Habits – The Autopilot of Productivity

I am intrigued by habits and how easy (or tough) it can make our lives. Let’s focus on the easy part now.

You don’t need an alarm to wake you up. — Never have to wake up to the annoying sound.

You don’t need to worry not burning calories. — You put on running shoes as soon as you wake up without throwing any tantrum.

You don’t need to look for your car keys. — You automatically keep them right next to the night stand.

That is, Imagine your life on autopilot.

While habits take care of the routine tasks, you could devote your time and energy on creating the next awesomest thing!

But it is easy for the habits to take over your life.. They are mean machines with superhuman powers.

Have you found yourself in an interesting discussion and when your phone beeps, your hands automatically reaches out to the phone to check the messages?

That’s an habit. I bet you didn’t know that did you?

That’s exactly why you need to understand habits before you can change them.

Cognitive psychologists define habits as “automatic behaviors triggered by situational cues”. In other words, see chocolate, eat chocolate. (then may be think about calories).
For those who are a minimalist  (or have a serious obsession with formulae)

Habit = (Cue + Response) x 999*

*yes, 999 is an arbitrary number. I would’ve put a million. But that would’ve been too much effort and you would’ve probably stopped reading further.
That’s why when people claim they can hack in to habit formation, they are usually wrong. I mean, is there a hack to loosing weight other than burning calories? No right?

Well… trying to change a habit is like trying to change a habit. It’s not easy. And there is no right way.

But there is your way.

That brings me to the most important thing you will need to know about habit.

You don’t know your habit even exists!
Huh? Say what?

Yes. Say for example, do you know what exactly you “do”,”think” or “feel” when you hit the snooze button? It is so involuntary that, you hit snooze button x times (three for me and yes I counted) before you get out of the bed. Have you noticed that? If not, try it tomorrow and let me know!

That’s why, I a good way to start a change a old habit (say snoozing) not by not snoozing. But by understanding what you “do” when you snooze.

Self-awareness.

It’s the most interesting exercise in habit formation. ‘Cause it’s like solving a mystery box challenge (MasterChef Australia fans, Up top!). You don’t know what’s in there, till you open the box. And of course when you open it, for a moment you are like is that me? Then you start thinking about points to intervene.
There are two places you can intervene. (By now you should’ve guessed it).

Cue and Response.

So, all you got to do is experiment. There are just 43 ways to do it.

(old habit) Cue and Response
Cue and Response
Cue and Response
Cue and Response (also for new habit)

 Note to Seventh grade self: Yes, it is very similar to a 2 bit binary code.

Once you have figured out which one works. You are just one step away from turning the autopilot mode on.

REPEAT… REPEAT…REPEAT…..

Ok. I didn’t say it was easy.

Now that I have shared my wisdom, let me share my experience. My experience of failing several times and ways I have successfully manage to stay put.
Slack off for a day and it is as good as starting again. But sometimes, you cannot. So (pretend) do the task three times the next day.
You will often want to give up. So, associate the response with a good feeling. (a simple smile worked wonders for me)
Start small and be patient. Habits you are trying to change have been with you for a long time. It is not easy to change it in a day.
That’s it.

By the way, if you want to know if I still wake up late, I do. But, I have been running experiments for the past three weeks studying my sleep pattern, the cue (snoozing alarm three times), the response and actively tweaking them everyday one small step at a time.

FAQs:

How many days does it take to form an habit? As long as it takes for you to not put effort ie. the response is so involuntary (it gets itchy just before it turns involuntary). People usually say it takes 21 days, some say 48 days. Well, to me habit formation is personal.

Can we really change old habits? Duh! But again, it is not easy.

How easy is it to break a habit? Not that easy as you think. How long can you fool your subconscious?

The Changing Times

Off late, I have been using this blog as a trash can for my feelings. That’s probably putting it too harsh. But you get it. May be that’s why you haven’t bothered to visit my blog these. I don’t blame you. I didn’t either.

Now that the times have changed… I promise to come back more often – (Mondays and Thursdays)- than I did before and hoping this motivates you to come back as well. (Hit the subscribe button right away before your forget😉 ).

So, what has changed?

Mainly my perspective. But on that later. This blog is no more “Lullaby of imfamous (seriously, how did I come up with “imfamous”!!?). Can’t say, I didn’t see it coming. But, I didn’t acknowledge it for a long time. Until recently.

The blog is now “The Life of Adventures!”. With an exclamation! Super lame, super ordinary and uncreative. But I wouldn’t have it any other way because I have been seeing life as an adventure for quite a few months and that has given me strength. Today, I am sharing it with you.

Why an adventure?

Sounds super fun doesn’t it?

But it is not something people don’t set out for very often because, books and movies have feed our imagination to assume that adventure is out there. An adventure to you might be exploring the woods, bungee jumping, sky diving, hiking on the Himalayas, smooth ride along the coast  and more. And so, many of us have been made to believe that adventure begins, when we step out of the ordinary life.

I would like to think otherwise.

Adventure begins when you start accepting that no day is ordinary. And no life is ordinary. There is always something to discover, something to unravel in the everyday life. That’s all the fuel you need to keep moving forward.

Why this blog (again)?

Ok, a confession. This is not my first blog. (Of course, you already know that). I have been writing since 2008 and have had three blogs before. I deleted them for reasons that seems so juvenile now.

I have written a lot on this blog, looking back, there are quite a few posts that I am not proud of. As much as I would like to start anew, I have come to realize that if not for the past, I wouldn’t be here, so I might as well give it the place it deserves.

What should you do now?

All you got to do is subscribe to this blog. I promise to publish a post every Monday and Thursday. But, even if you don’t subscribe, I encourage you to come back after 10 days, may be you will find something that’s worthy of your attention. (I have some really interesting posts lined up.)

That said, welcome to my new old blog.🙂

Oh! Almost forgot! Here is a very quick time lapse of my blog. (Thanks to web.archive.org)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Thanks!

Thanks for trying so hard.

I know it’s not easy for you too.

And you have been trying different ways

to make me feel at ease

to lend your ears even when I keep mum

to say you are there for me, but also

to know when not to speak

to be a friend when it’s most difficult to be

to care beyond your duties

Oh I was so blind to the world

I couldn’t see you trying so hard

to balance my grief with your kindness

I cannot pretend it didn’t work

‘Cause it did!

Today I smile because of people like you!

But I never got to thank you!

So, here you go!

Big fat thank you!

Priyanka, Madhura, Nirav, Siji, Prasanth, Nithya, Pari, Aishu, Nivas and Jayashree. Love you folks!

Featured Image Courtesy: Idealistcareers

 

p.s: here are a few more thank yous for the days to come😉 I am not going to pretend it’s over yet!

Thanks! Thanks! Thanks!

 

Love,

Apu

Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure

This post was published in The Guardian. 

I couldn’t but help. Fall in love with the post, the emotions, the language, the widsom but most of all, the writers chewing out words not for the sake of the world but for the sake of the words themselves.

Here is a Excerpt:

Anne Enright

I have no problem with failure – it is success that makes me sad. Failure is easy. I do it every day, I have been doing it for years. I have thrown out more sentences than I ever kept, I have dumped months of work, I have wasted whole years writing the wrong things for the wrong people. Even when I am pointed the right way and productive and finally published, I am not satisfied by the results. This is not an affectation, failure is what writers do. It is built in. Your immeasurable ambition is eked out through the many thousand individual words of your novel, each one of them written and rewritten several times, and this requires you to hold your nerve for a very long period of time – or forget about holding your nerve, forget about the wide world and all that anxiety and just do it, one word after the other. And then redo it, so it reads better. The writer’s great and sustaining love is for the language they work with every day. It may not be what gets us to the desk but it is what keeps us there and, after 20 or 30 years, this love yields habit and pleasure and necessity.

So. All this is known. In the long run we are all dead, and none of us is Proust. You must recognise that failure is 90% emotion, 10% self-fulfilling reality, and the fact that we are haunted by it is neither here nor there.The zen of it is that success and failure are both an illusion, that these illusions will keep you from the desk, they will spoil your talent; they will eat away at your life and your sleep and the way you speak to the people you love.

The problem with this spiritual argument is that success and failure are also real. You can finish a real book and it can be published or not, sell or not, be reviewed or not. Each one of these real events makes it easier or harder to write, publish, sell the next book. And the next. And the one after that. If you keep going and stay on the right side of all this, you can be offered honours and awards, you can be recognised in the street, you can be recognised in the streets of several countries, some of which do not have English as a native language. You can get some grumpy fucker to say that your work is not just successful but important, or several grumpy fuckers, and they can say this before you are quite dead. And all this can happen, by the way, whether or not your work is actually good, or still good. Success may be material but is also an emotion – one that is felt, not by you, but by the crowd. This is why we yearn for it, and can not have it, quite. It is not ours to hold.

I am more comfortable with the personal feeling that is failure than with the exposure of success. I say this even though I am, Lord knows, ambitious and grabby, and I want to be up there with the rest of them. Up! There!

The sad thing is, when the flash bulbs do pop and fade, you are left, in the pulsing after-light, with a keen sense of how unhappy people can be with what they have achieved in life. Perfectly successful people. With perfectly good lives. And you come to appreciate the ones who have figured all that shit out. Meanwhile, and briefly, you are a “success”, which is to say an object, whether of envy or acclaim. Some people like all that, but I, for reasons I have not yet figured out, find it difficult. I don’t want to be an object. I find jealousy unpleasant (because it is unpleasant). I resist praise.

The writer’s life is one of great privilege, so “Suck it up”, you might say – there are more fans than trolls. But there are two, sometimes separate, ambitions here. One is to get known, make money perhaps and take a bow – to be acknowledged by that dangerous beast, the crowd. The other is to write a really good book.

And a book is not written for the crowd, but for one reader at a time. A novel is written (rather pathetically) not to be judged, but experienced. You want to meet people in their own heads – at least I do. I still have this big, stupid idea that if you are good enough and lucky enough you can make an object that insists on its own subjective truth, a personal thing, a book that shifts between its covers and will not stay easy on the page, a real novel, one that lives, talks, breathes, refuses to die. And in this, I am doomed to fail.

Howard Jacobson

It starts early. You can come into the world smugly trailing clouds of glory, already sainted in the life before life, or you can enter it reluctantly and ashamed, helpless, naked, piping loud – Blake’s baby not Wordsworth’s, at the first sight of whom your mother groans, your father weeps. I was a Blake baby. I failed birth. I kept my mother waiting, arriving not just late but at a peculiar angle. I caused her pain and disappointed my father, who didn’t weep exactly but would have liked his first child to have a more relaxed attitude to existence, though this was made plain to me only gradually, after years of his entering me in talent contests whenever we went on holiday to Morecambe, or pushing me up to join other kids on stage at the end of pantomimes, or shouting “Here!” and pointing to me when magicians asked for volunteers.

Success for him didn’t mean making money or excelling at anything in particular – it simply meant being at home in the world and fearing nothing. So it wasn’t because he wanted me to be a footballer or a cricketer that he objected to the notes my mother wrote every Wednesday, requesting I be excused from games. He would just have liked me to be everybody’s friend, the way he was. And I failed him. I failed my mother too by taking far too precocious an interest in sex. And I failed myself by not knowing how to get any.

But you have to see failure as an opportunity. I took the route favoured by all worldly failures and became a spiritual success. That might be an inflated way of putting it, but failures are nothing if not grandiose. If the world doesn’t value us, we won’t value the world. We seek solace in books, in solitary and sometimes fantastical thinking, in doing with words what boys who please their fathers do with balls. We look down on what our fellows like, and make a point of liking what our fellows don’t. We become special by virtue of not being special enough. I doubt many writers were made any other way.

Art is made by those who consider themselves to have failed at whatever isn’t art. And of course it is loved as consolation, or a call to arms, by those who feel the same. One of the reasons there seem to be fewer readers for literature today than there were yesterday is that the concept of failure has been outlawed. If we are all beautiful, all clever, all happy, all successes in our way, what do we want with the language of the dispossessed?

But the nature of failure ensures that writers will go on writing no matter how many readers they have.You have to master the embarrassments and ignominies of life. And, paradoxically, one of the best ways of achieving this mastery over failure is not to drown it in alcohol, not to take pills or see a shrink, but to relive it, over and over, in words. It isn’t that the words enable you to change the outcome and exact revenge – that invariably makes unsatisfactory reading. You can tell when writers are reinventing their experience vaingloriously. What writers at their best achieve is a saturation of shame, triumphing over it by excluding or extenuating nothing, possessing it as theirs, and handing it back again, depersonalised, in comedy of one sort or another.

The first novel I wrote had failure as a subject. My hero was failing to write a book about it. Had he succeeded in finishing I’d have had to write about success and I knew I never wanted to do that. It would have been a kind of sacrilege. Success as the worldly estimate it is, is rarely a subject for literature. Gatsby cannot possibly get Daisy. Dorothea Brooke cannot be allowed to change the world. Thus does art get its own back on those without the imagination to fail.

For more, read the article here.

Featured Image: Illustration by Neil Webb/Debut Art

 

It is never easy is it?

Featured Image Courtesy: Crosswalk

Before you go ahead, here is a warning, this is not a happy post, it’s not sad either. It is simply an out pour of emotions. If you are still reading, may be you are interested in what I have to say. Rather, what I feel.

Thank you. I respect that.

Raw and unabridged emotion, expressing itself.

It is never easy is it? I mean, you can pretend it never happened. You can pretend everything is back to normal. You can pretend you have “moved on”. You can pretend you are strong enough. You can pretend that you still can put a fight.

And yet, you know every time you look in to the mirror, deep in your eyes, the sadness is lurking in the corner of your eyes, waiting for attention. Waiting for someone to recognize its presence. Sometimes, you ignore. Many times you ignore. For the present needs your attention. The past is past. Everyone knows that! You don’t have the slightest inclination to stop pretending that past matters.

You don’t have. Damn you don’t have.

Yet, it creeps into your existence, like a shadow you never knew existed. Like a tiny sand particle in your eye, at first you think, it’s nothing. Before you know it, you have scratched half the eyelid trying to get rid of it. When, all you needed to do was to surrender and cry. Let the tear take out that sand particle naturally. The body knows it, the brain knows it (that’s why it starts secreting tears), but your hand reaches out and squeezes your eye balls anyway.

Just like grief. You don’t want to grieve. But you pretending not to grieve is probably making it worse.

But how do you know you are grieving? Some say there are 7 stages. But who really cares? Not the person who is grieving. Does that mean, I am grieving? If I am so what?

Honestly, I have been thinking, moving on is the best solution. Quite frankly. There is no escape to grief. There are none. People tell you it will get better. It will not. Time will heal. Liars. Things will change. Bullsh*t.

The truth you ask? If life threw sh*t at you, you f*cking take it. You try and protect yourself from the incoming sh*t, you will only end up getting sh*t all over you. Life ain’t going to get better. Nah. Nah. Those liars will tell you otherwise, dare not believe it for one second.

So, do not pretend that you are an exception, a God sent golden baby. You f*cking take it. And stop pretending that it daisy and not sh*t. It is sh*t. Deal with it.

Hey, before you know it, you are already on your way to grieving heaven. Calling sh*t a sh*t. Calling grief a grief. Calling tear a tear. Calling sadness a sadness.

Calling yourself yourself.

Not someone who is brave, but someone who is vulnerable to the love that was lost.

Not someone who would think that if you pretend long enough you will get over it, but someone who accepts that it is damn f*cking hard.

Not someone who bloody hell is “dealing with it” but someone who is as helpless as his or her dear ones.

Not someone who is trying really hard not to grieve, but someone who is afraid to grieve.

But it is ok.

Know why?

Grief is not the end.

Somehow calling sh*t a sh*t. Helps.

It cures.

Even the lousiest wounds gets tended.

Not with time.

Not with people.

Not with love.

 

But with you.

With you, you begin.

Look at yourself.

Let that sadness envelope you.

Let that sadness overwhelm you.

Let the sadness be.

Let the grief “get” you.

Dive in to the grief.

Dive deeper.

Do not ask for solace.

Do not ask for happiness.

Do not stop those tears.

 

You will get to a place.

It has no beginning or end.

Like the darkness has engulfed you. Completely.

And you can’t tell the difference between you and “not you”.

Everything is. Just is.

Like there is no hope left.

That tiny ray of light people talk about.

No. Doesn’t exist.

 

But, you do.

You know you do.

You feel you do.

 

Merged completely in to whatever that “is”

Then you breathe.

Not just in to you. But in to “You”

The experience breaths with you.

Suddenly, grief is alive.

The sadness is alive.

The hopelessness is alive.

And the one that was lost is alive.

Along with you.

Being with you.

In you.

As you.

Just you.

 

 

 

Timeless

This is an edited version of a post I had published couple of years ago. 

When was the last time you didn’t look at the time? I mean can you think of experiences from your past? May be you were dancing your heart out the song and before you knew it the dance floor was closing? May be working on your most favourite project, it was long hours, but you didnt know until the janitor passes by? May be you were running till your feet could run and there was a path in front of you and then realized that sun was way up above you?

Remember the time you were doing something you loved with all your heart and never bothered to look at time?

When was the last time you did look in to the time? Waiting for a train? Waiting for the lecture/meeting to get over? Signalling everybody in the room that I am done, its boring!? Waiting for a result of a exam you took which is very important to you? Waiting for your first client to show up and it’s been a month?

 

From the above two different scenarios, we can understand one thing. How often we look at the time, indicates our interest (love) for the task we are doing, don’t you agree? In other words, we don’t look at time when we do what we love, and we look at the time very often when we are doing things we don’t love. Don’t we?

0ble_t_m9pbr7eg_bImagine working on your dream project. You are lost in time. 4 hours have gone by and you didn’t notice. Suddenly, you have the urge to look at the time. It’s 11 PM. Immediately stress starts building up – you missed an appointment with your accountant, didn’t pick up your groceries for tomorrow, you forgot to inform your partner that you might coming home late, you have several missed calls on your phone. And in those 2 or 3 seconds you have travelled from past to future and already distanced yourself from the project you were doing. The dream project is not a dream project any more, because it is causing imbalance to your routine work.  Hence the enthusiasm doesn’t stay for long period time. That’s why there are few finishers .

Is there a way to hack in to this behaviour? Oh yes!

  1. Close your commitments: Best way to go about is, is to close your commitments. For example, shift the appointment with your doctor, call your partner before sitting for the job and say you will be late. Make sure you are absolutely free for next 8 hrs or even more. (Don’t underestimate your passion ;) ).
  2. Stop: Yah, stop whatever your are doing when you have the impulse to see the time. Take a 15 minute time out. Close your appointments, go for a walk, meditate, take a nap. Understand, that you are looking at time because your body or mind is showing little weariness and that’s why it is most often an impulse and may be not an habit.
  3. Distraction less environment: As soon as you get the adrenalin rush for your dream project, close everything else down. Get rid of your smart phone. Keep it in silent mode (no vibration) and keep it in the back of the bookshelf that you never use. Get rid of notifications in your laptop (if you are going to work on it) else its best if it’s closed. It’s going to take you less than 30 secs to do given every single thing that’s going to distract you is within the reach of your hands (It always is! Irony is it not?). So you are not actually hitting the breaks on your enthusiasm . May be more like changing gears ;).
  4. Keep drinking water: Water is said to energize the system, that way you don’t get weary too often. That way, the impulse won’t be too often, you can go on for hours and just be in that absolute state of bliss where you and your project are the only two things that are breathing in this entire planet.🙂

If your dream project is not taking major chunk of your time! It’s time you stopped looking at your watches. ;)

Image credits:

Featured:wonderfulengineering.com
Inline:QuotesNSmiles