My Coffee is Bitter Today

My coffee is bitter today. I didn’t want it to be that way, it’s just that I added a bit too much coffee beans into the hand grinder, trying to see what would happen. Turns out this is what happens.

Lately the morning sun’s position is in a certain angle that its light goes through my office window blinds, creating horizontal line shadows over the right half of my desk. It makes for a nice, fleeting adornment. It is only when I have to have a video meeting in the morning that the light also goes into my eyes and it becomes uncomfortable.

Last Sunday I kept hearing ambulance siren sound from somewhere nearby. Over and over and over again. Complaining about sunlight-hitting-eyes discomfort seems inappropriate.

My wife’s cousin passed away yesterday. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un.

A few moments after our first daughter was born, I remember stepping outside of the hospital for a bit and suddenly taken aback by the sight of every single human being whom I saw outside. The fresh experience of childbirth made me realize that every single of them was once a newborn, every single person out there needed the collective work and years and years of learning and knowledge accumulation of so many other people so they could be born alive. And then for years and years later, uncountable amount of support and nurture and love were poured into each of them, into each of us, so we could be the person we are right now.

It is unfathomable to me how incredibly exhausted each and every one of us must be at this moment. Yet, if it is for others, no matter how miniscule and how separate we might seem to each other, it is still worth it.

Meditation is Noticing

A common method in meditation is to focus on breathing, try to notice fleeting thoughts that show up, and let them go. My usual visualisation method is to imagine being in a wide field, watching my thoughts show up as clouds in the sky, and letting them drift away from where I sit. My initial assumption was that the more I meditate, the emptier my mind becomes, the less fleeting thoughts would appear, and eventually that makes me a calmer person.

But maybe that’s not right. Maybe the most important task during meditation is the noticing. Once I notice a thought, it’s already a win. It means I’m building the skill and mental muscles that are needed to notice thoughts. So in a counter-intuitive way, more fleeting thoughts are better, as it gives more opportunity to improve the noticing skill.

A lot of problems in my mind seem to come from instant reactions to an external stimulation. It’s the “lizard brain” at work. It’s flight-or-flight, it’s fast, and often it’s not the most appropriate reaction to something. A better way is to notice and intercept those reactions as they come, and take the time to assess the situation and formulate better reactions. And that’s where the noticing skill comes in. It’s the prerequisite. The starting point for any change. As the skill gets stronger, hopefully the intercepting becomes easier and easier.

Cognitive Processing Therapy

From a comment on Reddit about dealing with self-defeating thoughts:

What OP is describing is very similar to Cognitive Processing Therapy.

In CPT, you identify a self-defeating or otherwise unhelpful thought pattern as well as the negative emotion it causes you to feel.

Then ask yourself some very simple questions about it such as

– What evidence is there FOR this thought/belief?

– AGAINST it?

– Does it not include all the relevant facts?

– Is it an “all-or-none” or exaggeration?

– Are you confusing what is possible with what is likely?

– Is it based on feelings or on facts?


Then you identify any classic problematic thinking patterns that might be going on:

– Are you jumping to conclusions?

– Exaggerating or minimizing?

– Ignoring important aspects?

– Oversimplifying?

– Overgeneralizing?

– Emotional reasoning?

Once you have established these things for yourself, then you identify what you could think instead of the unhelpful thought that is causing me difficulty, and how do you feel when you think about it that way instead?

Having done that, look back on the thought or belief that had been giving you trouble. How do you feel about it now? How much do you believe it?

Having done all of that, now how do you feel about the thought or belief we just re-framed?

Whether you call it “story editing” or CPT or re-framing, it’s just a matter of understanding that our brain is not our friend. The “lizard brain,” “survival brain,” or however you might want to refer to the amygdala and thalamus operate independently of rational thought and do not always (or even usually) offer input that helps us in our modern, non-survival driven existence.

But they do offer input at all times, no matter what. It’s something to be aware of and to manage if it needs to be managed.


This theme is something I explored a bit from last year, and it’s great to see everything laid out concisely as above. When the commenter above said that, “our brain is not our friend”, I think another way to see it is that “our brain is not us”. What the brain says, then, is not the absolute truth. Instead it’s helpful to look at it as a tool that gives us an input about a certain situation, and it’s up to us to decide how to interpret this input, or even whether to believe it at all.

(It’s also interesting to explore just what are we, if we’re not our thoughts. There’s something in us that’s capable of observing our own thoughts and think about them, often called metacognition. Would be good to be a topic for a future blog post)

A Worry Free Day

A few days ago, I woke up with one thought in my mind: “You know what? I’m going to not worry about anything today. I’m very good at worrying anyway, so I can always do it again tomorrow if things don’t work out today.”

I used to be a carefree person. Then I became a parent. Slowly, I developed an obsession to read the future, to catch problems before they happen, to see further ahead, all in the name of making life as safe as possible for our children. Slowly, my brain became more and more focused on thinking about worst case scenarios, to make sure that I could handle them properly. I started to worry about a lot of things, things that eventually never happened, but would nevertheless cost a lot of my mental energy.

The worrying became so frequent and strong that it’s affecting my physical health. And life continues being unpredictable, as unforeseen problems keep happening. So it was quite a different day, the day I woke up and decided not to worry for one day.

I felt lighter. I realised something new, that my worrying and problems that arise are entirely separate. Problems will show up anyway whether I worried about them or not beforehand. Worrying does nothing to problems that actually show up. And the amount of energy I have to use to fix a problem is likely the same, whether I worried about it or not beforehand.

Or, in other words, worrying is an extra work that’s not particularly efficient or useful.

That day I did not live completely worry-free. Some worries still crept into my mind. We had to do some errands outside, and during a pandemic, that’s a good enough reason to worry. I noticed those worries, and tried my best to talk to them and let them go. It didn’t work that well, but I suppose that’s understandable. I’ve never done any of this before! But overall, I felt pretty good about it.

In a weird meta sort of way, I’m also worried that not worrying at all is not the perfect solution. I still need to be able to foresee some problems and prevent them from happening, if I could. But I think I should be able to dial down the intensity. I should be able to trust myself more, that if something unpredictable happens, I will have some sort of ability to handle problems that arise.

Personally, I think a powerful way to change myself is the fact that I love to experiment. I enter a lot of new hobbies out of curiosity. Just to see what it’s like. So it feels like a good idea to tell myself to try not worrying for a day. Just to see what would happen.

If the experiment fails, I can always go back to worrying tomorrow. Or, maybe the experiment will be successful enough to help me delay the worrying further to the future. Who knows. Why don’t I try and see?

Our Pandemic Experience, Year One

It was about a year ago that the first case of COVID-19 was discovered in Wuhan, China. The virus has been and is still affecting the world massively, and in this post I’m going to recount how it has affected my family and me.

On February 2020, I found and bought the single remaining bottle of hand sanitizer spray, in a supermarket in a neighboring city. My own city did not seem to have them in stock anywhere, it felt at that time. We were on a vacation to celebrate our second child’s birthday. There has been no official announcements, but everyone seemed to instinctually know that something terrible was about to unfold.

Also on February I was scheduled to talk at a conference in Bangkok, Thailand. The conference was cancelled. At that time the decision to cancel was rather controversial. After a few more weeks, it would then prove to be the exact right thing to do. Anyhow, we also had to cancel our personal trip that would have happened afterward. There were no refunds, because at that time our destination had not been declared to be in emergency.

Back at home, at the beginning, an inflatable pool was our main tool to entertain children, especially since schools were closed. As it turns out, inflating the pool was easy. It was draining the water once everyone was done that’s tiring. The excess water also wasn’t great to the grass on the backyard.

I told my wife on my birthday in March that that was the worst birthday I’ve ever had. Anxiety level was high, everything was unpredictable, and our government did not seem to treat the situation with the right level of urgency. Masks and sanitizers were hard to find, local information even more so. We had to fend for ourselves by doing what we thought was best: not leaving the house, getting a lot of vitamins, and pretending to be cheerful to our kids as if nothing had happened.

I had a few scheduled work travels that had to be cancelled. Team meetings were replaced by multiple-day Zoom calls. They didn’t feel great, like having instant noodle for lunch instead of a proper meal. It felt great as an idea, but left me with regrets.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons for Nintendo Switch deserves its own paragraph here because it definitely has been the video game of the pandemic. It soothed not just our family, but seemingly the whole world. Even just the opening song was enough to give us a warm, fuzzy feeling. Our daughter played hours and hours of it. Her reading skill spiked up from reading conversations in the game. She memorized a lot of songs from it. One of the songs she turned into her nightly lullaby. She was not the best decorator, so our island in the game was an ocean of trash, but at least she’s happy.

Other games that get a lot of play time: Goat Simulator, Lego World.

Oh, Eid was cancelled. If there is a single holiday that’s uncancellable in Indonesia, it’s Eid. Yet it was, indeed, cancelled. Instead of visiting families, we had Zoom calls in the early morning.

We found that my wife was pregnant some time at the end of last year. I was so anxious I wasn’t able to sleep or eat for a whole day, something that never happened to me before.

Pregnancy during pandemic required many changes from what we’ve known from previous experiences. We had to avoid our usual hospital for doing regular check-ups, because the hospital was used to treat COVID-19 patients. We found another doctor who was good, had a practice at her own house, and the place had proper health measures in place. Masks required, outdoors waiting area, good airflow.

A few days ago I heard the news that the doctor and her husband got the virus, despite all that. I suppose it’s inevitable if you’re a doctor and meeting a lot of different people every single day. When we were there sometimes we’d see patients who were clearly coughing but still brought themselves there.

When it was time for my wife to give birth, we had to pick a different hospital also. It was a place that’s not familiar to us. We were asked to arrive the night before the operation, and the hospital was eerily quiet. Visitors were generally not allowed, but still it felt very unusual to be in an almost empty place. That night it felt like we were the only persons in there.

At the beginning of the year, I had thought that by the pregnancy’s due date on August, the virus situation would have already died down. I was so, so wrong.

Anyway we picked a room and stayed. Right away the level of service did not seem to reach the previous hospital that helped us with our two previous children. But overall it was comfortable.

The operation went smoothly, and we stayed for a few days after. It was the three of us there for those few days, with pretty much no visitors, which is something completely unusual if you’re a family with newborn in Java. The culture here dictates that pretty much everyone goes to visit a new baby at the hospital. The stark quietness gave us a great opportunity to relax and recover. During lulls I was able to play quite a bit of video games, watch Netflix, and rediscover the joy of Starbucks’s cafe latte. We also particularly enjoyed the hot tea that the hospital provided. It was the perfect amount of sweetness and warmth to help counter our stress.

Overall, our kids have been doing relatively fine, thankfully. Our youngest are growing healthily. For our first two it’s been a lot more games and videos than I’m comfortable with, but those are also important moments of rest for us parents. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

Online school has been particularly difficult for our first child. Even at the beginning it was obvious to us that the kindergarten we picked for her wasn’t particularly tech-savvy, but we thought it won’t be a big problem since our main goal was for her to gain new friends and socialize at the school. Who would have thought that school would suddenly move to Zoom? The hardest part for us has been to figure out what’s essential for her to learn during these lost school months, and what’s okay to let go. I don’t think we have it completely right. We’re trying.

And finally here we are, a year later. Like the constant hum of air conditioners, the presence of the virus and the uncertainty it brings keep on playing in the back of my head. It remains a factor to consider on top of all the things happening in our live. I see that things are getting worse in many parts of the world, especially those entering winter season. In my part of the world people have relaxed by a lot, even though testing is still low and there’s a lot of unknowns.

At the beginning I tried to keep myself updated with news, hoping that one day a glimmer of hope will appear. It was very tiring emotionally, and eventually I had to tune them out. Recently there were news about two vaccines, of Pfizer and of Moderna, that have over 90% success rate. These are actual, backed-by-science, glimmer of hope. Especially since there are also other promising vaccines in development with a timeline to share their findings in the near future.

A year from now, there’s a good chance things will be back to relative normalcy. Before that, with vaccinations, things will get easier and easier. Hopefully this writing will be it, and there will be no “Year Two” post. Hopefully, soon it will be a comfortable and relieving descent after this whole year of exhausting, foggy climb.

Real Life Forrest Gump

This is without a doubt the most fascinating article I’ve read this year. Part bike investigation (it’s on bicycling.com after all), and part profile about one Tom Pritchard:

He had so many stories. He’d tried to smuggle hash into Spain in a size 13 cowboy boot box, got spooked, and dumped it. After serving in Vietnam, he’d worked as a mercenary on top-secret missions to undisclosed locations. At the Jamaica Inn on Key Biscayne, he personally thanked Richard Nixon for working out a trade deal with Mexico that allowed the free flow of tequila across the border. He once served heavyweight legend Sonny Liston seven pounds of carp.

“Every story he’s told me is beyond convincing,” a financial advisor named Howard Sachs told me back then. “He’s as close to Forrest Gump as anybody I’ve ever met.”

How To Tell If Meditation Is Working

The simple answer is that your meditation is working if your mind is more calm and more positive outside of meditation. You can catch yourself in mid thoughts and correct it if necessary. You can access the kind and patient side of yourself more easily. You are no longer surprised by how you got to this train of thought, but you can direct your thoughts and chose your thoughts rather than them choosing you. You’re aware of how you are thinking & feeling during the day. In short, you are more aware of the contents of your mind.

St. Peepsburg at Ask Metafilter

I used to meditate regularly after the birth of our second child, and I did notice my mind being more calm and positive. As I then found also, meditation seems to be like a physical exercise where you want to be consistent with it, to keep enjoying the benefit. Things happen and I am not doing it anymore. And I can tell the difference.

With strength training, it’s possible to regain muscles that were grown, but are then lost after periods of no exercises. Now that our third child is here, I am hoping that those lost mental muscles, so to speak, are easier to grow back as well.

Jobs People Like

There’s a recent Reddit thread searching for people who like their job. I find it to be quite eye-opening, and it’s also quite uplifting reading about people finding their right place, so to speak. The whole thread is worth reading, but here’s some highlights:

  • Librarian: I get to help people who want to be helped, or provide and environment where they can chill and relax.
  • Waste management:  I drive a garbage truck. […] I am in the AC all day and left alone. It’s wonderful.
  • Zoo worker: I have worked in zoos my entire career (mostly as a zookeeper) and now get to travel and work in conservation. Incredibly gratifying and truly feel I have never worked a day in my life with this career.
  • College teacher: I teach college and I love it so much. I get paid well to conduct daily ted talks on topics I love discussing. I also love public speaking and these students pay thousands to listen to me tell stories.
  • Attorney: Well you said like, not love.
  • Oyster farmer:  Lifting lines you can see the oysters opening and closing and you’re reminded that your helping millions of these little guys grow. Some days the harbour is like glass. Ive seen a pod of dolphins swimming along the boat just under the surface of the water less than 20 centimeters from my hand.
  • Park ranger: I work for the national park service. I started off seasonal and got to visit 6 different national parks, getting paid to live peoples vacation and be in most beautiful places.
  • Shelves stocker: I stock shelves at Walmart. I know, it doesn’t seem like a great job, but I love it. I work with so many interesting and special people with all sorts of stories, and new people get hired everyday and share their stories.
  • Milk tank driver: I drive a milk tanker collecting milk from farms. It’s good being out in the countryside all day (I’m in UK 🇬🇧), meeting the farmers and having a chat. […] The real bonus is all the dogs I get to play with at the farms, I have to keep a stash of treats in my pocket and they know when the milk truck arrives It’s treat time

Coach Phil’s Book Recommendation

During the 1992-1993 NBA season, Chicago Bulls had already won the past two championships. Boredom, according to coach Phil Jackson, was the team’s biggest challenge. That was especially true since they would be on long trips to get to matches. During these times, he would recommend specific books to specific players, based on what he knew about them. Here’s the list:

  1. Beavis & Butt-Head: This Book Sucks — Stacey King
  2. On The Road — Bill Perdue
  3. Way of the Peaceful Warrior — Craig Hodges
  4. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance — John Paxson
  5. Things Fall Apart — Bill Cartwright
  6. Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind — B.J. Armstrong
  7. Joshua: A Parable for Today — Horace Grant
  8. The Ways of White Folks — Scottie Pippen
  9. Song of Solomon — Michael Jordan

(From Phil Jackson’s book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success)

What Goes In…

As I grow older, the more I find that a lot of my life’s balance and sanity depend on how I consume:

It’s how I consume oxygen.

It’s how I consume food.

It’s how I consume time.

It’s how I consume other people’s thoughts and updates.

It’s how I consume my own thoughts.

It’s how I consume news.

It’s how I consume what I need and what I want.

What goes in, reshapes me.

Homework vs Repeated Practice

From Reddit ELI5: How is it possible that homework has no correlation with academic success, when repeated practice is important to so many other activities?

Lots of interesting nuggets of information there. For example this, about the benefits of metacognition:

Teacher in my 7th year here! Lots of people hit the bigger points; you get the feedback too late. Kids also have a tendency to just toss out graded work once they glance at the grade. BUT, last year and this year, I’ve started something new, which is putting up the answer key and having my students grade themselves AND write a short paragraph on what they missed/how they can improve (I teach environmental science to juniors). The reflective piece is what gets graded; I don’t care what you got wrong, I just care that you KNOW what you got wrong.

It took a WHILE to convince my students this wasn’t a trick, “I got everything wrong last night….is it a zero?” “No.” “…..are you sure?” And had to elaborate over and over again that it is NOT in their best interest to just look at the answer key, since I pick difficult problems on purpose that even my high-fliers couldn’t get full points on

Also, the practice can’t just be any form of doing something:

As someone who teaches without homework, here is my answer :

when you practice something, your heart must be into it. By that, I mean “focus”. If you “practice” a sport or a musical instrument by just going through the moves, you don’t progress at all, because it’s the little adjustments you do when focusing that make you improve.

Now, let’s take mathematics, for instance. The problem with the old teaching is that the teacher says something and nobody gives a fuck if you’ve understood or not, you’ll figure that stuff at home by doing homeworks. Guess how efficient it is… Mathematics is most and foremost UNDERSTANDING principles. Did you ever learn multiplications by rote until 15×15 ? I doubt it. Can you DO 15 x 15 ? Probably. Why ? Because you understand the CONCEPT of multiplication, so whatever numbers I’m throwing at you, you know how to multiply them.

Finally there’s also this bit that under-emphasize the famous “10,000 hours” rule:

The 10,000 hours “rule” originally came from the paper, “the role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance”.

Gladwell just over-emphasized the importance of the 10,000 hours portion of the study and not the actual takeaway about the value of practice. He decided to make the 10,000 hour rule a causation, when it was really just a correlation.

The original goal of the paper was to determine how much of elite performance was nature vs nurture. The 10,000 hours was a bit of a throwaway that is generally regarded as unimportant to the overall takeaway.