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
Opinions

Anything but new normal – Coronavirus Pandemic

Make no mistake, this is turning out to be the greatest challenge of our generation or perhaps for many generations. What has hit us is not a one off event, it is a volley! The pandemic will be followed by a Series of crises. It is going to be anything but new normal. As a result I think we need a new strategy to deal with this incredible challenge, one that allows us to anticipate, prepare & adapt to this whole new world. Hang on, what whole new world?

The world is changing in profound ways we don’t understand yet

anything but new normal
We are at the precipice of cascading changes that will literally change everything

The world economy is already in a recession. Shortages of food are expected, especially in the lower income countries. The ripple effect of coronavirus on public health infrastructure is going to inevitably mean more suffering and death. As a result, many cities will suddenly find big companies moving their employees to “cloud”. Twitter, Facebook, and Shopify have already announced permanent work from home as an option. Some have announced they will become 100% remote.

What are the implications?

What happens to real estate? rentals in places like San Francisco? Also, why can’t companies like Shopify then hire a fully remote talented engineer in Manila? Or Dhaka? How will this change the Job Market? Will Bay Area remain lucrative? what about Bangalore? Will Harvard, and Stanford be the same they used to be? Will we as a generation accrue same amount of education debt? What about retail to e-commerce shift? Shift from television to streaming? What about shift towards cashless? Cryptocurrency? Remote education? Rest assured, many have already become mainstream and are here to stay. Everything is on hyper-drive. In conclusion, it is mind numbing and we won’t be able to stop it or slow it down!!

Prepare for anything but new normal

Many governments around the world fumbled, jumbled and simply didn’t get their head around what was coming. Many touted this just as a flu, others said we will acquire “herd immunity”, some were debating until it was too late. This is not the criticism of the governments, they have a tough job balancing precaution with overreaction. However, it underscores the nature of the challenge. It is completely unpredictable. Although some have done better than others, and there are lessons to be learnt. The unpredictability stems from the pandemic itself, for instance, it cannot be predicted whether therapeutics / vaccine will arrive in a month or in a year or in a few years. Although most of us have an optimism bias, it is a dangerous proposition if it does not prepare us for what is coming.

Anything but new normal presents opportunities as well

WHO’s chief scientist recently painted a bleak picture suggesting it will be 4-5 years before the COVID-19 pandemic is under control. We cannot assume that people in charge, or governments necessarily know what they are doing. You need to be in charge. Do what feels right, don’t let anyone tell you that they know better. The more original solutions and meaningful actions the more our chances of coming out stronger as a community. Especially, the younger generation has a massive responsibility to figure out what is wrong and fix it and also build a better future. If someone has an issue with how you are doing something, then let them do it their way and you let history decide who did it better. Remember, all crises come with great opportunities.

Adapt and build a community for what you believe in

We need to adapt to the changing landscape. Many small private label retailers and some big fashion brands are now partnering with Amazon to keep going. Some of my dear friends have completely changed their area of expertise and adopted to upcoming technologies such as Cloud, AIML among others. I have seen a massive push in areas such as group buying, where farmers sell their produce direct to the consumer – cheaper prices, fresher produce, and elimination of middlemen. No big tech involved, whatsapp and google sheets do the job just fine for these pandemic entrepreneurs. Many of our team have joined up with academia, and friends to help governments make policy decisions. All of these are heroes in my opinion.

Passion economy has become very big as well!

Passion economy is about celebrating individuality and sharing it with the world, and in return getting paid handsomely for it. As per the linked article, the top writer on the paid newsletter platform substack makes US $ 500,000 a year from reader subscriptions. All of us have hidden teachers, cooks, music tutors in us, and we too can make an opportunity from it. Turn to YouTube and start a v-log, open that Shopify storefront you always wanted to sell Socks, write a blog, create a private label on Amazon, start a podcast, help someone with parenting, pick up someone when they are feeling low, or help a stranger who needs a job. Do something you are passionate about, and who knows you may have the next million subscribers.

anything but new normal
Source – Social Media Credits Unknown

Good luck on your journey, it is going to be unique and challenging, but I promise you it will be worth it. After all we are in anything but new normal.

Categories
Opinions

Building Social Capital in a Pandemic

building social capital in a pandemic
Be on the lookout for what is lost – Satya Nadella (source – nytimes)

Building social capital in a pandemic shouldn’t be any different than any other times. Correct? This excerpt from Satya Nadella’s recent interview with nytimes got me thinking. All of us have social capital built up. Some of us are spending it as we ride out the worst pandemic the world has seen in a 100 years. What happens when the hardships increase or conflicts arise? Can we simply continue to build more social capital in this socially distanced world? Perhaps we can!!

We are in this together

I have spoken and connected with many long lost friends. Virtually met friends from primary school that I hadn’t heard from for decades. This happened only because of the pandemic. I have shared more intimate moments with my child, and with my loved ones, that I wouldn’t have probably done to this extent. Our innate human nature is compensating for lack of social contact. Moreover there is a really clear underlying sense that we are all in this together. We may or may not have herd immunity but we definitely have acquired herd empathy.

Purpose is greater than productivity when it comes to building social capital in a pandemic.

A lot of organisations track productivity metrics. I have seen and even experimented with many approaches to measuring productivity. While they are certainly useful, they do not generally encapsulate nuances of behavioural psychology let alone a raging pandemic. As Satya mentions, poor mental health, widespread burnout, and false sense of euphoria over magically switching over to an all remote environment are all real dangers. The best thing about office for me, is it offers a clear boundary between family and work – this blurring boundary is not something a virtual setup will be able to solve for easily.

Practically, what I have observed is that in this environment a sense of purpose trumps productivity metrics. A sense of purpose need not necessarily be a big visionary statement. It can be simply clear, concise and collective objectives. Such clear collective objectives can actually ensure that layers and layers of communication are not needed. It also ensures effort on the right kind of tasks with minimum redundancy. We can also federate decision making and ensure speedy decision making.

Shared values, Shared trust and reciprocity

We all know that Interpersonal relationships form the very heart of social capital. We have to put in concerted efforts to create new social relationships, especially at work, reach out to new people.. setup virtual coffee sessions, help someone out without necessarily expecting something in return. Teach a new skill, ask for advise, give advise, mentor someone. What is most important is that we share common values – values that your organisation chooses to identify with. Also build trust and common sense of purpose relentlessly. That I believe is what keeps the team going.

I find 1-1 informal conversations as frequently as possible helps a lot. Last but not the least, reciprocate! If someone reaches out, take the time out to have small chat. Someone seems a bit down, offer help or a chat. If someone calls you, make an effort not to forget to call back – be approachable – especially as a leader.

I hope you found this useful, but these are just my thoughts. I’d appreciate your views too, thanks for taking out the time to read.

Categories
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 😀.

Categories
Experiences

Flying and the “Queue phenomenon”

Flying? How many of you have noticed, that people just love queuing up at the gate while an aircraft is boarding? In fact, I have noticed that even before the gate has opened some people love queuing up. Zone wise boarding? No no! People still want to queue up. Upon landing the plane doors aren’t even open yet and there are many who will happily queue up in the aisle.

While utterly illogical for the most part, we can explain this behaviour by basic human nature to be a bit insecure.

We see a queue growing in size, and we feel compelled to join the front of the queue. We don’t want to cede our territory and be at the back of it. Perhaps we are anxious that we may not get space in the overhead storage compartment or we are petrified that we may miss out on boarding in a sane way. Perhaps we are anxious that we may face inconvenience by many aisle obstacles. Whatever is the reason, yesterday something really funny happened. While flying to Chennai one such queue was standing for almost an hour. When the gate finally opened, and boarding started we hoarded into a bus. I was expecting mayhem. However, people seemed already satisfied by standing in the queue for absolutely no reason.

I have given up on queuing when flying

I’d rather sit quietly and read a book or observe other people while wondering why do people queue up. I go towards the end of the queue. This is when most people board feeling peaceful and accomplished that I’m still going to get my reserved seat and it doesn’t matter if there is no overhead storage left for my handbag.

Our brains are wired to be competitive it feels irrational to not queue up it also feels like if you queue up you will get into the plane faster but the plane ain’t leaving until boarding is complete! Hey but who am I to tell hundreds of limbic systems bored at the prospect of flying in a pressurised tube at 30000 feet and trying to get some excitement by queuing up 🙂?

Some lessons in real life I can relate with. What do you think?

  • Don’t engage in meaningless competition
  • Sometimes just because all others are doing it, you don’t have to do it
  • While fear of missing out FOMO can be real the effects often can be unfounded
  • just because you are busy doesn’t mean you are productive

Until next time, ciao!!