Categories
Learnings

“Atomic Habits” at home & at work

Oh my… we are in 2020! While readers of this post maybe an exception, I am pretty sure, there is a graveyard of new year resolutions around us. We are a hopeful species though and no doubt we will again make resolutions in 2021. What can I say, we are creatures of our habits.

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 http://Jamesclear.com 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.

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.

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.

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 ūüėĄ) just change the game – throw in a spotify deep focus play list and it is nirvana for slow thinking tasks.

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 everytime 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 ūüėÄ

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 ūüėĄ) 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 ūüėÄ.

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 ūüôā?

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!!

Categories
Experiences

The story of joyous blackouts & mindfulness

I assume, few people in the developed world are familiar with the concept of a blackout Рafterall, in 5 years that I have spent in London, I have not experienced a single one.

Human brain is quite the genius! Some sights and smells can magically trigger decades old memories in vivid detail; sort of like biological virtual reality!

So! Last Sunday, the smell of a burning candle magically took me deep down the memory lanecandles-209157_1920. I was a teenager in a typical suburban family. As some of you may know, this time of the year reckons start of the Monsoon season in western parts of India. Weather changes in a day, from scorching red hot sun to torrential thunderstorms. Many years ago, blackouts in parts of cities were common; especially as the distribution company sought to insure themselves from the storm. Such evenings would start with  a majestic roaring of the heavy dark clouds, and we knew that a thunderstorm followed by a blackout was on its way. The lights would go out like clockwork in a few minutes while me and my sister would race to see who lights the candles in the house. We also had a Kerosene lamp that would burn with a distinctive smell that I love till date! All of a sudden, the TV would stop, and all the background sounds of electric appliances would fall silent, all you could hear was nature Рcracking bolts of thunder and the rain. I vividly remember that we stopped doing what we were doing and gathered around the kerosene lamp Рjust the 4 of us. Me, my sister and our parents.

We never truly appreciated it, but the time showed an unusual quality of slowing down on such joyous blackouts!

We would intently listen to stories, talk with each other like nothing else mattered. Thankfully, there were no cell phones at the time, even though I always thought ringing of our landline phone during a blackout was nothing short of a miracle. Not once do I remember complaining about the power cuts, unless of course it was during a cricket match! The blackouts lasted a few minutes and sometimes more, but when they were over, everyone went back to their business with a surreal sense of satisfaction!

Why all the nostalgia? Because this story really makes me think about our present day surroundings and the concept¬†of mindfulness. Let me explain. Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahnemann explains beautifully in his book “Thinking fast and slow” that the human brain has two distinctive personas. System 1 and system 2. System 1 performs instinctive or well learnt behaviours without spending much mental energy; for instance, driving¬†–¬†you really don‚Äôt have to calculate the angle of incidence of an approaching vehicle to figure out that¬†there will be a collision – you just know! On the contrary system 2 is about¬†applying a conscious deeper mental effort, for instance if I ask you to calculate the time it will take for an object to fall from the Eiffel Tower – you will think. This often involves storing some information in your temporary memory and then manipulating it in order to come to a result. A lot of studies¬†have been carried out on system 1 and system 2. Any details though would be way out of scope of this already long post. The crux of it is that your brain has a really finite “slow-thinking” capacity, and the more you exhaust it the more likely you are to make cognitive judgement errors (remember that impulsive buy that you knew was wrong). Okay! There is that, now Google mindfulness. By definition, it asks us to step back and reflect – to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. I have a theory (based on the story above) that it has become increasingly challenging for us to practice mindfulness because of the information overload. Think about it, you have everything literally screaming for your attention. You wake up and you need to decide whether you want a skinny cappuccino or a latte, you need to open that dreadful device (I am telling you it is the worst offender in this context) your cell phone! You have a thousand notifications waiting from ten thousand apps that you have to think about, respond to. Imagine how much precious and finite mental energy those¬†WhatsApp chats¬†and meaningless Facebook scroll down gestures take. Then you come to work and are overloaded with a further army of attention seekers. E-mails, messengers, meetings (yes!). You come home and are faced with the same dilemma, with 30 news channels and you need to spend precious slow-thinking¬†time wondering¬†what to watch. Don‚Äôt even get me started on Netflix. Do you get the point?

buddha-199462_1280Naturally, I feel¬†like we had more mental capacity to practice mindfulness before the advent of satellite television, and modern technology including cell phones. Yes, it does come down to judicious use of your technology – so that you use the technology and the technology doesn’t use you. Nevertheless¬†¬†a lot of things can actually help. Meditation, Yoga, ¬†learning to switch off before you hit the bed, and more generally switching off push notifications on your mobile as soon as you think they are becoming a useless distraction. Breaks from the hustle bustle of your city and routine are welcome too of course.

After all we need to be mindful that, the best things about life are our memories and experiences and they are almost always not digital!

A blackout, anyone?

@abhinandanshah

Categories
Experiences

The story of joyous blackouts

I assume, few people in the developed world are familiar with the concept of blackouts.

Human brain is quite the genius! Some sights and smells can magically trigger decades old memories in vivid detail; sort of like biological virtual reality!

joyous blackouts
Open flames have magical qualities

So! Last Sunday, the smell of a burning candle magically took me deep down the memory lane. I was a teenager in a typical suburban family. As some of you may know, this time of the year reckons start of the Monsoon season. Especially in western parts of India. Weather changes in a day, from scorching red hot sun to torrential thunderstorms. Many years ago, blackouts in parts of cities were common; especially as the distribution company sought to insure themselves from the storm.

Such evenings would start with  a majestic roaring of the heavy dark clouds. We knew that a thunderstorm followed by a blackout was on its way. The power would go out like clockwork in a few minutes. Me and my sister would race to see who lights the candles in the house. We also had a Kerosene lamp that would burn with a distinctive smell that I love till date! All of a sudden, the TV would stop. All the background sounds of electric appliances would fall silent. Only thing you could hear was nature Рcracking bolts of thunder and the rain. I vividly remember that we stopped doing what we were doing and gathered around the kerosene lamp. Just the 4 of us. Me, my sister and our parents.

We never truly appreciated it, but the time showed an unusual quality of slowing down on such joyous blackouts!

We would intently listen to stories, talk with each other like nothing else mattered. Thankfully, there were no cell phones at the time, even though I always thought ringing of our landline phone during a blackout was nothing short of a miracle. Not once do I remember complaining about the power cuts, unless of course it was during a cricket match! The blackouts lasted a few minutes and sometimes more, but when they were over, everyone went back to their business with a surreal sense of satisfaction!

Why all the nostalgia? Because the blackouts story really makes me think about our present day surroundings and the concept¬†of mindfulness. Let me explain. Nobel laureate psychologist Daniel Kahnemann explains beautifully in his book “Thinking fast and slow” that the human brain has two distinctive personas.

System 1 and system 2. System 1 performs instinctive or well learnt behaviours without spending much mental energy; for instance, driving¬†–¬†you really don‚Äôt have to calculate the angle of incidence of an approaching vehicle to figure out that¬†there will be a collision – you just know! On the contrary system 2 is about¬†applying a conscious deeper mental effort, for instance if I ask you to calculate the time it will take for an object to fall from the Eiffel Tower – you will think. This often involves storing some information in your temporary memory and then manipulating it in order to come to a result. A lot of studies¬†have been carried out on system 1 and system 2. Any details though would be way out of scope of this already long post.

The crux of it is that your brain has a really finite “slow-thinking” capacity, and the more you exhaust it the more likely you are to make cognitive judgement errors.

Google mindfulness. By definition, it asks us to step back and reflect – to pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. I have a theory (based on the story above) that it has become increasingly challenging for us to practice mindfulness because of the information overload. Think about it, you have everything literally screaming for your attention. You wake up and you need to decide whether you want a skinny cappuccino or a latte, you need to open that dreadful device (I am telling you it is the worst offender in this context) your cell phone! You have a thousand notifications waiting from ten thousand apps that you have to think about, respond to.

Imagine how much precious and finite mental energy those WhatsApp chats and meaningless Facebook scroll down gestures take. Then you come to work and are overloaded with a further army of attention seekers. E-mails, messengers, meetings (yes!). You come home and are faced with the same dilemma, with 30 news channels and you need to spend precious slow-thinking time wondering what to watch. Don’t even get me started on Netflix. Do you get the point?

buddha-199462_1280
Mindfulness is about being in the present

Naturally, I feel like we had more mental capacity to practice mindfulness before the advent of satellite television, and modern technology including cell phones.

Yes, its not about blackouts its about mindfulness – use the technology, don’t let technology use you.

Nevertheless  a lot of things can actually help. Meditation, Yoga,  learning to switch off before you hit the bed, and more generally switching off push notifications on your mobile as soon as you think they are becoming a useless distraction. Breaks from the hustle bustle of your city and routine are welcome too of course.

After all we need to be mindful that, the best things about life are our memories and experiences and they are almost always not digital!

A blackout, anyone?

@abhinandanshah