Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Do you fear taking decisions - What you can do about it?

 The other day, my partner brought a very important observation up for our discussion. It was my growing habit of seeking approval from him on each and every thing - from everyday decisions like what meals to cook, daily grocery shopping choices, what to wear to bigger ones like holiday planning, work related decisions etc. Another striking observation made by him was that when I am on business travels, I take my own decisions, I plan for my weekend trips, practically decide everything own. So why do I exhibit a different behavior when I am with him. Why can't I take decisions and trust it will all go well?

Does this situation sounds familiar (or I am the only one odd here). I am sure, some of you can relate to this. Think of the last time when you took a decision all by yourself that had consequence on your closed ones? When we are alone, we take decisions or are made to take decisions and we trust them. But when others are involved in the consequences directly or indirectly, quite often we seek approvals on our decisions from a close aid. And we often label it as 'taking guidance' though deep down in our hearts what we are seeking is someone to approve that we are on right track. 

For some, making decisions can be a terrifying prospect of everyday life. This habit may have different driving factors such as fear of something going wrong, fear of rejection of our choices, fear of disapproval as a decision-makers that comes from having made a bad decision or just a lack of clarity on what exactly is needed. The end result is low confidence and getting stuck in a loop. The person is unable to move forward to new experiences.  

Tips to overcome the fear, lift oneself and shine:  

Some may attribute this fear to gender differences in decision making such as women are more risk averse to men etc. But I would like to address this issue by rising above the gender equation. Here are few strategies, some of them I have practiced in the past, some I read and found it appealing to give it a try, practice them mindfully to become a better decision-maker:

  1. Being more compassionate to myself: Many a times we fear taking a decision despite being logical. One of the ways to overcome subconscious fear is via meditation. Through meditation, we can practice to be self-compassionate and try to be non-judgmental on ourselves. As per scientific studies, on continuous practice, meditation can have profound impact on our sub-conscious mind helping us to make decisions based on self-belief. 
  2. Self-talk to learn to trust myself: This is an amazing technique. I learnt this when I was attending a Women Leadership Summit in Infosys. The concept is very simple. Every morning, get up and stand in a  powerful pose, take a deep breath and give a loud shout "I am a good decision -maker and I trust my decisions." Repeat it 5 times. This may sound hilarious but it definitely works to boost one's confidence. I have tried it in the past and I shall try it again now. 
  3. Reduce the number of everyday decisions: Steve Jobs practiced it. Elon Musk practices it. Reduce the decision-making in everyday life so as to focus one's energy on big decisions. I admit it openly that I am a spoiled daughter-in-law. Back in India, I never had to take these daily decisions of what to cook, what to buy etc. My sweet mother-in-law made it so easy for us. After moving to new country without her, I was spending way to too much of my time on taking small decisions and usually ended up irritating my partner with these small decisions. I remembered back in India, we made an entire list of meals for seven days. And I tried to do the same here. Preparing a set meal menu for each of the weekday, wearing a standard clothes for outings and having a set routine reduces the stress of everyday decisions. And if my partner has a difference of opinion, he puts it across and suggests an alternative. Win-win situation!
  4. Adding layers of perspective: 'What ifs' scenarios usually holds us back from making decisions. The mystery element - uncertainty factor - adds to our tension. There are two ways to look at this. One way (which is also the most common suggestion) is to think the worst case possible. 'What is the worst thing thing that can happen if I take this decision?' Such a strategy helps one to prepare mentally to face the consequences. I used this technique recently while making a career related decision. Another way is to add a different person perspective whom we trust and admire. 'How would Ms. X would have done it?'. This is very common technique we see in movies where cops are trying to chase the bad boys. Don't you think it is worth giving a shot and see what options can we come up with! 
  5. Breathe: If small decisions add a lot of stress, take a pause and breathe. Take a deep breath. If possible, take a small nap. Sleep and deep breathing helps to de-stress and clear the mind of unwanted things. It helps us to be conscious of the present moment and think through what's going on. With a  clear mind, its easy to write down the decision, commit to it and move on with life! 

If you have any interesting ideas to deal with the fear of making decisions, please do share it with me in the comment section. 

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Paralyzed by too much of free time: 3 ways to make to cope up with its effects

 Change is an unavoidable fact. When I moved out of home for the first time, changed cities, got married, or switched jobs. I handled it quite well. But this time, it is challenging. It's been two months now since we moved to the new place, London! It has been a thrilling experience so far - 14 days isolation, Airbnbs, house hunting, job interviews, celebrations away from home etc. All said and done, taken everything in a stride. And trust me, this can be hard but not challenging. Rather, the challenge for me is to manage my time specially when I am out of job currently. 

With ample of time at my disposal and for a freak like me who can't think of wasting time doing a nonsensical thing, this is challenging! I never had this much of free time ( except for when I attended Vipassana but there I was devoting my time for meditation). I know some of you may be rolling your eyes because this is what exactly most of us wants when we are tired our jobs. Free time. But free time with no plan - this is not good; maybe good for 10-15 days but not beyond.  

"Too much free time is certainly a monkey's paw in disguise. Most people can't handle a structureless life." ~ Douglas Coupland

Image by DigiPD
Thanks to my partner who noticed that I am feeling a little out of place and not being myself at times. As we discussed, I realized how I am obsessed with a set routine. But somehow, my routine has gone for a toss because situations have changed altogether. I was feeling overwhelmed and didn't know what I need to do and how can I better utilize time. Towards the end of our conversation I accepted that I need to mend my ways to accommodate and  embrace this change in my day-to-day life and find value-added activities to indulge in. 

It's ironic, that in my profession I help clients to embrace change. I discuss the change management plans for them to adopt the changes in their day-to-day operations. But in real-life I totally missed it. Phew! Lesson learnt :-) 

Here are three things that I am following to prepare my mind to embrace this change and use my free time effectively. These activities help me to face my daily dilemma and keep me away from procrastination and anxiety:

1. 5 minutes meditation whenever stuck: An year and a half back, I attended Vipassana wherein I learnt to focus on present. And I try to practice it now more often than before. I find it to be the best way to calm my senses whenever I realize myself to be torn between past and present. The constant comparison in mind between my past routine in India and present often drifts me away from making the best of available time. Five minutes of quick meditation and stillness helps me to bring my focus on present and value it. It allows me to think what matters to me the most.   

2. Journaling: Thanks to my father who suggested that I should journal, a practice I had long forgotten. So now, every morning, I write my thoughts and also note down 5 things that I want to accomplish today. It could be as simple as preparing meals to listening audio book. Knowing what I want to do makes things easy for me and helps me to manage my daily errands. At the end of the day, when I reflect, it gives me a sense of satisfaction that I have done something valuable and made some additions to my wisdom and knowledge. 

3. Trying something new: This was a suggestion by my partner. Why? Because now is the time to explore what I really like. Or may be something that scares me. For example, he suggested to look out for part time jobs to understand what an average person does for living in this city and gain new perspectives. It will also help me to have a set routine :-)  Or learn a new language as I really get anxious about learning something on my own through my own means ( yes, I am an old school person, still like taking classes rather than exploring through freely available knowledge in DIY style). Learning something new always excites me. And apart from excitement, it helps me to take my mind off from daily stress and gives me a sense of satisfaction of learning a new skill. 

Well, these may not be full-proof techniques to help overcome such anxieties. But certainly, these are helping me to keep myself active, boost my mental health and add meaning to my every day life. I am trying to take one day at a time and see what best I can do to make the most of it. 

In case you are a freak like me and have been in a similar situation, please do share your thoughts in the comments section. Even if you are not and have suggestions for me that I can try, please share them with me. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed reading this and have any suggestions for my blogging, please do share your thoughts. 

Enjoy your day! 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Book Review: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel

 As a part of #2bookamonth challenge, this is the second book of the year.

I picked this book out of my interest in behavior finance. And as the name suggest, this book doesn’t disappoint in this context. Unlike most of the books on investing, this is a short book of approx. 230 pages, not exaggerating too much on any topic. The best part is that the book is divided into small chapters and each chapter consist of stories, anecdotes conveying the message for better understanding. The author has not shied away from even sharing his psychology towards the money he owns towards the end of the book.

As per my understanding, the key message is that doing well with money has less to do with the smartness of the person and lot to do with the behavior. There are a lot of learnings one can take-away from the book, my top 6 are as follows:

  1.  Manage your money in a way that allows you to sleep at night: I guess, this is the best punchline Morgan has put in this book. He explains that managing the money well is different from getting a highest package or getting high returns on the investment. People tend to lose sleep even when they are earning highest returns. There is a difference in getting wealthy and staying wealthy. So, the fundamental question we should ask ourselves before making any financial decision is – Will this help me to get sleep at night?
  2. Respect the power of luck and risk and be humble: We should be careful when assuming certain outcomes are only based on our 100% of actions. There are other factors that also have a role to play (luck and risk). We often forget to take it into consideration when calibrating someone’s success or misfortune. Morgan wrote a letter to his son when he was born and stated- “Not all the success is due to hard work and not all the poverty is due to laziness. Keep this in mind when judging people including yourself.” Further, another great advice that Morgan mentioned in the letter was “No one is impressed with our possessions as much as we are. We may think we need flashy possessions but deep inside what we want is respect and admiration from others. And these pricy possessions never bring that- especially not from the people we want to respect us.
  3. Don’t narrow your focus on individual patterns: Morgan emphasizes on focusing on broad patterns. As it so happens that when we focus on individual investments, ones which are doing well look to us as winners than they are, and the losers appear to be more regrettable than they should be. One must understand that it is not possible that all the things go right all the time. We can be wrong half the time and still make a fortune because of the 80-20 principle. As per Morgan, it is fine to have large chunk of poor investments and few outstanding ones.
  4. Make ‘time’ and ‘patience’ your best friends: The single most powerful thing that any investor can do is – increase the time horizon. The ones who understand the power of compounding understand the role of ‘time’ in investing. He points out one fact which makes the point so relevant - $81.4 billion out of $84.5 billion net worth of Warren Buffet came after his 65th birthday. His secret in investing is time. His close friend and business partner Charlie Munger were quoted saying – “The first rule of compounding is: Never interrupt it unnecessarily.
  5.  Define the cost of success and be ready to pay it: There are no free lunches. The problem is that for a lot of things the price tags aren’t visible. When we experience them first-hand, then the price becomes apparent. He uses the statistic that the S&P 500 increased 119-fold in the 50 years ending 2018. Imagine, if someone would have invested a lump sum and just watched it compound over years. But not many have done it. Because there is a ‘fee’ for these incredible returns which are fear, uncertainty, regret, panic as stock markets plunges at regular intervals. This is the price we must learn to pay to enjoy the returns.
  6. Define the game you’re playing: We often commit mistake of making our financial decisions on someone else opinion (be it experts’ advice, stock market news, some industrialist’s portfolio, and other mediums). A teenager, an elderly person, and a hedge fund manager- all will have different goals. And the hard reality is that another person, whom we are blindly following, doesn’t know our end goal. We follow a decision that may be right for them and disastrous for us. Hence, it is important that as an individual we realize our game to avoid getting distracted and off-track by others’ decisions. This is no single right answer in this mad world of investing. We just have to find out the answer that works for us.

 Morgan has added a postscript titled “A Brief history of why U.S. Consumers think the way they do”. This section is interesting to understand the current state of consumers in US market.

There are many books on investing, but this book provides a fresh look on the human biases we have, in crisp manner and using simple language. One is bound to gain awareness on our psychological behaviors to navigate better with the money matters. Let me warn you , there is no math-based logic displayed in the book to tell you where to invest, best ways to invest rather Morgan has dived into the grey area on showcasing how people make financial decisions in real world.

I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn’t have the appetite to go through thick detailed books on psychology yet wants to learn about behavior and money decisions. It will help you to make your own mental approach for money.

As always, please don't forget to leave your comments in the comment box below and share what are you reading currently. Happy Reading! 

Friday, January 15, 2021

Book Review: The 4-hour Workweek

 I am glad that this is the first book I picked to read in this new year. This book provides interesting concepts, actual life hacks that can help you increase productivity, motivate you to work on the things that matter by making each minute of yours count. I wouldn’t say that this book is only for entrepreneurs. This is for anyone and everyone who is serious about changing his/her current working lifestyle and way of living. And the pandemic just made some of the situations easy.

Timothy Ferriss often referred as Tim Ferriss, the author of the book mentions about the New Rich (NR) community, a fast-growing subculture who has mastered the art of mobility to create a luxurious life for themselves instead of living with a retirement plan every day. He uses the examples of NRs throughout the book to draw the comparison between habits of NRs and others.

What distinguishes this book from any other productivity improvement/ lifestyle improvement book is that Tim has provided lots of practical tips, many useful web links in the book (informative for US folks) rather than just talking about the subject. I have only come across few books where authors have actually shared links that they practically use ( one other book is Game Changers by Dave Asprey )

This book offers a lot of tips. My top five key take-aways are as follows:

1.     Use of Parkinson’s Law: 
Use this law to accomplish more in less time. Shorten the schedules, the meeting durations, deadlines for project so that one has full focus on the work and does not end up procrastinating. I am sure many of us can think of such situations where we would have applied this in our work, in our college – like annual project being completed in two days etc. The fundamental is simple – if we are crunched for time, we are often forced to use it efficiently.

2.     Apply Pareto’s Principle: 
This is my saver and now I take a meaner look at all the work activities I am ‘supposed’ to do. Pareto’s principle states that roughly 80% of the effect comes from 20% of the causes. Tim advises to use this statistical technique in selecting our tasks that have a significant impact overall. I strongly believe that applying Pareto’s principle, be it in our business or personal lives, we can streamline our focus on important few and make our lives much simpler.

3.     Use of Automation and Delegation:
In the world of AI, automation and outsourcing, this advice certainly rings the bell. The process looks like this. If you don’t need to do a task and does not have any meaningful value, eliminate it. If it can’t be eliminated but can be automated, automate it. If it can’t be automated, look forward to delegate it (outsource it). 
      Tim shares examples from his own life what he has done, how he uses automated response on mails, automated mailing list software etc. and outsourced some of his work to an agency in India. (On a lighter note, I am just wondering whom we shall (Indians) outsource our work to?). I am sure, like Tim and other NRs, if we look at our activities, there is plenty of room for elimination, automation, delegation etc.

4.     Take Mini Retirements:
Tim emphasizes on taking mini retirements throughout your life instead of planning to retire at the end of your working life. And one doesn’t need to be rich to go on big adventures that we often fancy about. Tim has again shared a lot of informational resources on how to plan mini retirements including some interesting travel websites too. I don’t think this trend has picked up yet, but with the changing workstyles and new millennials joining the workforce, global organizations will soon be open to this idea of mini retirements. 
      But here’s a catch: You can’t take a mini retirement, sit at home and do nothing. You need to find something interesting which you can talk about, after you’re back from the break. And if one is smart, one can leverage that experience to not just stand out from rest of the folks but use it effectively to crack the interview.

5.     Be Minimalist:
Tim urges everyone to follow this advice at least for travelling purposes. This gives you mobility and flexibility to change your plans rather than be tied to the schedule. He also mentions about BIT – Buy it There. If you are going to a city which has a decent living, why do you need to pack moisturizers, shampoos, toothpaste etc. Buy it there. Simple.  

There are tons of other lessons one may take- related to boosting confidence, best time to make cold calls, why should one be business owner and not business runner etc. Tim has dedicated the last section of his book to the best of his blogs collection, which is a treat. 

However, there are some points on which I disagree with him when it comes to crossing work ethics. But I guess, the way the pandemic has changed the workstyles, I don’t need to worry about crossing it. People don’t have to lie or use technology hacks or trick their boss to go for staycation. Companies are now open to work from home style of working. People have already started doing staycation, some European countries have started giving short term visas for people to come and work, understand the culture before deciding to move or not. All we can do is take the best advantage of time.

Overall, this book offers some good practical ways to improve productivity so that we can ensure that we give our quality time to the people we care about and do things that we are passionate about. I would suggest this book to anyone who is willing to take a hard look at his/ her life and is open to take some bold steps for change. No one has ever won by simply doing nothing. 

Feel free to leave your comments whether you found this book review useful? In case, you have read the book, don't forget to share your thoughts. Happy reading!

Monday, June 15, 2020

Get in the company of a 'quiet person' to 'think' more

I read a brilliant article on Keanu Reeves, one of my favorite actors. He is known for his quiet demeanor. The article brings out in simple points what quiet people like Keanu Reeves have to offer to people and how it can bring the change. Here's my five point summary of this article:

1. Think -> Clarity -> Change
Quiet people take time to think, which leads to clarity in thoughts and can brew the change

2. Often use 'softly spoken' words which draws the listners closer and make them attentive 

3. Silence -> Curosity -> Conversation -> Being Heard
This is spot on and I have myself practiced it.
Queit people are mostly silent during loud talks. This silence draws attention and people get curious to know your thoughts which leads to conversation. People in the room or gathering then listen to you intently. 

4. Take strategic pause while speaking which allows listeners to think 
This helps speaker to think and gives a chance to listner to reflect on what is said and think more. 

5. Smarter you become, the less you speak
Well, my views are a bit divided here. Not sure, if it holds true with every smart person ;) But I'll still give in. As lesser one speak, the person gives more chance to others to speak and listen to them, takes time to reflect on topic and then carefully put forth the view point.

In case, this topic has managed to arouse some interest in you or if you are a fan of Keanu Reeves, here's the link to the full article:

Happy Reading !

Do share your thoughts in the comment section on what do you think about quiet people - are they smarter ? Does being quiet always attract people's attention or is it often misinterpreted ? What place do quiet people have in our otherwise loud society? 

Friday, May 15, 2020

Later. Someday. Tomorrow but Not Today

I was in a casual conversation with my childhood friend, Robin, when he said ‘Don’t you have more time now, saving on your commute time of about 3 hours. How are you utilizing that time? You have been asking me on movies, books, articles. Tell me, are you going to watch any of these or read any of the books I mentioned.’

‘Yes, of course, I’ll check these. And…’

He cut me halfway and said ‘Megs, If I know you well, you are not going anywhere with this to-watch list. Simply because of your procrastinating nature.’

This took me by surprise not because he was spot on but on confronting this to me. I laughed and so did he and we continued our conversation.

But this small conversation kept me thinking. The word kept echoing in my thoughts.

 Procrastination. Its dictionary meaning is – the action of delaying or postponing something. It is the force that prevents one from following through on what one sets to do.

I know many fellas, who have set some goals in this Covid situation. Reading 10 books in lock-down or watching 5 movies over the weekend. Forget the leisurely goals, go on to LinkedIn and I see 10-12 folks every day in my network flashing their accomplishments on completing professional courses / certifications that might boost their careers or they did so just out of the sheer joy of learning (which I highly doubt).

When it comes to me, Yes, I am a procrastinator. I don’t deny it. I simply can’t act until my heart is 100 %convinced. I like to explore options available at hand and make a ‘choice’. Yes, sometimes, I would take time to even decide upon the course of action – so much of time that either I lose an interest or the event itself becomes unimportant. That’s how my mental wireframe works. –this is how I excuse myself from feeling bad. You can see my procrastinator mind speaking right now. Does this resonate with you as well?  

But does that mean, I push away all the things on to tomorrow? No.

I realized that I have the habit of procrastination way back during my first job. It also dawned on me that this habit had got me into bad situations before as well. It was then I decided to work on overcoming it. I read many blogs on this topic and applied different techniques. But, too many choices and options spoils us.

Hence, I decided to just hold on to one thing, which resonated with me – prioritizing activities.
Yes, prioritization helps. I set simple goals for the day, 2 out of 5 things are important to me. I need to do it ‘today’ itself else bomb will explode and make my life hell. I have to train my mind every single day to finish those top 2 tasks despite all the distractions encountered all throughout the day. But can prioritization help alone? No. The tasks need to be realistic too. The combination of two has worked well for me and help me to keep my mind sane.  

How this has helped? One-line answer to this is – it helps me to distinguish my critical tasks from what is ‘good to do’ but ‘not important’.

I used the word ‘Choice’ in one of the above paragraphs. It’s tricky word as often it is used as a weapon to defend oneself. It’s important that one understands that there is thin line between decisions made out of choices and out of laziness or lethargic attitude. If you haven’t realized it, I would advise you to next time monitor your decisions – is it out of choice or your lazy spirit has cast a spell on you.

And now circling this to closure - how this blog post started, it was all due to the constant push from my family members, friends like Robin and LinkedIn posts which all talks about ‘Do it now, Do it today’. What one constantly feeds into mind, reflect into actions eventually. So, read well and surround yourself with folks who are constantly running behind you for your own good.

To end this post, I’ll quote Buddha “The trouble is, you think you have time.”

Do we have time? If yes, question is – are we living it or letting it slip away. If not, question is – what is it that we would want to do today? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book Review: Bridgital Nation

I picked this book for two reasons:
1. Compelling title as it promised to highlight how AI and IoT solutions can help to solve India's problems
2. Authors - N Chandrasekaran, one of the most admired person in IT industry and Roopa Purushothaman, chief economist of Tata Group. So, I knew, it will be a sensible book and credentials can be taken seriously

And trust me, this book didn't disappoint me. It follows a structured approach- digging a bit deep into the fundamental problems of Indian society and economy and taking a shot at few technology aided solutions, laying the basic foundation of bridgital model and leaving it open for young entrepreneurial minds to think of solutions that can bridge the identified gaps in noted areas of healthcare, educational services, legal processes, micro financial services, agriculture to name a few. The real life stories quoted in the book are engaging. The language used in the book is kept simple to be understood by common man that one doesn't need a background in economics or technology.

The book highlights India's twin challenges : Jobs and Access.There seems to a huge demand of vital services and an equally overwhelming supply of human capital. The aim is to bridge the gap between them.The authors rightly point out that India's growth model needs to be different from other countries. Unlike, most of the countries, growth is followed by creation of new jobs, this model doesn't seem to work in India. This is because the growth is coming from mainly service sectors, wherein highly qualified people work and less from manufacturing jobs. Another piece of the puzzle is working women. Only 23 per cent of all women who could work are employed as opposed to 75 per cent in men. Surprisingly, it isn't that women do not want to work. But due to priorities hard wired in our culture and mindsets, the number is getting lower year on year. Another problem is the existence of numerous jobs are in the informal sector, which fail to raise the standards of living and provide social security.

With the bridgital nation approach, authors see a potential shift of 45 million workers from informal sector to the formal sector via SMEs. But what is bridgital approach? It is simple: re-examine and re-invent the tasks that goes into a job. For example, the administrative tasks that doctors and nurses have to do themselves in govt. hospitals esp. in tier 3 cities. Due to lack of skilled people availability, often doctors / nurses spend more time in doing admin tasks and hence have less time to spend with patients. With the help of technology, data and connectivity, solutions can be devised that prepare and empower the new workforce to perform these tasks that were thought to be beyond their skill sets.

The solutions advocated in the book are simple and fundamental ones. It challenges young entrepreneurs to go beyond the conventional processes and re-imagine it with technology for every possible sector. The book completely discard the much popular debate on- technology (automation) vs jobs. Rather, it focuses on using advanced technologies like AI and IoT to create more accessible jobs for new bridgital workers and bridge in the ultimate gap that's possibly stopping India to grow into an economically strong nation.

In my view, this book gives a hope that it is possible to achieve 'sabka vikaas via sabka saath'.