Vacation: A Way to Reflect on My Life from a Different Perspective

I’m writing this blog post on my way back to Singapore from the U.K. For the last two weeks, I was lucky to have travelled with my fiancé. We hiked in the Faroe Islands, caught up with close university friends in England, and explored Scotland.

The main purpose of this vacation is to spend some time with my fiancé, who’s in a medical school now. But the vacation also had a great, unintended benefit.

Being away from home and not following my usual routine, I had the opportunity to reflect on my life from a different perspective. It was like stepping outside of my life and re-examining my life from a third person’s perspective.

Vacation and reflection

Thinking back, I had a similar experience during my Taiwan vacation last December. I took a break from my triathlon training during the vacation, and I felt happier. I realised that I gradually lost interest in triathlon and the sessions were starting to feel like a chore. I made the decision to stop the coached program after the vacation and exercised only when I felt like it. Eventually, I started to enjoy swimming, cycling, and running again.

This time, my main reflection is on my attitude towards my personal development goals and side projects. In short, I felt I’m too easy on myself when I don’t achieve my goals.

Several things helped make reflecting easy and valuable.

1. Having a different routine (Or not having a routine)

My days during this break was starkly different from my usual routine.
I slept in instead of starting my day early with a workout. I was open to being more spontaneous about making plans for the day, and I gave myself a break from work. This was refreshing, and it offered me the opportunity to step outside and reflect on the things I had been doing, from a different perspective.

Is there anything I miss from my usual routine? Is there anything I’m glad I don’t have to do now? Is there anything I like about the “new” routine?

2. Being (mostly) disconnected

We didn’t have internet access during the first few days of the vacation while we were on the Faroe Islands. That was great because it helped me disconnect from the internet, social media, and work right from the start of the vacation.

I rarely felt the urge to check social media or my email inboxes which gave me pockets of time to reflect on the things in my life.

Hiking in the Faroe Islands

3. Reading self-help books

During the vacation, I read Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield. (Both are great books I would recommend.)

Reading Flow prompted me to think about my life in terms of the concepts mentioned in the book while reading An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth inspired me to want to improve my lifestyle and habits.

4. Wanting to write a blog post

As I know I think best when I write, I decided to write a blog post of one takeaway from the vacation at the end of the vacation. At first, I wasn’t sure what to write about. So I chatted with my fiancé about our takeaways from the vacation and wrote down whatever that came to mind.

This blog post covers only a tiny part of my reflections but the process of chatting with my fiancé and writing this blog post helped me consolidate my thoughts.

I felt great being able to reflect this way — to reflect without the daily rush of life and from a perspective different from usual. I have been taking such one to two-week vacations about every six months (with shorter breaks in between), and it feels like a good frequency for recharging mentally and reflecting on my life. So I might continue to take such breaks every six months.

How often do you take long breaks? What do you usually do during your breaks?


After much deliberation, I have decided to build my own website, alfredlua.com.

This blog has been running on WordPress.org for the last three years, and managing it has been easy. The free WordPress theme made the blog look great without much work from me. Publishing an article or adding a new page is as simple as clicking a button. I could focus on just writing my articles. (Awesome work, Automattic!)

But as I want to learn designing and coding, I have decided to build my website from scratch. I’m sure it will be challenging but I don’t want it to stress me out. This will be a side project that I’ll work on whenever I feel like it. No deadlines. No “I’ll spend an hour a day on this project”.

Today, I bought Sketch and tried to design my website’s home page. I wanted to play around with the design before diving into the code. Here are a few observations from creating my first design:

  • Designing is hard. Even though I had a rough design in mind, my first design looks way uglier than I expected. Haha. (See the image below.)
  • It’s easy to keep wanting to spend more time improving a design but actually not doing much. Maybe a break will be helpful.
  • It’s helpful to watch someone else design. I picked up several tips from this video (e.g. creating a Styles artboard, using rulers and layout, naming and grouping layers, etc.)
  • Creating something (even though it might be ugly) is fun and satisfying.

First design for my website

I might play around with the design a little more before writing the code as I’m not too satisfied with this design. Do you have any suggestions or advice?

I’ll be sharing my progress here until I build a basic blog for the website. I’ll be tweeting about my progress, too. Till next time!


Third Year of Setting Annual, Personal Goals

I have been setting annual, personal goals since three years ago for each of the following years. While I didn’t achieve all my goals for any of the years, working towards the goals have had many great impacts on my life.

In 2015, one of my personal goals was to apply for a job at Buffer. That goal eventually led me to my current job as a content crafter at Buffer.

In 2016, I aimed to read for an hour per day or at least 10 books for the year. I read 11 books and listened to three audiobooks. That’s the most I have ever read in a year, and I learned a lot from the books.

Why I Set Personal Goals?

Research has found that setting goals increases one’s motivation and performance. But the reason I set personal goals is less scientific. It came from Alice in Wonderland.

In the book, Alice met the Cheshire Cat and asked it which way she should go. When the Cheshire Cat replied that it depends on where she wants to go, Alice said that it doesn’t matter as long as she gets somewhere. “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cheshire Cat, adding that if Alice walked long enough, she will get somewhere.

There are many interpretations of this conversation. My interpretation is this: If I don’t know where I want to go, I’ll eventually reach somewhere as long as I go in a direction. But I don’t want to end up just anywhere. That somewhere might not be where I’d love to be. For instance, I might have a job that I dislike.

Setting personal goals keeps me mindful of what I want to achieve and how I spend my time. I think it’s unproductive to live day-to-day without having an idea (albeit a rough one) of what I want to achieve. Having an end in mind allows me to work towards it instead of living each day aimlessly.

That said, I find it hard to know exactly what I want to achieve many years from now. I have an abstract idea of my long-term dreams but right now, I find planning for a one-year timeframe much more manageable. Maybe when I get better at thinking and planning further into the future, I’d set three, five, or ten-year goals.

Three Years of Iterations

I have refined my goal-setting process slightly each year but it has been mostly the same. There are three things that I’ve been doing consistently:

1. Reflect on the past year
My goal-setting process starts with a reflection on the past year where I’d write down all the important events in the year. I’d push myself to list out as many things as possible so that I’d remember the little yet important things. For the last two years (2015 and 2016), the list had 35 and 33 things respectively.

I’d start by writing down whatever that comes to mind, then think about specific areas of my life such as love, family, friends, growth, career, and financial, and finally I’d refer to the previous year’s list to help spark any memories.

2. Plan holistically
My annual plan considers all the important areas of my life for that year. The set of areas varies a little each year but it usually includes relationships, career, health, and leisure. Since it is a plan for my life, I think it makes sense to plan for every important area than just one or two.

3. Share the plan
Once I’ve set my goals, I’d share the plan with my girlfriend (now fiancé) and a close friend to get their feedback and to keep myself accountable. As I talk to them about my life and personal goals the most, they have the context to understand my goals, know how I think, and would often ask me about my progress towards my goals.

What has changed is that I try to be more specific with my personal goals. Three years ago, my belief was that annual goals should be high-level since the timeframe is long. In my 2015 plan, I had goals like “balance work and family”. It was hard to act on such goals as they were vague. This year, I made my goals more specific by having sub-goals, such as “have at least one dinner with my family per week” and “go for a family trip” under my goal of “always make time for my family”.

How Do You Plan Your Life?

Planning my goals annually keeps me mindful of how I want to live my life each year. I’ll keep up with this practice for many more years, and I want to improve my goal setting and planning process, too. One of the things I’d love to do is to plan longer term.

How do you plan your life or year? Do you have any advice for me?

Thanks!