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Posted on: Monday, 30 July 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, 30 July 2018 09:41:43 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback
Posted on: Sunday, 20 May 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, 20 May 2018 10:49:11 UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0] Trackback