Book summary: Now Habit by Neil Fiore

Title: The Now Habit
Author: Neil Fiore
Publisher: Penguin
ISBN-10: 1585425524
ISBN-13: 978-1585425525
Buy from: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Introduction

Through the title ‘The Now Habit’, the author Dr. Neil Fiore, a psychologist, trainer and the author of six books on psychology, tells us that procrastination is not an in-born or ingrained trait. There are specific triggers that cause us to put off things until absolutely necessary or to completely all that we need to do. By scientifically approaching procrastination, tracking it and building plans, one can bust the world’s #1 productivity killer.

Procrastination is not laziness

Most people, especially children, who procrastinate are on the receiving end of reprimands. They are thought of as lazy people with lack of will to push through a pile of work. They are seen as people with terrible discipline. The measure is often to punish them or use fear to force them to get to work. That may be counter-productive.

Image source: onsizzle.com

Usually, people who put off things in one area of life may be immaculate in another. E.g. a student may put off studies until the day of the exam, but may be the first to make it to the training ground during sports day. A self-hosted professional may be on top of her income, expenses and cash flow, but her desk might be a pile of clutter.

Dr. Fiore enumerates the following reasons for procrastination.

Anxiety about outcome: The possibility of failure is one of the biggest turn-offs due to which even the most hard-working people procrastinate.

Boredom of process: The person does not enjoy the process. This causes him/her to get distracted from the task at hand.

Resentment of authority: A strong authority that sets stringent rules and uses fear as upper hand will often run into subordinates who start resenting authority and rebel against tasks to be done.

Fear of success: Yes, this is not a typo. People do fear success. Why? Success brings with it a radical change of lifestyle. With success, your present life might be thrown out of gear and new challenges crop up. E.g. most executives find life miserable right after a promotion. Their celebration turns to dismay as they have to shoulder more responsibility and watch over a bigger team. Athletes have to live up to higher expectations.

Procrastination pattern and breaking it

When overwhelmed by a task due to the above 5 reasons, we usually fall back to activities that lull us into a false sense of familiarity and comfort. Burying self into email and social media, obsessive cleaning and taking too many breaks are sure-fire symbols that you are procrastinating on something that is putting you off your comfort zone. The pattern of procrastination is only broken by three things:
a. A task is well within your comfort zone,
b. Not doing a task leads to a bigger crisis than the failure of the original task,
c. The effects of failure can be reversed by another task.

Dr. Fiore likens this to walking on a narrow wooden plank. If you were given a task of walking on a wooden plank which is placed on the floor, the task is well within your comfort zone and you’ll waste no time running across it.

If the plank is now raised 100 feet above the ground between two buildings and you can look at the ground far below, your mind starts thinking about the consequences of a mistake and a doomed fall. This is your mind frozen into procrastination.

But if you are on a plank raised 100 feet above the ground with a fire catching up to you from behind you, then you will push yourself on top of the plank. You will find creative ways like moving on the plank in a sitting position or even crawling across. But you won’t stop on the building with fire. You’d prefer to live a few more moments and hopefully tip-toe your way to the other building.

The best situation is if there is a safety net about 20 feet below the plank. In this case too, you will start towards the other building with healthy fear, but you will have an assurance that the safety net will catch you.

Summarising the four patterns, here are some solutions to bust procrastination.

a. Break an overwhelming task into smaller tasks well within your comfort zone.
b. Set the consequences of inaction to be more severe than that of failure.
c. Make a plan B that will cut the losses of failure from your original plan.

Language of procrastinators and productivists

Image source: ifcdn.com

Procrastinators choose to use words that signal obligation, force and having to push against unwillingness. Changing those words will often put you in control of your situation and spur you into action. Here are 5 examples from the book.

Bad: I have to / must do this.
Good: I choose / get to do this.

Bad: I must finish this by ….
Good: I will start now. The finishing will take care of itself.

Bad: This is overwhelming.
Good: Here is my next step.

Bad: I must be perfect and should not make mistakes.
Good: I can be perfectly human and make a few mistakes to learn from.

Bad: I have work all day. I have no time for fun.
Good: I must make time for fun. I will use the remaining time to work efficiently.

Guilt-free play

There are two extremes when it comes to productivity. One is a procrastinator who puts things off. On the other end is a workaholic who is obsessed with work. A procrastinator does not choose to have fun because of the guilt of not having enough. He/she reasons that not much got done, so they need to stay back and work and sacrifice all the fun activities. A workaholic suffers from the illusion of efficiency. He/she believes that every second of the day must be used productively. That forces him/her to never schedule fun.

The right balance is to introduce fun into your every living day. In fact, you should go as far as to SCHEDULE part of the day to be fun and not be trapped by work. Fun recharges your mind and body. This means that you will come to work with the right mindset. Commitment to fun indirectly means commitment to good work and productivity.

The Unschedule

Image source: ctfassets.net

True to the topic ‘guilt-free play’, Dr. Fiore suggests a method of scheduling your calendar called ‘Unschedule’. In this counter-intuitive method, you will commit to certain days in the year and certain times in the day for fun and celebration. E.g. you should schedule the entire day of Diwali or Christmas completely off as spending with your family. You should pre-commit family trips on calendar.

During the day, you can choose times such as evenings or nights to spend with friends or family or even aloof with yourself. Whatever you do, you shouldn’t schedule work. You are promising to yourself that you’ll have only fun during those time blocks / days.

In the time that remains, you should schedule your work such that you do fully focused bursts of work for at least 30 minutes. During those thirty minutes, you should cut off the entire world and focus only on the work at hand. Interruptions should be deferred, promising to act on them later. There should be a rewarding fun activity scheduled after every 30-minute block.

The Unschedule is beneficial for the following things.

a. It recognises that your life is not all about work. It also means devoting time to yourself and the people you love.
b. After accounting for all the fun, you will realise how much time you realistically have per day for work.
c. It locks you into efficient blocks of 30 minutes of uninterrupted work.
d. Every 30 minute block of efficient work is rewarded with a fun activity.

Conclusion

Dr. Fiore’s rather unconventional method suggests that you should not worry about finishing your task or the outcome. Instead he suggests that you start a task and take the next right step. The flow will take care of the results. Also, Dr. Fiore rather counterintuitively suggests that you should schedule all your leisure activities in your day and schedule all your work in the gaps between leisure. After reading his book, I have tried his methods for more than a month. They do work wonders. Now its your run. Grab the book, read it and put its wisdom to test. You will surprise yourself.


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Rewarding yourself immediately: The ONE surefire way to keep your habits

Is instant gratification evil? Does working on long term goals need sacrifices such that you need to give up something fun today for a better future? Is working on long term goals a drudgery, which appears boring and monotonous?

The answer to all three questions is NO. You can build a good habit and make it fun and instantly gratifying. In fact, that is the ONLY way to keep up that habit long term. Let’s read on to learn more. Continue reading Rewarding yourself immediately: The ONE surefire way to keep your habits

Choose your words, frame your situation

It is often said that there are no good or bad events, just events. Whether it is a good event or a bad one is decided by the emotion that we attach to it. Sure, some events are frustrating and some are saddening. But they are only so if you decide to let them get to you.

Nothing lets you stew in your negative emotion than the words you choose to describe a situation. The human brain can quickly attach emotions to words from spoken / written language. The words you use to phrase a situation can directly or invisibly affect your emotions. The words you choose can either empower you to take control or leave you writhing in pain, self-pity and helplessness.

Here’s how you can choose your words carefully and frame your situation accordingly.

Continue reading Choose your words, frame your situation

How probability thinking can help you make better decisions?

Life cycle of a decision: Big Vs Small

We sometimes face million dollar questions like,

Should I take Medicine or Engineering?
Should I marry Ambitious A or Docile D?
Should I take this ok job or wait for my dream job results to come back?
Should I quit my job to work on this  brilliant Startup idea or work to getting the onsite Job and promotion?

These are not similar to decisions like – Pizza or Burger ? or Western or Ethnic? In this case, you can have pizza one day and burger the other or have a small pizza plus a burger. The effects of the decision don’t last long enough to sweat over it.

However, in the first set the effect of decisions may last a very long time. A decision on a car last upto 5 years, an house upto 25-30 years, a career lasts for several decades, decision on a spouse for a lifetime. But we often think through the purchase of a car more thoroughly than choice of a spouse. Give the big decisions its due respect and think through them well.

Process Vs Outcome

Bhagvad_Geeta

We often fall into the trap of analyzing our decisions once the outcome is known. Every body seems to know who the selectors should have picked or dropped in the team once the game is over. We all know who would win the elections, which stock would outperform after the fact. We many stock pundits and subscription services that write books about how they had picked the multi-bagger stock with simple and obvious logic and how much return it gave them. The choices are simple and obvious only in the hindsight.

In contemporary business scenario, WeWork which is one of the most loved workplace solutions in several countries including India had turned out to be a nightmare for its investors. While Instagram which probably is based on a simple idea and not much thought to revenue generation, has given its founders and investors whooping returns. We have all seen up and coming towns and cities, stay unchanged for years while others with similar dynamics have changed by leaps and bounds.

As a decision maker, one must acknowledge that once must take a optimal decision based on the facts available at the time of making a decision. A good decision may lead to a bad result and vice versa. I feel it would be appropriate to quote Bhagavat Geeta here (Chapter 2 Verse 47):

‘कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन |
मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि || 47 ||

meaning : ”

You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.

Probability of Success

Poker and Probability

Probability of Success of a startup : 10%
Probability of not being fired in current Job : 95% (say)
Probability of a successful marriage: 60%
Probability of your kid being a pain in the ass: 99%

Every Event has certain probabilities. While in love we think, this is the most perfect relationship ever and nothing can go wrong. We think our startup idea is so genius that it is inevitable that you are the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. While we think we know are an exception to the stated norm, more often than we are the norm.

I often here startups that seek fund from venture capitalists(VC) criticize them saying, ‘Anyway 9 out of 10 startups they fund don’t work out, so why are they unwilling to take a chance on my brilliant idea and the brilliant me. ‘ Well, they choose all 10 which they think will become big success, but know that atleast 9 of they will fail. They don’t think let me pick these 9 projects for failure and this one for the big success.

Limiting Downsides

So when we are betting on a 10% probability event, what should one do. In case of VC’s they hope to win really big in 1 project that would compensate for the 9 losses. Many rich people are aware of the 40% divorce rate. So they go for a pre-nuptial agreement that states out terms of separation.  Such an agreement would have probably saved Jeff Bezos a huge fortune.

In our case, taking a health and life insurance are ways to limit downsides of a sudden health scare and/or its aftermath.

Enhancing the Upsides

A restaurant’s revenue is capped by the seating capacity. However a kitchen only restaurant is limited only by the area of delivery. A teacher’s revenue is capped by the teaching hours and an institute by its seating capacity. But an online on demand video reach has no limit. In most cases the end product is the same, but the distribution channel, reach and impact can have a major difference in the upside. So you may examine how it is possible for you to enhance the upside for your product or service to reach more people or create deeper impacts.

Understanding Risk

Understanding Risk

‘Greater the risk, higher is the reward’.

This is a saying known to most people, but understood by very few. Infact I would say this saying is misleading and incomplete.

‘Greater the risk, higher is the reward when you succeed.’ Here the risk is greater because your probability of success is lower and also the downside is more than in a traditional choice.

Accepting the Outcome

Low probability events occur all the time. You may be fired from a safe job, your company may go under or you may win a lottery – all seemingly less probable events. While you should not count on winning a lottery to retire, once an event with low probability occurs. The best is to accept the event and plan the next course of action. Not accepting the event is going to make no difference to reality. But it will make a huge difference in your ability to respond to the same.

Conclusion

In an uncertain world, probability is a great framework to enable us think through important decisions in our life. Think Deeply. Act Firmly. Live Well.

Book Summary: Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar

 

Title: The Art of Choosing
Author: Sheena Iyengar
Publisher: Twelve
ISBN-10: 0446504114
ISBN-13: 978-0446504119
Buy on: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

It doesn’t what we are born with. One may be born in a mansion or in a slum. One may be born with perfectly working body parts or with disabilities. One may be born with supportive parents or with ones who judge and discourage you every day in your life. In the end, you get to choose how you live and you get to choose how your life should be in the future. You also get to choose how to feel about the circumstances you are in. Your choices are perhaps the most important things you do in your life. They have put you where you are today.

In the book ‘Art of choosing’, Sheena Iyengar, an Indian-origin psychology major with impaired vision, walks us through the several aspects of recognising your choices and how different situations make you choose in different ways.

Geography affects choices

Sheena highlights an important influence of geography on your choices. Being a member of the Indian community in the United States, she is able to look at how both Anglo-Americans and Asian-Americans choose different things. People of western origin are more individualistic. They like their choices to be autonomous, while not necessarily complying with the choices of others in their community. They see themselves as independent units in the society.

Asians make choices that are seen as good and acceptable within their community. For them, feeling of belongingness while looking good and being accepted within their community matters more. They see themselves as parts of a closely knit group who look out for each other.

Sheena goes on to remind us that choice is a complex matter and can mean different things to different communities. Rather than question people’s choices and judge them for it, it is important to recognise that the motivation behind different choices is different for everyone based on nationality, religion, culture, gender and age.

What is perceived as freedom?

While getting to choose for ourselves is a type of freedom, it is not the only thing referred to as freedom by everyone. For example, in capitalistic countries, freedom starts where the authorities step back and allow the markets to play out. Availability of products and their prices are completely determined by the market. Market chooses what it likes and what should be removed. Market determines the price based on supply and demand. While individuals have the freedom to choose from a wide range of products and services, his/her choices increase with the amount of wealth he/she possesses. But that also means that as the demand for something goes up substantially, the rich will pay more to acquire them, thus leaving the poor in the lurch. Ultimately, the poor cannot afford much and will have few choices to make or none at all.

In contrast, socialistic countries have the government taking part in every economic decision, even owning products and services. They make sure that prices are affordable for everyone. They offer heavy subsidies and make up for the losses through heavy taxation. While this stifles rapid growth, innovation, individual brilliance and effort, it also makes sure that the basic needs are available to everyone.

Are you unique or just like everyone else?

People like more choices and love to exert control over what they get to choose just for the illusion that they are different from everyone else. But in reality, most people choose exactly what others have chosen. This is evident from industries such as fashion, where more popular designs are chosen more often. The more viral a design becomes, the more it is chosen by new buyers at the expense of  the obscurely chosen ones.

E.g. if you are given a choice between black, brown and flourescent green jackets, you may discard the last one completely since it will usually be perceived as not combining well with your other clothes. While you believe that you have a choice and that you have picked one that suits your style, you have actually picked what many others already picked, i.e. ‘safe’ options like black or brown, while rejecting flourescent green, which would have made you truly unique.  It’s just that one doesn’t usually wear jackets that are too differently coloured and you are afraid to stand out.

Priya, my wife, sums this up in a nice phrase called ‘odd, but not unique’. 3 and 5 are numbers that are odd, but not unique, whereas 1 is a number that is both odd and unique. You don’t want to be that ONE who is odd and unique. You’d rather be part of a group of 3 to 5 people that the majority sees as odd, but you still fit in with a group who are just like you and have common interests to share.

Choices may be impulsive

Making a conscious choice requires a lot of reflection and deliberate thought. But the brain likes to conserve energy. When possible, it uses a set of guidelines that look like rules of thumb, but are actually shortcuts applied by the brain based on available data, so that it can avoid the hard work of deliberate thought. These shortcuts are called heuristics. Despite meaning well, heuristics often get in your way of making informed or optimal choices.

E.g. we often flock to a restaurant that has more people than to one that has fewer. The heuristic behind this choice says that if there are more people in one restaurant, it must be better. It is a mental shortcut to avoid making a decision while you are already hungry. However it’s possible that you may enjoy the food better at the emptier restaurant.

Choice overwhelm

It is easier to choose from three choices than from ten. Our mind can process the evaluation of lesser choices, but can get overwhelmed by abundance. But people still crave for more choice than less, because more gives the illusion of abundance.

Too many choices are overwhelming. Source: miro.medium.com

In a supermarket, it is common to see 20 varieties of toothpaste and 40 varieties of dips, ketchups and side dishes. When overwhelmed, the mind stops evaluated the items for their merits and looks for ways to whittle down the number of choices, the most common being categorising and sorting by price and then picking the cheapest one.

Choice in a field requiring expertise

Some fields require training, practice and expertise to make the right choices. For the untrained, making such choices is hard. Their choice usually ends up sub-optimal. It is in the best interest of everyone to offer little or no choice to such people, but simply offer them a product or service with defaults. Choices should be kept open for experts though.

Laptops are fairly new to India. The computer economy a decade ago was driven by assembled computers, where people were often tasked with picking their choice of hardware, such as the hard disk, processor, RAM, etc. Since people had no expertise in the field, they used to pick options that were cheaper or more popular. In the end, they’d have a cheap, but a sluggish and outdated computer trying to run the latest operating system.

With laptops, the decision of the hardware combination is made by the manufacturer. People have been happily using laptops for more than a decade now and no one is going back to assembled computers anywhere. But assembled computers do exist for the experts who want a fine-grained choice and the ability to swap old parts for new ones every few months.

Difficult choices

Choices such as pulling the plug on a comatose patient or institutionalising a juvenile son can be traumatically hard. In such cases, there are three things that can happen.

a. Those in authority make the decision, execute it and tell the affected person about it.

b. Those in authority present the choices to the person who’ll be affected and let them decide, without offering personal suggestions or biases.

c. Those in authority present the choices, state their own preference and then nudge the affected person to decide.

Study after study show that those caught in situation b were more traumatised after the event, because they felt the guilt of having directly influenced the difficult outcome. Those is situation ‘a’ were at peace since the decision was not theirs. Those in situation ‘c’ were at peace too despite having made the decision themselves. In this case, this was because they believed that they had done what was best as prescribed by an experience authority.

The red button syndrome

Some choices have adverse outcomes. It is better that people don’t know about those choices at all. However even the worst choices will find their way to people, whether we like it or not. One such choice is addictive smoking. In a utopian world, smoking as a choice shouldn’t exist. But we are stuck wit it.

The usual reaction is to ban those choices. But some personalities suffer from what we call the ‘red button syndrome’, which is the impulse to rebel, to break the rules and to go against any restrictions, either boldly or through creative ways. E.g. some people boldly smoke in public to make a rebellious statement, whereas some people take to alternatives such as vaping. The name ‘red button syndrome’ is so named because some personalities feel forced to press a red button which has a warning ‘Do not press’.

Red button syndrome. Source: 4.bp.blogspot.com

An outright ban will not work for such people, because they feel the need to exercise their choice even if the outcome is adverse. The enforcers need to get creative about it, such as heavily tax cigarettes so that the smokers need to think twice before lighting up.

Conclusion

Choice and decision are complex processes. To master them takes a lot of practice. So much that it is actually an art. That is why Sheena calls it the ‘Art of Choosing’.


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Coming up: An experiment with veganism

Priya (my wife) and I have read several articles on veganism. Both of us are vegetarians. Our diet is made of whole grains, grain flour, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables. In addition, we also consume milk thrice a day and use milk-based products such as curd and ghee in ample quantities.

The range of articles on veganism goes from absolute fanaticism to hateful criticism. It is difficult to determine solely based on polarised opinions whether veganism is really life-changing in a positive way or just a fad. So we have decided to embark on a one month experiment in the December of 2019. If things work wonderfully during the experiment, like it has for hundreds of thousands of vegans, our new year resolution will be to turn vegans long term. Otherwise we will pretend that the month-long experiment never happened! Continue reading Coming up: An experiment with veganism

Experience the joy of travel without the travel

Joy of Travel

If I got paid Re.1 for every time I heard people say ‘Travel is my passion’ I’d have been a millionaire..no wait..a billionaire may be. But most of them do not pursue their travel passion it due to lack of time, expenses, not having sufficient holidays, spouse not willing, friends ditched at the last minute, parents said no and several other excuses we generally find for not pursuing what we want to. But do we really need to travel to experience the joy of travel?

Why do we travel?

We travel to meet new people, experience new things, learn new skills, be exposed to a whole new world. But is it mandatory to travel to be able to do these things? Is it not possible to do this in the place we live?

Continue reading Experience the joy of travel without the travel

How India360 travel made us better?

Have you heard of people come back from long trips and say ‘Travel changed us. We are now better people’. What does travel do to change you ? We had written about our learning from India360 earlier. But this time I want to give a very objective view on how travel can change you based on a renowned model of measuring personality traits Continue reading How India360 travel made us better?

Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport

Title: Deep Work
Author: Cal Newport
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
ISBN-10: 9780349413686
ISBN-13: 978-0349413686
Buy on: Amazon.in | Amazon.com

Introduction

In a generation that is constantly distracted by several inputs, either from too many electronic devices or by the constant interruptions of a an open plan work space, Cal Newport is a contrarian emphasising that several hours of work where you are uninterrupted by devices or humans is essential if you want to perform ground-breaking work. In his book Deep Work, he classifies all important work that requires total focus and utmost concentration as deep work or the type of work in which you need to work hard and dive deep down into the depths of your brain or body to find focus and achieve your goals. All other work  which keep you busy, but have no significant change in your life, say checking emails, chatting with your colleagues over work and commuting as shallow work. Continue reading Book Summary: Deep Work by Cal Newport


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Book Summary: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

David And Goliath

Hardcover: 320 pages
Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0316204366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316204361

Buy Here : Amazon.in or Amazon.com

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book ‘David and Goliath’ covers the story of unlikely success. Instead of the cliche of how persistence and hard work pays, he analyzes the stories in depth and brings about how the underdogs chose a different path to win the game and how this learning can be used by us all.

Continue reading Book Summary: David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell


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