• Cass Lau

My Fake PhD Thesis for Building Good Habits and a Ring Muscle-Up

I hesitated to write about this, rather, I hesitated to document a seemingly progressive journey towards reaching my goals. (note: even my diction is non-committal as I even use "seemingly" because I am unable to commit to the idea that I am reaching success)

There's a head-heart disconnect when it comes to making a lot of life's decisions. We want to accomplish our heart's desires but we rationalise the possibility of failure. And it is this fear of failure that stops us from embracing the tougher route, even if it is the more logical of the two.

Logan Gelbrich wrote in his book, "Going Right", that as humans, we are often compelled by the path of least resistance. There is a veil of safety taking the easy path. As a result, seeking the highest expression of yourself will feel like the more vulnerable pursuit. While it is rife with failure and adversity, it will bring out the best in you. (I seem to have written about this before)

This "path of least resistance" also applies here. And my hesitation to write about this was birthed out of the fear of failure. What if I recorded this down and no one cared because I DIDN'T attain my goals? After all, people are more concerned about the visible results rather than the actual process.

Who listens to the stories of failures? No one. Unless you come back from it.

I couldn't deal with facing that painful truth so I chose to shelve this post for another time... maybe when I succeeded.

When I ran my fears by a friend (and dare I say mentor), she swung a baseball bat full-force-into-a-homerun at my reservations. She said that it was important to document where I am in this point of time to review where the changes to my life have brought me. She said "if a doctor only publishes something when he or she is successful, there is no learning from it. It is called protocol."

Then what do I have to offer if I fail? What can people learn then? And she said something that was very wise: "Those with limited learning stem from their own limitations, not your unfinished journey."

I reckon there's some value in sharing this, for me more than anything. Because it documents where I am right now. And because it is a commitment to trust in the process and what comes ahead.

And I hope it does for you too.

Those with limited learning stem from their own limitations, not your unfinished journey.

uh yes, so after that long background introduction, here we are.


Some Preliminary Findings from Cassandra's Journey Toward Building Good Habits (and getting that damned Muscle-Up)


noun - pre·​lim·​i·​nary | \ pri-ˈli-mə-ˌner-ē \plural preliminaries : something that precedes or is introductory or preparatory: such as

a : a preliminary scholastic examination

b preliminaries plural, British : FRONT MATTER

c : a preliminary heat or trial (as of a race)

d : a minor match preceding the main event (as of a boxing card)

preliminary - adjective: coming before and usually forming a necessary prelude to something else // preliminary studies//preliminary results

So labelling this as "preliminary" gives me some sort of reprieve knowing that I ain't promising anything, just that I am bookmarking this experience at this point of time for future reference.

Since March 2019, the unspoken goal was to get "better at gymnastics" (euphemism for "lose weight"). I started working with Kylie on a number of things, one of which was to build better nutrition habits.

I would get 2-3 habits to practice for a week or two, and they would be reevaluated and culled or edited as necessary.

This is an example of the first two habits we set out to do:

  1. target >160g of protein a day

  2. kopi siew dai x 2/wk beverages 0 cal (drinks oolong tea/green tea/coke zero/kopi o Kosong/teh o kosong/americano) -- for those of you lost in the colloquialism, it translates into a max of 2 caloric drinks per week

These were not easy to do. I was used to a breakfast of granola and abit of fruits with milk, or on days i workout, soft boiled eggs + a peanut butter & jelly sandwich. This had to be replaced with a protein shake and 2 eggs to meet my target each day.

The beverages were a toughie too. I had to be absolutely clear when I ordered my drinks. "Kopi Siew Dai" (i.e. Coffee with Milk and Less Sugar) rolled off my tongue so easily as a drink I'd always order. I had to often correct my order and draw attention to my Freudian Slip.

When >160g of protein a day became an achievable target 80% of the time, that was taken out and another habit was slotted in.

This was the hardest. "Pick 2 days a week on which you would like to snack."

I had to be intentional about my snacking! Then when it came down to actually snacking the specified snack at the specified time I was so conscious about my decision that I would ask myself "do I really need this?" and put the snack aside. There were no take-backs on the planned days to snack so I let some days go.

In that process I found out a few things about myself that would hold me back from deviating from my "normal" behaviour:

  1. It matters to me what people perceive of my behaviour.

  2. Alot of my "habits" are unconscious actions from a certain visual cue.

  3. I have commitment issues.

1. It matters what people perceive of my behaviour: the more I had to make decisions that deviated from the "norm", my random slip-ups and self-corrections, ordering food that was "boring", bringing my own meal prep, refusing food offers etc. etc. The trouble of explaining that I was not on a "diet", or that if I was seen to be watching my macros, I would have to show something for it.

2. Alot of my "habits" are unconscious actions from a certain visual cue: turns out most of our sensory receptors are directed to the eye, hence we are more stimulated by a visual cue more than something we smell (I wonder what stimulates blind people more?). So when I walk past the fridge or a shop, I would tend to pop by and get something I would normally get without much thought.

3. I have commitment issues: sad as this sounds, it is a challenge to follow through long-term projects when you do not see results. The easiest thing to do is to hop from one bandwagon to the next when you don't see change/progress. When we see change from a plan, we stick to it for abit until we plateau then we hop on to the next plan. It's easy to attribute failure to the plan rather than to ourselves. I chalk it down to a short attention span, an epidemic of my generation.

As I plough ahead, I have come to terms with the following (slight parallels to the points above):

  1. What does it matter to me what people think

  2. Be intentional about where my attention is.

  3. Take each day one step at a time.

1. What does it matter what people think: a friend said something to me as I was speaking to her about my insecurities, “your insecurities will not change what other people perceive of you.” I can feel paranoid and insecure about how people interpret my nutrition habits, but SO WHAT. I don’t know what they actually think. And even if I do, SO WHAT. At the end of the day, it is my journey and my results that matter. At the end of the day, I know I will have something to show for it.

2. Be intentional about where my attention is: a big reason we fail to build habits can be attributed to “mindlessness”. Habits are developed out of repeated action over time in a certain context. When we wake up in the morning we brush our teeth, take a shower, put on fresh clothes, eat breakfast, grab our things and head off to wherever we need to go. How did we develop that pattern of behaviour? Through social etiquette and guidance from young that we had to be presentable after waking up before we faced the world. Unless you had Alzhimers, you would not skip the step of putting on clothes after a shower would you?

Similarly, when you walk past the kitchen is there something you always tend to do? I always open the kitchen fridge when I get home from work, or when I walk past the kitchen. I never really saw this to be a significant action until I stopped to think about it. That would usually lead me to taking something to of the fridge for consumption. If I did not have a bowl of cut fruits readily available in the fridge each time, my attention would shift to the chocolates or the peanut butter within. That’s a no-no.

In developing a new habit, I would have to learn to pause before opening the fridge, and if I did, I would have to learn to pause and deliberate my snack of choice. Make a cup of tea instead? Or reach for the water jug rather than the sweets.

3. Take each day one step at a time: nobody said it would be easy huh. It is incredibly difficult to believe in the things you do not see. do you see progress in process?


You will only see the fruits of the hours/days/weeks/months put into the process.

It is when your patience is being tested that you have to press on. Because change isn’t overnight and not everyone is genetically blessed. If it was easy then success would not be something worth celebrating. In fact, it would not be called success at all. If anyone could attain their goals with a snap of their fingers this world would be a boring place.

I thank God for people who believe in me and the process much more than I do myself. Without them pushing me through and keeping me accountable, I would be far from reaching my goals, restarting at a new start line after moving 5 feet each time.

So when people ask: “have you attained your goals?” I tend to laugh. While I would say "yes I want to get that first muscleup", it really is so much more than reaching that end end in mind. Because once we get that, then what? Do we revert to the old ways once the end has been reached? No we soldier on, retaining the good stuff that we build up along the way.

You see the thing is, setting goals isn’t and shouldn’t be the focus. creating the right systems to support those goals is.

And that’s what I plan to do.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

Hebrews 11:1

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