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Learnings

Mental Health – The power of vulnerability

Let me admit. I have gone through episodes of mild depression and instances of intense anxiety over the past decade. There were days when nothing seemed right, and there were days when I pushed myself so hard that I found it difficult to cope. I didn’t ever take anti-depressants, but mindfulness practices, support from family and friends and a few other tips helped me come out much stronger on the other side. As we go through one of the worst challenges humanity has seen in decades, it is important to be mindful about mental health, not only for yourself but also for others. I would like to share some practical tips that strongly helped me and are still helping me!!

It’s okay to be vulnerable!!

|| जगी सर्व सुखी असा कोण आहे. विचारे मना तूचि शोधूनी पाहे. मना त्वाची रे पूर्व संचित केले. तया सारिखे भोगणे प्राप्त झाले ||

Sant Ramdas

This is an excerpt from the works of Sant Samarth Ramdas called “Manache Shlok”. Samarth Ramdas was a noted 17th century saint and spiritual poet of Maharashtra, India. He is most remembered for his Advaita Vedanta (Non-dualism) text Dasbodh.

My personal interpretation : once we understand that our feelings are a consequence of our conscious and subconscious thoughts and actions, it becomes easier to deal with them.

Do not consume or spread unconscious lies in order to protect your mental health

It was also a revelation to me that sometimes we unconsciously communicate lies about ourselves. Most of us suffer from optimism bias. We tend to share or consume more positive aspects of our lives. As a result we believe that other people’s lives are better than that of our own! This induces anxiety. In addition, Social media also fuels it really hard. During such times, what we need to do is muster courage and not bottle up our emotions, we need to share them instead.

Vulnerability is a superpower.

It’s okay to be vulnerable. In fact it’s powerful to be vulnerable. A few famous celebrities such as Deepika Padukone, Selena Gomez, Princess Diana, Prince Harry have openly talked about their depression battle. You can also talk to a friend, your partner or a parent, or your teacher or a mentor. Tell them that you are feeling low, and ask them for help. Bestselling author Brené Brown has an amazing TED talk as well as a book titled “The Power of Vulnerability”. She says, “it takes courage to be vulnerable, by being vulnerable you are opening yourself up to the world around you and allowing yourself to be in touch with your most authentic self”. According to Brené, this is how you can have a happy and fulfilling life.

mental health
Best horizon views are wide open!!

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive.”

Brené Brown

Understand the most common causes of depression and anxiety

Depression is way more common than you think. WHO suggests that depression is the single biggest cause of disability (7.5% of all disability days). It also estimates that approximately 264 million people are currently suffering from depression worldwide!! There are however some common reasons for depression. Understanding them makes it easier to be mindful about them and potentially even avoid going into a depression.

Loneliness

Extended periods of loneliness makes you twice as likely to be depressed. This is concerning during a pandemic. We need to seek and maintain social connections – calls, video conferencing, or just going for a walk or meeting people (whilst following social distancing) should keep loneliness at bay. We should give special consideration to elderly, and technology can play a vital role.

Toxic Work

When you are at work, and you don’t have control over your performance or future, you are likely to be depressed. We have to have honest conversations at work to avoid this, staying silent is much more detrimental in the long run.

Lack of contact with nature

If you are not in touch with nature, if you haven’t seen sunshine for long, it can affect your mental health. Nature has special healing powers – do gardening, go for a walk in the grass and try to “touch” the grass by walking bare feet for a while. Look at the night sky and soak it in!! Wake up early and watch sunrise, or simply adore colours of the evening sky when the sun sets. You can connect with nature in so many ways – this will help keep your mental health in good shape!

Unresolved emotions

These are the major cause of anxiety or depression. Sudden loss of loved one, or turbulence in a relationship, failure, an undesired job can cause anxiety. Just being more self-aware of your unresolved emotions and confronting them should help in these circumstances. There may be times when it doesn’t help, in which case don’t think twice before seeking medical help.

Physiological factors

Poor diet, poor sleep, substance abuse, lack of exercise, are also too common enemies of good mental health. I would like to call out exercise and diet in particular – get a smart band / mood diary and measure your sleep and mood on the days on which you eat well and sleep well and you exercise!! See for yourself – because often “my Mum told me that” is not enough.

Genetics

Some people are more pre-disposed to mental illness than others. Now you cannot change what you were born with (at least not yet) but if you are mindful of all of the above, perhaps you could make a difference to your quality of mental health – this is for sure.

It’s time we shed the stigma associated with mental health

It’s NOT okay to ask someone who is suffering from depression to “cheer up”. If you cannot help, offer a chat, or simply say I may not appreciate what you are going through but is there anything I can do? A person can be healthy otherwise yet sometimes suffer a physical ailment. Similarly, mental illness doesn’t mean a person is mentally unfit as a whole.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less”

Marie Curie

When the world is showing unprecedented signs of dogma, hate, discrimination, racism, and despair, we need to stay more vigilant than ever. Our self-awareness and our attitudes towards mental illness can actually yield a healing hand towards a society that probably needs it the most.

Do you have a valuable experience to share? Please do take a minute to comment below.

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Learnings

Atomic Habits at home & at work

Atomic habits has become a religion for me. We are creatures of our habits. What we do is greatly influenced not by what we believe but by our conscious and subconscious habits. We are also highly biased beings. This post is about inculcation of good atomic habits that will help us fight ill effects of bias.

Atomic Habits is a great read

Speaking of habits, I read this book called “Atomic Habits” by James Clear. It was by far the top 5 self-improvement books I have read so far. No wonder everyone raves about it on Twitter and elsewhere (yes that is where I get my book recommendations from). As I was reading this book I had a revelation – the fabulous deep psychology insights given by James are not only applicable for individuals and their lives they are also applicable to corporates and teams. Please do buy the book!! and check out the website please subscribe to his newsletter and also read a stash of articles. Oh and yes, I am not affiliated with James in any way, and I wasn’t paid to write this article.

James’ basic message breaks all habits into 4 parts – Cue, craving, response, and reward. By hacking or enhancing these parts he implies that we can form or break habits more effectively. Let us have a look at some ways we could do that.

Atomic habits tip 1 : Make it obvious!

Want to read at bedtime? keep a book on your pillow.

Want to go the gym regularly? keep a gym bag, and shoes in a very visible location. In short make it obvious. I have experienced remarkable changes when I am consciously creating visible cues to the habits I want to form. At work, creating visible cues seems important too. If you keep a bottle of water on your desk, you WILL drink more water. If you want to steer a meeting or conversation in a particular direction having a visible cue whether it is using a white-board or using a powerpoint slide is very effective.

Atomic Habits Tip 2: Make it attractive

Aristotle once said “once begun is half-done” – this is a really important hack. Most habits that seem hard to continue every time, will seem easy if you make them attractive. You want to wake up early but you are struggling. Make the start of the day attractive by doing something that you love doing. I have changed my start of the day to fixing a cup of coffee and spending some quality time either reading or writing. Waking up early is now effortless. At the gym, once I wear the shoes I have observed that I, 100% WILL get through a full workout. All I therefore need to focus on at 7.30pm most days, is just wearing my shoes. At the cardio, I catch-up on my favourite streaming shows…This makes the whole workout thing much more attractive and satisfying.

At work, I associate my coffee breaks with menial tasks that I otherwise find hard to start and complete; for instance I will start doing expense reports along with a coffee break. An intense activity can be started on a lighter note… for instance, we plan to start our leadership meetings with a fun activity and then get into the serious stuff.

Atomic habit tip 3: Make it easy

It is human nature to find the path of least resistance – consciously make your habits as easy as possible in order to improve your chances of succeeding at them. For instance if you want to get to work on time, pick a set of clothes the previous night, keep your essentials in one place together. If a difficult presentation is coming up at work, do not leave it till the last minute, prepare well in advance and be confident well before the deadline.

You can use technology to automate many things in order to make them easy. In our house for instance, I have outfitted all bathrooms with occupancy sensors and timer based isolators. So it is not only easy to switch off, it is completely automated. We use Alexa for switching off all other switches in the house – this makes it both easy and fun, as a result our electricity bills have reduced considerably.

At work, you can make remarkable adjustments by automating and making tasks easier; for instance, use speed dials, use free time slots in your diary. Spend some time away from desk in a quiet space for your slow thinking tasks. Another great hack to make it easy, is the use of noise cancelling headphones at work. Most office spaces are open plan and if your team is any fun like ours is, you all are a chatty bunch. Noise cancelling headphones (and I highly recommend Airpods Pro – next best thing since iphone 😄) just change the game – throw in a spotify deep focus play list and it is nirvana for slow thinking tasks.

Atomic Habit Tip 4: Make it satisfying…

some habits are intrinsically satisfying. You obviously feel accomplished and physically pumped after a workout, however are you treating yourself for consistency? probably not. James describes in his book that by creating a satisfying ritual associated with continued effort can help you be more consistent. For instance, after every successful workout, you can move a paper clip from one jar to another. Simply creating this ritual can make workouts more satisfying, as silly as it may sound by just moving a paper clip from one jar to another. I am yet to try this but I will let you know how it goes.

We can make habits satisfying many different ways. Another obvious way is to use technology to track your habits. Making progress is one of the most powerful motivators. I use a 35$ mi band 4 tracker – it has an app that has a feature called streak, it automatically tracks how many days in a row you hit your activity goal. It tracks sleep as well and provides you with a score. It’s brilliant to just track progress and acts as a powerful motivator for me.

At work, kanban boards, status reports or simply scrum calls act the same way. I personally find drawing a big rectangular check box on my to do list and just ticking it every-time I accomplish a task. It’s weirdly satisfying.

The book peeps is much more than these tips and I highly encourage you to read and share with me your tips of how it has helped you!! Thanks for reading 😀.

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Experiences Learnings

Relocating to India – Home is where the heart is

Copyright to the original owner

Relocating to India wasn’t planned. It was on our minds for a while. Your first child is quite an experience. It literally acted as a trigger that was waiting to fire for a long time.

Hey! you know what it’s like to sleep peacefully right?

Not as bad for me now but its true! Babies are side projects that will test you to your physical, and psychological limit. Its one of those times in your life when you have new found appreciation for your parents. Thanks mom and dad for putting up with me!!

Hey and by the way it’s been 2.5 years since I moved back to India. The ride so far has been exhilarating, exhausting and simply humbling. I want to take you down to the moment I realised I was going back to India. It was actually one such sleepless night when my son, Anik had been crying for more than 3 hours straight. There was nothing wrong with him, just a stressful night. If you don’t have kids, please remember this!

Human brains are wired to respond to the cries of babies, unlike anything else.

You cannot ignore it, the stress hormones will kick in. Just ride it out. People worry about labour ☺️ but with all due respect this part is harder.

Anyway the constant screaming was making me think and introspect. I was able to reach a conclusion that some unresolved thoughts in my mind were beginning to surface during that stressful situation. They were causing me lots of anxiety.

Your mind races fast during such times – it runs multitude of scenarios like in a simulation. In a minute, you weigh your options. You think about what is important to you and what is not important to you.

relocating to india

It was crystal clear. I concluded that I would be a stronger person with my extended family. We were relocating to India.

Deepika and I wanted the option of seeing our parents when we desired. I wanted my son to truly have grandparents, cousins and an extended family and not speak with them on just FaceTime. We both wanted to spend time with my parents and for Deepika to spend time with her mother, not when they are critically ill but when they were happy and fine. I have met so many people that live with regret of having prioritised their careers over their family.

One of the mental models I follow in life is to ensure I live with no regrets (much as humanly possible), I was certainly not going to live with this one. Next morning I had a long discussion with Deepika. I spoke with my mentors and my trusted friends. Finally, we sealed it. We were moving back. A lot of things transpired between now and then, finding roles, switching countries, houses, jobs, vehicles, you get the drift ☺️

After relocating to India.

I have lived most of my life in Pune, relocating to India shouldn’t have been very challenging but boy I was wrong. We were a family now. With home and office in 2 different parts of the city, and the terrible traffic meant that I had to move closer to work. Setup a new house, and everything. It all fell in place after some (actually lots of) effort. We even fell ill a lot during the first year or so but we made it alright. We are certainly happier – Anik has grandparents he can see whenever he wants, he has cousins, we have family get togethers, Deepika and I get to see old friends and yes the Sun makes a whole lot of difference ☀️!

Professionally this was a roller coaster but a really fun one. As I mentioned, the decision to move back was personal. As a result, On the professional front, I had fewer choices, including choosing a city. India is a wonderful place to work, it is the fastest growing economy in the world, and Pune was recently ranked as the most liveable city in India. Minus traffic and some air / noise pollution woes it is a sunny “Paradiso”. Pune is home to one of the most iconic IT industry corridors in India. While I had the option to continue with Vodafone, I chose to go back to Barclays as I found a better fit and a greater challenge there.

Pune has been brilliant

My Pune role has been a brilliant change – even though it was Barclays with a 8 year history I came from a commercial role to a tech role, I changed from a product owner to an engineering role. However my tech background and well established networks were immensely helpful. I have so far managed to build with support from our amazing leadership one of the best machine learning teams in Barclays and have also recently been working on building an India arm for our Barclays Ventures division. Its a big deal and my team and management has nothing but kind to me.

It’s been almost 3 years since I moved back. I have also made 3-4 trips to London since but there is only positive reaffirmation.

My mind feels lighter, there are no regrets, no burden or as they say, home is where the heart is or in this case just a little left of center.

relocating to india
Copyright to the owner Mandira

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Learnings

Chasing the sunshine, yet missing the rainbow?

Its been a good summer, wouldn’t you agree? Its funny how I have become obsessed about weather since I moved to London. In this country “chasing the sunshine” is quite literally a thing. In India, you are chasing the shadows! Jokes aside, I have always been amused by the amount of attention weather gets in casual conversations here, but I get it now. In fact, I enjoy moaning about grey days (a LOT) and raving about sunshine (about twice a year :)). Given enough time, I may even flock to the parks all packed with a picnic lunch, and braving the underground with my sunglasses on.

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A Summer Day in London Parks

There are scientifically proven links between mood and weather.

According to a study, about 27% of people hate summer!? It causes them irritability and general unhappiness. Wait, what? apparently they truly exist. BBC too, recently reported a project trying to measure link between pain and weather. In a nutshell, it is more than conceivable that weather does affect our thoughts. In fact, in some crazy unsubstantiated theories postulate that thoughts affect weather. I want to draw your attention to a certain dichotomy of human desires that perfectly represents itself in how we perceive weather. On a cold, wet and grey afternoon, we long to see some sunshine whereas on a hot dry and bright summer day, we secretly desire a cold breeze of fresh air. To some extent, it is human nature – we cannot help it!

Undoubtedly, there is chasing the sunshine at our workplace too

While leaders do not have the ability to control the sunshine outside in the park, they can definitely influence the one at work. A team or an organisation goes through a rough patch every now and then. This winter (sometimes long) can be taxing for your teams. As a leader, you need to provide your team with the warmth of positive affirmation of their accomplishments and you need to provide them with the shelter and safety of your trust. People are not insecure with the rough weather, if they trust their leader.

There are times when a team or an organisation is going through a growth spurt, or a “spring”.

You must invest more in the team during this period – not only hiring but developing people, skills and their careers. you must appreciate your best talent, you can then be assured of good returns during the “fall”. When success comes, it may feel like “summer” and its time for leaders to reflect on what worked best, and what did not. Leaders should think about how to incorporate this into their plans for next set of seasons. In summary, a great leader can actually be a weather master, allowing positive impact of all situations. John Ruskin puts it beautifully –

Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.

John Ruskin

In my experience, we are chasing sunshine all our lives but we often forget how beautiful a rainbow is. With the right attitude, we can create the perfect golden sunshine on one side and refreshing rain playing like a joyful child on the other, perhaps that is where amazing colours of life come from?

chasing the sunshine

Let me know what you think in the comments section.