Categories
Learnings

Fascinating anatomy of decision making

Everything changes when you decide to be a parent. You can no longer stay in your couch all day reading books. Your favourite hangout every other evening is all but gone. You probably cannot see your friends as often as you used to. You definitely cannot travel around the world like there is no tomorrow. Yet, I remember graduating from “am I even ready to be a father”, to “I want a little baby holding my hands” in a matter of months. One morning, I was ready to be a parent. Just like that!

Now compare that with 6 months of agony I went through while buying my first sedan. I started with various online forums, read a million reviews. Saw hundreds of YouTube videos. I must have taken at least 40 test drives. I still had cold feet a day before the car was due for delivery. 

Odd, right?

We make decisions under sub-optimal conditions. 

Hardly any decisions are “perfectly” informed. In fact, lack of sufficient information is what makes decisions challenging. To matters worse, our choices are fallible to various biases. For instance, we are prone to “IKEA bias”. Assume you created a piece of furniture. You tend to value it more than other furniture. Similarly, it’s hard to notice faults with business or product that you may have built. Another example of cognitive bias is “Groupthink”. We tend to conform to the group narrative in order to avoid conflict. For instance, in a meeting if a couple of peers suggest another meeting to solve a problem, you tend to say yes, even if deep down you felt it wasn’t necessary.

Our past choices constrain our future choices. For instance, just because a set of stocks gave you handsome returns doesn’t mean they will next time. However, some of us tend to prefer some biased “favourites” in our portfolio. 

Worse, we do not always have the highest-level conceptual understanding of the decision. For instance, many companies around the world are going 100% remote. Some of them are giving an option to the employees, others are not. This will presumably reduce costs and provide people with flexibility. Are we sure though? Do we have evidence that long term remote work will not disturb the social fabric of the company? do we know enough about long-term health impact of work from home? we have anecdotal evidence about increase in productivity but do we know if this is sustainable? This however is not stopping companies from “re-imagining” future of workforce. 

remote or not remote that is the question
Remote or not to remote is a long-term question

Steven Johnson lays this out beautifully in his book “Farsighted: how we make decisions that matter the most”. He explains, this is the problem of “bounded rationality”. We are limited by the information we have. It is therefore imperative that we seek out a full spectrum of possibilities, and seek diverse views before making critical decisions. 

Decision theory – All heart or All brain?

There is a ton of literature in philosophy on decision theory. There is normative decision theory that suggests a good decision is the one that achieves the most desired outcomes. Normative decision theory assumes the actors to be perfectly rational. This is hardly the case with human beings but for software and methodologies it may make sense. Descriptive decision theory on the other hand says that, in situations of uncertainty, a good decision should prefer the option with greatest expected desirability or value. In simple words, you should try to apply a practical lens and then try to optimise value of the decision. 

The difference between the two is explained well by an argument in philosophy called as Pascal’s Wager. The decision in question is whether to believe in god’s existence or not. Under normative theory people might make a list of pros and cons, look at rational evidence of god’s existence. However, in reality, this is hardly the case. People make the decision to believe in god based on their own interpretation of uncertainty, risk, expected positive impact etc. I for instance, believe in god as force for good. The existence of god in my conscious thought makes my life better. Therefore, it is certainly desirable for me. This is the basis of descriptive decision theory. It is not always scientific or rational but valuable nonetheless. 

Your values are a sophisticated navigation system 

Building on the descriptive decision theory, it is worth noting that complex choices and life altering decisions can’t always be divided into sound unsound, rational and irrational buckets. We still respond to a lot of situations intuitively. While having a rough day, we might react to snide remarks with anger. When you are extremely stressed you might respond with eating indiscriminately! Rationality does not always find a customer during such situations. However, during stressful situation if you let your values drive you, you may not be as impulsive. For instance, “being secure” is one of my core values. When I am having a rough day, I do not respond to snide remarks with anger, instead I am able to choose to ignore them and focus on what is in my control. I am not always successful at applying the values navigation system. I still need to control mid-night snacking. 

midnight snack decision making
Midnight snack anyone?

There are other times when we simply do not have enough information to decide. For instance, in 2016 when we were blessed with a child, I was a few months into my new job in London. The changes in circumstances brought back a real prospect of moving back to India. Was raising a child closer to family more important than immediate career prospects? this was an extremely challenging decision. Deepika and I sat down and made a list of values that were really important to us. One of these values was “family first”. We believed, that our professional success alone wouldn’t make us happier. That point on, it was easy to follow through. It is needless to say that British weather helped us tremendously to make this choice 😜! 

moving is permanent
Boxes, boxes!

To conclude, your values are your guide. They are your navigation system through the complex pathways of decision making. 

Deciding and opting are not the same thing!

Let us build on how we can use values to make good decisions. Sometimes decisions are not about making complex choices, but they are rather about assuming a new identity. Graduating from one set of values to a higher set of values. Resetting your values in simple words. 

For instance, when you opt to have children, you are graduating from “individual freedom” to “family”. These values do not co-exist, but you are basically saying that the value of “family” is now more important to you. You are choosing to become a different person, opting to be a parent. This is why some of the most complex and critical decisions in life do not feel all that difficult. 

Next time you face a critical life choice, consider if there is an opportunity to redefine your values and identity. You don’t always need to decide, you can opt! 

Is your next personal decision an aspiration or an ambition?

One of my mentors asked me to enrol in a yoga class last month. He suggested that improved breathing techniques served to increase his stamina and reduce stress levels. This was very exciting. Everyone holds an ideal image of themselves. I was no exception. I thought, “this is brilliant, I can finally start a healthy morning that I have been procrastinating about”. Turns out, I almost fainted during a 3-hour class and did not want to continue. It took me two attempts to do it at my own convenience. In the hindsight, I let my aspiration to be a different version of myself interfere with a more rational and suitable way of achieving my goals. 

Yoga is life but not for me I guess
I am still a Yoga wannabe! Not quite there though 😁

Take another scenario, at the beginning of the year, I started a weight loss regime. I knew exactly what I wanted. I persevered, and I lost 7.5 kgs. in 3 months. This is called ambition. 

Notice the subtle but really important difference. Ambitions know exactly what they want, aspirations only have a vague sense of value, they hope a future version of yourself will appreciate. We are always hatching plans to do new things. Try to analyse if it’s an aspiration or an ambition. There is nothing wrong with being aspirational but you are likely to be disappointed when things don’t go as planned. 

Have you noticed how unfulfilled choices haunt us?

When Deepika and I were travelling through South America, we were stuck in Manaus, Brazil for a couple of days as our flights to Argentina got cancelled. We missed a couple of places on our planned itinerary. Although we had the time of our lives in the Amazon rainforest, it was hard to get over the missed spots on our itinerary. 

The Amazonas
The Amazonas was fascinating!

It’s strange how unfulfilled choices haunt us. That country we did not move to, the job we didn’t accept. While the outcome is not always in our hands, being aware of this phenomenon while making life altering decisions is helpful. I use the “no regrets” principle. If the decision is once in a lifetime opportunity and I have thought it through, I usually am biased towards acting on it. As I wouldn’t like regrets later. Perhaps another trip to South America when the pandemic passes. 

Are you differentiating between means and ends? 

Before we get all hung up on “no regrets” it is crucial to understand if a decision is a means or an end. For instance, if you are deciding on whether to take up intermittent fasting, what is your end goal? If it’s weight loss, then it’s a means decision not an end decision. This means you could weigh alternatives. On the other hand, if you were deciding on saving up to buy a house, there are usually no alternatives. You should make such decisions more carefully and with intention. 

As per HBR, this is really critical for executives. Executives should try to figure out what is strategic vs. what is problem solving. Senior leaders lay a lot more stress on strategic decisions than problem solving. Good leaders also lay more stress on impact than speed of decision making. Also, decisions need to be actionable – otherwise they are just good intentions! 

Mental models & Lessons from Jeff Bezos

Mental models are a powerful technique to quickly weigh important decisions. These encompass values, expertise in a domain, extensive experience and great leaders have a wealth of these mental models. 

For instance, Jeff Bezos attributes a lot of his company’s success to effective decision making. In a letter to his shareholders in 2015, Jeff suggests that most decisions should be made with around 70% information you wish you had, if you wait until you are at 90% you are probably too late. He also says that some decisions are like a one-way door and they cannot be reversed. Bezos calls them Type 1 decisions. 

Amazon is a behemoth and why?
Amazon’s secret

Other decisions are like a two-way door, they are fully reversible. Bezos says such Type 2 decisions should be made fast, as you can always walk back through the door. Bezos also uses disagree & commit technique. When you are in charge of a situation, sometimes you may not have a consensus, but as a leader you will have the responsibility to find a way forward. In such scenarios its helpful to say, “I know we don’t have an agreement, but I would like you to move on and commit to this decision”. 

Beyond anatomy of decisions

Now that we have learnt about the anatomy of decision making, let’s understand briefly, the psychology of decision making. 

Decisions are basically influenced by perception of risk. Our risk perception is shaped by our knowledge and sometimes other people’s opinion. It is therefore important to gain the highest conceptual understanding of subject matter before making critical decisions. In the age of information overload, it is also crucial to be choosy about what and whom to listen. Be wary of what you consume on social media. Don’t trust everything. 

Another fascinating aspect of decision psychology is decision fatigue. Human brains are designed to ration decision making. When we are faced with a decision, we almost always choose the shortest path first. Don’t believe me? Try looking at difference between opt-in percentages, and opt-out percentages on customer experience choices such as paperless billing. 

In addition, whenever we make too many decisions, we simply shut down decision making part of our brain and go with whatever is default. This has profound impact on life around us. For instance, Prisoner’s fate in parole hearings fairly correlates with the time of day their case is heard by the judge. Early hearings and hearings after a break tend to be more favourable. Think about that for a minute. 

My hack to deal with this is being mindful about decision fatigue. Schedule rest just before an important decision-making situation. Schedule important decisions after a break or in the morning, if you are looking for highest chances of a favourable outcome. 

happiness is not conditional
Happiness is ahead of both good and bad decisions as you will learn and get better!

Finally, if you aspire to learn more about topics like this, please subscribe to my fortnightly newsletter. Happy decisions!! 😊

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

References:

  1. Mindset – Carol Dweck
  2. Steven Johnson – Farsighted: how we make decisions that matter the most
  3. New Yorker – Art of Decision Making
  4. Scientific American – Article
  5. HBR – link here
Categories
Learnings

Self improvement – How can I make myself invulnerable to criticism?

Self improvement is incomplete without certain immunity to criticism. How many times has your day been spoiled by harsh words? Perhaps your boss, parent or spouse said something and you felt terrible for a long time? Criticism can bring us down on the brightest of days. It is incredibly difficult to be self-motivated all the time. Whether we admit it or not, we all are vulnerable. One of the best self-improvement lessons I have learnt is to choose my reactions to criticism slowly & thoughtfully.

Invulnerability is bad for self-improvement.

self improvement through being safely vulnerable
Shed that weight, its not necessary

Invulnerability suggests you put up many defences to ensure you are not vulnerable at all. This can impact you negatively. Criticism is often an opportunity to learn or introspect. It is also an opportunity to keep your ego in check. What you really need is to be safely vulnerable. In this post, I share some ways of doing that.

Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Healthy criticism is actually great. Have you ever met a person that criticises you all the time? I tend to ignore such people, as they are often projecting their weaknesses out by criticising everyone and everything. However, when a lot of people criticise you about something, you have got to listen. Unless of-course like Galileo you have a theory about Earth’s relative position with respect to the Sun. Indeed, there are scenarios when you are right, and the world is wrong. Alas, not all of us are Galileo. Therefore, we must pay attention and entertain a contrarian point of view.

Understanding intent is key

Criticism reveals more about the person criticising than his or her subjects. Do listen carefully. Criticism is bad when it is full of blame, and focuses on personality rather than behaviour. Suppose someone snaps at you in office, “you have no idea how to write presentations”, don’t let it bother you as it is classic blaming and it reflects poorly on the person criticising than you. It talks about what is wrong rather than how to make it right. It indicates implied contempt. Instead, if that person made a constructive comment or, “your slides are not flowing well, perhaps you should consider changing the sequence” that is actually not criticism it is useful feedback. It is the only way one can get better. You should treat such feedback like pearls collect as many as you can and get richer!

Emotional Intelligence is an important trait for effective self improvement

Emotional intelligence is about knowing yourself very well and your ability to truly understand your worth. Most people who struggle with criticism do so because they have certain insecurities about themselves. For instance, some people associate their identities with their flaws. I am really bad at public speaking, or I am not great at politics. In case of such people, when someone criticises them negatively, they think its their fault. It makes things worse and has an overall poor impact on one’s well being. This negative identity association can only be avoided by placing a high value on and nurturing your self-esteem.

self improvement through emotional intelligence
Source HBR on Emotional Intelligence

Take time to come to real terms with your achievements. Accept compliments or at least get into a habit of saying “Thanks, that is very kind of you”. Over time your self esteem will greatly improve. In critical situations, ask yourself am I being too harsh on myself? practice self-compassion.

We are what our thoughts have made us; so take care about what you think. Words are secondary. Thoughts live; they travel far.

Swami Vivekananda

Also, you will notice your self esteem is directly proportional to how your mood is, and exercise is the most natural and most sure shot way of elevating mood and keeping it steady. Once you are grounded and confident about yourself, you can build on that steady foundation through self improvement.

Criticism can be one of the best ways of building a strong relationship

self improvement through altercation
An altercation is a great way to deepen relationships

I was in a conference call many years ago. I was negotiating a contract, and I was reading out a clause to explain our position. The lawyer on the other side snapped back and said, “we know how to read, can we get to business”? This was harsh, it was critical of the way I was making a point and I admit, it hurt. I did not disturb the conversation, but after our call I dropped him an e-mail and suggested that we chat.

He reluctantly agreed to chat one-on-one, and I explained him that I was merely trying to convey differences in language of the clause, and that his sudden snide remark made me feel terrible. The concerned colleague was very apologetic and not only issued a written apology but appreciated that I didn’t get mad at him but gave him constructive feedback. Turned out, we made great progress after that.

Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude

William James

Conflict management is an art, and way beyond the scope of this post, however criticism often leads to conflict. It is important to remain calm, and try to manage the situation in a logical way after you have had a chance to cool down. If you take some extra efforts to reconcile with the individual after you have had the conflict, you will find that your relationship will get stronger. The whole storming, norming, and performing phases are not just on paper. They actually work in my opinion, even in your personal relationships.

Be a great listener and genuinely show that you are not perturbed by any kind of criticism or feedback.

The best and most successful people I met take criticism, feedback, comments like a sponge. They are so composed, and calm through it all. They do not bat an eyelid. When someone is being harsh they dis-arm him / her through their disdain for emotions. Not only that, but also they are great listeners and acknowledge the critic.

self improvement through composure
Self improvement through composure and great listening

For instance when someone says, “I don’t think you can do public speaking very well” the maestro at handling criticism will calmly respond with, “I understand why you may think that way, do you want to share with me a few tips about how I can improve on public speaking”? that’s it, disarmed. What is best, is that they do genuinely take the feedback, analyse it, and become better. They will also conveniently ignore negative criticism. Be that guy or girl!

Positive body gestures can help balance the chemical response of your body to criticism

Open Arms, a Smile, shaking hands, fist bump are the types of body gestures that elicit a hormonal response at a micro level. When you greet someone with such body language and a smile on your face, you are defusing their instinct to criticise. This may not always work, but it is definitely worth a try.

 smiling
Smile is a short range criticism defuser, but please criticise this post!

Great mood can make you smile, but did you know that a smile can elevate mood as well? Smile releases dopamine and serotonin in your body which reduces your blood pressure and anxiety. A dash of humour does the same trick as well. In fact when you share a laugh with someone it is very unlikely that the person will criticise you the next instant. Even in face of harsh criticism, one should smile, and respond positively. As a result, your response is less likely to be flight or fight.

Pro Tip for self-improvement – It’s okay to prioritise optimistic people over constant negatives

Learn to spot a person, sometimes unfortunately a friend, boss or a colleague, who just cannot help but constantly be negative about everything. These people drain us of our will power and energy. They just create a domino effect that can shake all the hard earned self esteem. No matter how resilient you are, sometimes people get on your nerves. There is an easy answer to this. Avoid such people.

Abhi’s tweet

If you must deal with such people. Use a combination of assertiveness and selective sharing. Assertiveness will help set the expectations right from the very beginning. It is also okay to tell them NOT to make comments that may be upsetting. Selective sharing will ensure you talk only about what is needed, and share only what is needed – this limits exposure to the criticism. However, best possible option is to completely ignore the said individual.

Finally criticism and rejection are very similar, your reactions can very well be similar as well. I think the most important lesson is to delay our reactions and respond to these thoughtfully. Rejection as well as criticism come with many self improvement opportunities. How many will you latch on to?

References

Clive Simpkins

HBR Emotional Intelligence

Psychology Today (Dr. Steven Stosny)

Psychology Today (Dr. Leon Seltzer)

NBC News

Greatist post on criticism

Categories
Experiences

Diversity & the surprising reason we need to fight for it

My tryst with a hate crime

Before we talk about diversity, I want to tell you a story. It was spring of 2007. I had recently moved to Buffalo, New York, for what would be my first overseas assignment. The second largest city in New York State, Buffalo has feel of a sleepy suburb, with rich industrial history.  Our work days began early in the morning in shared radio cabs that felt quite futuristic for a young twenty something. We made our way to a multi-story office in downtown Buffalo every weekday, and religiously started back home 5pm. As we were doing lots of “production support” we also had many late nights.

Cooking, friends, sports and access to cheap electronics was so much fun. 

As many young foreigners living their dream in the US, we quickly figured out how to drive on the right side of the road. We started renting cars over the weekend. We didn’t waste a single weekend and traveled to tens of states and cities. Hours and hours on the interstate network, we explored America as it should be explored.

On one such evening in New York City, a group of criminals / hooligans targeted us with racial slurs and intimidating behaviour in a harrowing episode. We were thankfully unharmed but the ordeal left us shaken to the core. I have to mention that my colleagues and almost everyone else we met were extremely generous, welcoming, friendly and simply brilliant. This is not a gripe about a country or a community but just my first brush with what we didn’t know back then as – “hate crime”. However, I am pretty sure it could have happened to anyone and anywhere and also that it exists everywhere including in India. All that mattered within that moment is that hate wasn’t to be tolerated. In conclusion, I made a promise that day to myself to fight hatred, racism, bigotry and bias.

Lack of diversity has roots in our limbic system

Let’s look at 3 reasons why diversity can help address some of these issues.

1. We are not just fighting attitudes – we are fighting our very own Limbic system. This will take generations to change.

Stanford University’s Recruitment to Expand Diversity and Excellence program suggested that about 75 percent of whites and Asians demonstrated an implicit bias favoring whites over blacks (Link).

diversity is linked to our primordial brain
Limbic system dates back generations

It will take generations worth of effort to change this.

In other words, Racism, bigotry, hatred, and xenophobia are all emotions. They run deep in many of us. We are taught that racism is bad however parts of our limbic system (Amygdala) respond to new and unfamiliar stimuli with apprehension and fear. This is referred to as implicit bias. While we can train our brain and become better at controlling our instincts, biases don’t change overnight. They must change over generations. As a result, diversity can help with that transition. I studied graduate school in a class with 25 different nationalities. Also, I have traveled to over 27 countries and I have operated in extremely diverse work environments. This has conditioned me to realise that diversity brings value, richness of thoughts, and opinions and actions which is 💯 a good thing.

The universe is full of infinite diversities. That’s what makes it so exciting.

We know about racial / gender diversity, and many of us have heard or operate with rightly laid out diversity and inclusion targets. How many of us consciously celebrate other kinds of diversity? Do you hire for example because someone brings brilliant creativity to your team? Did you ever connect with someone because they have much different life experiences than you? Do you usually avoid the unknown or you embrace it? Are you uncomfortable with uncertainty or do you thrive on it? I think it’s time we did all these things.

apple-1594742_1920
Different is many!

A millennial that does not believe in hierarchy adds to diversity. An individual that requires a strong sense of purpose before committing adds to diversity.

This diversity of thoughts, beliefs, and opinions is critical.

  • Introverts vs Extroverts
  • Creatives vs Analytical
  • Northerner vs Southerner (regional)
  • English speaking vs vernacular
  • Deep thinker vs impulsives
  • Comic vs serious
  • Rich vs poor
  • Naive vs shrewd
  • Secure vs insecure
  • Known vs unknown
  • Straight vs Gay
  • Liberal vs conservative
  • Democrats vs Republican
  • Too young vs Too old
  • Highly Educated vs Drop outs
  • Ivy league vs non Ivy league

In conclusion, the more the better! Send your kid to a diverse school. Let him or her mingle with non like-minded people. Hire for all kinds of diversity. Invite external speakers to your team meetings. Perhaps from a different region or even industry. See how much you learn and become better at everything. Finally, diversity brings difference of opinion. This almost always results in better outcomes.

diversity can be fun

Culture trumps process – every time!

I believe culture and diversity are joined at the hip. In addition, in order to create or maintain great culture, you need to re-assess the importance you give to diversity.

The culture is what creates the foundation for all future innovation. If you break the culture, you break the machine that creates your products“.

Brian Chesky, AirBnB

Brian also suggests that strong culture removes the need for arduous processes. It is like doing mental math vs. doing calculations on paper. Mental math is great culture whereas calculations on paper are processes. They may achieve the same goal, but processes are much slower.. To conclude, great culture means that you can trust people to make the right decisions!

Diversity helps avoid cognitive biases thereby improving decision-making

Facebook CEO, Mark Zuckerberg in an interview, talked about how Facebook places its bets on the future. He highlighted the strong role culture plays. From testing a new ad-format, to choosing the next big thing to invest-in. Above all, Mark’s commitment to diversity is visible from the quote below.

“We invest in people who we think are really talented, even if they haven’t done that thing before – like the CFO who hasn’t taken a company public before – we simply are committed to invest in talented people”.

Mark Zuckerberg

According to this Deloitte article, diversity helps by,

  • Avoiding group-think. You benefit from having all the diverse perspectives on the same challenges.
  • Increasing scale of insight. This is something that I have personally experienced in my career. Quality and scale of ideas is better in a diverse team
  • Identify the right talent to solve their most pressing issues.

Science strongly favours diversity. Without it, we wouldn’t have been the dominant species on this planet.

Darwin’s theory of natural selection supports diversity. According to a related theory, A large gene pool has extensive genetic diversity and as a result, it is better able to withstand the challenges posed by environmental stresses. So even marrying outside your cast or race can be a good thing for your gene pool 😁. So, babies and marriages aside, diversity on boards results in better returns, diversity on teams results in better results, diversity in data science teams results in better bias avoidance. It is widely researched that diversity of thought is not just good but it is great.

Universe is most likely teeming with life

Conclusion

In a universe most likely teeming with life our survival as a species seems to be dependent on diversity. How would you feel if you were the only kind of intelligent life in the universe? I would be certainly unhappy. So if not for all this, for the universe’s sake, would you join me in fighting for diversity?

Categories
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.

Categories
Experiences

Inexpensive ways to keep kids Busy

It’s been over 2 and a half months, and the chirping of little kids has been eerily quiet in our gated community. Last week, my 3 year old son asked me, “Daddy, when will Conora-virus go? When will the playground be open?” and I had nothing but a sigh and an unsure “soon, Anik, soon…” to mutter. Sad, right? Don’t let the occasional memory of playground or his friends fool you though. Anik has been having a gala time since the Lockdown began and he’s been a very happy child. We will give him full credit for that. Let me share with you some inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. My spouse and I have facilitated a few playing and learning experiences for him that we would like to share.

Cardboard + imagination = unlimited fun as an inexpensive way to keep kids busy.

Weekends? no! They are craft days!!We ask Anik – What would you like to “make” today and the answers are as imaginative as they can be. Spaceship, Speedboat, A Car City, A Booster Rocket. Some spare things in the house, and a bit of stationary and we sit with him and craft our way to some really cool #makercraft. This is one of the great inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. Patience is key, so is participation – for sticking, colouring, marking and all kinds of stuff the kid may enjoy. We usually start with a plan on a whiteboard and then keep iterating our way. I will let the pictures do the talking. We hope Anik learns creativity, patience, and the love for building.

Pre-schoolers make great little chefs!

The entire world has been baking during the coronavirus pandemic and we are no exception. This surely is a proven way to keep your kid engaged. Helps Anik learn textures, tastes, dexterity, and again, making. This is another inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. We have gone a step further and given him some common ingredients and let his imagination take over. We have as a result, Grape and Potato wafer canapés, Apple Pie Made up of Apple and Coarse Sugar, and many other creative recipes you will not even find in a Michelin star restaurant. Take a look at some of these!!

Household chores + role play can turn pre-schoolers into happy little helpers.

Want to load your dishwasher? This is one of the great inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. You should ask your kid for help, Anik calls it a dishwashing Robot and he loves to help. Our cleaner bot is his robot friend too, he calls it Eva (from the Pixar movie Wall-e). Anik also loves on days to clean up and show us his superpowers! This doesn’t always work but when it does it’s great!

Your house spaces and furniture are your best friends!!

A bean bag, a hydraulic bed, sofa, simple mattress, can turn into amazing physical activities for kids. Balcony / Terrace can turn into yoga spaces. You don’t have to do a lot, just don’t interfere with creativity. This is one of the most amazing inexpensive ways to keep kids busy. There is a big safety issue here, so please exercise common sense. We turn our hydraulic bed into a slide, sofa with a bean bag turns into a bird’s nest, a mattress can turn into a ski slope. My kid for instance has conceived a fun pretend swimming pool – a bedsheet surrounded by pillows and a house ladder as a diving board, and there is pretend splashing too, and we have to be there with him. I’m sure all of us can relate to jumping on the bed, but with Anik we have taken it to a whole new level. We have also brought in aspects of simulation for instance we have built a car city replete with school, hospital, garage, emergency services, roads and everything!! Anik had blast building and playing.

Technology is a means to an end – it is NOT one of the inexpensive ways to keep kids busy.

Tech does NOT mean screens. Screens are okay, I am not averse to a couple hours of screen time a day, but it surely is passive and doesn’t engender or utilise creative ability at all. We try to harness tech to keep the kid engaged and curious, this could be simply be , communicating with his friends, or helping me repair a tap, or teaching how to replace batteries in toys, and then come the science experiments. For instance at 3 although not with a lot of expectations, me and Anik have created a DC generator prototype that generates electricity from another fan and a propeller wind mill. We have also created a water pumping station using siphon action. Anik’s grandfather has designed an aeroplane shuttle system based on a rope and a few straws. It’s brilliant. You can also experiment with Augmented reality fairly easily. Finally Lego! Lego is not tech but isn’t it? Using building blocks to create fascinating things… for me there is no better definition of tech.

I don’t pretend to be a super parent. These are humble efforts that are purely born out of necessity. Who knows, they might even inspire some parents and kids!!

Can you relate? Let us know in the comments below.