free html hit counter
Posted on: Monday, April 29, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Have you ever wondered why your life, literally and physically, moves out of balance when you are going through a stressful time? Your diet is usually the first thing to go out of control. You stop cooking, and even when you eat out you stop taking the right decisions and start picking all the wrong foods.

Your closet, room and home is usually the next thing to go out of control.

Give me your diet journal for the last one month and I can probably tell you how productive or nonproductive your month was. Let me visit your home on a surprise visit and I'll probably tell you exactly which phase of life you're going through.

And then as these little things go out of control they create a cycle of more panic and anxiety in your life, which in turn leads to more things going out of control.

On the other hand, have you also noticed how doing just a few simple things, can have  a profoundly positive impact on your life and your self-confidence? For example, when you consistently wake up early in the morning, work productively (just for a couple of hours a day), when you consistently eat right, play music, workout; go for a run; or do whatever it is that you do; life feels so… awesome and even your work life and productivity begins to improve.

All of us has at least one thing which if we do right and consistently, we feel in control of our lives and when we don't do that one thing… that's usually a sign that we are losing control and going into a state of depressed helplessness.

That one thing can be different for different individuals. For some, it's waking up early. For others it’s making their bed after they wake up. For many others I know, their daily workout happens to be that thing. Everyone is different but most people have at least one thing which creates a perception of control for them. It makes them feel happy, makes them feel like they are in control of their lives and doing that one thing, makes them feel strong.

We are creatures of control. In an uncertain world where most of us have very little control over anything, including our survival, any perception of control that we can create for ourselves makes us feel safer and stronger than folks who are unable to create that perception.

In the larger scheme of universe where you are an insignificant speck of dust, who  could cease to exist because of a simple road accident, an illusion of control makes you believe that what you do matters and as a result of that, you matter.

If you can pick up one habit, and stick to it, even when life throws its shots at you, you are telling yourself that you take active deliberate decisions and your life runs on those decisions; not a random chain of events controlled by mere chance. You are taking a stand against helplessness.  This is why social scientists call these keystone habits.

This is why when you pick up a keystone habit your life starts to change. For example, most smokers who cultivate the habit of running quit smoking. Most folks who start working out or practicing a musical instrument get better at their work life.

You might say that the perception of control is just an illusion, and I might even agree with you, but that perception of control is exactly what allows us to get up in the morning and go to work. That perception of control is what allows survivors to fight dreadful diseases and even though this would sound a little cliché I would argue that this perception is exactly what powers most of our space programs and allows individuals to climb mountains. Of course rockets have exploded in the past and people have died while climbing mountains but that perception and illusion of control is what enables the astronauts and the climbers to roll the dice, take a chance and succeed.

I have a personal theory that as nerds most of us love programming because in an uncertain world, programing computers creates a perception of control and that perception makes us feel strong and empowered. Hey, we can't change everything, but at least we get to control what's behind the screen of that machine.

All my life, one of the most valuable things I’ve learned it is the idea of inching forward slowly and yet consistently using keystone habits and creating a perception of control is your only chance at that forward movement.

This is why every time I start feeling a sense of helplessness, I fall back to some of my keystone habits to regain that perception of control again. I start writing code each day; I start my daily work out session and I come back to this blog and start writing consistently. And I begin reading. These are four keystone habits that help me inch and claw out of dark and depressing times.

And before I know it, I feel empowered to change things and I'm control. I know the control is just a perception but it still works magically when it comes to taking me out of a state of helplessness and making me productive again.

What are your keystone habits? Did you do them today? Did you take a stand against the punches life throws at you, and actively take out time to do something you committed to? If not, please give yourself a moment today to think about which your keystone habits are and then make an active effort to execute on them.

I won’t say it’ll change your life, but if you are experiencing a sense of helplessness, there is a good chance it’ll pull you out of it and empower you to change things. One inch at a time. This is your way of telling yourself that you may not be in control but at least you are not completely out of control either.

Go on. Pick a few keystone habits and give them time, consistently. There is a high chance you may regain your perception of control and life will begin to come back in balance soon. If you haven't given keystone habits a chance, you should. I wish you good luck.

posted on Monday, April 29, 2019 3:41:20 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Monday, February 4, 2019 by Rajiv Popat

Science is all about cause effect relationships. So when I started working out and set out my first fitness goals a few years ago, I turned to science for validation. I read books like Spark which were all about how workouts can re-wire your brain. If a qualified doctor or researcher shows me a study that involves a sizable number of individuals, control groups, placebos and an output built on causation, I tend to get convinced much more easily about doing something compared to a random individual giving me health and wellness advice. It's probably why I like Headspace; because it approaches Meditation with a scientific approach rather than a random guy telling you that 'meditation is good for you'. It's also the reason why in the last decade I've  literally read dozens if not hundreds of book on neuroscience, health, fitness and wellness. I have a lot of respect for science because it explains 'why' something works.

Having said that, modern day science has it's own set of quirks. One of the primary problems with modern day science, particularly when it comes to wellness, is the more you read, the more contradictions you encounter. As much as I respect science and scientists, (as I grow older) I am starting to realize that If you want to get completely confused about something really simple,  get a bunch of scientists with sufficient funding, contradicting opinions and conflicting interests and ask them to research a topic. Once you've done that, you can sit back and watch in awe as they come back with their elaborate research results with contradicting conclusions and confuse the crap out of you. We like to believe that the years of experience and expertise in a topic makes doctors and scientists better than the rest of us, when in reality, Experts are just as human and are affected by the same biases as the rest of us.

Take for instance the vegan diet. The china study was one of the most detailed elaborate scientific study about how the vegan diet works and heals your body. Just when you thought the science was clear about vegan diet, studies on carnivorous diets started evolving. And this isn't a single isolated example of scientific contradictions when it comes to health and wellness. Take any single simple nutritional opinion and you will see experts fighting in the battle ring of ideas, everyone with equally compelling arguments and 'scientific research' to support their opinions.

How many bananas should you eat on any given day - more or less? Are cocoa beans really good for you or are they dangerous and toxic? Is running good for you or can it kill you? Is soy a superfood or a cancer causing poison? Are mobile phones useful tools that make you super productive or is the radiation from your cell phone killing you and / or making you impotent? Is high cholesterol really connected to heart issues or is that just a medical hype? If you have cholesterol should you take statin drugs or should you continue to try curing it with lifestyle changes? Try googling  any of these supposedly simple questions that you would think science would have figured the answers to by now. Instead, all science has to offer to you in most of these cases is complete confusion and contradictions.

As far as I am concerned, confusion is fine. I am all for confusion. To an extent, I even love confusion. The problem I have with modern science however, is that scientists are now turning to leveraging our primal fear of death to force their 'opinions' (disguised as 'research') on us. And to be honest, most of the information you see out there today isn't even real science.

Someone from the Vegan community wants to prove a point and so touts Vegan Raw diet as a silver bullet and tells you that if you eat dairy you will die. Someone else from the dairy industry fights back by touting Soy as the most toxic substance and argues that if you eat Soy or drink soy milk you will die. Right in the middle of these two far end opinions are regular pragmatic folks like us, who are being constantly influenced by both sides which are leveraging our primal fear of death to push their opinions, agendas and lifestyles on us.

As I grow older, when it comes to my own health and wellness, I am learning how to take these 'scientific' studies with a grain of salt. I am starting to realize that a study based on one individual (you) which most scientists tout as 'anecdotal' is sometimes just as important for your health as any other scientific study done by an expert. When it comes to your own wellness, anecdotal results of what works and does not work for you is sometimes much more important than a doctor telling you what's good for you. Milk, may or may not be good according to science, but if you are lactose intolerant or it makes you feel crappy, it isn't good for you. The fact that milk makes you feel crappy, is reason enough to stop milk even if all the science in the world is telling you milk is harmless or does wonders to your health. On the other hand If you love milk, and it makes you feel energized, continue having milk - don't stop just because the china study says drinking milk is bad for everyone. Your body is your lab, try different things in moderation and see what works and does not work for you.

I had recently developed ulcers in my food pipe which eventually caused some serious gastric issues. I was burping all day long. After going to over four doctors, all of whom had different opinions on what was causing my gastric issues, and after sticking a tube down my throat and conducting a painful endoscopy, I was prescribed a bunch of medicines, which was supposed to fix these ulcers for most patients. All the medicines did however, was temporarily mask the symptoms. Even the masking of symptoms barely lasted for a few weeks after which the symptoms resurfaced again. The moment I would stop the meds I would return to where I was. After going to the same doctor for six months, the symptoms resurfacing every couple of weeks, I went to a new doctor only to be prescribed a different set of tablets.

After a few of these visits someone at work accidently talked to me about infusions made with holy basil and ginger. All you do is you dip them in water like a tea bag and then drink the water. By that time, I had had been prescribed over half a dozen medication by at-least four qualified doctors and nothing had helped; so I was pretty desperate. In an act of desperation I did a quick search on how ginger and holy basil help with gastric issues and bumped into some articles where they had helped individuals with similar symptoms as mine. I started the infusions and within two days, my gastric issues were gone. Placebo? Who knows. Anecdotal? Absolutely. Scientific? Absolutely not. Did it work for me? Hell Yes, it did!

Most of us tend to see our bodies as a machine and if there is anything wrong with it, we walk into a doctors office as if the doctor was a mechanic for the machine. Going by this analogy, most of us know our cars better than we know our own bodies. We can change tires, jump start the engine and we know the kind of gas our car works best on, but we don't seem to know even the basics of our own bodies. How many of us know the power of breathing, regular workouts, meditation, using basic food and herbs as medicine and the science of eating well? How many of us have genuinely experimented with some simple home remedies and herbs to heal ourselves? How about experimenting with different kinds of workouts - from weight training, to cross fit to running, which one works the best for you?

I'm not saying don't go to the doctor for a serious sickness. While your doctor can and will help you with your sickness, it's also equally important that you take control of your own body and start tiny experiments and be mindful about what works for you and what doesn't.

Do you know which foods make you feel like crap? Do you know which foods energize you? Do you know how you can lose some weight or gain some of it back if you really wanted to? Do you know what spikes your blood pressure and what causes it to be normal? Have you tried lowering your cholesterol naturally? Caring about your own wellness is just as much your responsibility as it is your doctor's job.

I'm not saying stop your medications if you have a serious medical condition, but as a parallel step you can start working along with your physician, start some small natural harmless life style changes along with your medication and start observing what works and does not work for you. And as you begin to start using your body as a playground or a lab for your own wellness, you'll get to know yourself better, you'll start having some seriously interesting experiences and over a period of time, you might even start listening to the patterns of your own body which might help you heal yourself and become an exception in a 'scientific study'. When it comes to health, wellness and happiness you are your own scientific lab. You don't have to wait for a bunch of scientists to tell you what to eat or how to do some basic healing - just like you don't need a mechanic for replacing your car tires.

posted on Monday, February 4, 2019 2:59:29 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Monday, July 30, 2018 by Rajiv Popat

Most of us underestimate the influence of our environments on your daily lives. I've done blog posts where I cite books which tell you how your will power is a depleting resource and  how relying on your will power is a recipe for failure. Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith is a book that starts with the idea of how the triggers in the environment around us influence our lives and then takes a thought provoking journey through how you can go from triggers constantly and impulsively influencing your life, to you yourself becoming a trigger for positive change in your own life and the life of others you love.

The book suggests multiple ideas and tools to introduce better mindfulness in your life, to avoid mindless drifting and get better control of your life and your behavior. One tool I found particularly interesting while reading the book was the idea of active questions using a daily questionnaire. The author argues that most of the surveys (and even the questions we ask ourselves) are passive and because they are passive they tend to bring about very little behavior change in our lives.

Marshall explains this through his own study:

In the first study, we used three different groups. The first group was a control group that received no training and was asked “before and after” questions on happiness, meaning, building positive relationships, and engagement.

The second group went to a two-hour training session about “engaging yourself” at work and home. This training was followed up every day (for ten working days) with passive questions:

  1. How happy were you today?
  2. How meaningful was your day?
  3. How positive were your relationships with people?
  4. How engaged were you?
The third group went to the same two-hour training session. Their training was followed up every day (for ten working days) with active questions:
  1. Did you do your best to be happy?
  2. Did you do your best to find meaning?
  3. Did you do your best to build positive relationships with people?
  4. Did you do your best to be fully engaged?

At the end of two weeks, the participants in each of the three groups were asked to rate themselves on increased happiness, meaning, positive relationships, and engagement.

The results were amazingly consistent. The control group showed little change (as control groups are wont to do). The passive questions group reported positive improvement in all four areas. The active questions group doubled that improvement on every item! Active questions were twice as effective at delivering training’s desired benefits to employees. While any follow-up was shown to be superior to no follow-up, a simple tweak in the language of follow-up—focusing on what the individual can control—makes a significant difference.

Marshall then goes on to introduce his readers to the idea of active questions that you ask yourself daily. He advices that you appoint a designated coach (could be a relative or a friend) and run through these set of questions with them every night, creating a sense of accountability and mindfulness. You can rate yourself on these  questions on the nightly basis (almost like a quick scrum meeting about your own life) and then do incremental improvements over time. I've been doing this using  a personal quick and dirty survey for myself for a few days and it works. For example here is one set of personal questions from my overall list of questions I ask myself each night:

Of course there are a few more questions for my professional life, work life and relationships too, but you get the idea. Notice the focus here is on 'trying your level best' (though I seem to also provide some value to the outcome, this is not originally the idea presented in the book).

The simple fact that I would be going through this set of questions every night with a loved one and will be answering these questions honestly, provides me with a the much needed nudge to do my best to be able to answer each of these questions positively. Since this is the first time I am doing this, I am focusing on Mini Habbits with a 25 minute single pomodoro session for each of the things that really matter to me.

Having done this exercise I highly recommend it. If nothing else it makes you a little more mindful about your life and where you are spending it. Marshall promotes an old idea, that the planner within you is literally a different person than the doer within you. And it's easy for the planner within you to think up of grand optimistic plans but it's the doer who has to deal with the environmental triggers and fight procrastination.

What I've discovered is that the right questions, asked in the right way can help bring the planner and doer within you in touch with each other and the realities of daily distractions. When I meet my planners expectations, I'm happy. When I don't, at least I am aware of slipping up and am a little bit more mindful the next day. Active questions that you have a relative, friend or loved one (or even yourself) ask you every day can be an extremely powerful tool if you indulge in the exercise every single day. Go ahead, try it out. I've personally tried it and I highly recommend it.

posted on Monday, July 30, 2018 9:41:43 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, May 20, 2018 by Rajiv Popat

Back in 2006 when I started this blog if you asked me to meditate or to visit a yoga class, I would have told you that you were out of your mind. Fast forward twelve years and almost every day of my life starts with and includes some form of Yoga, fitness workouts and/or meditation. Sometimes, the things we laugh at when we are young become an integral part of our life. Sometimes, we just ‘grow into’ things.

My first attempt at finding balance came back in 2010 with fitness and workouts. I started resistance training at an office gym and was instantly hooked. Over the years that followed, I did Resistance Training, Weight training, cardio and every other form of fitness workouts I could find.

I ran half marathons and 10K’s and when it comes to fitness, it would not be an understatement to say that I… got my act together. I went from being grossly underweight to being the right weight. I went from being moody and temperamental to being calmer and happier, and I went from being tried all the time to being functionally fit and feeling good. Fitness, changed me as a person.

Even today, I am a big proponent of physical fitness, especially for nerds. Till date, I go for long runs and like to break a sweat at my very own personal home gym. Workouts do as much for your mind as they do for your body. There are books that cover this topic and then there are books dedicated on research that describes how workouts rewire your brain.

But workouts, for me were just the tipping point that introduced me to the idea of overall wellness and understanding how changing small external habits on the outside, can have so much impact on the inside.

I’m an Indian, and I’ve been unknowingly mediating for most of my adult life through prayers, but I formally met meditation when my professional life started taking it’s toll on me. Physical fitness is great, but sometimes, your monkey mind creates more problems for you than it solves and I first met mediation through videos on YouTube, like this one and this one when I was tired of run on the proverbial corporate treadmill and was mindlessly surfing random videos on YouTube out of burnout and frustration. When I did Meditation, it seemed like a natural next step from fitness so I immersed myself into it and never looked back. Soon I met Yoga, and yoga seemed like a natural next step to meditation so I started tinkering around with Yoga too.

As I grew older, I became more and more interested in going from ‘playing the games’ that we all play in life, to plugging myself out of the game. I leaned more and more towards practices like Mindfulness, Meditation and even Yoga. Every once in a while, I loose balance and indulge in the act of cribbing, arguments, complaining or playing ‘the game’ at work or even my personal life, but then life tools like mindfulness, mediation and yoga help bring the balance back in my life and they help me disconnect from the fast moving mindless-life-on-auto-pilot, take a much needed brief pause and look within.

These tools even make me a better programmer. I agree with Joe Previte when he  describes how meditation can make you a better programmer, and draws similarities between programming and meditation:

In the world of programming, we often need focused attention when building programs and writing code without repetitions. Think of it as being “in the zone” or as some know it, in the “flow” state. This is when you submerge yourself in your text editor and forget about everything else. Your mind is only thinking of that present moment. Being in this mode, you fully experience that “coding high” of writing functions that make or do things to achieve a bigger goal.

Though the experience is mostly anecdotal, I’ve seen how I am much more productive during the months when I meditate compared to the months when I don’t. But then, most of mindfulness, meditation, yoga or even physical fitness is not just about making you a better programmer or making you more productive. It is all about giving yourself some time to step back and look within. It’s about making You a better… You.

As I grow older, I am starting to realize that while the latest, hottest version of Angular may have an impact on my career; my mind, my body and my own well being are things which have a much deeper impact on my life and the lives of those I love.

As I grow older, when I flash a new rom on my phone, I am realizing that having apps like Headspace on my phone is much more important than having Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp and dozen other noise creating apps. I use Greenify and silent apps like WhatsApp and Twitter and check them not more than once a day (or preferably a week); and as I grow older, I’ve started realizing the importance of keeping your phone away and scheduling some time to disconnect from life-on-auto-pilot and take a pause.

And if there one idea I want to leave you with at the end of this post, it is to take out an hour (or two) a day for yourself – your own body and your own mind. For some it might be fitness, for some meditation, for some yoga and for some it might just include going on really long runs or a mix and match of all of these. Whatever it is that you do, use that hour or two every day to indulge in the act of mindfully nudging yourself to become a better You. Because when you become a better – happier – you, you automatically become a better programmer.

posted on Sunday, May 20, 2018 10:49:11 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback