Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

For The Love of Combat Sports – Denise Li

The blood, bruises and injuries are all part of the character-building process of martial arts, says Denise Li. 

Event poster for my debut amateur boxing fight in April

Event poster for my debut amateur boxing fight in April

“Tsk, tsk,” my mum says with a shake of her head as she notices the bruises on my wrists and my legs.

“I don’t get it,” a friend says to me over Facebook chat. “You and Alain don’t strike me as violent types. Why do you guys do martial arts?”

“Why would anyone voluntarily put themselves at risk of getting hurt?” Yet another friend muses out loud to me.

Lately I’ve been fielding a whole slew of questions pertaining to my passion, martial arts. To them, it seems incongruous that someone who’s as nice and unassuming as myself would want to engage in sports that potentially involves blood, bruises and broken bones.

But the violent (let’s just call a spade a spade) bit is just one aspect of the sport. It is the journey to getting into the ring that I enjoy the most. Far from being about beating your opponent to a pulp, mixed martial arts also requires a high level of strategy that I shan’t pretend to know anything about at this point, given that I’ve only been at it for less than a month. My partner Alain calls the grappling aspect of it “human chess” and I am inclined to agree. At high levels, you must have an arsenal of moves at your disposal, be able to read your opponent’s game and act accordingly.

Besides the fact that there is so much to learn, I like combat sports because it allows me to indulge my primal side in a very controlled environment. In the real world, I try to “opt out” of the rat race as far as possible; I don’t like politicking, and I am uncomfortable with the fact that sometimes, my career advancement would come at the expense of someone else’s. Inside the ring, however, and during sparring sessions, there are rules to follow: Illegal moves are penalised, and going too hard on your partner during sparring is usually frowned upon. It looks like a scrap when two people spar or fight, but there’s a sense of organised chaos about the whole thing I find quite … comforting.

Most important of all, the reason I always go back to martial arts is because it forces me to face my fears time and again. Even after all these years, I am terrified every time I’m called upon to spar. Standing in front of a person to trade punches is as scary as you imagine it to be: Not only is it unpleasant to be punched in the face, it’s always slightly embarrassing if you put on a poor performance. But sparring and/or fighting is really a microcosm of real life, isn’t it? Despite trying your best, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

So, as you can see, my reasons for engaging in combat sports are myriad and, I think, not gender-specific. I think regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, we all have something we want to prove to ourselves. Every day, we are called upon to stand and fight: To prove our worth in the workplace, or to protect our family and friends when the need arises. Combat sports builds a certain kind of resilience and courage that I haven’t found with any other activity I have engaged in.

I like the me that I discovered since I started training in martial arts. Before, I think there was always some part of me that was looking for an escape from “the real world” – I quit my glamourous job in magazines to travel, fell in love with travelling and was convinced that I needed to live someplace else in order to be happy. I drank too much whenever I was upset or stressed. I found it hard to come to terms with my “real life” and circumstances – I always felt like I was biding my time before I could do what I really wanted, even when I wasn’t all that sure about that was. But martial arts has pushed me to fully embrace and accept Life as is, warts and all. It is, at once, empowering and humbling. Empowering because I like seeing progress, I like knowing that I am getting stronger every time I train. Humbling because I know that no matter how much effort I put in, or how many hours I train, there will always be someone out there better than me. But what matters most is that you keep going, despite the setbacks you face.

At the end of the day, my friends, what you see is me putting myself in the face of danger when I spar or fight someone in the ring. But really, all I’m doing is fighting to become a better version of myself.

Shameless plug: I organise a women’s MMA group training session every weekend. If you would like to train with me in a friendly, non-intimidating environment made up of beginners, please drop me an email at denise@materialworld.com.sg.

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Letting Go Of My Insecurities – Vanessa Tai

It’s normal to feel insecure or doubt yourself from time to time, but not when it’s affecting your relationships with others. Vanessa Tai shares how she’s actively trying to work through her insecurities. 

You know that song “Demons” by Imagine Dragons? Part of the chorus goes, “Don’t get too close, It’s dark inside, It’s where my demons hide.” When I first heard this song, this line really leapt out at me because I know just how dark and messy my mind can get. However, if you think about it, the reason why certain songs are so popular is because millions around the world identify with the lyrics or message of the song. It’s the same with this song. As much as I think I’m alone in my insecurities, I am certain that most, if not all of us are battling some form of emotional baggage of sorts. We just think we’re the only ones simply because we feel it so acutely.

Where Do These Insecurities Stem From

Before we can tackle any problem, it’s always helpful to get to the root cause. If you ask me where my feelings of inadequacy stem from, I probably wouldn’t be able to point to any particular one incident or person. Rather, I think it’s a collection of experiences — constantly being compared with my peers, toxic relationships, loss of loved ones — that shaped me into the person I am today. I’m not going to lie to you, it can be painful trying to identify what and who was it that hurt you just so you can learn from it. But it’s so, so necessary.

Why?

Because I refuse to play the victim anymore. I’m sick and tired of falling back into my old patterns of self-doubt and second-guessing everything. My low self-esteem has affected and is continuing to affect my relationships with others … and I hate it! I often wonder what do people see in me and question their affections at every turn. And trust me, I’m not even trying to be cute or self-deprecating. There just seems to be a huge shortfall between how I perceive myself and how others perceive me. This is especially apparent in unfamiliar social situations or new relationships. I start to feel anxious and see sniggers or side glances when there are none, or interpret a person’s silence around me as boredom or unhappiness. It’s a terrible state of mind to be in, and I want it to stop.

Above all, I get how tiring and frustrating it is for another person to constantly have to reassure me that I’m worth loving. This is why I need to learn how to do this for myself – to remind myself that I am lovable and deserving of love.

Learn to laugh at yourself and don't take everything so seriously.

Learn to laugh at yourself and don’t take everything so seriously.

How To Let Go Of Your Insecurities

One thing that insecure people do is invent problems in their mind when none exist in reality. To use an analogy, somebody who’s afraid of flying will start to interpret every weird sound or turbulence as a sign that the airplane is going to crash. This leaves them panicky and unable to enjoy the flight. The same goes for relationships. I have a bad habit of trying to read between the lines of what people say and will obsess endlessly about whether they actually meant something else. However, unless the person gives you a genuine reason for this distrust (they have a history of compulsive lying, for example), it’s unfair to let our scepticism or previous bad experiences colour the way we interact with him/her. What I’ve found helpful is to write freely about my thoughts and feelings about the person or situation. Time and again, seeing my thoughts in print has helped give me clarity over what is actually happening versus what I’m conjuring up in my mind.

Another thing I’m still working on is learning to accept that uncertainties are a part of all relationships. There is no sure thing in the world; human relationships are too capricious and unpredictable. We can never know everything about another person and yes, it can be scary knowing that the person you love could change seemingly overnight. However, does that mean we continue operating under an umbrella of fear and doubt? Of course not! It’s unhealthy and will only poison our relationships over time. If we want to love somebody, truly love somebody, we need to beat down our fears and love courageously and wholeheartedly. If not, what’s the point?

Before I sign off, let me share with you a beautiful quote that Lili recently shared with me over after-work drinks (yes, we’re deep like that). This quote is a perfect illustration of the point I’m trying to make – we are not perfect, never have been and never will be, but paradoxically, that’s what makes us exquisite.

Imagine the Hope Diamond twirling in a bright, clear light. The light pouring through the beveled cuts of the diamond would create a whirling rainbow of colour. The diamond is whole and complete and BECAUSE it’s fractured, it creates more diverse beauty. Its form is a spectrum of whirling colour. 

So now is the time, this time of confusion and brokenness and fear and sadness, to get up on that fear, ride it down to the river, dip into the waves, and let yourself break. Become a prism.

All the places where you’ve shattered can now reflect light and colour where there was none. Now is the time to become something new, to choose a new whole.

We are already “never not broken.” We were never a consistent, limited whole. In our brokenness, we are unlimited.”

– extract from an Elephant Journal article by Julie Peters

If you’re reading this and nodding in agreement, I’ll like to make a pact with you. Let’s not waste any more time with crippling insecurities and just be awesome in life, yes? 🙂

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. She reckons today is as good a day as any to stop being insecure. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Family, Friends, Love, Relationships, Self-Improvement

The Key Takeaway From “The Fault In Our Stars” – Tan Lili

There are many lessons we can all learn from John Green’s young-adult novel The Fault In Our Stars, which was recently adapted into a feature film. But if there is one important message that everyone should take away from the book, Tan Lili reckons it’s this.

The Tale of Tears :(

The Tale of Tears 😦

For most parts of the movie, I was furiously blinking against the sting in my eyes and willing my lips to stop trembling. Then came the fake-eulogy scene. If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, you’d know that at this point, resistance is futile. And so enter the puddle ocean of tears that washed away most of my not-really waterproof eyeliner.

This isn’t a review of the movie, because it’s a no-brainer that everyone has to watch this intense and profoundly brilliant masterpiece. This is about a very important life lesson all of us should know, even if you don’t intend to read the book or watch the movie.

Very briefly, The Fault In Our Stars is a beautiful story that revolves around two preternaturally mature teenagers – Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus “Gus” Waters – falling in love and grappling with loss and life’s uncertainties. It tackles the subject of cancer without glorifying it as most Hollywood depictions do (remember A Walk To Remember?); the author John Green forces you to confront mortality head-on with the constant reminder that life is no bed of roses, that “the world is not a wish-granting factory”. Death isn’t pretty, and it’s going to hurt like hell – especially for the ones left behind.

Lest you think The Fault In Our Stars is all gloom and doom, it isn’t. Quite the opposite, it is about hope – which, to me, is the most important lesson everyone one of us should take away from the story.

At the beginning, Gus feared oblivion; he wanted so badly to leave a mark so he’d be remembered after he was long gone. Hazel couldn’t disagree more. She told him, “There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. There will be no one left to remember Aristotle or Cleopatra, let alone you … There was time before organisms experienced consciousness, and there will be time after. And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.”

And this is where hope comes in. No matter how tightly we hold on to certain relationships, no matter how stable or solid they may be right now, they will fade into oblivion someday because nothing in life is guaranteed – except for moments. It is the right-now that is certain; we can either choose to wallow in despair because of the impermanent nature of life, or we can choose to celebrate and enjoy your right-now since it will pass anyway. The simple fact that it is within our power to find beauty in every moment gives us hope for a better future, no matter how short-lived it may be.

It seems wrong to quote someone unrelated to The Fault In Our Stars, but late actress-comedian Gilda Radner summed this up best:

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.”

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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1. The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make
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3. Do You Live In Fear?

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

This Article Will Change The Way You Look At Yourself – Deborah Tan

Because we are certain everyone has an inspiring story waiting to be discovered, the team at Material World decides today to share their individual UNTOLD story.

In the last 3 weeks, Material World highlighted 3 women who shared their UNTOLD stories. Today, the team would like to share our UNTOLD stories to demonstrate that no story is too insignificant and no lesson too small to inspire. If you feel inspired to share your UNTOLD story after this, email it to us at general@materialworld.com.sg . We look forward to reading your story too!

Denise Li
The first impression Denise gives people is that of a tough lady who can punch the living daylights out of both men and women. Truth is, martial arts was a relatively recent discovery for her. Below, she talks about how it changed her life … for the better.

Denise (in blue) at her first boxing match.

Denise (in blue) at her first boxing match.

“A few years ago, I found myself drinking quite a bit on a regular basis, and I knew, deep down, that the drinking was a coping mechanism for the constant worrier in me. When I drank, I felt lighter, happier, and freer. In short, I drank to escape from my problems.

One hungover Saturday morning as I struggled to recover from a raging hangover, I realized that I was sick of relying on alcohol as a crutch. I decided that I needed to channel all that nervous energy into a healthier habit. Two days later, I found myself signing up with a muay thai gym, and I never looked back.

Now, five years on, martial arts is at the core of my existence. From muay thai, I moved onto boxing, and recently started MMA. Martial arts has taught me discipline, perseverance and, most importantly, the importance of keeping calm under pressure. I have a much better handle on stress and anxiety, and though I still enjoy the odd tipple every now and then, I no longer feel the need to binge-drink. Now, whenever I’m angry or stressed, I head to the gym. There’s nothing a gruelling workout can’t fix!”

 

Lili Tan
The statuesque Lili has a figure that many envy but did you know that in her teenage years, she was often mocked by classmates for being overweight. Today, she is a regular at run events and she actually loves running. Read on to find out what she has to say.

Lili (second from left) beams with pride after the Sundown Marathon.

Lili (second from left) beams with pride after the Sundown Marathon.

“Back in secondary school, I was bullied for being overweight. I remember dreading the TAF (Trim & Fit) Club sessions – us overweight kids stood at the back of our respective classes during assembly once a week so we could adjourn to the exercise venue while the rest of our classmates continued to read “silently”. Every time we broke away from our classes, a gulf of shame and hurt would wash over me, no thanks to insensitive schoolmates who would openly mock us. My self-esteem was at its lowest.

Right after graduation, I figured tertiary life was the perfect chance for me to start anew. Over years of hard work and determination, I managed to shed the excess kilos. It wasn’t a massive transformation but it was enough to shock old friends that I bumped into on the streets.

Even though I have come to accept that teenagers are just prone to silly, insensitive acts, those jibes and insults stuck with me – and I guess this is why they say revenge is sweet: it always feels SO GOOD seeing ex-schoolmates stumped and speechless when they see how I look today. But, the strength you gain from a horrible experience is infinitely sweeter.”

 

Vanessa Tai
Nothing cheers Vanessa up like a good session of karaoke! The girl belts out both Cantonese and English songs with gusto. But she wasn’t always so confident with the microphone. She tells us her story.

Vanessa is no longer afraid to show off her vocal prowess!

Vanessa is no longer afraid to show off her vocal prowess!

“Most of my friends know I absolutely love singing but not many people know that I used to be extremely self-conscious about my singing voice. That’s because of an insensitive teacher in primary school who told me that I was tone deaf. Since then, I avoided singing in public as much as possible, feeling mortified whenever I hear my singing voice.

While I toyed with the idea of taking vocal lessons, I kept putting it off because I didn’t want to be embarrassed. Finally, fed up with my endless whinging, my mum signed me up for vocal lessons. The first semester was particular trying; it was hard to ignore the shame I was made to feel about my singing as a kid. However, under the patient and encouraging tutelage of my then-vocal coach, my confidence grew.

It’s now been two years since I first enrolled and I’ve recently graduated. While I’m no Adele, I’m definitely way more confident about singing in public now. What I’ve learned from this experience is that people (even people we respect or trust) are going to throw hurtful remarks at us all the time. The difference is whether we choose to wallow in it or find some way to triumph over it.”

 

Deborah Tan
As the former editor of two magazines, one would think Deborah was an ace in English back in school. The truth, however, cannot be further away … 

Deborah (far right) on her last day with her team from Cosmopolitan.

Deborah (far right) on her last day with her team from Cosmopolitan.

“When I was in school, my teachers never made me forget that my English was appalling. It was true. Grammar was a challenge and no one thought I’d be capable of passing English. Although I had – by some stroke of luck – scored an A1 at the O Levels (my teachers ‘projected’ that the best I could do was a C5), I had a C6 for General Paper at the A Levels. In the first week of my freshman year at university, I had to sit for an English proficiency test to prove that I could actually speak and write in English.

It seems ironic that I had been able to carve a great career for myself in publishing and am now making a living out of writing.

When people say you need a natural flair in languages to be good at them, they are wrong. You can train and teach yourself to be good at English – in fact, be good at ANYTHING. All you need is an insane amount of willpower and focus. One of my techniques is: when I read a book and I stumble upon an interesting grammar ‘law’, I would make a mental note and look for other instances where it is used in the same way. Then, I would try to incorporate it into my writing the next time and keep using it until I’m familiar with the way it works.

What this has taught me about Life is that if you allow someone to define you, you’ll always be limited by them. I don’t let anyone tell me who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do. I call the shots.”

Watch all 3 episodes of “Her UNTOLD Story” here and find out how you can win a $400 Elizabeth Arden hamper by sharing your very own UNTOLD story.  

untoldfeature

 

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She believes every one can create a more awesome life for themselves. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

 

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

10 Reasons Why It’s Great To Be A Diva – Matthew Fam

I never got the hate with divas. I mean, has a healthy level of confidence ever been bad? (err… no.) Sure, diva behaviour is frowned upon if you throw a hissy fit every five seconds. But there’s so much greatness in being this wonder woman archetype that even you have to give it a try. Here are 10 reasons why: 

tumblr_inline_mvr3smiHni1s59yix 1. You know you’re good
B*tch please, you are confident in your capabilities and talents without resorting to arrogance. And because of this self-confidence, you are decided on your goals. Promotion in 2 years time? Set. Rule the world? Oh yeah, sure, like it’s no big deal. You know exactly what you want, so you go get ’em, baby.

 

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2. You look fabulous 
Haters gonna hate, but you know you’re looking drop dead gorgeous. You keep appearances well, and never let your fab-o-meter go south. Even when you leave home without makeup, you work it like it’s the next big trend, #BareFacedBeauty.

3. You are unfazed by setbacks
Failure doesn’t exist in your dictionary, mm-kay? You don’t have time to entertain it, and your ego is certainly above it. A diva is an optimist: you merely see failure as a work in progress, and a constant refinement until you achieve perfection.

tumblr_myilyvB3Sl1sixq5yo1_5004. You don’t hide in the shadow of your man 
It is one thing to put aside your own ego to compromise and form a loving relationship with another man. It is another to be completely eclipsed by him. In the diva’s code of conduct, you are not defined by your man- his job, how much he earns or his social status. Instead, you have equal placing on the mantle.

 

tumblr_inline_mv1x89p9yv1s59yix 5.You crush your enemies like a cockroach 
Losing face doesn’t sit well with you. And neither does anyone who thinks that badmouthing is ever a good idea. Sure, confrontation is never desired; but when push comes to shove, a diva doesn’t even need to sharpen her claws. Her caustic wit will be quick to redress anyone who dares sass her out.

Outside of tiffs, this quick wit serves especially well when forming positive impressions and thinking on her feet (Career & Relationships: 1, Enemy: 0).

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6. You will be envied

Fact: you can’t please everyone. Some people will absolutely hate your guts, and that’s okay. But know that deep inside, everyone just admires you for your confidence and, you know, just being so darn amazing. You may even inspire those around you to emulate your fabulosity. So trust in your identity, and be proud to be a diva.

7. You are fearless
Despite the brazen attitude divas are known to have, there will still be times when fear sets in, for example, during a major career decision. However, what makes a true diva is her ability to maintain inner poise and think clearly. Seasoned divas have this down to a tee by breezing through sticky situations, but don’t discount the younger ones- they bite down hard on insecurities and rise to the occasion.

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Maybe a teeensy bit more subtlety…

8. You get straight to the point 
Divas are efficient and will tell it like it is. Forget passive aggression (who has time for that??) you just zero in for the kill. Being straight forward spares everyone the time and trouble trying to figure out what the other party wants. However, do note that being straightforward doesn’t give you the license to be rude. The difference lies in how you craft your message in a respectful manner.

9. You know when to say ‘no’
“I’m not your b*tch, don’t hang your sh*t on me,” once sang Madonna in her 1995 hit, Human Nature. Make this your mantra. Internalise. Apply. You will not be treated like a doormat. Your shining sense of self worth doesn’t allow you to squander precious seconds doing something that is not worth your time. *Three snaps in a ‘Z’ formation*

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10. You will be remembered
When played correctly (read: totes not acceptable to be a full-out monster 24/7), the diva card is your biggest bet to being remembered for the right reasons. In a sea of cookie-cutter personalities, standing out is not a problem for you. Plus, with the magic combination of poise, class and grace, you will be respected by those around.

 

 

So, what other ways is it great to be a diva? Share with us in the comments section below!

About the Author: Matthew Fam is a contributing writer of Material World, and has worked at Cosmopolitan Singapore as an intern and Contributing Beauty Assistant. He writes, teaches, and performs for the stage. Matthew enjoys museum visits, Singaporean Theatre, and spends too much of his undergraduate allowance on magazines.

If you liked this post, you might also like:

1. The 8 Times You’re A Total Biatch Without Knowing It – Matthew Fam

2. Killer Career Advice From The Women Of Game Of Thrones – Deborah Tan

3. Unleashing My Inner Competitive Side – Denise Li

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

4 Things I Am Grateful For Every Day – Denise Li

Once she realised how much she really had, Denise Li began enjoying life so much more. 

Despite my constant whinging, bitching, whining, and complaining about how swamped/tired/achy I am (as my partners at Material World will vouch that I do on a regular basis while rolling their eyes), I am, on the whole, a pretty positive person. I’m the kind of person who believes that how happy I am and can be is dictated solely by me, myself, and I. And while that may seem like a simple statement, TRULY believing in it has completely changed my outlook on life. Instead of stewing in a pool of negativity, I proactively take steps to improve my situation if I’m unhappy about the way things are going, and I get annoyed at friends who always bitch about the same things but refuse to do anything to help themselves.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t days where I feel like just lying in bed to cry when I contemplate my neverending to-do list. On those days, I take a deep breath, then spend the next five minutes reminding myself that I am actually really fortunate. Try it: It’s a really uplifting exercise.

Related: Before You Reach Breaking Point, Read This.

Related: The Best Decision You’ll Ever Make

Here, the four things I am grateful for.

1. That there are people who love me

My family at my sister's recent birthday celebration

My family at my sister’s recent birthday celebration

On weekends, when I wake up, I know that my favourite fishball noodles will be waiting for me on the kitchen table. Why? Because my mum knows how much I love it and, despite the fact that I am 31 this year, she still worries that I am not eating well or enough.

My dad always volunteers to play chauffeur to me on weekends. Yes, again, I’m 31.

There are some days where I get really grumpy and am truly unpleasant to be around. I don’t feel like talking, and when I do, it’s to complain about how hard my life is (I know, terrible). Despite this, Alain still takes time out of his day to talk to me on Skype. He just lets me be.

Sometimes, I wonder if I must have done something right in my past life to be surrounded by these wonderful people.

2. I have full use of all my limbs

I've also had the chance to go on numerous fitness vacations.

I’ve also had the chance to go on numerous fitness vacations. Here I am with my boxing coach in Chiang Mai.

Being able to run, jump, kick, do burpees, kettlebell swings … it’s such a joy to be able to move. I’m always acutely aware of the fact that I won’t be young forever, and while I am, I want to enjoy my body and what it can do.

3. I like how I earn my money

The hoary old cliche goes “Do what you love, and you never have to work a day in your life.” What an overly simplistic statement. I mean, if that were true, I would be paid for going for training and watching sports on TV. And as much I enjoy writing, it sometimes feels likes painful, laborious, painstaking work. But on the whole, I find what I do meaningful and I love my current working environment: No office politics, no incompetency to deal with, and the best part is knowing that those late nights will eventually translate into more cash for me.

I think the best part of being your own boss – despite the irregular income streams – is that your day-to-day living situation greatly improves. When you are no longer obliged to arrive at the office at 9am, and you stop expending your energy fighting fires and instead channel that into productive work, the feeling of liberation is truly unparalleled.

Related: I Bought A Designer Bag, And …

4. Pizza

Pizza. Need I say more?

Pizza. Need I say more?

There hasn’t been a lousy day that hasn’t been made better by a delicious pie. THANK YOU, ITALY!

What are YOU grateful for?

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Entertainment, Gadgets & Toys, Lifestyle, Self-Improvement

The Surprising Fact About Smartphone Cameras – Tan Lili

Know of that famous saying that goes, “Take a picture; it’ll last longer”? If you think that documenting every important moment of your life will help you preserve those precious memories, you are in for a shock.

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I just had an awesome week of entertainment. From feeling like (and wishing) I was 22 to drinking like I was 18, the week-long shenanigans called for plenty of camera snapshots just so those rare, fun moments would last longer.

Turned out, I couldn’t be more wrong. According to a recent study by Fairfield University psychologist Linda Henkel, using a device to record experiences will cause you to lose those memories instead. Reason: When you are taking a video or photo, you are not fully taking in the entirety of the event; all you’re seeing is what’s in your viewfinder – which isn’t a lot. And because you are putting in most of your mental energy trying to capture the event as accurately as possible, your brain won’t be able to digest and retain the important moments in the long term.

Memory experts explain that in order to remember what goes on amidst a vast array of sounds and images, your brain needs to use deep processing – when you process information in a meaningful way, it increases the likelihood of it being stored in your memory.

To prove this theory, Dr Henkel went on to conduct two related studies, during which she had students walk around a museum and remember objects as well as details. The results showed that those who were asked to photograph a whole object remembered less, while those asked to zoom in on a detail recalled more about the entire object. “It’s as if they click the button to take the photo and mentally think, ‘Done, next thing.’ They don’t engage in the processing that would lead to long term memory,” says Dr Henkel of the participants from the first study. The second study, however, proved the complexity of the human brain, that it codes experiences differently than a camera does.

Another psychologist even warns against selfies, claiming they are a “particularly lethal memory-killer” because chances are, you’d be fiddling with the camera’s controls even more than you would when you take a regular picture.

This all makes sense. At both of the concerts I recently attended, the venues were illuminated by the light emanating from recording devices. So many concert-goers kept their eyes fixated on their own viewfinders, blissfully unaware of what was happening elsewhere on stage. I’m ashamed to admit I was one of them. At one point the singer asked everyone to be up on their feet to dance and clap along to one of her hits – embarrassingly, most of us were too focused on standing still and holding on to our devices. Perhaps a smarter move is to get one of those monopods (or selfie sticks) – not only is that a more considerate approach than using huge-ass tablets and blocking everyone else sitting behind, it also allows you to focus on the concert and record it at the same time. Never mind that you look ridiculous holding it.

The best thing, of course, is to take a few snapshots then keep the phone tucked away in your pocket so you can truly immerse yourself in the experience. Though I must say, using the camera isn’t always a bad thing; it comes particularly useful when you want to remember – not retain – what transpired during a night of drunken debauchery. #truestory

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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Branded Content, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

From 6-Figure Debt To 5-Figure Salary – Denise Li

She was a well-known beauty queen before becoming a thriving businesswoman, but Genecia Luo, founder of Queenz*8 Business Group did not achieve success overnight. From having to keep her family financially afloat during her teen years, to overcoming crippling debt just 4 years ago, she’s faced more than her fair share of obstacles. She tells Denise Li how she overcame them.

Material World and Elizabeth Arden Present Genecia Luo’s UNTOLD Story

 

What was Life like when you were 14? If you were to say, “Spending a lot of time in school and doing CCAs, and attending tuition”, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. Certainly luckier than Genecia Luo who not just had to put herself through school, but also financially support her family from the age of 15.

Today, she is a successful businesswoman with a group of companies under her belt, but the road to success was a bumpy one, culminating in a six-figure debt just four years ago. How did she find it in herself, not just to get out of a sticky situation, but also to do so well for herself? We speak to her to find out more.

Genecia helping out at Berkat Children's Home

Genecia helping out at Berkat Children’s Home

What, to you, is the best part about being an entrepreneur?

“To me, entrepreneurship is about having the courage to live a life that a lot people cannot find it in themselves to. Entrepreneurship is about continually facing your fears. While fear can be paralysing, it can also be immensely motivating. It’s how you deal with fear that determines how successful you’ll become. I think it’s important to acknowledge the fear; that’s when you’ll know what are the steps you need to take to accomplish your goals.”

How would you describe your management style? 

“I believe in continually encouraging and empowering my staff, and instilling the importance of discipline where work ethics are concerned. At the same time, I allow them the time and space to grow as people. Every one wants to be successful in what they do, but I think everyone could do with a healthy reality check every now and then. I want my staff members to know that failures are part and parcel of building their careers. I often remind them that they shouldn’t be crippled by failure. Instead, they should have an empowered mindset that will guide them to take action and deal with obstacles as they come.”

Genecia believes deeply in giving back to society.

Genecia believes deeply in giving back to society.

Any advice for women who are thinking of becoming their own boss? 

“Striking out on your own is always scary, and we always imagine the worst possible scenarios. In reality, these situations rarely come to pass. I want women to know that they shouldn’t be crippled by their perceived limitations. Instead, they should channel that worry into something more positive by envisioning success. Don’t dwell, because the longer you dwell, the harder it’ll be for you to take action. Get educated, make mistakes, learn, repeat. You don’t want to be that person who regrets not doing enough for herself when you get older.”

Watch: Episode 1 of “Her UNTOLD Story” with Lena Sim, founder and CEO of Ministry of Food.

Watch: Episode 2 of “Her UNTOLD Story” with Yvonne Chee, youngest Singaporean to complete 7 Marathons on 7 Continents.

Tell us your very own UNTOLD story and you might just win an Elizabeth Arden hamper worth more than $400.

elizabeth arden prize

Tell us your very own personal story of overcoming the obstacles Life placed in your way. The best story not only gets to be featured on Material World, it will also win an Elizabeth Arden product hamper! Each hamper contains a UNTOLD Eau Légère 100ml (worth $117), Beautiful Color Moisturizing Lipstick #Red Door Red (worth $34), and a Prevage® AM Regimen Starter Kit (worth $248).

For details on how you can win one, remember to watch the entire video.

Score an exclusive sample of UNTOLD Eau Légère! Simply be among the first 150 readers to visit Elizabeth Arden counter at Robinsons Raffles City from NOW and quote “Material World” to earn your sample fragrance vial.

This is the third of 3 videos Material World has produced in collaboration with Elizabeth Arden. Elizabeth Arden worked with Material World to produce a series of videos featuring Singaporean women, each with their own inspiring tale to share. The women featured are not spokespeople of Elizabeth Arden and they were not remunerated for their participation in this project.

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Career, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Killer Career Advice From The Women Of Game Of Thrones – Deborah Tan

Resident Game Of Thrones fan Deborah Tan reveals the important career lessons one can learn from the awe-inducing women of George R.R Martin’s epic story. Yep, even the crazed Cersei Lannister can teach us a thing about being great at our jobs!

The bloodletting, the lusting, the plotting, the scheming, and the thousand gruesome ways to kill a person … Game Of Thrones feeds our inner beast so well, Sunday nights without it will not be like Sunday nights at all. We are one episode away from the end of Season 4 and I’m already feeling the withdrawal symptoms.

While the men get plenty of air-time, Game Of Thrones rock my socks because its women are in a class of their own. They often appear helpless and deranged (yep, Cersei, you), but you won’t last long in the world of GoT if you pissed them off. On this Monday, take a leaf from their books (maybe more George R.R Martin’s) and put these career advice to practice now:

1. Draw The Lines
Don’t ever be afraid to lay down the boundary. Some people will always try to push their luck, give them an inch … Don’t even let them have a millimeter. You know what you can accept, you know how you want to play the game. So …

 

2. Build Relationships, Forge Alliances
Feel free to play the “family” card. It attracts loyalty, it fosters trust and it builds team spirit. Of course, if your definition of “family” is more Lannister than Stark, I recommend you leave that till after office hours.

 

3. Be Tough
When the going gets tough, the tough … sucks it up. There is a time to feel sorry for yourself and there is a time to put on your bravest front and show your enemies what you are truly capable of. If you really want to let rip and cry, save it for a time when it will really matter.

 

4. Don’t Settle For No.2 
Aim to be at the top of your game. There’s really no point in just eking out an existence. When you step into the office, I want you to chant this to yourself 10 times:

 

5. Show Off Whenever You Have The Chance
If you have it, flaunt it. In the corporate world, you need to know how to toot your own horn, market yourself. Don’t count on anyone – your boss, the HR people … – to make that promotion happen. You need to go in there and tell them how wonderful you are and why you deserve to be [see Point 4]:

 

6. Don’t Mince Your Words
You know how when women work together, and they are not happy about something, they tend to beat about the bush and go all tongue-tied? Well, let’s Ygritte the Wildling show you what the meaning of being direct is:

 

7. Thicken Your Skin
Even if you’re offended, don’t show it. People at work going out of their way to irritate you? Show them you’re above it all by showing how little you think of their antics. If all else fails, hit back:

 

8. Stop Caring
When you realize you can do so much better elsewhere … just make sure you leave with your head held high and don’t allow any old loyalties and alliances to change your mind:


About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She thinks all the men in Game Of Thrones are rather grubby-looking. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

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3. What To Do When You Can’t Shut People Up

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Career, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

Before You Reach Breaking Point, Read This. – Vanessa Tai

Do you find yourself working extra long hours and falling ill often as a result? Be careful, work-related stress is a slippery slope towards a mental burnout. Vanessa Tai finds out how we can get a handle on stress. 

material world_tired office workers

It’s not news that Singapore is a stressed-out nation, but a series of reports have recently emerged about how more young professionals are facing burnouts and depression. In a survey conducted by Regus in November 2013, 67 percent of Singaporean workers said they’re experiencing more stress-related illness due to economic volatility. A recent report in The Straits Times also revealed that psychiatrists are seeing more patients with mental health disorders due to work stress.

Although most of us understand the importance of downtime, there’s still a sense of guilt and perpetual fear of missing out that holds us back from fully relaxing. I guess this is in part due to our work culture – we tend to associate ourselves so intrinsically with our jobs that we feel out of depth when we’re not working. Then there’s also “the busy trap”. This phrase was first coined by The New York Times’ columnist Tim Kreider, and it points towards a culture where being busy is worn as a badge of honour. It’s a #humblebrag, if you will, about how your life is so full and productive that you don’t have time to slow down.

However, living a life that’s constantly in full throttle mode comes with a slew of unpleasant repercussions.  In 2012, a study of more than 6,600 Singaporean adults found that the most prevalent psychological problems here include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and alcohol abuse. According to mental healthcare professionals, a big reason for these disorders stem from work-related stress combined with living in a densely populated area like Singapore.

While Singapore currently has the fourth-highest life expectancy rate in the world, we shouldn’t get complacent and assume this will always the case. One just has to take a look at the USA. From being in the top five countries for life expectancy, the US has plummeted in recent years to its current 35th position. According to Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch* Lenox, this dismal ranking is due to skyrocketing stress and productivity levels as well as a decrease in exercise and healthy eating in the US. In a recent interview with the doctor, he told me sagely, “Don’t let Singapore become America.”

Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch Lenox

Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch Lenox

Okay, got it. So how does Dr Liponis propose we lower our stress levels?

Get Stronger

“Many people think getting stronger is just about the physical aspect. However, even as you build your physical strength, you’re also getting mentally fitter. You become more determined and resilient, and you don’t get as worried about things happening to you because you know you’ll be able to handle it. This is why I always recommend women to work on strength training when they hit the gym – it helps create confidence and grit.”

Slow Down

“People in the city always seem to be running, seemingly from one place to another, but many of us are actually running away from something. Perhaps some of us are running at full speed at work because we’re afraid of being seen as lazy or incompetent. Whatever it is, you need to slow down. There are two main causes of anxiety – one, being worried about something that might happen in the future; and two, being unable to let go of something in the past. It’s important to always bring your awareness back to the present. Here’s a trick – every time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a couple of moments to breathe deeply. For each inhalation, take twice as long to exhale. You’ll soon find your stress levels going down.”

Get Proper Rest

“People don’t seem to appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep. When you don’t have enough sleep, your mind isn’t as equipped to deal with problems later in the day, which can lead to even more anxiety.”

Make Small But Significant Changes

“Living in the city brings about plenty of other insidious forms of stress; namely pollution, a lack of access to whole foods, and constant exposure to noise and light. One way to combat air pollution is to install an air filter or air cleaner into your bedroom and work station. After all, these are the two places where you spend the most time.

I understand dining out is a big part of the local culture, and while it’s great that dining is such a social experience here, try to make discerning food choices as much as possible. Apart from knowing the type of ingredients that go into your meal, it’s also good to find out how the food is being prepared.

To deal with the problems of excessive noise and light, I highly recommend switching your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode before going to bed. You don’t want to be interrupted by a late-night email or someone replying to your Tweet! Also, try to ensure your bedroom is in an optimal state for restfulness – it should be quiet, cool, and dark.”

*Canyon Ranch is an award-winning brand of wellness retreats that include fitness, nutrition, and stress management services. From 2015, Canyon Ranch services will be available a hop, skip, and a jump away at Treasure Bay Bintan, an upcoming luxury resort development. Watch this space for more updates! 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Branded Content, Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

She Is The Youngest Singaporean To … – Deborah Tan

Last year, Yvonne Chee became the youngest Singaporean to complete 7 marathons on 7 continents – all this while juggling an overseas job posting! At Material World’s video shoot for Elizabeth Arden’s new UNTOLD Eau Legere fragrance, Deborah Tan interviews Yvonne over Skype to find out more about her story.

Material World and Elizabeth Arden Present Yvonne Chee’s UNTOLD Story

 

First, forgive us if this video with Yvonne comes across as “DIY”. The segments featuring her talking were shot by her husband. Material World interviewed Yvonne over Skype to get her Untold story because it was simply too inspiring to miss!

When it comes to running, we either love it or hate it. Yvonne took her love for running to the extreme by making it her goal to run a marathon on every continent on this planet. So what drove her to do something, many of us consider “madness”? We get the low-down:

Yvonne2You are the youngest Singaporean to achieve this feat. Were there any other Singaporeans who have done it before?

“Prior to my completing this goal, two other Singaporeans have done so – Dr William Tan in 2007 and Ms Gloria Lau in 2012.”

Was this just only about running?

“No. While the goal was to run a marathon on every continent, I dedicated this project to a charity as well, helping to raise funds and awareness through my efforts. I wanted to raise funds for the Tsao Foundation because I wanted to honor the memory of my late grandmother who took care of me while I was growing up. In Singapore, we tend to forget about the elderly but they too have contributed to the society in their time and we need to remember that.”

Yvonne3Tell us more about your grandmother.

“My grandmother passed away in 1997 – a week before my GCE A-level exams. I was so devastated and cried endlessly for days. It seemed as if I would be a total wreck going into my exams but I knew she wouldn’t want me to wallow in sadness and so, I decided to focus on doing well so she would be proud of me.”

How did you manage to juggle a full-time job and training for your marathons?
“Training for my marathons and raising funds and awareness for the Tsao Foundation meant a serious loss of social life. I slept only 5 hours every day. My husband’s main complaint was that I wasn’t getting enough sleep and that my early hours meant I ‘made too much noise’! Some see it as a sacrifice but I derived a great sense of joy and satisfaction working towards my goal and giving back to society.”

Watch: Episode 1 of “Her UNTOLD Story” with Lena Sim, founder and CEO of Ministry of Food.

Tell us your very own UNTOLD story and you might just win an Elizabeth Arden hamper worth more than $400.

elizabeth arden prize

Tell us your very own personal story of overcoming the obstacles Life placed in your way. The best story not only gets to be featured on Material World, it will also win an Elizabeth Arden product hamper! Each hamper contains a UNTOLD Eau Légère 100ml (worth $117), Beautiful Color Moisturizing Lipstick #Red Door Red (worth $34), and a Prevage® AM Regimen Starter Kit (worth $248).

For details on how you can win one, remember to watch the entire video.

Score an exclusive sample of UNTOLD Eau Légère! Simply be among the first 150 readers to visit Elizabeth Arden counter at Robinsons Raffles City from NOW and quote “Material World” to earn your sample fragrance vial.

This is the second of 3 videos Material World has produced in collaboration with Elizabeth Arden. Elizabeth Arden worked with Material World to produce a series of videos featuring Singaporean women, each with their own inspiring tale to share. The women featured are not spokespeople of Elizabeth Arden and they were not remunerated for their participation in this project.

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Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing, Workouts

Running: Suffering Is Optional – Tan Lili

“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional,” wrote Haruki Murakami in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. How can runners relate to this? Founder Tan Lili, who ran the recent Sundown Marathon, explains. 

Photo taken from the Official Sundown Marathon Singapore Facebook page.

Photo taken from the Official Sundown Marathon Singapore Facebook page.

You might’ve noticed a flood of Sundown Marathon photos on your Facebook news feed the past couple of days. While 30,000 runners pounded the pavement through the night, you were probably lying in bed thinking, “Hah. Suckers.”

Yeah, well, I was one of those suckers.

Come to think of it, I’ve been a willing participant of these running events for a while now. It started with the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore in 2007, which apparently brought out the non-sexual masochist in me and got me hooked on endurance running. (By endurance running, I mean a distance of 10km, not 21km or – heaven forbid – 42km. I’m not that masochistic.)

It doesn’t matter that I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of runners. The moment I start my music player and cross the start line, it’s me against the distance. I revel in this solitude and freedom; how I run my race is up to me and me alone. I feel alive in my own thoughts.

Just as well, because what goes through my mind isn’t exactly the stuff motivated runners think about. Here’s what my thought process generally looks like during my 10km runs:

At the start line: (all pumped up from the energetic emcees and party music) WOOT! LET’S GO!

1km: Huh? Only 1km?! Shit. I probably shouldn’t have sprinted. 

2km: What evil possessed me to sign up for this again?

4km: Oh, hello U-turners. The halfway mark is near!

4.5km: WTF IS THE U-TURN POINT.

5km: 100Plus banners and standees: the grownup equivalent of the much-loved Milo truck.

6km: Just 4km to go. I CAN DO THIS!

7km: I can’t do this anymore.

8km: What’s 2km compared to the 8km I just did? Piece of cake! Ooh … cake …

9km: I’m never believing in my own lies again.

9.9km: Ah! The finish line! Okay, must look pretty for the cameras.  

At the finish line: I AM AN INVINCIBLE WOMAN OF STEEL. And I can’t feel my legs.

Honestly, I cannot imagine the kind of torture full-marathon runners go through. But despite all that internal turmoil, I will dutifully sign up for yet another run and put myself through yet another mental and physical challenge. (I truly have; Denise, Vanessa and I will be participating in the Great Eastern Women’s Run 2014.)

I seriously don't know how it's possible for my boyfriend's hair to remain well-coiffed after a run.

I seriously don’t know how it’s possible for my boyfriend’s hair to remain well-coiffed after a run.

Am I a sucker for pain? Perhaps. Do I get a perverse sense of gratification in suffering? No. As Haruki Murakami wrote in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” And that is exactly why I run – to find my strength in the experience of pain. See it as a metaphor for life, if you will. Allow me to explain.

Physical pain consists of two components: biologically, a pain signal is transmitted through our body’s central nervous system to alert us that something is wrong; psychologically, we give meaning to the pain signal, which translates to our emotional responses. Suffering is born from the latter – it is a response to pain. The obvious problem with choosing to suffer is that it sets off a self-fulfilling prophecy that leads to even more suffering, prolonging the recovery process.

But because pain is inevitable – be it when you run or in life – you can’t not have a response to it. You can either let pain defeat you then wallow in your suffering, or you can use the pain as leverage to overcome it, to help push you forward one step at a time. This is also probably why the sense of achievement you get after completing a big run is almost transcendent.

Of course, it’s easier to internalise all these feelings after my run. It’s still a struggle for me to motivate myself with positive self-talk during a long-distance run, to be honest. Any tips? Do share!

About The Author: A founder of Material World, Tan Lili has previously worked in magazines The Singapore Women’s Weekly and Cosmopolitan Singapore, as well as herworld.com (now herworldplus.com, the online counterpart of Her World). She is now a freelance writer who works on this website full-time. Lili hopes to travel the world, work with wild animals, and discover more awesome Twilight fan-fiction. Follow her on Twitter @TanLiliTweets.

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