In this paper, while agreeing in the light of global competition, the need for Singapore to excel, and Singaporeans strive to be excellent, the author examines the need for Singaporeans to adopt a more stress-free lifestyle and ways. He cites various strategies and ways in which Singaporeans, while achieving – one of the nation’s core values (Low, 2002), can still have a more work-life balance and overall, be more contented, coping well and overcoming stress.
Low Kim Cheng, Patrick (2008) Not Just Singapore A City of Excellence and World Class But People w ith
Heads Cool, Hearts Calm , Insights to A Changing World Journal, Volume 2008 Issue 4, p. 66 - 77.
Not Just Singapore A City of Excellence and World Class But People with
Heads Cool, Hearts Calm
Prof. Dr. Patrick Low Kim Cheng
Ph.D. & Chartered Marketer, Certified MBTI Administrator,
& Certified Behavioral Consultant/ Universiti Brunei Darussalam
Prof. Dr. Patrick Low Kim Cheng, Ph.D. (South Australia), Chartered Marketer, Certified MBTI
Administrator, & Certified Behavioral Consultant (IML, USA), brings with him more than 20
years of combined experience from sectors as diverse as the electronics, civil service, academia,
banking, human resource development and consulting. His MNC and local corporate clients from
ASEAN, Sri Lanka, Hong Kong, Bangladesh and Kazakhstan are in manufacturing, electronics,
IT, retail, engineering services, hospitals, hotels, banks & financial institutions as well as the public
The once Visiting Professor, Graduate School of Business, Universiti of Malaya (10 Jan to 5 Feb
2007), Dr. Low is currently teaching in Universiti Brunei Darussalam. The former Associate
Dean, Director of Career Services and Chair of the Management and Marketing Department of a
University in Kazakhstan (2004 to 2006) focuses on human resource management and behavioral
skills training covering areas like negotiation/ influencing, leadership and behavioral
An academician-practitioner, a prolific author (author of several books including bestsellers
(Strategic Customer Management, 2006, 2002, 2000 one of Borders top ten in 200 1/2, Sales
Success, 2006, 2003; Team Success, 2003 and The Power of Relationships, 2001) and a business
coach, Dr. Low is the founder of BusinesscrAFT Consultancy and a founding member of
BusinesscrAFT Training Consultants Pte Ltd (Singapore). Previously served as an Examiner for
University of South Australia s DBA and Ph.D. candidates (2003 to October 2006), he is
presently appointed as the supervisor for its DBA candidates.
Besides his experience in academia, training and consulting, Dr. Patrick Low has held positions in
regional human resource development (HRD). He has been the Senior Training Manager (Asia
Pacific Region) in Standard Chartered Bank where he was responsible for regional management
training and development, marketing of HRD services and management succession. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Abstract: In this paper, while agreeing in the light of global competition, the need for Singapore
to excel, and Singaporeans strive to be excellent, the author examines the need for Singaporeans
to adopt a more stress-free lifestyle and ways. He cites various strategies and ways in which
Singaporeans, while achieving one of the nation s core values (Low, 2002), can still have a
more work-life balance and overall, be more contented, coping well and overcoming stress.
Key words: Stress management, Singapore, being versus becoming, Overcoming stress
Is the Best Always Good?
Yes, among other things, Singapore has one of the best airports in the world (Goh, 2001), and
Terminal 3 has been recently opened. Need Singapore, the Lion City be always the first and the
best? Numero uno, the number one?
True, Singaporeans have been drilled to accept as a fact of life, and that is very good for the
island-nation s economic survival and resilience (Low, 2007).
Foreign talents are good, good for the island-Republic economic growth (Bhasin and Low,
2002). But what about the nation s own local talents? Why can t Singapore develop its own pool
of home-grown talents; must we be so impatient and can t we practise the virtue of patience? It is
said that patience is good for the soul too. Must all things be manufactured and be made it fast?
Instant noodle style? To borrow Chu Chin-Ning s (1998: 9) words, let the water boil . In the
context of Doing Less, Achieve More, she speaks of:
in order to boil water, you pour it into a kettle and place the kettle over a fire. These actions all
involve expending energy. When you close the lid of the kettle, you let the water boil. If you
become too anxious about the result and keep opening the lid, you hinder the process of heating
up the water, and you delay its boiling.
This researcher likes the idea of the Singapore Government putting aside some funds, a $20
million programme of new courses to help out-of work professionals (Lin, 2007: 1). The island-
Republic should also have its own home-grown talents, and let the water boil ; let them grow.
Foreign talents are good, but we should not forget our home-grown talents too. They also need to
be nurtured. Otherwise, it is tantamount to jumping to reach the stars, yet we trample onto the
beautiful flowers at our very own feet. By the same token, a little stress, some stress is good.
Some stress can be motivating. It helps us to achieve to go a little further. However, too
much stress can be overwhelming; stress kills!
Particularly should one develops acute stress, and as APA Help Center (2004), citing Miller and
The cardiac prone, Type A personality described b y cardiologists, Meter Friedman and Ray
Rosenman, is similar to an extreme case of episodic acute stress. Type A s have an excessive
competitive drive, aggressiveness, impatience, and a harrying sense of time urgency. In
addition, there is a free-floating, but well-rationalized form of hostility, and almost always a
deep-seated insecurity. Such personality characteristics would seem to create frequent episodes
of acute stress for the Type A individual. Friedman and Rosenman found Type A s to be much
more likely to develop coronary heart disease than Type B s, who show an opposite pattern of
As evident in Cheng s (1985), Ong s (2002) and Low s (2002) studies, hard work or industry is
one of the features closely linked to Singapore s economic growth. And it is also observed that
Singaporeans have been said to be, at times, a little selfish because of the need to achieve
there is much competition, with the need to survive, or to make it well in life. Singaporeans are
also ambitious, wanting to achieve and given that Singaporeans work in one of the world s
smallest and most densely populated areas, at times, this can be quite stressful (Low, 2002;
Rappa, 2002). What more, a recent report indicated that one in six people in high-stress
Singapore suffer from some form of mental illness, with the rate expected to rise. The Health
Ministry is also mapping out a five-year blueprint to curb the city-state s trends of deteriorating
mental health (The Earth Times, 2007).
These days, most of us are working harder and even so, many are working past their retirement
age (Sulverthorne, 2008). Singaporeans will perhaps retire later and later (Wang Says So, 2006;
Channel News Asia, 2005).
The achievement value with the competitive spirit is very strong among Singaporeans and
Singapore companies, and that adds to their being kiasu (cautious) (Low, 2002). Added to this,
as level of affluence and riches increase, with economic growth, this researcher is afraid of what
some writers have been cautioning, for example, Conniff (2007: 25; italics mine):
(being rich and) getting power causes people to focus so keenly on the potential rewards, such as
money, sex, public acclaim or an extra cookie - hot necessarily in that order, but frankly
preferably all at once that they become oblivious to the people around them.
Robbins (2005) spoke of an employee taking personal responsibility for reducing his or her stress
level; in the same way, citizens, being a member of the organization (nation) need to be duly
aware and take personal responsibility and self-cultivation for reducing his or her stress level.
Given the above scenario, the objective of this paper is to examine the various strategies and
ways we as achieving employees or individuals can work effectively yet be personally happy and
beat stress. [Employers and management can help to reduce stress among employees by adopting
what Low (2002a: 73 75; 2006) calls the C.A.R.E. Principle in stress management. In essence,
the program includes:
i. providing counselling and showing care and concern to staff
ii. acknowledging and appreciating the staff s efforts
iii. recognizing the staff s hard work, training and letting the staff learn relaxation
techniques, relating well with them and providing recreational facilities
iv. applying empathy and having employee wellness programs while empowering them
and enriching their jobs.]
Even though most people might not agree, at the personal level, it is often not the big successes
in life, but the little things that tell us what satisfaction is all about and this, to this researc her,
above all beats stress the most.
Being versus Becoming
Yes, it is excellent to become a city of excellence, and of world class standards. But a sense of
proportion is needed here. We need to bear in mind this: if we stress too much on becoming ,
we forget about being , and that can be very stres sful. We work and as if the Company or
employer owns us and we even forget to ensure our work-life balance. Interestingly, one Forum:
letters to the newspaper editor writer (Jayabalan , 2007: H8) expressed that:
He left Singapore with a clear conscience the real reason starts and ends with personal time,
family time and work-life balance. We wanted to live in a community where personal time is
sacred and where companies do not own you. Work i s strictly 9 to 5, except for the odd
occasion when you work longer. Even then, bosses do not make demands they request your
True, work is good but indeed so, as a nation and employed individuals, we need not let work
own us. We also need to learn to enjoy the jog, the process instead of just thinking of the
destination, reaching it. We need to learn to look at the countryside, savour and enjoy the
landscape as we jog. Here, it is pertinent to note Foroohar s (2007: 40 - 45) article: The Joy of
Economics ; accordingly, happiness economics is lea ding policy makers to think less about
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but more about general well-being. Besides, globally, some 1
billion people have hypertension; half a billion more cases likely by 2025 indeed, blood
pressure on the rise across the globe (Associated Press, cited in The Straits Times, 2007: 22).
To beat stress, one good way is for one to learn to focus on the now. As an experiment, try
thinking about the next ten items on your list of things to do, and that is enough to cause you
stressed. That is why it is vital that you focus on only one thing at a time.
Singaporeans need not simply get stuck to becoming all the to-dos. Look at a recent
newspapers headline: Singapore could become Asia s Sports Umpire (Loh, 2007: 1). Perhaps,
they could rather enjoy the process of being . Tru e in Minister Mentor (MM) Lee Kuan Yew s
own words, he is right: It s a competitive world i n which we live and if we can t compete, we
are not going to live well (Lee Kuan Yew, 2007, ci ted in Lee U-Wen, 2007: 3). But that should
not be our only mantra and dharma (duty), and in fact, it s good that the government is adopting
or encouraging pro-family business practices. We need to realise the importance of and have
more work-life balance.
Singapore has its strengths and with its practical thriver cultural model as observed (Low,
2002: 321; Low, 2007a), Singaporeans should pragmatically heed the above advice.
Singaporeans need to learn to relax. More of such practices as shown above should be adopted. It
is vital that such practices such as to make growing a family less stressful and more pleasant for
working parents. For example, it is note-worthy to see that shopping malls that provide family-
oriented facilities such as nurseries and playrooms are able to attract shoppers who may
otherwise shop elsewhere (Liang, 2007: 31).
Quintessentially critical, working adult Singaporeans should not only think of ways to improve
their quality of life, particularly so, not to live in stressed out conditions and even worse, accep t
it as if it s part and parcel of our lives, but they also need to identify their sources of stress.
Situations that create stress the condition we ex perience when demands exceed our ability to
cope are as unique as each of us is. Consider our genes, personality and life experiences all
influence the stress response in our bodies. For example, one person may find it stressful to plan
and host a holiday celebration for friends or family. Someone else might enjoy the creative
aspects of hosting such an event and even find it gratifying (Mayo Clinic Staff, 2008).
Singaporeans really need to take stock and keep their lives in balance. In Low s (2005) study,
57.1 percent or twenty out of the thirty-five interviewees spoke of the need to develop one s
interests while getting support from outside one s primary work environment especially when
one faces stress while negotiating with one s suppliers, customers and colleagues ( social
support coping ; Feldman, 1990, cited in Low, 2005) .
Are We Too Hard On Ourselves? Need to Loosen Out, Please!
At times, we can also be too hard on ourselves when we need to loosen out a bit or what the
Hawaiians would say, Hang loose! . In fact, studie s by Dr. Lee Berk and Dr. Stanley Tan have
found that laughter lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion,
and boosts immune function. It also triggers the release of endorphins, which act as the body?s
natural painkillers and produce a sense of well-being.
Are there lessons here?
And yes, laugh! Expose yourself to humour as often as possible through jokes, funny stories,
comic strips taped up in your office, or anything else that makes you laugh. There s indeed a
need to balance life with humour; it is also an essential part of a good coping strategy (Michelle,
2005, cited in Low, 2005).
Also, do adopt APA Help Center (2004a) s advice:
Set reasonable standards for yourself and others. Don t expect perfection. Talk to your employer
about your job description. Your responsibilities and performance criteria may not accurately
reflect what you are doing. Working
together to make needed changes will not only benefit your emotional and physical health, but
also improve the organization s overall productivity.
Eyes Wide Open Sharpen Our Human Perception For Al l Things Beautiful
Generally speaking, it is felt that Singaporeans need to sharpen their perception for all things
beautiful. Indeed so, many people are so caught up in everyday matters that they simply don t
see the beautiful things in life and in the world around them. No wonder many people only feel
happy when something really unusual happens. But it is so easy to feel happy or contented at
least for a short while or just a little. We simply have to train our eyes to view the beautiful
things around us and look for the little pleasures in life.
Pay attention to details, for example, when you next look out at the home or office window.
Perhaps one may discover something you have not noticed so far a new ad, a new window
lighting or decorations in your neighbour s home. You and your child can also get pleasure from
watching insects and the raindrops that splash against the window. In this way, one can sharpen
one s perception for the little things that make life worth living.
Also, while at work working, gaze at different th ings now and again. Look out at the window
and get the pleasure out of little things such as birds flying by or a nice tree. Once you start
looking for the little things, you will soon notice more and more, for example, a blooming rose, a
pretty caterpillar on top of a leaf, and many beautiful sunrises or sunsets.
Decorate your office with some items that you enjoy. When you ve to do an inane task, look at
them occasionally to brighten up your mood. When decorating your office, it s good to add your
own personal touch; it s refreshing.
One really good and helpful thing to do is to have flowers around us. Whether you are an office
worker or a homemaker, you should not start the day with the most exhausting tasks. Instead
look at flowers or the office dØcor, and start the day with tasks that can be done quickly. And if
you are a homemaker, start the day by watering the flowers and enjoy their fragrance, or by
playing with your children for a while. Flowers can always lift our moods. So make sure you
always have fresh flowers at work and at home.
Do Schedule Breaks Or Vacation(s)
For the many Singaporeans who are very systematic or structured as in the Judging (J)
Personality types (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator: MBTI), there is the need to plan and schedule
the yearly breaks or vacations. No kidding, get out of town. Go to north (to Malaysia), Johor
Baru or Kulai and enjoy herbal chicken meal with your loved ones (Low, 2001).
Take at least one or two weeks break. Your family deserves your undivided attention every
time, and reserve some time each year for them! You also need the time off too!
Go Relax At the Beach
At weekends, go to Changi Beach or Pasir Ris Beach, and relax. Take holidays at the seaside.
They help. Enjoy the time with all your senses, feel the sea breeze. And let the warm sand trickle
through your fingers. Walk with your bare feet and enjoy the pleasant feeling when your feet are
not constricted in their shoes; they can be stretched out for a change. Close your eyes and breathe
in the sea air that is saturated with salt.
Make Full Use of Your Lunch Breaks
As employees, we need to learn how to switch off (Stone, 2002). At most times, make full use
of your lunch breaks to go for a short walk. Sit down on a bench at the park for a while, enjoy the
sun and watch the hustle and bustle go past. Breathe in the fresh green smell of the grass and
Of course, you could also read a good book or chat with your colleagues. It is also practical not
to do shopping during your lunch break, as it would only cause stress. And stress affects your
mood in a negative way. If you feel tired, it also makes sense to have a fifteen-minute catnap and
you can even do this while sitting on a chair. You will feel refreshed afterwards.
Rely on the Powers of Praying
Simply spend your lunchtime meditating or praying. It s good to set aside about 5 minutes thrice
a day or even during lunch time to close your eyes to relax and pray. Clear your mind of work
and personal problems, and pray. Prayers are curative; they can add purpose, meaning and clarity
to our lives.
It is noted that Japan s Empress Michiko, the first commoner to marry into the world s oldest
monarchy, said candidly that, she has turned to pr ayer to cope with stress (Agence France
Presse, cited in The Straits Times, 2007a: 23).
Be More like a Small Child
Another thing this researcher learns is to try and start every day like a little child. Blessed are
the children , as the Bible puts it. Children are c urious about the things they can expect from a
new day and they generally start the day with a s mile. Try it!
He is sure that many of us experience this. On the way to work, you are bound to see many
disgruntled or unhappy faces. Do not imitate them apply the power of nice, relate or say a few
kind words (Low, 2001a). As Albanian-born humanitarian and missionary the late Mother Teresa
(1910 - 1997) once put it, Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly
endless. (About.com, 2008) Make it a habit instead to smile in a friendly way at the people you
meet. You will soon notice that this smile is enough to make you feel happier.
Be more like a child, don t worry or be so pernickety but rather act spontaneously as you get
along, and you ll be happier.
We cannot escape from stress, and we might as well just live with it. We need to recognise that
stress need not be destructive. We cope with stress; we overcome it! And we enjoy life s little
pleasures; we live happily so that we can find out how to achieve well and work more
effectively be people with cool heads and calm hea rts.
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