are lots of resources available for us to learn speed reading. Some are free, like that offered by Wikihow, a free collaborative writing project to build the world’s largest and highest quality how-to manual. They have a section on “How to learn Speed Reading.” 

Others can be learnt from CD’s, books and audio tapes that you have to buy. 

This investment should bring about ROI’s that should make any VC drool.  

Cool skills to learn for personal development – Yogic Sleep

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Power Nap?Power Namp???Yoga is already quite well known as an ancient Indian physical science that can help us in so many areas of our life, if practiced diligently.  

Here I want to talk about one particular aspect which I have experienced with great positive effect. We call it Yogic Sleep. 

We must also have heard about the power nap. 

Men’s Journal calls the power nap, an investment with the greatest return in the least amount of time. A kind of super efficient sleep that fits in nicely in a high pressure schedule, say between business meetings or in the minutes before a game.  

But just how do we fall sleep at will? Can we just “turn off a switch and go to sleep” or do we need another hour or so to “toss and turn” first. 

To all the “power nap challenged people”, I say, have no fear, a  solution is near.  

Ms. Bijoylaxmi Hota in her book “Yoga for Busy People” provides a great solution.  The book has a section on Yogic Sleep, in which she explains how deep relaxation and sound sleep which are essential for regeneration of body tissues can be achieved by yoganidra. This is a practice developed from an ancient tantric practice by her guru, Paramahamsa Swamy Satyananda Saraswati.  

I am listing the steps suggested by Ms. Hota. However, just reading these steps may not do justice to Ms. Hota. (I hope I am not infringing any copyright issues here.) 

Ms. Hota’s teachings are for us to :- 

a)                Lie down in the pose of Shavasana  

         i)                  Lie down on your back in a straight line

         ii)                Move legs one and a half feet apart

         iii)             Place hands on the floor,(palms facing up), away from the body,

         iv)              Close eyes,

          v)                Breathe naturally,

          vi)              Count twelve breaths backwards 

b)                Countdown 12 deep breaths while mentally saying, 

          i)      I am inhaling – twelve,

         ii)     I am exhaling – twelve,

         iii)             I am inhaling – eleven

         iv)              Etc until we reach - one 

c)                 Now breathe normally and repeat mentally “relax” after each exhalation, 

d)                Practice for 3 – 4 minutes, 

e)                Visualize each part of the body in the following sequence. Mentally repeat its name and imagine it relaxing. Do not move the said body part. “Right hand thumb, index finger, middle finger, ring finger, little finger, palm, wrist, elbow, shoulder, armpit, hip, thigh, knee, calf, ankle, heel, sole, the big toe, second, third, fourth and the fifth. 

f)                  Repeat with the left side, 

g)                Back – back of the head, top of the head, forehead, right eyebrow, left eyebrow, right eye, left eye, middle of the eyebrows, right cheek, left cheek, right nostril, left nostril, upper lip, lower lip, chin, neck, chest, stomach and abdomen.  

She has also some further suggestions that we should make a short positive resolution such as “I will attain and maintain perfect health, or I am perfectly healthy in body and mind.” And imagining ourselves to be near a pleasant and relaxing environment such as a waterfall, a calm lake or a sea beach etc. 

I have always fallen asleep somewhere between (f) and (g). 

I bought this book a few years ago in an airport in India. Yogic Sleep is the only section that I have tried and it works.

Even if you feel that you are not going to fall asleep for the next 3 or 4 hours, practicing the simple steps listed by Ms. Hota just “switches you off” and instantly sends you to slumberland. Try it and see for yourself. 

PS:   Incidentally, sleep deprivation has been identified as one of the trends facing us today. Would keeping these people  awake be the next business opportunity or would it be helping them take naps at will, every chance they get?   

The picture above was taken from a really cool story on a dream written by Ms. NN in the Digital Journal. You have to read it yourself. The powerful impact of dreams and when do dreams happen…..when we sleep, of course…..

Sweet Dreams! 

Cool Skills to learn / Habits to form for personal development

Friday, November 16th, 2007

Thinking back about all the years I spent in school and university, supposedly getting myself an education to help me in life, I wonder. 

I have always wondered why educators stuff so much technical thingies into us, stuff they themselves must know that is never ever used, other than for teaching others. 

I am not knocking the education I received. I am grateful for it, but I wish it was a lot more skewed towards practical use. I am not alone. In fact, I wrote about this after I read a passionate article in Brian Kim’s Invest in Yourself and Make it Happen.  

In that post, I wrote about 5 skills that, (as also stated by Brian), should be taught in schools. Skills that would have made a very positive impact in our adult lives.  

Even after school, we should pick up some skills to make our lives more productive, useful and / or pleasant. 

I am happy to report that some people do seem to agree with me.  

See this very interesting thread of comments, to “I can’t do one quarter of the things my Father can” featured in October 07’s Popular Mechanics.  

Then there is Anarchangel, who has had, and is having a rich and extremely varied life. He seems to have skills that Rambo or McGyver  would drool over. 

RateItAll, an online community and social network built upon a diverse range of online databases, has posted a list by one of its members on useful skills to have. He invites readers to rate these skills “on their usefulness in this crazy world.”  

We shall over the next few days and weeks, post our stand and views on some of these skills that we should learn. 

What is your take on these additional useful life skills that we should try to learn, or habits that we should form.  See Melissa’s list of 10 classes to, (as she says hopefully), fix her life.

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