Accepting Gifts

When you’re on the receiving end of a gift, you may sometimes feel guilty accepting the gift, and so end up turning it down (or, at least, trying to turn it down while the gift-giver insists that you accept it).

There’s nothing wrong with the gift and you love the person giving you the gift, but you don’t wish to bother the person, or feel that his gesture is more than you deserve.

A lesson I learnt from my brother, which I later realized in my own experiences, is that the gift-giver enjoys giving a gift much more than having his gift returned, especially if out of guilt. My brother would give me gifts that I was too embarrassed to accept, not realizing that he is happy when he sees me happy.

Usually, gifts are given voluntarily and to express a certain sentiment. The gift-giver wants to see the other person happy and hopes that the gift will achieve this purpose. By rejecting the gift you are not saving the gift-giver the hassle, or responding in a way that confirms the sentiment he wishes to express, or experiencing the feeling he wanted you to have. Rather than feeling happy (a positive emotion) for having received the gift, you experience guilt (a negative emotion) that the gift-giver doesn’t want you to experience, especially as a result of something that he did!

Therefore, in the future, if others wish to make you happy, don’t dismiss their attempts. Accept their offers and enjoy the feelings they wanted you to experience.

That’s the gift they receive in return 🙂


Structured Spontaneity

Many people find joy in breaking their daily routines and doing things that are completely spontaneous. Routines are seen as restrictions and spontaneity is seen as liberation.

However, routines can serve an important role in our lives and bring about advantages that we would not enjoy without them. So rather than seeking to escape from routines we should look for a way to combine the benefits of both structure and spontaneity in a single schedule.

This is where Structured Spontaneity can come to the rescue!


Sticking to a single routine that we repeat day in and day out can be boring and numbing to the mind and body. There is nothing new, and everything we face during our days is to be expected, since we’ve experienced it for a number of days already.

But there are several benefits to routines that we need to admit. A couple of benefits:

  • No Need to Re-Invent the Wheel: Our daily schedule consists of many choices that can be overwhelming if we try to calculate a decision every day. Routines are decisions that we have made in the past and are re-using because the result is what we want.
  • Some Things Need to Be Repeated: We can’t be satisfied with an exercise routine we did 5 years ago. Exercise needs to be done on a regular basis. Routines help us fit in the activities that we should be doing regularly.


Acting spontaneously brings excitement to our day and new experiences that have our minds buzzing with new ideas. We feel active, engaged and enjoying a new decision that we have made, which makes as feel like human beings with free-will, as opposed to the feeling of being a cog in a massive system.

Spontaneity can help us consider new opportunities, experiment with new activities and break out of our comfort zones without feeling anxious or fearful.

The Best of Both Worlds: Structured Spontaneity

Just as routines can offer advantages in some areas, spontaneity would be a poor option in these areas. We cannot base our exercise routine on when we feel like exercising, since exercise, by its nature, requires a level of consistency.

Structured spontaneity is when you use a structure to manage your commitments but varying the content of this structure, or rearranging the times you carry out your activities.

What does that mean in practical terms?

1- You begin by looking at the things that you would like to do on a regular basis (exercise, going out with the family, seeing friends, etc) and deciding how regularly you wish to do them.

This will be a list that’s separate from your calendar because you want to keep a reminder for yourself of what these activities are (and there’s a likelihood you forget them once the week or the month passes by)

2- For the time slot that you have allocated for each activity, you can either decide to do something new in that time (e.g. take your family to a place you’ve never been to before) or change the time of that time slot (e.g. rather than make the family outing on Saturday, move it to the evening on Tuesday)

This way, the activities that are meant to be repeated on a regular basis are done on a regular basis but not too rigidly in order to make room for variation without compromising the essence of each activity.


Avoid Time Voids

I have spent many, many nights wondering how the day passed by without me getting any work done. It feels as though my body went through the day while my mind was somewhere else. While this experience has many causes, I realized that a major contributor to it is Time Voids in my schedule.

What are time voids?

Time voids are chunks of time which you have not decided what to do in them. And since there is no such thing as living through time without doing anything, you fill this time with meaningless activities, such as surfing the web, checking emails, re-checking emails, re-re-checking emails (you get the idea), flicking through TV channels, etc.

There are 3 main problems with time voids:

– The activities you use to fill the time are meaningless and, therefore, don’t contribute much to your life

– The time void usually doesn’t have a designated start and end times, and so you can continue doing the same meaningless activities for hours on end without realizing

– You develop habits that come to haunt you even during the times you’ve set for productive work. You might check your emails while working because it became a habit to check your emails regularly.

Now, to be clear, surfing the web isn’t always a meaningless activity. You might have 15 minutes you want to spend relaxing, and decide to go through some sites you enjoy. This can be a convenient recreational activity that helps you focus better when you get back to work. But a time void is when you have not intentionally set the activity you want to do based on a meaningful purpose. With a meaningful purpose you know exactly why you are doing what you are currently doing. In a time void, you are simply doing something to fill the gap in your schedule.

To avoid time voids in your schedule follow the 3 easy steps below:

1- Fill your schedule with meaningful activities

2- Incorporate fun/recreational time slots into your schedule that help you relax and sharpen your focus

3- Set a time limit for your break times, and make sure you don’t exceed their time


The Leaky Boat Analogy

We sometimes struggle in our search to find the causes of our bad habits and our inability to overcome them. Why can’t I wake up early in the morning? Why can’t I control my temper? How can I stop wasting so much time on email?

We search for major causes that could be responsible for our problems, yet overlook the minor causes that are, nevertheless, contributing to our bad habits.

When you’re on a leaky boat, you might search for a massive hole that’s bringing the boat down, even though you can see some small holes in the boat. You ignore them because you think that there must be something larger that’s causing the boat to sink.

However, it’s possible that the only cause for the boat sinking is the collection of small holes that you can already see!

Your obsession with a “hidden hole” that you have yet to discover distracts you from what you can already do with the problems (small holes) you know about. Even if there is a large hole that’s sinking your boat, addressing the small holes would mean that you are making progress in overcoming your problem.

Suppose you are struggling to wake up early. You might attribute this to lack of motivation, not having a strong sense of purpose or another “high level” reason. But the real cause could just be that you over eat during dinner (and, therefore, you feel sluggish in the morning), or drink caffeine late at night or you aren’t getting enough sleep, or a combination of these factors. These are visible factors that could be contributing to your bad habit and which you can easily do something about.

Rather than trying to motivate yourself to wake up early, make a few changes to your diet and your schedule, and you could easily overcome your bad habit with an ounce of willpower.

Don’t overlook the small changes you can make while searching for major causes of your bad habits. Small holes can have the same damaging affect as a big hole.

Personal Growth

The Nod Effect

Have you ever heard a piece of advice you agreed was extremely valuable, and responded with a nod?

But what happened after that? Did you take the information on board and applied it to your life? Or were you simply content with agreeing?

Agreeing with advice – and responding with a nod – but not applying the advice is what I call The Nod Effect.

You need to eat healthy food.


You need to treat others with respect.


Exercise is good for your health.


But nodding doesn’t help you improve your life, even though – for some strange reason – nodding feels like an accomplishment! It’s as if, by nodding, you have taken on some of the advice, even though the value of the advice is in applying it and not simply agreeing with it.

I believe that, to a large degree, those who nod to the advice they hear and smile in agreement are “secretly” guilty for not applying the advice in their lives, even though it’s an obvious piece of advice.

Did you just nod? 😛

The people that make me feel apprehensive are those that rattle their heads in agreement, but don’t end up following any of the advice you give them!

To make real progress in life you have to shift your focus from showing approval to making use of the information you hear. Rather than nodding in agreement, silently say to yourself:

“I agree with what I just hear, but why am I not using this information already? And what change can I do right now to apply this information in my life?”