5 Steps to Waking Up Feeling Amazing

And no, checking your phone is not one of them!
And no, checking your phone is not one of them!
Credit: I Forgot My iPhone, Charstarlene TV / Youtube

Many of us have aspirations yet unfulfilled in our lives. These could be as personal as starting each day feeling amazing, exercise more, improving relationships, or launching a passion-driven startup. They could be as audacious as world peace, or even more so.

I would love to hit more bulls-eyes in my life. I mean, who wouldn’t? But I have been off target many, many times. Thankfully, these mis-steps have ignited a spark in me to ask some important questions about hitting bulls-eyes.

What are the tiniest, most impactful actions that lead to achieving the goals we really want?

What is standing in the way of these becoming realised?

The Moments Standing in The Way

Anyone who has ever felt inspired or moved to achieve something would often not lack in motivation, except especially in moments of weakness. The moments when you are starving, and skip “just this one” exercise session to eat straight away. The moments of inconsideration when you feel like complimenting a loved one, but pride gets the better of you. The moments of doubt, when you see the vision and the value in your idea, and wonder why your audience or key stakeholders do not.

These are a snapshot of the Achilles heel of achieving anything requiring focus.

Looking to overcome these, in my research and self-testing, I came across something interesting. I had not given much thought to this insight in the past, because it had always seemed too easy to be effective.

Before I go into the insight and how to use it, heres a true story to illustrate.

If They Can Do It, Whats Our Excuse?

In 1992, sixty Scottish patients, all around the age of sixty-eight, had recently undergone hip or knee replacement surgery. Most were earning less than $10K a year and without higher education. They were all in rehab to relearn to stand and walk again.

Two British psychologists, wanted to see if they could fast-track the recovery for these elderly patients. The researchers added blank pages to the end of their usual rehab booklets. They asked the patients to fill in the pages with specific plans — a new plan for every week in rehab.

3 months later, the researchers revisited the patients. Not all patients had used the blank pages. However, those who had, were standing up three times as fast, and were walking twice as fast as the others!

Why was this? The researchers found that the plan makers were writing down similar things — how they would respond to what they expected to be moments of weakness. For example, there was one man determined to meet his wife at the bus stop. He wrote down every obstacle he thought he would confront and pllanned how he would respond.

The key difference in recovery speed was in anticipating moments of challenge ahead of time, and making well thought out plans.

Putting This to the Test

I had a good feeling about this, and have since started to experiment to find out if it works well for me.

The first goal I experimented with this on was improving my morning practice. (By the way I find the phrase morning routine very uninspiring)

In September last year, somehow checking social media / messages / email on my phone had creeped into most mornings as the first thing I do when I wake up. I need to get online sometime in the morning, but usually not before breakfast, or even until an hour or more into my workday.

These distracted mornings led to less focused and productive days working. I felt myself checking my phone more times during the day without purpose… so checking my phone first thing was undesirable! Soon after, I resolved to replace this with a better waking up habit.

To achieve this, I thought about my experience before I would check my phone on certain mornings. I would be lying in bed, feeling a little lazy. Morning sunlight would be streaming through my blinds.My bed feels warm, too cozy to get out of. This mix of feelings and memories of that situation together formed the cue for any change I wanted to make.

I would have that experience in mind, as I thought about my preferred response to that situation. That response was to express one thing I was grateful for, and then one thing I wanted to focus on for the day, before launching out of bed and into my morning practice.

So every time I felt lazy in a cozy bed, sunlight through blinds, I would be grateful and focused. I repeated the link between the cue-behaviour-intention, until I felt confident enough I could do it.

Then I left it until the next morning when my phone would tempt me again.

I have had great results with this approach, since starting it nearly three months ago. For the first two months, I had a slip up every two weeks or so. I was happy with that. Then a break over summer, and I found myself more distracted by my devices. Since refocusing on my projects for 2014 in mid January, I have found it quite effortless to not check social media on my phone until at least lunchtime. The improvement to my focus with work and presence with people has been amazing!

But that benefit also is because of some other habit tweaks that I will share another time.

For now, here is a 5 step guide to train resilience in those moments of weakness:

How to Stay Focused, When Motivation is Lowest

0. Start with some attention and (blank) paper

1. Choose an aspiration

Make sure it feels great to achieve it. You will need that motivation later when it counts most!

2. The most challenging moment standing in the way

It has to be the biggest challenge to this goal you have chosen, as otherwise it will still be in your way later.

3. Remember your experience of that moment

This is like a ID number on the experience. Think about what makes this experience distinct from others. The stronger, more vivid the feelings and the sense of it, the more likely you can change your response. Look back at where I bolded the word experience above for my example.

4. Choose your preferred response

Make it as clear, specific and real as possible. Engage your senses and write it down.

5. Strengthen the behaviour link

All is primed and ready for this key step to connect the cue — behaviour — desired intention. Starting from your experience of that moment, see yourself responding the way you want to, and then achieving the outcome you want. Again, the key is to be as specific as possible. Repeat this step as many times as you need to feel confident that you will respond as desired.

5 minutes may be enough, though only experimentation will tell!

Once done, all thats left is observe how you actually do respond when that challenging moment arises. I review my progress with this approach every week.

I don’t think achieving the things we really want to see happen is meant to be easy, but I hope this makes it easier for you!

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” — Aristotle

Charles Duhigg’s excellent book, The Power of Habit, is the source of the story about the elderly patients. Many thanks to Professor Paschal J. Sheeran, co-author of the study, for his immediate feedback about the patients.

 This post first appeared over at Medium.com.

Partner Dancing: The Power of a Good Cue

by Stuck in Customshttp://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/
Thats happy partner dancing!
by Stuck in Customs

Dancing with a partner can seem so complicated, so intricate, so HARD. The stylised TV shows of media personalities in dancing competitions paints a skewed picture of what its actually like.

Its actually quite simple to learn, especially for the follower in the dance. Usually its a woman following, and generally, a man leads the dance. Leading, especially at first is a bit harder work than following though!

I want to share the 1 cue that will help women focus on what matters most when following a lead. It will help men see what cue to be aware of to make dances more fun for both their partner and themselves.

A Little Background

I dance for fun, socially. When partner dancing, I dance mostly latin styles like salsa, meringue and bacchata. Its been 7 years since my first salsa dance at a barn dance in the Costa Rican countryside, and almost as long since my first salsa class. I am definitely not a technically brilliant dancer, nor am I flashy. But I do know how to lead, so that the follower gets the cues she needs to feel good, even if she claims to not know how to dance salsa/with a parter/etc.

In my teens, I was far from confident on any dancefloor. I am glad to say that learning to dance without judging myself has freed me to enjoy social dancing a lot lot more.

Ok, enough about me, onward.

I will refer to the follower in a dance as “she”, and the lead as “he”.


For a woman who has never felt confident in partner dancing, her reward is to feel amazed at how quickly she can follow a simple lead.

As a lead, I always feel great knowing I have helped someone feel more capable in their abilities. Its a real buzz!


So he asks her to dance, and she agrees. They walk to the dancefloor, hold hands, right hand holding the other person’s left hand, and vice versa… then what?

The follower looks for cues from the lead as to how to move.

When a woman has never partner danced before, and/or feels less than confident in her dancing skills, she will, in most cases, attempt to follow the mans feet.

I say attempt as this is very hard to do. Mostly because she does not know the steps (nor does she need to, especially at first). Trying to match the man’s steps, at the full speed of the song, is often near impossible!

The cues being offered by the lead’s footwork would seem unpredictable, and often impossible to think through. This makes her analytical and hesitant about what she should be doing, rather than just dancing and following a much simpler cue.

The 1st Cue to Follow

The latin dancing I have done, and it seems, other partner dancing, all have various steps to learn. Its important for a lead to learn these (though he can just improv his own steps in the beginning).

Its not important at all for the follower to learn the steps at first.

Regardless of the fancy footwork, one thing that all partner dancing has in common is hand holding. To lead simply and effectively, lead with your hands.

Thats it. Lead using your hand movements to guide her.

Keep hand movements as relaxed, certain and consistent as possible. Sudden and rushed never work as well. This comes with practice and having fun.

The Behaviours that Follow

Cue: he moves his left hand forward (and also steps forward on his left foot, though she does not focus on that). Behaviour: through the push she feels on her right hand, she steps back with her right foot.

Cue: he pulls his right hand back (and steps back with his right foot). Behaviour: through the pull she feels on her left hand, she steps forward with her left foot.

Cue: he raises his left hand up and spins it in a small circle anticlockwise. Behaviour: she spins in the same direction as the pull she feels on her right hand.

When even a first timer is looking for cues from her lead’s hands, and not his feet, she responds with a lot less effort, and a lot more fun.

Men need to lead a partner dance, which means part of the deal is we have to do all the “thinking”. Anyone with some dancing experience can tell you the thinking becomes second nature and eventually does not feel like thinking at all.

Pick the important cues to focus on

Its not just in partner dancing that being aware of the important cues can help. Every behaviour and habit in all aspects of life are triggered by a cue (or combination of them)… most of these unconscious.

Thats perfect for almost all behaviours we have, but to change existing or start doing new behaviours, identifying the most important cue is vital.

by _Tawcan http://www.flickr.com/photos/tawcan/
Time to take a dip
by _Tawcan http://www.flickr.com/photos/tawcan/

With behaviour, simplicity always wins

Some experienced and technical female dancers will give me some tough love once in a while. They say things like my hips do not move loose enough, or its my shoulders, etc. While I appreciate the feedback, I’m only dancing for fun.

To dance for fun, simplicity always wins.


By Tsung Xu

Lōōk: There’s Plenty of Time

The Initial Feeling

Running late for events and meetings was never fun. I’m a guy who can get quite anxious in those situations.

I find my level of stress depends on what mode of transport I have at hand. Walking or cycling is always easier on my stress levels, probably because I can always move that little faster, and be a little less late, if I want to.

While driving though, 20 min late triggers a higher stress alert in me. I can’t do anything to speed up if I am stuck in traffic or I’m near the speed limit. Living in inner city Sydney, being stuck in traffic  happens alot.

So how can I feel more relaxed when I’m driving and 20 min late to where I need to be?

After doing BJ Fogg’s workshop last year, one day I realised the answer was seeing that there is Plenty of Time.

The Existing Behaviour

So before we get to that answer, let me briefly make clear what my problem was, as a behaviour.

Trigger (or cue):

When I was driving and running late, I would feel anxious.

Existing behaviour:

I would glance at the time, on my car’s clock, in the centre of my dashboard.

Feeling after the behaviour:

In my immediate anxious state, this indulgent glance made me feel good for a split second, before I actually registered what the time was. But then I realised I was late. So, that blip of a good feeling was always replaced by a stronger, reinforced, sense of stress. Not good!

Side note: don’t get me wrong here. I was not having panic attacks or hyperventilating. I was just anxious. Some deep breathing always helped, and are always recommended… but there was another way to relax that required far less of a jedi sense of presence and breath.

So back to the behaviour: Every time after my behaviour was triggered, there was a clear cause of my heightened stress. This was my judgement about the time my car clock showed me, and how late that made me feel I was.

I wanted to change that feeling of stress I that I reinforced in myself. To do this, I needed to do two things.

  • Make it very hard to do the existing behaviour – see the time.
  • Replace that behaviour with one that reinforces better feelings – in this case of being super relaxed.

What change to my behaviour would allow me to do these two things?

Enter the Plenty of Time Behaviour

The simplest solutions always seem to work best. I cut a strip of post-it note, wrote on it with black marker, and stuck it over my car clock:

When time anxious, I would look at my clock and see Plenty of Time
When time anxious, I would look at my car ‘s clock and see Plenty of Time

The New Behaviour

The first few times, my new behaviour was like this:

Existing trigger/cue:

When I am driving and running late, I felt anxious.

New Behaviour:

I glance at the space where I used to see my car clock and the time. I see Plenty of Time

Improved Feeling after the Behaviour:

which makes me laugh, forgetting in that moment that I had used this behavioural trick on myself! Immediately, I realise the absurdity of feeling rushed when I’m stuck in traffic.  This calms me down a lot.

Win! The Plenty of Time behaviour made me feel so much better then the “Judge my Lateness” behaviour.

The best part is this has helped me to feel better about running late in general. Like in my last post on creating a new daily cardio behaviour, the feeling you experience after the behaviour (being more relaxed) actually reinforces and motivates you to do the new behaviour. With no more than a post-it note worth of effort on my behalf.

Behavioural scientists call what I just outlined: training an incompatible behaviour. I first learned about this while reading Karen Pryor’s excellent Don’t Shoot the Dog, recommended by BJ Fogg before his workshop.

More recently, I came across it again in Charles Duhigg’s awesome book The Power of

I removed the time from my phone's lock screen
I removed the time from my phone’s lock screen

Habit. He uses a similar approach for changing habits.

I will be look at more behaviours in life and work through the simple lenses offered by these frameworks in the coming weeks.

Oh, and I should mention I used the same principle when I looked at my phone to check the time. That usually made me feel anxious! But with a little tweaking, my iPhone screen looked like this —->

Until next post!

Tsung Xu

3 Things to Motivate Behaviour Changes

What things in your life would you want to make easier to do? What things would you like to start to start doing now? With these questions in mind,  I’d like to share 3 deceptively simple things to help develop better skills, behaviours, and habits faster.

Quick background: I (re)learnt these principles when I did an amazing course on behaviour change with BJ Fogg in California in June last year. BJ’s an acclaimed consultant, professor at Stanford, and counts Instagram cofounder, Mike Krieger, amongst his past students.


Late last year, I realised I was exercising regularly, but daily cardio was missing. I knew how good regular daily cardio felt, from lap swimming 1km everyday for a few months. That had been a few years back, and I was not yet ready to jump back in the pool to that extent!

So how do you start doing “daily cardio”?

1. Make what you want to do easier

Daily cardio is not specific enough for me to action. So I made it more specific, by asking myself

  • what exactly do I want to do? (Which exercise activity)
  • where will I do it?
  • how long should each workout be?

To make it as easy as possible, I chose to sprint on the spot, at home, for 1 min.

Only one minute you say? Well think about how many times have you said you would start a new skill/diet/training program/etc where you asked yourself to commit say 30min or more per day? Did it become a habit? Or did you give up after only several weeks?

Sheer willpower can sometimes (well, more like often) be unpredictable enough not to be relied upon. This is why BJ Fogg’s Behaviour Model does not rely on increasing motivation. For consistent progress and eventually big results, start small. Very small. As small as one minute of sprinting on the spot.

I had made my behaviour easy enough to do. Next, I had to ask myself in when/in what situations will I do this? What will trigger me to do this behaviour?

2. Use an existing habit as a trigger

A trigger for a behaviour that works is one that, when cued, will consistently result in the behaviour happening.

To start new things, I knew that the most motivated time of day for me was in the mornings before work. I decided the most reliable trigger for me would be waking up. Plus, committing just one minute in the morning is hardly going to make me lose sleep, or disrupt my morning routine.

So the behaviour I actually applied to start doing daily cardio was:

After wake up, I sprint on the spot, at home, for 1 minute, everyday.


I always felt great after I did my new morning minute cardio. I had more energy to focus on the rest of the day, by focusing on doing a small, very achievable step.

Just to be clear, I would start at a slow pace jogging on the spot, lifting my knees to chest with each stationary stride. By the end of the minute, I had built up my knee lifting pace to be as fast as possible. Also, I didn’t time the minute exactly. I almost always ended up doing more.  The key was that such a seemingly tiny step actually motivated me to keep doing it

Not only that, my daily dose of heart pumping has motivated me to do other types of cardio training, at other times of day, far more often.

3. Make it feel great

Cardio can be its own reward, and acknowledging the good feeling from the endorphin rush reinforces progress. If the behaviour you want to start does not make you feel great, do a mini celebration straight after doing it. This could be a smile to yourself, exclaiming “woohoo!” or “yes!”, a little dance on the spot – whatever works for making you feel good about it.

Notice motivation is not one of the 3 points I covered. The act of doing something that makes you feel great, at the time and afterwards, seems to be self-reinforcing. It can boost your motivation to do that behaviour again, and other behaviours you would like to do.

Hope this post, my first on here, helps you towards an easy-to-do-and-trigger behaviour for you to do. Check back to this blog as I share more insights on productivity, learning and play!

3 Things to Motivate Behaviour Changes