Why Choosing to Make Kimchi over Writing a Forbes Article Has to Do with a Healthy Brain

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Be playful!

I started out my day aiming to finish a Forbes article I’d been writing, as a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. I was excited even the night before and longed for the sunrise so I could work on my big three of the day, including the article. I ended up playing with the snow, making kimchi and kumkuat jam, and having a lot of laugh. “Wow, what a beauty of working for yourself!,” one would say. I agree. But it’s beyond that. It has so much to do with brain health, happiness and innovation. Here’s why.

It was Tuesday morning. Schools announced that due to the snow, they were closed. While my children were over the moon as they got to stay at home, I was dreaded. A snowstorm means I have to be off work and attend to my children. A snowstorm means I’m even more short of time. And a snowstorm means I would be truly upset. I do have the option of hiring an emergency nanny but I chose not to as I’m not comfortable with the arrangement.

While my son is big enough to entertain himself with toys and books, my three-year-old daughter loves to be with someone. The bad mom in me urged me to turn on the TV and let them watch PJ Mask or Ben and Holly or Peppa Pig for a few hours so I would be let alone doing my work that was desperately calling me.

A kindred spirit told me, “Hey, this happens only very few times in a year. This year, this’s been the 2nd time indeed and winter is nearly over any way. Soon, your daughter will be as big as your son. Soon, your son will be as big as his voice-breaking cousin. How many times can you truly have them like this? Seize the chance and play with them! Snow is so rare this season, isn’t it?”

“But I have to finish this article. I wanted to finish it last week but due to the other urgent priorities, I had to delay it. I don’t want to delay again,” I argued.

“Does it really matter if you delay? Who will be impacted? Will the world collapse?” the kindred spirit asked.

“Well, no one will be impacted. I don’t work under a contract and it’s purely my contribution. It’s just that I want to have it out there as soon as possible,” I softly said. “And well you are right, this day will never be back. My children will be grown-ups soon.”

“Plus, you’ve been working hard all the time. You need to give yourself the permission to be spontaneous. Is this one of the key reasons you chose to be the CEO of yourself?” The spirit continued to ask me.

“OK! Let’s do it!” I decided, after sending a few quick responses to some emails. Putting on our layers and boots, we went to the courtyard and spent over an hour there, sliding over, soaking in and sprinkling snow everywhere. This world is so different from my daily rituals of having kids at school and staying glued to my laptop till I pick up my son at 2.30pm. I marvelled at the wonders that snow brings. I was melted by my daughter’s giggles. I was endeared by my son’s pink cheeks — he’s still small enough for me to treasure.

As the flurry turned into ice and when our stomaches started to dance, we headed home for lunch. Seeing my daughter really enjoy and finish her big portion of rice, roasted chicken and boiled broccoli, I understood why her lunchbox is most often emptied. My son however was still playing with a few other friends in the playground and back till 5pm, skipping a meal.

“Now you can let her watch TV to do some work. One hour is OK! Don’t feel guilty,” the bad mom in me whispered.

“Shall I ask the nanny I’ve just met downstairs to look after my daughter for 2 hours?” I said.

“No, you don’t need to. Your daughter is going to be sleepy soon. It’s not worth it,” that voice told me.

I was reminded by what the kindred spirit said earlier and said, “No! I want to be with my daughter. And actually, you know what, there are a few dishes I’ve been planning to do but haven’t. The napa cabbage has been waiting in the fridge for two weeks and the kumkuats from the Lunar New Year is yearning for its place in the jar. Now is the good time!”

With my daughter sitting on the kitchen island, I embarked on a cultural experiment of making kimchi and moved onto connecting with my childhood by making the rare kumkuat jam that my grandma always gave us each summer when I was small.

“Are you done?” My daughter asked when I cleaned up.

“Yes, honey,” I answered.

“Are you happy?”

“Of course, I am. And how about you?”

“I am not,” she said, the milk bottle in her hand still full.

I was surprised because she always says she is happy.

“I want to touch your belly button,” my daughter smiled. It turned out that she’d been waiting for me to finish the kitchen work so she could fall back on her comfortable habit of touching my belly button while having milk. A strong feeling of love filled my heart when hearing her explanation. So I put her to bed and fell asleep for a while before I woke up. Feeling so refreshed, I worked on the article for a while before she opened her eyes. Just then, my son got back, soaked from head to toe, in both melting snow and happiness.

My heart sang.

In their “Healthy Mind Platter”, Dan Siegel and David Rock the founder of the NeuroLeadership Institute where I was trained as a brain-based coach—put together seven elements for a healthy mind. One of them is play. Many would be surprised as they believe play is only for children. But for adults, it’s necessary too to maintain enough “nutrients” for the brain as well. Play here doesn’t mean traditional play but it could be about being playful. Be playful with the way you cook a dish. Be playful with the route you get to work. Be playful with your routine.

When my children were back to school the next day, I was back to my article with more great ideas to write: My brain is fully charged.

So the next time a snowstorm hits, I won’t be upset. I will embark on different adventures. I will choose to be playful!

P.S. I am so grateful to be a Mother 4.0!

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