Building habits

Blog photo

“Rome wasn’t built in a day.”

Like Rome, habits cannot be cultivated overnight. Likewise, bad habits are just as hard to eliminate. Fortunately, with sheer willpower and consistent practice, it is possible to build new habits and get rid of old ones.

For most of us, we create New Year’s resolutions at the beginning of each year, some of which include going to the gym more often, eat less and so on and so forth. As for me, my goal was to wake up earlier every morning to do yoga. Last year, I gave myself excuses for not waking up earlier than I should and as a result, I can barely touch my toes. This year, however, I started to form a habit of waking up in the wee hours of the morning to do yoga and for the past few weeks, I’ve been able to not only touch my toes, but also do a backbend.

Growing up, I’ve been told that it takes anywhere from 21 days to a month to form a new habit. In my opinion, this idea holds true for people looking to form simple habits such as eating a fruit a day or greeting one person that you meet each day. Other habits, such as sticking to a diet or going to the gym at least three times a week, are more difficult to maintain and take longer time to form because there are many distractions as well as other priorities that can get in the way. More often than not, these habits may require you to make changes to your schedule and lifestyle.

It takes a lot of discipline and patience to build and maintain a habit. Below are some ways that can help you form a new habit, both in your personal and professional lives:

  1. Identify your goal and write it down

It is better to pick a habit that you want to build and work towards it one step at a time so that you will be more focused in achieving what you have set out to do. It can be overwhelming if you want to build too many habits at the same time and you may be discouraged when times are tough. Write down that goal and put it at a place where you can see it everyday to remind you of it.

  1. Start now

Don’t wait until tomorrow, next week or next month to start forming the habit, even if it’s something as small as running for ten minutes today. It will make you feel a whole lot better knowing that you are one step closer to fully developing your new habit.

  1. Break your goal (building a new habit) into smaller goals

When you break down your goal into smaller, achievable goals, it is easier to keep track of your progress. Write down your progress to see how far you’ve come and how much further you need to go to achieve your goal. If you want to wake up an hour earlier in the morning, start with setting your alarm five minutes early. In time, you will be able to train yourself to wake up 10 minutes, 15 minutes earlier and so on. If you are not making progress even with the smaller goals after some time, reevaluate what you are doing and make changes accordingly, even if you have to start over or find another way to form the new habit.

  1. Recognize your challenges and find solutions to each problem

You will definitely encounter some challenges in building new habits such as skipping your workout because you’re too busy or too tired to wake up earlier. You start giving excuses and if prolonged, you will become demotivated to build that habit that you wanted. In this situation, you have to be aware and acknowledge the challenges that you are facing and the reason that you are giving excuses. Once you’ve identified the challenges, try to find solutions to each problem. For example, if you are too tired to wake up early, ask yourself why are you too tired. If it is because you are overworked at the office, consult your supervisor to see whether anything can be done about your workload.

  1. Have someone hold you accountable

A good support system is essential in helping you to form a new habit. For example, if you want to make running around the park as part of your daily routine, it will be much easier for you to execute that plan if you have a partner or a group of friends who are willing to run with you. You will not only start cultivating the habit of running, but you’ll build a great relationship with the people around you.

  1. Reward yourself

Give yourself credit at the end of the day, week or when you have achieved one of your smaller goals by taking yourself out for dinner or buying an item that you really like. If things don’t go the way you expect them to be, cut yourself some slack because you are not doing this for anyone else – you are doing it for yourself. So enjoy the journey and never, ever give up!

Getting awareness to change

I recently watched the movie Freaky Friday, a story about the strained relationship between a mother and her daughter and how they resolved their issues. My favourite part of the show was when the two characters switched souls and woke up in each other’s body. It was not until the switching happened that both realized the other person’s life is not as perfect and easy as they initially thought. Once they were aware and understand the challenges faced by each other, only then their souls were switched back and their issues resolved. After the souls were switched back, their attitude towards each other changed for the better and the mother-daughter relationship was restored.

The story above shows how important it is to have awareness in our daily lives. Awareness is the ability to be conscious of your current situation and realize whether or not change is needed to improve that situation. In the movie, both mother and daughter became aware of the challenges faced by each other only when they start living in each other’s shoes. Believe it or not, people get awareness to change when bad things happen (in the case above, when both protagonists switched bodies and had to live each other’s lives). This is because when the situation is at its worst, people will do almost anything to get out of it, knowing that they have nothing to lose since by that time, they have probably lost everything. A classic example is the predicament faced by major corporations during financial crisis, where some will survive, while others collapse. The companies that last survived because they were aware of their situation and decided to make changes such as developing new procedures and revisiting company values.

Awareness involves changing your current belief of what you think is the right way to do things. In order to develop awareness, you have to get to know yourself and reevaluate your values. You have to be able to view things from a different perspective and most importantly, keep an open mind in this process.

As a result of awareness, you will either decide to make a change, or choose to stay in your current situation. The choice is yours. If you decide to make a change, be prepared to go through ambiguous circumstances, where at times things may be difficult, but you will grow from your experience. You can also choose to stay in your comfort zone, but there is little opportunity for growth. It is when you go through tough times that you will actually make progress.

Here’s a short exercise for you. Ask yourself the following questions to analyze and be aware of your current business situation:

  • In the last year, have your business objectives and targets been met? If yes, congratulations! You are on the right path.
  • If not, have you and/or your team been doing the same activities? I.e.,
    1. Have you and/or your team reviewed your business processes and sought improvement opportunities? Do you have discussions about this and craft plans to be implemented?
    2. Have you performed a market / competitive analysis?
    3. Has anyone attended training or development? And if yes, have they applied the knowledge back in their day-to-day work? How is this tracked?

If you had answered “No” to any of these 3 questions; while you are not meeting your business objectives; you should probably be aware by now that there is a case for trying out new things that may lead to change.

How I became a Dato’ for 12 hours

maskMalaysians often put a lot of value in Datukships, an honorary title awarded by royal families or state governors supposedly to honor contributions to the country/state. It’s a common name drop in social functions and festivities:

“Ohhh I know Datuk…he’s my good friend, I play golf with him!”

*Talking loudly on his mobile* “Hey Datukkk! That deal ahhh no problemm wannn!”

For those having to deal with any sort of administration in Malaysia, be it government departments or hotel service, saying you’re a Datuk gets you immediate respect and attention.

Despite a Datukship’s high standing, Malaysia has probably one of the highest numbers of royal title holders in the world, with some several hundred Datuks being anointed annually and often given for dubious reasons. Jackie Chan, a Hong Kong movie star, recently received a Datuk title “because he is an actor with many fans in Malaysia and can promote Malaysia especially Kuala Lumpur and is deserving.” Shah Rukh Khan, another movie star also received a Datukship because one of the movies in which he starred was shot in Malacca, and this has purportedly increased tourism to the state. Instead of honoring worthy contributions to the country or the state, Datukships are now being used as a tourism gimmick.

What is worse is when such titles can be bought, especially with certain states being notorious for being generous with their Datukships. In November 2014, a mining company from China claimed that they had spent USD100,000 per Datukship to curry favor with Malaysian politicians.

The self-styled royal Raja Noor Jan Shah Raja Tuah Shah (2nd left) and his wife Zaidatul Mardiah Yussuf (2nd right) posing for picture on a throne with their 'Datuks' at a palace in Gombak, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. – AFP pic, November 12, 2013
The self-styled royal Raja Noor Jan Shah Raja Tuah Shah (2nd left) and his wife Zaidatul Mardiah Yussuf (2nd right) posing for picture on a throne with their ‘Datuks’ at a palace in Gombak, on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. – AFP pic, November 12, 2013

The most entertaining perhaps are Datukships awarded from the “Sultan” of Malacca. Malacca had one of the oldest Malay Sultanates but when the Portuguese took over in 1511, the Sultanate was effectively ended. Today, it only has a Governor. A rich property businessman, however, by the name of Raja Noor Jan, proclaimed himself a Sultan, claimed royal blood and started awarding his own Datukships. Hundreds of applicants were willing to give cash donations in exchange for Datukships from this self-styled Sultan. He even has a rather entertaining blog. Thankfully, he was arrested in early January 2014 and the International Court of Justice confirmed that his Sultan certificate was fake.

One night over Chinese New Year drinks, while I was listening to people talking about VIPs, I really wondered how often do people actually look into the validity of a Datukship? I joked with my friends that with some social media postings and having a few friends join in the fun, I could possibly fake that I was awarded a Datukship. After all, if Raja Noor Jan could pass himself off for a Sultan with a bunch of fancy regalia and a certificate, surely it was a lot easier to fake becoming a Dato’?

The plan started a few days later when I decided to trawl the internet for some pictures of Pahang and its palace. Pahang awards some 100 Datukships each year so it was a good state to stage the prank. I trawled the internet for pictures of Pahang and looked for high quality yet amateur pictures. At first, I posted this picture of Pahang without any description.

1st pic of Pahang
Posted at 2:26 PM, this post garnered 14 likes and two comments.

At 7.22 PM, I executed the second part of my plan by posting the next picture. Once again, no captions, just a location tag that I was at Istana Sultan Abu Bakar. A friend of mine who wasn’t in the know as to what I was doing, jokingly posted “Dato’ Yap?” Within an hour, I started getting congratulatory texts and WhatsApp messages, but I quickly let them know the truth and told them they were free to congratulate me on the Facebook post to spur on the fun.


The post caught like wildfire and there were 62 likes and 30+ comments in a matter of a few hours. It got a bit scary when my colleagues started asking me if I was a Dato’ and work clients were calling in my other colleagues to ask if it were true. I was mortified that someone would actually buy a newspaper ad to congratulate me! So the next day, early in the morning, I took down the post and posted up a clarification post to ensure there were no more misunderstandings. All good fun, no one hurt or fooled for more than a few hours but it did highlight a few things:

  • I have nice friends that believe I deserve a Datukship and thought it was because of my contributions to internet privacy (which goes to show how little it takes to get one nowadays)
  • It is slightly depressing that despite my posts having no captions, the first reason people think of when visiting Pahang’s royal palace is the granting of Datukships.
  • It is probably pretty easy to social engineer a Datukship. It only takes a few people to start calling you a Datuk, get yourself some official looking certificate, post the obligatory regalia picture and there you have it, you’re now a royal title holder! The whole ruse could have been made more realistic if the post coincided with the Sultan’s birthday which is traditionally the day in which these awards are given out.
  • We have way too many Datuks and there is no national registry to verify Datukships. An attempt to find all the titles given out in 2009 – without referring to the respective state departments – did not result in a comprehensive list.

Although more than a month has passed since the prank, I still get referred to as Dato’ jokingly by some friends and I wouldn’t be surprised if bystanders actually believe it’s real! The real takeaway from all of this is, what’s truly in a Datukship title nowadays?


Special Thanks to Guest Contributor Reuben (Not a Dato) Yap; a true jack of all trades.


The 3 prerequisites for change

In our previous blog post, we discussed about taking the first step toward change and why it is important to take this step. In this post, we will focus on how managers can take this step.

There are three prerequisites for change:

  • Awareness: Awareness for the need to change that comes from within.
  • Desire to change: Once you are consciously aware that you need to make a change, you have to decide whether or not to actually go ahead with the change.
  • Capacity/skills: When the decision to make the change is supported by the desire to change, you can then put together an action plan to make it happen.

Exhibit A: Wendy passed away due to diabetes. She was overweight and although family members urged her to lose weight, she would not listen to the advice and insisted that her flab was flesh or muscle. As a result, she did not lose a single pound until the day she passed.

It is human nature to resist change, especially if they are comfortable with what they are used to. Change is scary, and more often than not, painful. In order to gain awareness for change, observe your current situation and ask yourself questions such as what are the advantages and risks that are involved in this change? What will the company gain and what will it lose?

Exhibit B: John was diagnosed with gout. Although he is aware of the excess weight that contributed to his medical condition, he is still adamant of not wanting to change his diet. Maybe he will get to a point where he finds the desire to change, maybe he won’t, but awareness on its own is insufficient unless there is desire to change.

Once you have realized that change is necessary for your company, you have to make an informed decision to make the shift toward something better. This is what we call the desire to change. It is a decision that only the individual can make when he or she understands that the gain from change outweighs the fear of stepping out from his or her comfort zone.

Exhibit C: Susan is trying to lose a fair amount of weight. She is restricting calories; but still consumes white bread for lunch, thinking it is a good diet food. Those who have successfully shed pounds know that white bread is a definite no-no when trying to lose weight because it represents refined sugar that causes insulin spikes and subsequent hunger pangs. This illustrates that awareness and desire need to be coupled with the right knowledge or skill (depending on the circumstance) before change happens.

In order to make the change, the individual has to be equipped with the capacity to physically take action for a better outcome. From fixing prices to hiring the right people, you need to do everything in your power to make the change.

Change may not be comfortable at first, but there are many resources that managers can use to alleviate the pain of making the change. Metamorphic Management is an example of a free resource site that houses a collection of proven management practices and tools that enable companies to take the next growth step.

The first steps of change … starts from within

When you speak to people on whether they would like to see change in their organisation, chances are their responses will go something like this:

“Yes, change is necessary,”

“We must evolve with times.”

“It is about time.”

Most if not all people will agree that the only thing constant in this world is change.

Rarely will you get a response that vehemently states, “No, we should stay the way we are.” (Though admittedly there will always bound to be contrarians and traditionalists.)

Yet when you take the conversation to the next level as to what they would like to see changed, very often the tone will go along these lines of a recent discussion that I had with a sales team at one of our clients.

Q: “What would you like to see changed?”

A: “We need to be more competitive. We need to get an exclusive distribution agreement. Our competitors are winning because they have exclusive distribution agreements.”

Following up on that statement, we probed if the exclusive distribution agreement was truly the cause.

“Do you know if your competitors are offering cheaper prices?”

“Do the competitors have exclusive distribution agreements for all products?”

None of the members of the sales team could definitively answer the 2 questions posed.

Throughout the discussion, there were many hurdles highlighted but limited suggestions given, and where suggestions were given, rarely did it involved actions that were to be taken by the individuals themselves. Which brings us to uncovering another prevalent mindset in organisations: “Change is good … if it happens to someone else”.

Shifting this mindset within key individuals, in my opinion, is the first step to effecting change in any organization. What does this entail? First is awareness. Awareness for the need to change; and that change comes from within.

Beyond paying lip service, an leader will have to demonstrate a change not merely in tasks performed but habits to jumpstart change. For example, if the sales team does not actively track numbers, it is because that management does not require them to do so. So, if the sales teams needs to start actively monitoring sales against targets; the manager has to go beyond asking them to submit their numbers. The manager has to monitor, ask questions, and addresses issues that arises on the same frequency as the sales teams members are required to do so. This involves the manager adopting new habits; which is the first visible step to effecting change in any organisation.

The pertinent question now is: How can we guide managers in taking this step?

[More to come … in upcoming blog]