Monday, March 12, 2018

Break the addiction to passive entertainment

When I was a child, there was just one channel Doordarshan. And I'm not even sure what they would broadcast most of the time. But every sunday 9:00 AM, we used to sit infront of the TV eagerly waiting for Jungle book. That was the first TV show that I remember watching with rapt attention.

Of course new channels came and with it came an explosion of entertainment. So our expectation of entertainment has changed. We started expecting to be entertained at any time. With youtube and netflix, now we have any time entertainment with our preferred things. It was never so easy to get entertained. And this thing is addicting. But why is this so addicting ?

Multiple reasons - With its fast cuts and engaging story, it grabs our attention with the question - what happens next?

The human body responds in a unique way to signals of danger. The brain readies the body for fleeing or fighting. And it does so by a sudden release of neuro-chemicals, including the hormone cortisol and both adrenaline and noradrenaline. These chemicals not only ready us for action, they also cause us to believe that we can overcome opposition. Confidence in threatening situations provides an evolutionary advantage, as long as it leave the door open to a rapid exit of the odds are too heavily stacked against us.  Fear, danger and violence all provide us with a natural high that makes us feel more powerful, more positive and more confident. Also, dopamine, the fuel of our reward center, is released as we encounter novel situations. These chemicals, acting together, create a feeling of satisfaction for us. 

This I feel is the main reason to get addicted to TV. This need for stimulation is called sensation seeking. And the more you love seeking these sensations, the more addicted you will be.
Because of mirror neurons, we also start feeling the emotions the characters on TV are feeling. All these things setup to cause addiction to watching the shows.

Now think about where we are getting time for watching this TV -- at the cost of other things especially being social with friends and spending time with family. If there was no TV we would have spent time talking with friends and family and playing games. So this passive entertainment is hitting and taking away at what really gives us the happy moments of life. Well will you regret not watching a TV show or will you regret not spending time with friends and family ? With kids at the age where they learn from us directly ? In the small window of time we have before they leave for their own lives ?

I certainly feel I will regret if I don't make good use of this time. So how to overcome this addiction and reclaim this time ? First become aware and accept that we might not get that much stimulation from anything else and get comfortable being bored.

Next think about active things you can do with your friends and family
Play cards and other games
Do art
... The possibilities are endless. Each of these things have their own way of giving a high to us and also we might become more close with our loved ones.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why do we need inspiration ?

There are times when we feel we can be so much more than what we are. We all long to overcome our limitations and reach for the stars. And that longing is awakened when we are inspired. Inspiration pushes us to look for possibility and completely changes the way we look at our capabilities. We feel as if we are ready to make a dent in the universe. It reminds us that we are much more than where we are at currently and propels us to take action to reach where we want to be.

When we hear the stories of people overcoming impossible odds to achieve what they want, we feel encouraged ourselves to take on the mountains stopping us. It makes us go from thinking we can do it to believing we will do it. When we hear a quote from an accomplished person, we get reminded of all the great challenges that person has overcome in their life and that again triggers possibility in our life. This what inspiration does to us. It gives us the encouragement to act in the face of limitations and doubt.

And when it strikes, you have to lock in that fleeting moment of inspiration. The way to lock in the inspiration is to act, act swiftly and daily to keep the momentum. Momentum begets more momentum and it keeps us inspired.

It also happens that our daily life will bring situations where we feel down and uninspired and then we need some encouragement to fill out and strengthen our mind to start again. But where do we get inspiration from? 

There are multiple ways - One of them is to read a few pages from the biography or autobiography of people who you find inspiring or listen to inspiring talks. There you find people like us who faced the same daily grind of life, but have done something to tell their tale to the world. But if you don't have that much time now - there is another way. You can read or listen to a quote from an inspiring person and then consider and think about that quote for a minute. Listen to a few - I'm sure you will have filled up with possibility to ready to take on the world again. 

Better yet, why not make it a daily practice so that we don't really wait till we go completely down to get inspired? 
People often say that motivation doesn't last. Well, neither does bathing. That's why we recommend it daily. --Zig Ziglar

Monday, February 26, 2018

Life is short ... and long enough!

The popular actress Sridevi died yesterday suddenly at the age of 54. She seemed to be healthy with no prior complications or issues. Everyone is shocked and sad that one person who seems to be hale and hearty can drop dead in a second. That is the shortness and fragility of life. We never know what might happen tomorrow. And all the things which we thought twice about, all the non sense we tolerate doesn't really make sense when seen through the fragility lens of life.

It is a stark reminder to live simply and life fully so that we are ready to leave any moment. That means living life as we want to do, without regrets. That means really doing what we want to do and saying what we want to say.  It means pushing ourselves and loved ones to reject hedonism and towards service. 

Counter intuitively life is also long enough for most of us... If we are reasonably healthy and take care of the basics ( good food, exercise, water, sleep ) , we also have enough time left. It is only that most of it goes into pockets which we can claim or use. If we are focused and resourceful, there is really very good chance that we can do anything we want.

So think about what you're doing, do it with complete focus. If you do things you have to do when you have to do it, you will get a chance to do things you want to do when you want to do it. Once you have reached a level of proficiency in your work, you can design your life around your values and goals. Be so good that they can't ignore you. I'm reminded of all the things that have inspired me and this might be a regurgitation of all that...

All the things you see and use are developed by people like us. All external expectations, the fear of embarrassment or failure, fall away in the face of death, leaving only the truly important. Remembering that life is short is a way to avoid the trap that you have something to lose. You're already naked there is no reason not to follow your heart. Stay hungry and stay foolish - Steve Jobs 

... I remember telling him I was excited to connect the Harvard community, but one day someone would connect the whole world.
The thing is, it never even occurred to me that someone might be us. We were just college kids. We didn’t know anything about that. There were all these big technology companies with resources. I just assumed one of them would do it. But this idea was so clear to us — that all people want to connect. So we just kept moving forward, day by day.
I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you’re sure someone else will do it. But they won’t. You will. - Mark Zuckerberg 

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people. - Randy Pausch 
So get inpsired, and keep grinding away at the dent you want to make in the world. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Journal Daily

We all get somewhat lost in our daily grind. So we all need time everyday to catch our breath and decide what this is all about.

We all decide to do something but during the course of a busy day forget what we wanted to do. We need to remind our minds to keep the things we want to do on top of the head.

We have some thought which keep going round and round. We would like to calm in down and find some resolution.

We have some rough idea about something we want to do. We want to build it out.

The answer to all these is to write a journal. Previously I used to keep a diary on and off about I the things I did yesterday but I would always fall out of habit of that as that didn't feel much useful.
But I found a better method which not only helps me keep my cadence but also makes writing my journal extremely useful. I decided to journal about how to spend my day ahead. As I have written above, it is a place to catch my breath on why I am doing what I'm doing. It is a place to keep reminding myself of things I ought to do. A place to write down and calm all the circular thoughts in my mind. It is a place elaborate the tiny sparks of ideas I have. It is a place to mentally create what I want to do during the day so that our subconscious can keep that in mind and act accordingly.

It is also a keystone habit that can alter the course of the day and make the day smoother. Try it. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy Valentine's day dear

Today is Valentine's day a special day to express your love to your special people. I understand that people feel that there need not be a special day for that and that we should do that every day. I don't disagree with that and you can do both. Love is short and nobody knows what can happen tomorrow, so never leave a chance to express how much your loved ones mean to you. So even if you need a special day to do that then do be it and today is your chance. 

I want to thank my dear wife for her infinite love and support, for taking extremely good care of our family. Thanks for being my biggest cheerleader and also being a gentle critic when needed . I wish her all the happiness and success. . Happy Valentine's day. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

What do you care about - your values ?

Dave Mustaine was kicked out of a band at a most inopportune time - when they had a recording deal and they were ready to record. Dave felt awful and he decided that he will start a new band. He decided that he  will sell so many records and he will become so famous and popular that the original band that kicked him out will regret that decision. His new band was Megadeth and it sold 25 million albums. He should have made it, but he still felt like a failure as he couldn't become more famous than the original band he was kicked out of - Metallica which sold 180 million albums.

Pete Best was a drummer of an upcoming new band called the Beatles. When they got their first record deal, they decided to put his face on the album. But all the other members of the band convinced the manager that he should fire Pete. The manager was unwilling but finally went by the wishes of the band and fired him. Pete was also surprised and sad. He sued the Beatles, all his other music projects went nowhere and he even contemplated suicide. But then he got married and had children and he became happier. He had a loving family and a simple life. And he still got to play his drums.

These two stories are awfully similar but the outcomes are wildly different. Why is that? It depended on what those two chose to care about . i.e is their values.

Values determine the metrics by which we choose to measure ourselves. If our value is to earn enough to be able to pay for necessities, then by that metric Dave is a grand success. But his value was - 'Become more popular and sell more records than Metallica' he was a failure. This metric always tortured him though he was really successful. On the contrary Pete best just valued having a loving family and simple life along with drumming. By that metric he was successful inspite of not being as famous as Beatles.

Values are a guide to priorities. Everybody wants to be famous and get lot of money. But are you prioritizing them over everything else? Do you want to do that ? This is why your values are important and you should clarify them.

These stories show us that they are good values which create good problems which can be solved easily whereas there are bad values which create bad problems which can't be solved. Good values are internal. They are within your control and you just have to think in certain way to achieve it. Bad values need something external to happen which is not always in your control. They need superstitions and socially destructive means to achieve them.

Some common bad values are pleasure (pain is inevitable in a good life), material success (not in your control immediately), always being right (not possible without cheating oneself)  and staying positive (it is a form of avoidance and creates emotional dysfunction)

Some good values are honesty, innovation, vulnerability, standing up for oneself, standing up for others, self-respect, curiosity, charity, humility and creativity

Self-improvement is choosing better values which gives you better things to care about. With this you get better problems to solve. If you solve better problems, you have a better life.

Five life changing values are

1. Taking complete responsibility for everything in your life, even when you're not a fault.
2. Acknowledgement of your ignorance and constant cultivation of doubt in your own beliefs
3. Willingness to discover your flaws by failing, so that they can be improved
4. The ability to both hear and say no, clearly defining what you will and will not accept in your life
5. Contemplating one's own morality because keeping death in our mind can give perspective to all other values.

Source: The Subtle art of not giving a f*ck - Mark Manson . This is a great book. Do read this.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Manage your energy

I come home at 6:30 PM and then have dinner and try to play with my son before preparing for the next day by sleeping etc.

But I feel I'm out of energy by that time, but I want to have enough energy left to do what I want to do.

I found the following advice from the power of full engagement by Tony Schwartz. Here are some things that spoke to me.

Our bodies have a natural 90 - 120 minute cycle where it goes from highly alert and focused state to a concentration trough where it is distracted and unable to concentrate. During this time, it is best to take a break and so something unrelated to work.

If you're stressed and reach out to a default something to beat it like smoking or mindless browsing, try replacing it with deep breathing instead.

If you're feeling emotionally down or depressed, the best solution is to find things for which you are grateful for and express appreciation for them. That will bring you out of your depression and make you feeling good.

If you want to do some things daily but they seem to get squeezed out of your schedule, then try making rituals out of them so that you both allocate some time for them and also they become part of your daily routine.

Of course the other regular advice of be focused, serially single task, work on long term leverage activties - our usual focus rules help.

Then eat healthy, exercise and drink plenty of water - regular diet and exercise advice help too.

Once a day connect with your why - Why are you doing what you're doing - Meditate or journal about this. This will help clarify and recommit to your goals and start the day with more energy.

It is a good time to remember the future self test- Will what I'm doing now help or hinder my future self. Always try to help it as your future will become present soon enough!

Engage fully with what your'e doing and be grateful!