Navigating Life’s Complexities with Dr. Perpetua Neo: A Comprehensive Guide

a convoluted maze

Dr. Perpetua Neo, with her profound insights, guides us through optimizing our mental and physical energy, balancing high standards against the pitfalls of perfectionism, and the art of achieving our goals almost on autopilot. Here’s a detailed exploration of these topics with the transcript broken up in precise sections.


Navigating Life's Complexities with Dr. Perpetua Neo: A Comprehensive Guide Pin

Optimising Your Physical and Mental Energy

Dr. Neo begins our journey by addressing the quintessential foundation of all achievements — our energy. In a world that constantly demands more, how do we ensure that our wellsprings of physical and mental vigour do not run dry? Dr. Neo emphasises the importance of discerning the quality of our engagements over their quantity. 

Then also be that it's not the number of hours you work, but how you work those hours.

Q. The younger generation is ambitious and has clear ideas of what they want from life. There is constant back-and-forth about how many hours a week they should be expected to work for good pay and position. What advice would you give to them? What is the healthiest approach they should take as they venture into the workplace and the sort of mindset they should maintain?

Dr. Neo: When it comes to this dichotomy between let’s work a lot, let’s work so hard because we’re ambitious and we need to achieve a lot, and now, you know, just stay at home and don’t do much or just do less. Similar to when the pandemic started and someone said let’s not waste lockdown and some other therapist started saying, you know what like that was incredibly triggering.

How do we navigate that balance? So first, decide what are your values? Do you really like to accomplish stuff and why? And is that really you or is this somebody else’s values that you are inheriting? That’s one, because some people really love to work and then some people, they work a lot because they’re expected to in a certain culture, or it’s a great way of keeping themselves distracted.

Then, when you’re able to answer remember that while there are many different views out there, including mine, ask yourself what suits you the most. So I’ll give you a very general idea here. When you are young, your upper limit that you run into is your experience. So you can afford to give in more time but Looking busy isn’t the same as being accomplished. There is a very vast difference.

Many people glorify busy, especially in certain cultures where it’s just about overwork and cultures that have no idea that they’re anxious or stressed or think that it’s so normal and actually make jokes about it. So be aware of what that looks like. Then also be that it’s not the number of hours you work, but how you work those hours.

If you can be clear about your values and the way you’re going to optimise your brain, then it’s incredibly different in terms of your outcome. So I’ll give you an example, you know, when it comes to what it means to optimising your brain, sure you could do the same things everybody else does, fumble from one spot to another spot. Sometimes, come late to your appointments or forget your appointments or just generally have a bit of a mess because everybody kind of copes with that anyway, or you can ask yourself, how can I live differently?

How can I live better in a way that I actually have a lot more mental clarity and my everyday life is a place from which I have space to make wiser decisions. Like if you have a phone and just go to default settings, you’re going to have a thousand notifications and it’s going to exhaust you. That’s default setting. Your default settings in your brain and the way we are programmed to work or play or just interact with people do not work well for us. So ask yourself then, if you’re really keen on working hard, then what does that mean? So, what can we do differently to optimise the way your brain works instead of glorifying working across every single time zone and being really, really exhausted?

Yeah, you could work across time zones and you could be not exhausted. You could actually be energised. So, do you see the difference and the nuances in what I’m saying?

Krati: Yes, absolutely. Talk to me more about this, because I think this will help those who want to work really hard and they can do that without burning out with the method that you’re suggesting and also the people who don’t want to work so hard, they can get more out of the time they do put in. Tell me where we can start with this.

Dr. Neo: We can start with understanding that every day we wake up with a finite amount of energy and if you don’t honour the fact that it’s finite, you’re going to exhaust the hell out of yourself. So the first thing I always do every day is I check my battery, what’s my own battery levels. You know, like sometimes when we wake up and we unplug our phone, we realize that, ha, the phone didn’t charge. We can be like that on most days, actually, and sometimes our batteries are depleted a lot faster. So ask yourself today, what’s my battery level? Also, remember that even if your battery is 30% because life happens, there is no shame in admitting it to ourselves. It gives us our power back because even if we don’t admit it to ourselves, it’s still kind of just floating very nebulously at the back of my head and that steals even more energy.

So step one is, if you’re not well or tired and exhausted, admit that to yourself. Check in with your battery levels.

Step two, there’s a difference between your mental and physical energy, okay? So, for instance, there are times when, in the past few years, when I found myself able to bike in the gym, 12k, right? But if you ask me to sit down and write, say, a little strategy document for my business, nope! Does that mean I’m lazy? Not quite. What that means is that mental energy is very different from your physical energy.

Mental energy involves your mood, your motivation, your cognitive processes at a time. And if you have things stealing mental energy, for instance, it’s been a tough day, then it will take mental energy away. If you are ill, it will take your mental energy away.

In the last few years, what happened was my mother was mismedicated, four years ago and we lost her. So I spent a lot of time looking out for her, making sure that things were okay. So while I was not living there, a lot of my mental energy was being chewed up that way and that was a choice that I also made,  not to waste my mental energy but to look out for her So because of that I knew that I had to power down in some parts of my life. So being aware of what’s taking your mental energy in the background and whether you are willing for that to happen is a big deal.

So other ways in which we have to think about where to invest our mental energy would be, for instance, there’s things in our lives that we’ve got to maintain. So I always say that the cost of something is not the cost that you pay at that moment. So let’s say you’ve got a partner you really dislike and you’re supposed to check on this person five minutes every two hours because they are a bit intrusive, to say the least. So the five minutes that you pay is not five minutes. It’s actually the time before and after.

If you decide to scoff down one entire cake, the price you pay is not just how much you’re paying for the cake. It’s what happens to your brain energy after and what’s going to happen to your body and whether the next day you decide that, you know what, screw it, I’m going to eat more cake because I really hate this and I really hate myself.

So, be very aware of what is in the background that’s taking your energy away and being able to admit that to yourself. If you are not feeling well, admit that to yourself. So for instance, for some industries, March, April, May, or the end of the year, are very busy. Then be very aware of how you’re going to budget your energy. If there are things in your life that are going to take more energy, for instance, like in my life, June and July are full of birthdays. I’m going to have to spend money as well. So that’s also something that you’ve got to think about. Or, you know, maybe like December, January, February is also a very havy social time when it comes to the holidays, Chinese New Year, Christmas, so being aware of that will help you budget your mental energy better.

Also, when I think about what I call financial sanity as well so, you might think to yourself that you’re spending like $20 a month on this subscription which is no big deal. Technically, it’s no big deal, but if you are not using it and you’re resenting the $20, then actually it takes your mental energy away.

So all I’m asking you is to basically sit down, ask yourself, what are just three main things that you maybe live. It’s a choice. For eg, when I was deciding that I have to look out for my mom. I’m there for her and watching her progress. That’s big, right? That’s something I chose.

It’s also thinking about the things that you have to live with. For instance, some people live with health constraints, chronic fatigue, immunity issues, or people are just very tired because they have they are caretakers.

Then we also think about the kind of things that we are maintaining and paying the cost for that we resent. Maybe it’s an ambivalent relationship. There’s some positive and some negative aspect and you think that maybe e it’s not so bad, but it is. Think along the lines and then one, admit to yourself, what is within your control and what is your reality and decide what can you color out of your life?

setting & enforcing boundaries

Krati: So many of us derive self worth from working long hours, even when not necessary […] You’re jeopardising your sleep. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will impact you the next morning, which means you’re not going to be as productive and you’ll have to stay longer in the office to get the same amount of work done. Very often when people talk about burnout, I’m sure there are a lot of physiological factors but I think a lot of it is just bad time and resource management.

Dr. Neo: It is a boundary issue. Boundaries are our ability to say no. So it comes down to two things. One is, do you feel that you have permission to say no and if you don’t, no matter what you say, no one’s gonna believe you, right? And you’re gonna attract people who would love to step over your boundaries.

Two, do you have the words? So find or write the script. Write them out. Rehearse them in your head. It’s going to be awkward. Any skill you start with is going to be awkward, full stop. So have that idea in mind and be able to set your boundaries and remember that boundaries are not pugnacious.

They don’t have to be ugly and awful. It can be done in a very graceful manner. Like during the pandemic, what happened was for the first time, hybrid work, remote work took off . We still have a very strong culture of micromanaging and that then boils down to the idea about how much is about overwork, so working on the hours to demonstrate that work. Nobody cares how efficient you are. It’s another metric that they are looking at right?

So what happened was that because suddenly everything went online, everybody was working many different time zones which means that they were expected to answer calls at all sorts of times and when they had all these different meetings across different time zones, what we realised was that we were just being given a time zone do it in and nobody there to say a thing.

So it’s about stepping up and saying something and come up with something that’s different. That’s better. So for instance, if part of your job description that you agreed upon is that you would have to be on call from this time to this time then they have to be provisioned. I’m not saying that is the perfect thing to do, but you know, we’re talking about different markets in time, right? So this is a reality. So that’s part of what you have to do and there have to be provisions for how you’re going to recharge your batteries after that or before that, you know. Maybe you’ve a different set of work hours so you’re not expected to still show up for work the next day despite having your sleep cycle completely screwed.

Krati: Many times, I’ve had to point out to people that boundaries are not a bad thing. For me, setting boundaries is the most natural thing but it is something that people still don’t understand. Boundaries are your friends. They do not mean that there isn’t enough love or respect in your relationship.

Dr. Neo: It’s the basic rulebook on how this is going to operate. If you don’t have rulebooks, then everything is going to be scattered. When I was a kid, I used to buy these packets of glitter and sequins from the store. Very cute and pretty. Now, glitter and sequins are cute and pretty only when they are contained. One day, I don’t know what happened, they all spilled on the floor and it became really ugly. It was really gross and one, you couldn’t appreciate it. Two, it became very dirty and very messy and then it defeats the entire purpose.

So, you have to think about what a container is in order for something to work best in your biology as well. Your cells are being held together by membranes and the organelles in your cell are also held together by membranes, otherwise they spill out and bad things are going to happen.

So, think about it in this way, if we don’t package it properly, then we can’t make use of it.

Navigating the Fine Line Between Holding High Standards and Perfectionism

Perfectionism, as Dr. Neo elucidates, often masquerades as a virtue, especially in cultures that idolise overachievement. Yet, she draws a clear line between aspiring for excellence and the paralysing pursuit of perfection.

Q: Let’s talk about excellence versus perfection, because that, I think, is another factor here.

Dr. Neo: There are two camps of perfectionists. We all know the people who go like oh, you know, i’m a perfectionist which is why I haven’t done this yet. They’ll tell you about their fitness goals from five years ago and actually things have been getting worse or they talk about their work goals and it’s just a whole bunch of ‘in your head’ bullshit, right?

Then we have perfectionists who are productive They actually get things done. Sometimes their brain trips them up. Sometimes, I think to myself, maybe some of them are not perfectionists, but rather they have been told by people that they have such high standards or they accomplish so much that they have to be a bad person because they are perfectionists.

So one, let’s get that clear. You can choose to have high standards. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you an anxious person. It just means that you’re committed to a certain level of excellence as long as you make sure that you’re very very clear on what you want because like I said, we have only a finite amount of energy. If you open your phone every morning, the most it can have is 100 percent of energy, correct?

So if you think about it that way then you’re not going to squander your own physical and mental energy. Know your constraints, your boundaries, your cell membranes. It helps you to decide what to focus on because you can’t be perfect in everything.

There are some things in your life that are just not worth being perfectionist about, like making sure you have the best app for taking notes. Do you really need 10 apps? Not quite. You don’t need another app to plan your time. Notes work really well. Calendar works very well. Just get that sorted and you’re done. What matters is that you actually put it in your notes and your calendar. If you don’t put it in there, you can have a thousand apps, spend a lot of money on it and nothing’s going to change. So, stop looking for the solutions that are actually band-aids, okay?

So then, you decide, in which areas of life do you want to be excellent in. Everything else doesn’t need to be excellent. 

We have a lot of pressure because of scientific information and public health information and also a lot of peer research that tells us how we’re supposed to live our lives healthily. So, for example it’s been shown that you don’t need 10, 000 steps. The idea of 10, 000 steps was used by the Japanese pedometer company because it sounds like a nice number. Now, obviously, ideas get evolved and then they take a world of their own. That’s just the way culture evolves, but if you tell me to take a thousand steps every day, I’m gonna melt.

It’s going to be so overwhelming for my brain, because I have other things to be excellent in, and then I still have to take 10, 000 steps. At the end of last year, I was doing a little review of the distance I walk or run every day. My average distance was 7. 9 kilometres. And guess what? I still didn’t hit 10, 000 steps. Do know how much time and effort it takes to hit 7.9 kilometres a day? A lot! So it’s about how big your steps are as well.

Does your mental energy just get completely fried trying to be perfect in terms of checking all the boxes? So I tell my clients, even if you just want to walk from a to b, that’s great! Let’s start with that. Then you don’t have to eat vegetables. Don’t go out and hunt for vegetables every day if it’s not normal for you. Maybe, twice a week for my own rule, I’m going to pop vegetable powder into my yogurt because that is better than nothing rather than being perfect and getting resentful and not eating vegetables at all.

I’m going to introduce this idea of excellence. Excellence is about the outputs, the outcomes that you want. Get clear on that. Get clear on what that looks like. I want to be healthy, that’s not enough. What on earth does healthy look like? How do you feel? What objective markers do you have inside and outside you What’s your mood? How do you smile? What on earth does that look like? What do you look like now? And what’s the change? That will help you contextualise what your output is going to be like. So don’t give something generic. The more generic, the less likely you’re going to achieve it. Also when it comes to output, it also depends on the kind of person you are and the things that you do. I don’t care what your motivation is even if it’s politically incorrect.

For instance, at the end of lockdown 2020, I had put on a lot of weight. It was very uncomfortable and I didn’t feel happy in my body. So I decided, no more yo-yoing for the rest of my life. No more sliding between burnout and feeling good. It was my one moment where life humbled me. So I decided, I’m going to put the hard work in, learn to have discipline for the first time in my life, which is difficult for somebody with ADHD. Totally admit that and do it. It’s been more than three years and I’ve kept at it, which means it’s part of my identity. When people ask me what was your reason for doing that? Most people would actually tell you I want to be healthy but I told that truth. I wanted to wear crop tops. Some people find it very funny and refreshing, and I said that, yeah, you know, healthy might be one of the motivations there, but healthy is not going to light the fire under me to get me going. So choose that one motivation that gets you going, and once you are there, then your motivations might change.

And that’s great. That’s awesome. You can have a mix of motivations

Then, stop looking for the perfect inputs. The perfect inputs don’t exist so to do that will exhaust the crap out of you and make you incredibly energy inefficient. We are taught to Walk 10,000 steps a day. You need to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. You need to eat a certain amount of protein every day. Eat 20 supplements or something like that. Meditate for two hours a day. You shouldn’t be touching your phone two hours before you sleep. Yeah, yeah, shoulda, woulda, couldas, and obviously, all the different experts debate that, laugh at each other, and tear each other down. Again, I don’t care about that. Be clever about your inputs. One, what is an input that’s important for you, right now and that aligns with your lifestyle?

If your lifestyle is not aligned, it’s going to be very hard. A lot of times success is not about just your willpower. It’s about actually rigging your environment to your success and that’s part of winning the mental game. It’s how you shape your environment. If my books are in front of me, it’s easier to open them, but if my books are under a stack, it will be harder for me because it will take a few extra steps.

It’s very easy for me to go to the gym now because it’s just downstairs in my building but if I had to travel to a gym, it might be harder. So being very clear about how all the inputs that you choose are aligned with you. I live in the very centre of Singapore and because of that, I make the choice to walk a lot, which is why I hit 7.9 Kms on average a day. It’s got to do with what I can do with my body because I sneak in a lot of stairs by taking the underground. Think about inputs as one, do they fit into your life or not? If they don’t, how can you rig them? Clients come to me and part of their secondary goals is that they need to hydrate their bodies better. I advise them to get a whole delivery of water bottles and stack them around your house and your office. So it’s not about just measuring your water or buying the fanciest water bottle because that may not inspire you to drink but rather having that water right smack in front of your face. Again, the whole no two hours of blue light before sleeping. It’s great in the ideal world but in a world where some of my clients are working till really late because they’re working across time zones right, it’s not going to work at all.

So, what can we do to compromise? There’s this alarm clock that we set before their bedtime. So there’s two alarms. The first alarm, if they’re supposed to sleep at 12 a. m., the first alarm might be 11pm that tells them to start to power down. Second alarm might be 11.15. that tells them to go and take care of their skin, go and shower, go and brush your teeth, and in that window of time, you don’t touch your phone anymore. Most people paralyse themselves by accepting or resigning to the standards that everybody preaches to them or prescribes to them and then what happens is, they never do it. They get paralyzed. If you try to look for perfection in your inputs, without thinking them through, your outcome is paralysis.

Krati:  If people do this , they would be in constant communication with themselves. The self awareness would amplify and they may be making very informed decisions, optimising environment, body, food, everything to a degree  where they’ll be getting so much more out of the resources they have.

Dr. Neo: You don’t have to optimise everything. If you’re doing something really intensive in a coaching or bootcamp, then great. Just make sure that you have a system that stays on with you in your life and you know how to review. For instance, perfection input states, don’t drink coffee. Don’t drink wine but if you’re aware of say, what’s your last coffee, according to your body type.

If you’re aware of like say for every cup of coffee you have, you got to have twice the amount of water or three times the amount of water, you know how to make up for that. So it’s not about, I need to drink how many litres of water a day. You know, again, you’re not a camel. You might be drinking water in other ways, like by eating fresh fruit, by drinking a lot of soup. So, being very clear about that instead of having very arbitrary guidelines and be aware that guidelines are not there for you to just shoot them down. They’re not completely idiotic, but rather they are just guidelines. So everybody’s bodies will react differently and as your body and your physiology changes, again it’s going to change in terms of what you’re going to need from your life.

So if you hydrate yourself enough, then your brain is going to work differently. Your brain’s going to be sharper and when your brain is sharper, hydration becomes autopilot, then you can start adding an extra habit and training yourself. So, if you’re doing this alone, it’s a lot easier to just start with one thing but if you’re doing something with a coaching program like what I do with my clients, it’s easier to do a few things.

But then again, you know, we have to make sure that the steps are so simple. The system is so simple that the only thing standing between success and you is you.

It’s good to be human. It’s okay to have one or two vices. I sleep late. One is because I like working across different time zones and it actually works very well with my brain, and the fact is that in an average week, I sleep eight hours a day, at least because I have ways of sleeping till later and I have days when I naturally love to sleep a long time and sometimes I have holidays where I just sleep.

Again, this is down to my own brain chemistry, my own brain awareness. There are some days where I have to just keep dreaming and dreaming and dreaming until the dreams completely finish and then my body just knows to wake up. So I have to design my life in a way where I can do this.

So, because of that, I’m very open about the fact that, you know, sleeping late is my one vice that I have left, and it’s okay. I’m allowed to have vices.

Key to Succeeding with Neurodivergence

Stop creating more messes to clean up. Yes, you can clean your mess [...] but do you really need to suffer so much? That's my question.

Dr. Neo sheds light on a topic close to many hearts: succeeding in life while embracing neurodivergence. This section of our dialogue is a testament to the idea that understanding and leveraging the particular ways in which our brains operate can lead to unparalleled success and fulfilment.

She offers concrete strategies for individuals with ADD, ADHD, and other forms of neurodivergence, emphasizing the importance of structured flexibility in daily routines, personalized tools and techniques for focus and organization, and, most importantly, the cultivation of environments that respect and nurture neurodivergent needs.

Q: You said you have ADHD, right?

Dr. Neo: Yes.

Q: I saw some videos online that talked about how people who have ADHD, for them, it’s impossible to manage time.They call it time blindness. Is that true? Can someone with ADHD do all the things that you’ve shared during our conversation today? Or are there limitations that come with being in ADHD that make certain things too hard?

Dr. Neo: Well, I’m sitting in front of you. I showed up for an interview. I finished three advanced degrees, so clearly I can manage my time. I have never missed a flight before, so clearly I can manage my time.

So, this comes down to different ideas and preconceptions. The thing about being neurodiverse and ADHD, dyslexic, autistic or ADD, which is we have to hate the hyperactive component.

Dyslexic is that essentially your brain is wired in a way that is significantly, different from people who are neurotypical, and there’s no good or bad here. It’s just reality. Just like my reality is I was born in the body of a woman and someone else might be born in the body of a man. My cat was born in the body of a cat. Think about it this way, it’s reality and it has given us certain boundaries.

The problem with neurodiversity is that, while you’re very good at some things, your day to day life can make you feel like you’re walking and there are these demons on the floor trying to grab your feet and you’re tripping. Because you are tripping up in day to day life stuff like time blindness which is basically forgetting or not being aware of time. Like if someone tells you, let’s meet at 4:15, your brain may not be able to see 15 or 45 and change the numbers. It happens a lot.

So being very aware of that and learning not to feel so helpless is a big step. Otherwise, you will never be able to shine with your strengths because you’re trying to function as an adult OS. So it’s almost like, you know, let’s say my brain loves Macs, right?

Macbooks have Apple OS and I’m trying to work in a completely different OS system. It’s going to waste a lot of energy. So be very aware of how you are functioning, how you’re wired, but don’t use that as an excuse. Like, for instance, a long time ago, I read this article that says your introversion is not an excuse to be an asshole.

I love that. I’m an introvert myself, but you know, like I see enough people telling me, giving me that whole bullshit about how, Oh, you know, I’m an introvert, I’m an empath, therefore I’m like that. I’m like, nope. It’s just you being completely horrible which is completely different. So, when it comes to ADHD or any kind of neurodiversity, yes, it can be hard.

So ask yourself, what are the main things you need to do to keep your life in order? One is don’t get a thousand different apps. Your brain cannot take that overwhelm. Two is what can I practice to keep my life in order. So for instance, I have a lot of very nice handbags and but I have the same handbag that I bring everywhere. So every holiday I’ll just bring two extra bags, two different bags. And it becomes that one, like, bag dump, right? But you know what? If I don’t have to exhaust my brain, Great, so I’ve just like this big handbag and it fits a lot of things and it can fit even more extra stuff like including shopping or whatever. So everything’s in that bag and I bring that bag to Barry’s where I work out because it’s easy. I don’t care if it’s a leather bag. Who cares? No one’s judging. Even if they judge, I don’t care. I bring that bag to hike. It works for me. So I don’t care. Because if I had to keep changing my bag – Yes, I can tolerate it. No, I do not want to waste the energy.

Because I’ll be forgetting how to transfer my stuff and I’m going to be losing things. And I really don’t need my life to look like that. That’s one. And so, you know, when it comes to neurodiversity, especially when it comes to ADHD, you will forget things. A lot of, we call that the ADD, ADHD tags, where when you are withdrawing money from the bank machine, you lose, you forget.

A lot of people with ADHD get very excited about credit card deals. One of my best friends will be telling me, you know with this credit card you get like 50 off, and I’m like, you know what? Yes, there are some savings, there are some perks, but you know what? I need my life streamlined because my brain can handle it, but no, I do not want to put myself through that. My sanity is so much more important. So I streamline and I choose the cards that I actually like and that I want to work with. And that basically is how you think, right?

So my personal values in terms of how I want to organise my life are based on two principles. One, my life needs to be as lean as possible. Yeah, I know, sure, you see a lot of books behind me, but even then, they are all colour-coded and streamlined. I just happen to like to read, okay? So it needs to be lean, that’s one. So I get rid of all the things that I don’t need, or I don’t want, or I don’t like, or if I do like some things, like I like my clothes, I make sure that it’s very organised, so that my brain doesn’t short circuit. Two, I like to be agile, so I can move and leap anytime.

So ask yourself, if you’re neurodiverse, how do you want to spend your life. If you don’t really need to leap a lot, okay, maybe you don’t need to be so agile, but you know, one really good important thing would be to keep it lean. So you don’t need a thousand things overwhelming you because back to the whole ADHD thing, a lot of them get excited by credit cards and all the deals because it appeals to this novelty sense.

So a lot of normal things do not switch on the ADHD brain, which is why we find it very hard to do mundane stuff and then novelty makes us impulsive. It makes us happy, makes us excited. So when your brain switches on, it goes, yay, let’s do that but then the number of people with ADHD, ADD, who forget to pay their credit card bills are a lot.

So essentially what the thing here is, stop creating more messes to clean up. Yes, you can clean your mess. Like I have no doubt that everybody will learn how to cope and tolerate, but really, do you really need to suffer so much? That’s my question.

Krati: I have neurosensitivity, light, sound, smells, they trigger my anxiety. I’m someone who lives with anxiety. Whenever my anxiety gets out of control, I have tremors. I have nosebleeds. If it gets really bad, I have audio, visual hallucinations. I do want to add that till a few years back, staying for more than 10 minutes under orange lights would trigger a massive anxiety attack but now I can be around orange lights. It’s fine. I’m not very happy, not very comfortable and I talk a lot less, I notice but I’m okay. I don’t panic. I don’t have an anxiety attack. So I feel like your body will cooperate with you if you give it newer challenges with a lot of faith. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I have noticed that

Dr. Neo: In neuroscience, we call it habituation. So, your body naturally does not like orange light but there can be another element which is the meta element where this fear of what’s going to happen to you, because you had it before, is what amplifies everything else.

So when you take that fear away. You are uncomfortable? Yes, your body could function better, but you’re not going to melt down. I think that’s a nuance. So, for instance, I used to have panic attacks a long time ago when I was in a bad situation in my life. And, what I tell people when I coach my clients who have panic attacks is that, don’t be a hero.

Don’t walk into a hot train on a hot summer’s day without water. So sometimes in psychology, we call them safety behaviours and you know, what is it that safety behaviour stop us from? It stops us from attacking our anxiety but sometimes you have to be realistic. If it’s a hot day, you’re going to need water. Don’t be crazy. Don’t dehydrate yourself. Full stop, right? So, for me, when I had panic attacks, my first symptom would be heat running down the back of my neck and it’s very uncomfortable for me but it’s nothing to do with just panic attacks exclusively.

I have always, always hated feeling hot and stuffy because as a child, I had so many bad fevers and in Chinese medicine, what you do is you swaddle a child up in blankets and force their body to sweat but that was so scary for me and my body always remembers that so I never ever like the feeling of being constrained. It’s been a long time since my last panic attack but I never want to be a hero and tell you that I’m going to swaddle myself up. There’s nothing to prove. So, you know again, the inputs outputting. There’s nothing to prove in terms of being brave and/or insane. That would be insane to me, but rather, you know, being able to honour the fact that there are things that our bodies don’t like.

So if your body doesn’t like a certain kind of food, don’t be a hero. You can choose your suffering in life.

Krati: Some amount of challenges will always be present. You will always have to push yourself to do certain things or to do them a certain way. That’s just how life functions. Anybody who’s looking to bypass that will not have an easy ride. I don’t think you’re going to get much done.

Dr. Neo: Maybe you don’t need much done. Some people have different ideas and expectations in life and that’s okay, but then you have to learn to live in reality. So if any solution teaches you to escape from reality, then I would strongly encourage you to think, are you sure that’s right for you?

Because the longer the time you don’t live in a real world, the harder it is to get back to it because it gets scary. Let’s say, you spend two or three weeks not talking to a friend or your partner because you’re upset with each other and then you tell yourself next week, next week, right? When it becomes week four, it gets even harder because momentum has built in the other direction. Your fear pathways, your anticipation of bad things happening is going to grow even bigger in your brain. So, don’t disconnect yourself from the real world and if let’s say, you know, you’re going to a retreat and all that stuff. Yeah, sure but then always ask yourself this question – What’s going to happen after I go to this retreat? Sometimes we put too much stock in some magical solution but be very, very clear about this. If I go to a retreat in a remote island where I’m being given soup and fresh fruit every day, and there’s a lot of nature and I’m not allowed to work. Then I might actually end up feeling better. Maybe I’ll feel worse for a bit, but I’ll end up feeling better and then, I may lose weight, I may feel healthier, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But then what happens when I go back to real life? What is the solution there? And, you know, it’s not the same as somebody giving you a piece of paper and saying that, Oh, you know how to do it now, and you want me to do it.

Am I actually motivated to create that? Do I have a structure? A vacation is not going to solve your problems.

I have clients who go on vacations and then they’re like, you know, I’m very tired, I need to go on vacation. Then what happens is they are so overwhelmed and so worried during the vacation and then if you’re really really feel bad for wasting the money, wasting people’s time, you know, like being absent when the children are talking to them.

Just because someone prescribes something as self care or good for your well being doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for your well being. You know, it’s not necessarily just what’s slowing down because maybe you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like slowing down yet.

I will never say never, but there’s some people who just move a lot faster than other people. Again, no value judgment, no right, no best, no wrong, but rather, you know, it’s just that know yourself and know that you might change, but for now know who you are, right now.

If you think about sports psychology, the only way you become elite is that you learn how to recover. Muscles are broken in the gym. They are fed during your meals and they grow during recovery. If you never give yourself rest time, nothing is ever going to grow, you’re just going to get exhausted, you’re going to injure yourself, and then that’s called a forced recovery. So the only way to become elite, and I’m talking about olympian kind of elite, is actually to rest, to learn how to recover.

I still love bubble baths. I know they work for me and I know the intention I set when I take my bubble bath, so it’s meant to help me. I set intention even before a facial. So that helps me and supports me in that way but if you’re not aware of whether this thing serves you or you’re not putting yourself in the space then it’s not going to serve you. You’re actually going to feel worse and wellness is going to clog up your to do list

The Art of Living on Autopilot

Achieving our goals with the ease of a well-oiled machine seems like a dream, but Dr. Neo suggests it can be a reality with the right systems in place. This might mean organizing your workspace to reduce distractions or creating routines that seamlessly integrate with your lifestyle, thereby making success an almost automatic outcome.

Q: Is this where owning your story comes in?

Dr. Neo: Yes, in terms of owning who you are and what got you here today. That’s very important. When I was younger, what got me into trouble was actually trying to be normal and trying to be nice and not having any boundaries. I didn’t feel I had permission to have boundaries. I always thought if you love someone, you can love their bad behaviour away.

You could just be tolerant and trying to be normal made me a bit more impulsive because I put myself in the position of this is how somebody normal would act and that really screwed me up. This is one, like owning, understanding who you are and being able to articulate that.

Maybe you don’t like it comes to you, like your day to day life stuff, you know, like I have some women clients who find it a struggle even to say that. I don’t like to eat steak. So they’ll go to a steak restaurant with somebody because they’re afraid to say, they don’t like it. So, it comes down to articulating that in your day to day choices. For instance, I don’t like to eat this. I don’t like to drink this. Can we do something different? Find that happy common ground that both of you like. Or let’s say, it’s your social attention span. Maybe you can tolerate sitting down for six hours in a long party but maybe your social attention span is a lot shorter. So, instead of six hours, you could make it two hours or go for one hour, have fun, and then leave. Because you are still showing up, you’re still putting in the work, you’re still putting in your social credits. And also think along the lines of how you can make yourself happy and make the other person happy.

Krati: Yeah, this is helpful because I think a lot of people as they are working with a coach or a therapist, they’re trying to change themselves but they’re also trying to optimize their life and maybe you’ll disagree with me, but I don’t think the two process complement each other all that much. 

Dr. Neo: If you’re hurting yourself and you’re hurting somebody else, how I normally use that as a metric would be, are you creating more messes to clean up? If you are, then don’t do it. Optimisation is based on how you’re wired and the person that you are today. So, you have to think along those lines rather than hope for an alien to possess you and become somebody else.

And also, when it comes to optimisation and all these different things about inputs, you know, I think really important is to be able to experiment, you know, not just think that, okay, this person, this CEO has got this perfect routine. I’m just going to steal it. Be willing to experiment, be willing to play with it a certain amount of time, then review.

So you’re not second guessing yourself as you play with it. Be willing to fail. So, you know, like just because you failed in a tactic, doesn’t mean you failed in your outcome.

Sometimes we get too wedded to, oh, you know, like everybody does this, so if I don’t do this, there’s something wrong with me or if I couldn’t persist with this there’s something wrong with me. Learning how to fail fast and exit fast when it doesn’t work is so important.

That doesn’t work at all. I love following Alex Hormozi, and I love his tough love advice, but yes, it’s tough, but it’s also love, right? And one thing that he talks about that I love is that, you know, all these perfect routines from the CEO or this great person, it probably didn’t bring them to success.

They probably created these routines after they got success. That’s just such an important distinction to make and like, you know, are your routines serving you? So if you’re doing your routines and you’re tired and you know, like what I call clogging up a to do list, then maybe they don’t serve you at all. For instance, if you’re walking 20,000 steps a day because you’re trying to be perfect and doubling the 10,000 mark. If it’s making you exhausted and you have no time to do other things, then maybe it’s not the best thing for you to do. So, you know, be willing to experiment and be willing to be self aware and be willing to tell people that, you know what, thanks but no thanks. Or, you know, like I’m not looking for advice here, I’m not looking for suggestions, I’m actually okay.

Because in certain cultures, people are incredibly nosy and irritating and sometimes, you know, maybe, some of them wouldn’t take it from a bad place. As in, you don’t think they’re coming from a bad place, but some people are. And that can throw you off your game. So it’s very important to be able to go like, you know what, I’m not interested in this. Or, you know, I’m not looking for advice at all. A simple boundary thing would be, Okay, I can tell you, and I’m not looking for any advice or comments.

Then that will set the stage. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of unnecessary headache that you don’t need to have. Everybody has an idea like last night I was just musing on my stories about this body positivity versus body neutrality, body shaming thing, and you know, for every shape and weight that you are, you’ll be too fat and too thin for everybody else.

You never please anyone. And you know, when it comes to different parts of your life, different parts of your health, your fitness, your performance, your finances, your resources, your relationships, you don’t have to celebrate everything and pretend everything’s awesome. Body positivity, tells us that if you don’t like your wobbles, you don’t like your pimples, don’t celebrate them.

Neutrality, what it means is that this is what it looks like now. I’m allowed to still like myself or still respect myself and love myself. So if you don’t care about your body or your finances or whatever, you’re allowed not to care about it. There’s a sense of acceptance there. This is the way things are and these are the things that i’m actually interested in as the person I am today or as the person I would like to turn into.

Healing Old Patterns & Trauma

Touching on one of the most profound aspects of our discussion, Dr. Neo explores the delicate process of healing from old patterns and trauma. She illuminates the path to recognising and dismantling the cycles that hold us back, advocating for a compassionate approach to self-healing.

Q: Talk to me about healing old patterns because we’ve internalised certain labels. We’ve internalised certain ideas. Is there a way to work through that?

Dr. Neo: Of course, there’s a way to work through that. Basically, the most important thing is that, you stop thinking everything’s gonna do a mindset or mantra. If you are not feeling good. If you feel like an imposter, which is a really big mindset issue that a lot of perfectionists type A people have, then don’t lie to yourself that you’re brave when you’re scared.

Talking about the battery, acknowledge what your battery number is. There’s no shame in stating an objective fact like it’s raining. That’s a fact. There’s a really handsome man there. That’s a fact. There’s a very cute dog. That’s all a fact. So be able to do that instead of lie to yourself, because when you lie to yourself, your brain and body erupt with a vengeance. So there comes a point where winning the mental game is not just about a mantra, especially when your body is not in the receptive state to receive the mantra.

When you are thinking about what holds us back, what are our disabled patterns, a lot of them have got to do with things that our body has stored. So, you know, our body stores trauma. Trauma doesn’t always just happen from being like in the near death experience or watching someone die or watching someone suffer.

Traumatic symptoms, we call them small T events. Small T events can also happen from even things that are supposed to make us happy. For instance, you were promoted in your job, but then it turned out to be a bad fit for you, or you had a new boss after you got promoted.

You emigrated, you’re supposed to have a great life, but then something bad happened, right? Or even something good happened, you know, some people like they have kids, their kids are great but then they realize they don’t like kids and then they fight with themselves and all that. So a lot of things that can seem to bring you joy that you think I should be happy can actually be traumatic symptoms. So trauma is not something you can talk away or lie to yourself about. Trauma is stored in your body and there are many ways of working with your body. We’re talking about neuroscience, we’re talking about therapeutic methods to help a person to process that trauma and move forward and also integrate that story in your brain.

Because a traumatic memory is stored in your amygdala, your fear center, and it’s not contained well. So it’s like, you know, it’s like no matter how you push the cupboard close, everything keeps spilling out. So when you process memory, what happens when you process what’s going on in your body?

What’s stored in your body. Then what happens is this memory starts to transfer into your hyppocampus which is responsible for your long term memory and it’s nicely organized like it’s a gorgeous filing cabinet. If you like neatness, you understand what that means, right? You appreciate what that is. So, you know, if you can think about that in that way, that’s going to help you.

And when we’re talking about, say, you know, the things that we need to own, the limiting patterns that we have, you know, it’s not about just talking about them when things are bad. So, you know, people will look for a therapy service or coaching services when they are super anxious, when it’s super panicky.

So this is a really, really bad state to be because even when you are okay, which is a very low bar, you’re basically tolerating a lot of that stuff. So it’s What you put in every single day not only when you’re feeling bad. This has to be part of your discipline. So if you burn out and then you go to a retreat and you feel better You’re one lucky people who feel better then you come back into your real life And then you burn out again, you feel even more helpless, that’s a bad place to be because you cannot be arrogant enough to think that, you know, like, if you keep your old habits and your old lifestyle and your old mindsets, things are magically going to change.

Nope, that’s delusion or Gen Z, we call it delulu, right? So, it’s about committing to it in a way that suits you right now, so, you know, like when you’re starting a habit, one, obviously you have to figure out what you want out of it, the system and structure to get you there, and then you also have to figure out other things like what stops you, what are your biggest obstacles that stop you in your environment, in your head, and even the people around you because the people are very important in terms of the messages that they feed you. So, figure that out.

And then when you start a new habit, it’s also about removing an old habit, which could be a mindset, right? And committing to this pattern. When you started, it’s a lot more intense, which is why people go for boot camps, right? But then remember that once you reach that point, you get the system going and once you start getting results, you don’t have to be as intense anymore.

And yes, it’s going to be terrifying as you take your foot off the accelerator but as long as you keep committing to it, it’s going to be okay. that’s going to be the most important. It’s what you do in your day to day life that matters. So I’ll give you an analogy that I always teach all my clients. So, I have a doctor that takes care of my skin. She lasers my skin, right? She tells me about the different lasers and some of them are intense and obviously very expensive. I asked her like why and she tells me that, oh, no, it’s because it’s designed to undo the bad things we do in our day to day lives. So you do it, then between sessions, you can go and mess up as much as you want.

You can neglect yourself, whatever. Then you just think to yourself, okay, I’ll go there, I’ll reverse it but the thing is that if you just keep reversing, you’re never going to become that awesome, beautiful person you want to be. What we really want is to keep improving. Not every day needs to be super intense. Some days could just be a bit more work. Some days could be less work, but the whole point is you’re not doing things to create more messes.

Krati: How do we be decisive during chaotic periods of life?

Dr. Neo: So obviously, face the fact that you’re human. That’s one thing. And the second one is have a certain protocol in your life for who you are right now in terms of what you need to keep your life intact. For instance, I always take care of my skin because that’s important to me. And that also helps me to relax as well. And it’s also like, for me, I know why I’m doing it because I feel competent and I feel like no matter how messy or tiring a life period can get, I have something to prove to myself that I did the work.

So be aware of that. My skin is very important. Making sure that I walk every day. It’s great. I know it’s great for my brain. Making sure that I eat a few healthy meals a week. I’m not even saying every day, so I commit to only two healthy dinners a week and then making sure that I deep breaths. I do three deep breaths in between things and making sure that I have a certain number of what I call my social vitamins.

So they’re my relationship vitamins. So if I love this person, that person, because as an introvert it’s easy for me to isolate so I decide that I’m not going to talk to people, sometimes. So I make sure that, I know my dosage of social vitamins, I don’t overdose.

This is really basic stuff, like making sure that I know what nourishes my brain and my body. I pray as well. So praying helps me to ground myself and connects me beyond myself. So, you know, think about what are your non-negotiables in your life and commit to them every day.

Because you’d be surprised that there’s some people when it’s their chaos, they self sabotage, they punish themselves. You know, like they don’t brush their teeth, they don’t take care of their skin. They drink too much and they don’t even like what they’re drinking. That’s the worst thing, you know, like, so, you know, for instance, one of my clients, I’m like, do you, do you even like McDonald’s?

He goes, actually, I fucking hate it. So he’s doing it to punish himself. I said, you, I eat McDonald’s like twice a month because I actually love it. Okay. But if you don’t like it at all, don’t touch it. Full stop.

So think about your basic level of non negotiables that keeps you safe. That’s, all you do during this period of time, because when things are hard, the heart will go. It’s not the same as striving, working hard at work, you know, achieving, creating new stuff, winning awards or accolades or whatever it is. The hard work when things are hard is basically one, show up. Even if you don’t want to show up, you show up. So let’s say, you wake up on a day when you’ve been depressed. You feel completely numb, apathetic, and your brain tells you, I don’t know what to do, there’s nothing to do. What can I do today? It’s a Sunday, there’s nothing. Your brain just goes into this numbness, this bleak, hollowness, right? And so, you, you have to make sure that even if your brain is telling you all this stuff, don’t just lay in bed.

If you’re really ill, that’s different, but if not, so, you know, like, yes, you can wake up feeling like shit, like pure unadulterated shit, okay, but you’re going to make sure that you’re not going to end that day feeling like shit, because if you end that day feeling like shit, one bad day becomes ten, and ten bad days can become a hundred very quickly, okay, so your job during hard times or chaotic times.

is to make sure that you show up and the day is not over. Even if you sleep in till 9pm to punish yourself, there’s still 3 more hours. Even if you sleep till 9pm and decide to go back to bed at 1am, there’s 4 hours in between that you can do something to help yourself. Punish yourself less, so that you reclaim that day.

Okay, and I know it can feel like Groundhog Day because they’re like, Oh God, every day I have to put in the effort just for the day not to suck. Yes, that will be a reality. There’s your neural pathways for helping yourself get stronger, and you feel more connected with yourself and with the world because you’re having your social vitamins, you’re having your own vitamins in your brain and your body, you’re eating differently, you’re like, You’re drinking water, you know, you’re walking, because walking is amazing for your brain.

And, basically, you’re going to get better. You’ve got to keep the faith. Because you’re not some special snowflake where if you do all this stuff, nothing’s going to change. Something will help you.

Krati: That is my kind of advice. I love it. Lastly before we sign off, I want you to let people know if they want to work with you, because I think this is awesome advice, but some of us might need a little bit of help executing it. So if somebody wants to work with you, what can they do?

Dr. Neo: So, I work in 8 week programs, okay, to maximize your success. And also, you know, to help you stay accountable. That’s so important and eight weeks so that you don’t talk to me forever You don’t have to see me forever. We don’t have to be talking about the same nonsense over and over again without any change Okay, well how they can is they can go to my website. and then sign up for a chemistry call or you know If there’s no time that that works for you in that schedule for that week, because the schedule is only released for like every four days, just pop in an email and say, Hey, you know, here’s what’s going on and reach out, you know, just because on a day you feel okay, but not good, doesn’t mean that you can just ignore yourself.

Because remember, it’s what you do in your okay days, in your great days, that helps you get through your life.

You're going to get better. You've got to keep the faith. Because you're not some special snowflake where if you do all this stuff, nothing's going to change. Something will help you.

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I know what it’s like to fall apart and gradually put your pieces back together to build something better than what you had before and I share all my lessons in this space hoping that you will share my learnings without the struggle.


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