#100happydays

From Rhea Malvai (link) I learnt the meaning of the hashtag #100happydays. Matt Cutts too, in his TED Talk (link) speaks of a way to form habits by repeatedly doing things for 30 days. His point is that if you can sustain a good habit for 30 days, your chances of holding to it are much higher after that.

One of the important and regular things I want to add in my life is the feeling of gratitude and happiness. Many people and events have inspired me to do so but one that stands out is the episode of This American Life (link). This one was narrate by Michael Lewis and tells the story of a guy who has a story about how he got in to college which is quite a romantic story and is one that re-inforces your faith humanity. Except that it is not true — all of it. He has this way of adding his perspective on regular events that make the world around him look much brighter. That episode is a life changer to me.

So I started this little experiment some time back.

I spend a few minutes every day thinking of at least one thing in the day that is a reason to be happy. Not a lot, just one thing. Even on a shitty day when you have a lot of things not going the way you want, you can always look for one thing to be happy about.

This is the 21st day and I can tell you that it is a good idea and has changed my thinking if not at all times at least for some time in the day.

Now on to making this a habit – Should be easy.

Colonialism, 2014

The other day I was at the embassy area when the auto passed near the very long queues outside the US embassy. Intelligent, smart and well-to-do people (their clothes told me so) were sitting on the pavement. I don’t know why they were all waiting there instead of the nearby market. I mean it is not like the guards would call out their names across the street. Perhaps the importance that visa application or green card approval carries in their life plans made them sit there, uncomplaining in the heat of Delhi. Vendors make a good business out of selling them snacks and water.

I was looking at the crowd as we passed by them in the auto rickshaw when the driver said: ‘angrez log ab bhi raaj kar rahe hain’.

Incumbency

Exhibit 1: Clayton Christensen. His book The Innovator’s Dilemma is a celebrated one. He talks about how companies lose out on great opportunities because they stay focussed on where they earn most of their profits from today and hence sidestep what is new, promising but perhaps too small today.

Exhibit 2: Jonathan Ive, in many interviews and in his tribute speech to Steve Jobs explains that Steve had a lot of respect for fledgling ideas. He knew that “while ideas ultimately can be so powerful they begin as fragile barely formed thoughts, so easily missed, so easily compromised, so easily dismissed.

I could several stories about how large, incumbent companies have been overcome by new, smaller ones but I will skip that part because what I would like to do is extend this to our lives as well.

Most of us have an idea of what we want to do when asked to define a no-holds-barred ambition. I, for instance, want to a) make a product that is used by millions of people everyday b) want to make the world smaller by being able to travel with the same kind of planning that we do for making coffee c) want to learn programming again and experience the joy of building something that others use.

I am sure you have your ideas too, perhaps even more fun than the above 🙂 But the one thing I often hear myself (and also others) say is that they are too invested in their current lifestyle, commitments and they have responsibilities they must respect and a combination of these greatly affects their ability to pursue their dream.

I believe the reality of how we operate is totally different. I say so because while we all have stuff to pursue, the action really happens on a microscopic, everyday level when we wake up and make a decision to work on X or Y. Let’s say you want to learn gardening (or programming for that matter, in my case). The time you invest in learning the new skill doesn’t give returns right away and your mind sub-consciously continues to fight the low probabilities of success of this new venture against the assuredness of the current. We’re conservative beings, risk-averse and wanna maximise on what we know. I think this is what our brains do because of how they’ve evolved. Self-preservation, if nothing else for a fancy word.

The fact however is that you change your probabilities of success by sheer hard work and perseverance. You have to,  you *must* fool your brain at those giving-up moments to somehow circumvent the doubts during this transition from low-success probability to a higher-success one.

Fight the incumbent thoughts in your mind that tell you to hold on to what you have instead of embracing the change. And tell yourself that you will put in the hours to do what is required without even thinking of results for a fixed time every day.

PS: I’m trying to do this these days to learn programming. I’ll let you guys know how far I reach 🙂

The Car UI

The cars of olden days were all born with manual gear change. The Ambassador as I remember also had a pedal to the right that dimmed the headlights. The dipper, you know.

The four foot pedals were ABCD, that is:
Accelerator
Brake
Clutch
Dipper

In that order. Makes it easy to remember no?

I wonder if the current cars have any such smarts and simplicity…

Talking / Trusting

Today on a ride back from the beach on the auto I had to stop at an ATM because money was short. I asked the auto guy to find an ATM and he stopped at one enroute.

It was dark when we started so I’m pretty sure neither of us recognized each other enough to spot in the crowd. I got down, walked to the ATM and wondered how I would find him if I did lose him in the crowd. Never mind that for now because it deserves another post (it is an auth and identification problem similar to a browser handshaking a banks’ server).

I walked in the (right) auto and didn’t say a word and got dropped at the hotel. I loved that. Yes, the part where I didn’t have to say a word. You can sure go ahead with how-unsocial-I-must-be sort of jokes but here is why I liked it: the unspoken trust between two individuals is priceless.

A gazillion wasteful processes exist in our world to compensate for the lack of trust between people. Bus conductors, preventive litigators, currency notes, airplane boarding passes, gates, window grills.
All that is a bloody waste and it exists because people can’t trust each other.

Fluid motion

@: fluid-motion
Vehicles in different fluids behave differently when it comes to comfort of the passengers in them. The size of the vehicle and the position in which you are seated has an impact on your comfort. Here are some general principles:

# Boats

## Small Motorboats
Motorboats rise a bit from the front due to the engine being at the very back. So if you are seated at the front, you will experience the up and down of every wave. Very thrilling, but not comfortable. The back, right where the motor is happens to be the least bumpy place to be.

## Sailboats
They have a long keel at the center bottom that goes much further below the water and keeps the boat stable. Staying above that is the most comfortable location.
In general though, sailboats are not bumpy. So all positions work out okay.

# Aeroplanes
The front of the aircraft is usually the least bumpy at least in the Jets. The other position is in the rows along the wings.

The back is usually the bumpiest.

We’re born myopic. Let’s fix it.

Evolutionary improvements over the past few eons have taught our brains to detect and identify any immediate changes around us. You might have noticed that at times when you are not even focussing at the corner of your eye, the slightest movement catches your attention. This is remarkable by the way and very specialized processors and sensors (rods in the eye and the hippocampus in the brain to be specific) help you achieve this feat. Think of it like low-power natural language processor built in the new Moto X. Evolved, just to do one thing really good.

Such hyper-efficient systems are myopic. As a result, our brain loses out on noticing long term changes around us. If I were to change the colour of this text one point on the RGB scale at a time chances are you that will not notice it till some time has passed. I am talking about changes that your eye CAN detect, but your brain refuses to acknowledge – like the gradual scaling of paint on a wall over seasons or the tree adding a new branch. Big changes – that we do not ‘see’.

I believe that we should inculcate the same approach in our short lifespans too. This hyperopic approach will force you to compensate priorities for something you did not before. Long term changes are arguably enormously more powerful than short term changes.
Consider the skill of language: Our ability to pass on unique information we learn to our children (this is the basic skill of language that only a few species have). It allows us to teach our children to ward off new dangers and point to new resources. Over time this makes us insanely more powerful than any other species.Consider however the time it would have taken to evolve speech, hearing and language from the point where we didn’t have it. I don’t know the exact years, but safe to assume it was more than 100,000 years. While that looks like an awfully long time to one generation, it is a blip for the entire species in its’ evolutionary story. That ‘blip’ however completely differentiated these ‘speaking’ species from others to a point where you simply don’t look back ever !

As a case in point, here are two ways you could think of this in your work life.

Your active, contributing working life is somewhere between 40 to 60 years in which many of us end up in a learn-everything-by-going-to-college-then-work-all-your-life approach. Don’t you think punctuations for picking up additional skills is a much better thing to do ? Or perhaps a six month period every 5 years where you only improve on a specific area of yours that you wish to make better on ?

Or think about your goals at a 40 year scale; I think that having a personal brand that clearly stands for what you imbibe is so much more important than the immediate promotion or a salary hike that you’d been vying for and perhaps even losing sleep over. Trust, I have always believed is much harder to earn than money and takes a much longer investment to achieve. It is much harder work than say, closing a sale or writing a program to solve 2048.

And the above examples are just the onset of a way of thinking – What’s stopping you from thinking about other aspects of your life in this way ? Perhaps all your key decisions like the choice of the city you grow up in, the spouse you chose, the books you read would be influenced by this thought process.

I look forward to hear how you think the world would operate differently if everybody became hyperopic 🙂