free html hit counter
Posted on: Sunday, April 24, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

Switch (Book 5 of 52).

I first read about the elephant Rider analogy in the famous book, The Brain That Changes Itself, which happens to be one of my all time favorite books in the field of Neuropsychology. The basic premise of the elephant-rider analogy is that your brain has two distinct systems:

The Elephant: which constitutes pretty much all of the primitive and 'automatic' parts of your brain starting from the brain stem to the limbic system and The Rider: which constitutes the more modern and 'thinking' parts of your brain like the Prefrontal cortex.

The basic premise being that the 'elephant' is primitive, huge and very powerful (obviously because it's machinery has been fine-tuned over millions of years of evolution). The rider is small (because these brain parts developed relatively recently in the timeline of evolution), but more controlled and has the capability of driving the elephant.

Even though the rider has a capacity of controlling the elephant, any time there is a major disagreement between the Rider and the Elephant, the elephant wins hands down and the rider stands no chance - Remember the last time you promised you will workout but then decided to watch TV instead of going to the gym when the evening arrived? There was a disagreement between the rider and the elephant and the elephant obviously won.

Switch - How to Change Things When Change Is Hard - takes this analogy of Rider and Elephant and handles the delicate topic of understanding this relationship between the Rider and the Elephant so that you can help your rider guide your elephant towards changes that you really want to bring about - not just in your life but in organizations and large groups of people.

Switch begins by understanding and appreciating the fact that the elephant is much more powerful than the Rider and in case of a disagreement between the two the Rider stands no chance.

The book also recognizes that both the Elephant and the Rider have their own problems. The Elephant is wild, hard to control and driven by emotions while the Rider is often a victim of over thinking, analysis paralysis and procrastination.

The book is all about, different ways of not just motivating the rider, but 'herding' the Elephant and making both work as a team. The 1% Milk campaign described in the book is a classic example:

Two health researchers, Steve Booth-Butterfield and Bill Reger, professors at West Virginia University, were contemplating ways to persuade people to eat a healthier diet. From past research, they knew that people were more likely to change when the new behavior expected of them was crystal clear, but unfortunately,"eating a healthier diet" was anything but.

Where to begin? Which foods should people stop (or start) eating? Should they change their eating behavior at breakfast, lunch, or dinner? At home or in restaurants? The number of ways to "eat healthier" is limitless, especially given the starting place of the average American diet. This is exactly the kind of situation in which the Rider will spin his wheels, analyzing and agonizing and never moving forward.

As the two researchers brainstormed, their thoughts kept coming back to milk. Most Americans drink milk, and we all know that milk is a great source of calcium. But milk is also the single largest source of saturated fat in the typical American's diet. In fact, calculations showed something remarkable:

If Americans switched from whole milk to skim or 1 % milk, the average diet would immediately attain the USDA recommended levels of saturated fat.

How do you get Americans to start drinking low-fat milk? You make sure it shows up in their refrigerators. And that isn't an entirely facetious answer. People will drink whatever is around the house-a family will plow through low-fat milk as fast as whole milk. So, in essence, the problem was even easier than anticipated:

You don't need to change drinking behavior. You need to change purchasing behavior. Suddenly the intervention became razor-sharp. What behavior do we want to change? We want consumers to buy skim or 1 % milk. When? When they're shopping for groceries. Where? Duh. What else needs to change? Nothing (for now).

Reger and Booth-Butterfield launched a campaign in two communities in West Virginia, running spots on the local media outlets (Tv; newspaper, radio) for two weeks. In contrast to the bland messages of most public-health campaigns, the 1 % milk campaign was punchy and specific. One ad trumpeted the fact that one glass of whole milk has the same amount of saturated fat as five strips of bacon!

At a press conference, the researchers showed local reporters a tube full of fat-the equivalent of the amount found in a half-gallon of whole milk. (Notice the Elephant appeals: They're going for an "Oh, gross!" reaction.)

Reger and Booth-Butterfield monitored milk sales data at all eight stores in the intervention area. Before the campaign, the market share of low-fat milk was 18 percent. After the campaign, it was 41 percent. Six months later, it held at 35 percent.

The book is full of really smart ways of directing the Rider and motivating / herding the Elephant. From preventing child deaths in Vietnam, to getting people to work out and stopping  their black berry addiction the book is literally full of real, pragmatic and practical steps you can benefit from starting today and how you can bring about change where change is hard just because the Rider and the Elephant are disagreeing or falling prey to their respective weaknesses.

And if you find yourself giving excuses like, "I don't have the power" or "the rules in this place are too crippling" - this book is a must read because it literally has tons of real life examples of people who brought about huge changes at organizational (and even national) levels without being given any special power or authority to bring about change.

For example, there is the story of Jon Stegner who lands up in an manufacturing company where he brings down the purchasing cost of gloves in his organization by a magnitude of a billion dollars, not by making a PowerPoint slide show or calling meetings and inviting people who just didn't care; but by piling up a heap of 424 different kinds of gloves with different price tags on the board room table to shock and motivate the elephants of  the directors and board members to bring about change.

And then there is the story of how Paul Butler, saves the  St. Lucia Parrot, in Caribbean island of St. Lucia without being given any power or authority to do so. The book is full of amazing stories from real walks of life about how people herd elephants and motivate riders to bring about change that eventually touches hundreds of lives. And it's not just the stories which makes this book gripping, but the scientific and methodical dissection of the stories from the aspects of phycology that makes this book equally educational.

There are very few books on human brain that you find 'inspiring' but this book is one of those rare books and one of those rare books that I would not hesitate to rate a 5 on 5.  If there only a couple of books you are going to read this year, this book should be in your must read list for this year.

posted on Sunday, April 24, 2016 10:22:43 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, March 24, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

How We Decide (Book 4 of 52).

Millions of years of evolution has fine tuned the human brain to use it's most primitive parts to take decisions in split seconds. The limbic brain along with your emotions are hugely powerful when it comes to your decision making capabilities and probably the only reason why you are alive today reading this blog. When the lion roars or when a huge mass of iron and steel on wheels is moving towards you at 60 miles an hour, your limbic brain is what causes you to run and saves you from becoming lion lunch or the subject of a car accident. The emotional system of our brain is much more powerful at making decisions than what most of us realize and give it credit for. Countless books have been written on this topic but if there is one book that brings a lot of the research on the topic together it is How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.

John Describes the power of how important intuitions can be:

Riley had been on duty since midnight. At 5:01 in the morning, just as the Allied ships began shelling Ash Shuaybah, he noticed a radar blip off the Kuwaiti coast. A quick calculation of its trajectory had it heading straight for the convoy. Although Riley had been staring at similar-looking blips all night long, there was something about this radar trace that immediately made him suspicious. He couldn't explain why, but the blinking green dot on the screen filled him with fear; his pulse started to race and his hands became clammy. He continued to observe the incoming blip for another forty seconds as it slowly honed in on the USS Missouri, an American battleship. With each sweep of the radar, the blip grew closer.

It was approaching the American ship at more than 550 miles per hour. If Riley was going to shoot down the target—if he was going to act on his fear—then he needed to respond right away. If that blip was a missile and Riley didn't move immediately, it would be too late. Hundreds of sailors would die. The USS Missouri would be sunk. And Riley would have stood by and watched it happen.

But Riley had a problem. The radar blip was located in airspace that was frequently traveled by American A-6 fighter jets, which the U.S. Navy was using to deliver laser-guided bombs to support the Marine ground invasion. After completing their sorties, the planes flew down the Kuwait coast, turned east toward the convoy, and landed on their aircraft carriers. Over the last few weeks, Riley had watched dozens of A-6s fly a route nearly identical to the one being followed by this unidentified radar blip. The blip was also traveling at the same speed as the fighter jets and had a similar surface area. It looked exactly like an A-6 on the radar screen.

The target was moving fast. The time for deliberation was over. Riley issued the order to fire; two Sea Dart surface-to-air missiles were launched into the sky. Seconds passed. Riley nervously stared at the radar screen, watching his missiles race toward the object at speeds approaching Mach 1. The blinking green blips appeared to be drawn to the target, like iron filings to a magnet. Riley waited for the interception.

The explosion echoed over the ocean. All of the blips immediately disappeared from the radar screen. Whatever had been flying toward the USS Missouri helplessly fell into the sea, just seven hundred yards in front of the American battleship. A few moments later, the captain of the HMS Gloucester entered the radar room. "Whose bird is it?" he asked Riley, wanting to know who was responsible for destroying the still unidentified target. "It was ours, sir," Riley responded.

The captain asked Riley how he could be sure he'd fired at an Iraqi missile and not at an American fighter jet. Riley said he just knew.

John in his book goes on to describe how an excruciating investigation later goes on to conclude that Riley had indeed taken the correct decision and how Gary Klein a cognitive psychologist, later dissects what was going on in Riley's head when he took the call of shooting down the missile:

Klein was intrigued. He had spent the last few decades studying decision-making in high-pressure situations, and he knew that intuition could often be astonishingly insightful, even if the origin of those insights was obscure. He was determined to find the source of Riley's fear, to figure out why this particular blip had felt so scary. So he went back to the radar tapes.

He soon realized that Riley had gotten used to seeing a very consistent blip pattern when the A-6s returned from their bombing sorties. Because Riley's naval radar could pick up signals only over water—after a signal went "wet feet" he was accustomed to seeing the fighter jets right as they flew off the Kuwaiti coast. The planes typically became visible after a single radar sweep.

Klein analyzed the radar tapes from the predawn missile attack. He replayed those fateful forty seconds over and over again, searching for any differences between Riley's experience of the A-6s returning from their sorties and his experience of the Silkworm blip.

That's when Klein suddenly saw the discrepancy. It was subtle, but crystal clear. He could finally explain Riley's intuitive insight. The secret was the timing. Unlike the A-6, the Silkworm didn't appear off the coast right away. Because it traveled at such a low altitude, nearly two thousand feet below an A-6's, the signal of the missile was initially masked by ground interference. As a result, it wasn't visible until the third radar sweep, which was eight seconds after an A-6 would have appeared. Riley was unconsciously evaluating the altitude of the blip, even if he didn't know he was doing it.

This is why Riley got the chills when he stared at the Iraqi missile on his radar screen. There was something strange about this radar blip. It didn't feel like an A-6. Although Riley couldn't explain why he felt so scared, he knew that something scary was happening. This blip needed to be shot down.

The book is a fascinating read not just because it showcases how powerful our emotions can be in taking decisions, it also showcases when our emotions can lead us astray and provides real pragmatic advice on how to balance the emotional with the thinking parts of our brains to come up with better decision making capabilities.

The book itself is one of the better books on the human brains that I've read and I personally loved the book.  However, what was disheartening was learning that the book has been withdrawn from the market by publishers after the discovery of the fact that Lehrer had fabricated quotes used in his books. I would have personally quoted this book left right and center in my discussions with people, had it not been for the nagging doubt I have about the authenticity of every minute detail the book goes into. The author has been found guilty of fabricating facts and plagiarism but that still doesn't take away the fact that the book is a nice read and provides valuable insights that I never had before. I give this book a 4 on 5 and would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in a deeper insights on what our brain is doing when it's indulging in the act of taking decisions.

posted on Thursday, March 24, 2016 8:16:52 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Tuesday, March 22, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

Knowing Yourself With Data - Part 1

When I finally patched together a couple of android applications with some custom code that would capture what I did with every minute of my awake time, push that information into a SQL database and then extract intelligent reports out of it, I was so darn excited that the first thing I did was show the system to my wife.

She smiles and thinks I am completely nuts and monitoring every minute of my life is a little too insane, even for a nerd like me. "Why would you want to monitor your time like that?" - she wonders. For me, as a geek though, the question isn't Why, the question is 'Why Not'. I love the idea of monitoring my time because:

  1. Now I can monitor how much time I spent getting ready to go to work, eating, working, watching TV, reading and even having fun. In the scheme of my life, time is one more dimension that I can now log into a system! How cool is that?
  2. I'm excited to find out what new insights and correlations about my life the data can provide me. For example, does the amount of time I spend in getting ready to get to work change based on when I wake up? If yes by exactly what percentage? What impact does that have on the amount of stress I experience when I start my day? What impact does that stress have on the number of productive pomodoro sessions I have for the rest of the day.
  3. I'm excited to find out how those insights will change me as a human being.

What can I say? I'm a typical nerd and I love my data.

My obsession with monitoring started with my very first endeavors with Fitness back in 2009 when an extremely skinny, underweight nerdy version of myself set a big hairy audacious goal of gaining 33 pounds of body weight in a year. It was about food and fitness logs back then. How much proteins was I taking in, how much cardio was I doing, how much strength training was I engaging in and how different combinations of cardio, strength, food and sleep were impacting my weight. I did eventually end up gaining 33 pounds in 11 months. Recently, when I started exceeding my BMI I used the same monitoring and lost 14 pounds in 2 months and have not gained the weight since. I discovered that as a nerd, what I can measure, dissect, read about, study and understand, I can improve.

My long life as a developer has taught me that big changes are all about profiling the right data and making small tweaks based on the insights the data provides. Almost every time you see a manager and a developer fighting over performance, the question to ask the developer is: Have you profiled your application? Do you know what's slowing down the system? OR are you just working on a hunch?

Hunches are great, when they lead you to an answer instantly. When they don't, they send you on a long trip to an infinite loop of random guesses. But collect enough data about your code, analyze it and you realize that the fix is usually a small change in a function which hits a database inside a for-loop or something really as simple as that. The fix itself isn't hard; gathering enough data about the issue and then deriving enough insights from that data that leads you to the fix, is.

For most Nerds, me included, it's the same thing when it comes to life.

Which is why when I started collecting data about my Finances and started recording every financial transaction in my life to the very last cent in a well designed system with apps and some basic reports I used on top of the data, my savings rate jumped by more than 50% in just 3 months.

Did my life style change significantly? Not really. We still eat out and we still spend money on things that matter to us. However, we realized that we were paying for over a hundred television channels me and my wife were never going to watch, that go-daddy was auto-renewing over 30 domains on my credit card that I never used and my bank was looting me by skimming off the interest rates of my investments. Well that and a dozen other holes that had been leaking hard earned money constantly for years.

They were all little things, but when the number totals up and you see those things add up to over 20% of your actual monthly savings, you have a reason to pick up the phone and cancel a few subscriptions. And when you do that and that results in considerable savings, you get the confidence to save more and then you defer buying that fancy new electronic toy that you don't really need by a few months - not because you can't afford it - but because it's not in your planned budget and you need to save up for it.

And then it gets exciting, because suddenly before you know it, you've added some new investment goals into the system and now you're tracking your progress towards those goals and your wife has also seen the data and is actively helping and supporting you in moving forward towards those goals, even when you are tempted to spend. That's what data does to you; especially if the insights the data gives you are clear and out in the open. 'I'm spending way too much on things I don't need' is nowhere close to as powerful as 'I'm spending x% of my income on things I don't need' especially when x is large.

Monitoring turns out to be so important that, Author Gretchen Rubin, has an entire chapter dedicated to monitoring in her book, "Better than before" (which happens to be book #3 of 52 books on my list this year) - where she explains the kind of impact monitoring can have on your behavior by giving her sister's example:

Elizabeth has type 1 diabetes, which means that her pancreas doesn't produce enough insulin. (In type 2 diabetes, which is far more common, the body produces insulin but doesn't react properly to it.) Without insulin, blood sugar can spike to dangerous, even life-threatening levels, so Elizabeth must give herself multiple daily insulin injections, and to inject herself correctly, she must know her blood sugar level.

For years, she'd tested her blood sugar by pricking her finger to check her blood, but she'd recently gotten a device inserted under her skin to monitor her blood sugar continuously. I wanted to know if she found the monitor effective.

"Monitoring is key," she said. "For years, I hated the idea of having a device attached to my stomach, but with diabetes, accurate tracking is so important that I finally caved. Now I can't imagine not having the monitor."

When she told me she was getting the device, I'd imagined that it might administer insulin directly, or tell her what she needed. Nope.

The monitor merely provides a continuous record of her blood sugar levels—but that information makes a big difference.

"Without a monitor, I might test my blood sugar ten times a day, but the monitor checks it constantly," she explained. "I know where my blood sugar is and where it's heading. Also, I know the effect of what I'm doing, so I can't kid myself. Like I was eating this frozen yogurt that claimed to be low-carb, but from the readings I got on my monitor, I know that can't be true."

"Even though the monitor doesn't actually do anything, seeing the numbers makes you behave differently?"

"For sure. Without a monitor, if I ate something questionable, I might unconsciously wait a few hours to test, so I'd get a better number, but that doesn't work with a monitor. I can't fool myself."

That's why the Strategy of Monitoring works so well: no more fooling ourselves. I decided to exploit it for my own habits. If I had a better handle on what I was doing, I could focus my habit-formation energy in the right place. I suspected that in certain areas, I was giving myself more credit for good habits than I deserved.

If you want to see the kind of impact real time monitoring can have, specially given the devices and the technology we have at our disposal today, take a look at Scott Hanselman's IoT demo on monitoring his sugar. Scott's excitement of the technology and the kind of insights that it can provide is a reflection of how any geek would react when he sees huge volumes of personal data analyzed to provide insights that you never had before.

As for my time monitoring system, I realized that the system still had a lot of manual entry points, which is why I wasn't consistent with it, but that failed attempt helped me monitor windows of my time that I really wanted to monitor and that in turn has actually made me a lot more productive than before. After all, some data is still better than none. And I am still working on a system that can monitor more and more of my time without me actively logging things.

The Point? Data collection on yourself and self monitoring isn't all about buying the hottest fitness band in market. It's about building systems which have the potential of providing you insights about yourself that you never had before. And then having the courage and conviction to change based on those insights.

In the posts to come in this series I'll try to document some of my efforts at monitoring my own life in near real time and showcase how I monitor aspects of my life, how I draw correlations between the data and how I tweak my life to bring about some of these changes.

Of course, in the larger scheme of things I'm just a data point of 1, I suck at Mathematics and I'm not even a social or a data scientist, but I hope these experiments inspire you to capture parts of your life that you feel are important and then tweak them ever so slightly to get huge benefits. That's what this series of posts is going to be about.

What aspects of your life are you monitoring actively with data? Of course if it's an area of your life that needs improvement you would know things are bad and if you know things are bad you can fix them, but sometimes, quantifying just 'how bad' things are is the nudge that we as nerds need to change things. And it can teach us things about ourselves that we thought we knew before, but we didn't.

After all, most of us aren't really as mindful as we think we are but we have the gift of data and of the many things data can do, one of the most powerful is brining you face to face with yourself.

posted on Tuesday, March 22, 2016 12:17:28 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Tuesday, March 8, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

Games People Play (Book 2 of 52).

I was introduced to Transactional Analysis by the book - "I'm OK. You're OK." - and after reading the book I was hooked and hungry for more information on the topic. Which nerd would not be interested in a branch of science that refers to verbal and non-verbal communication between people as transactions and then uses objective ways of analyzing these communications?

Games People Play takes off from where "I'm OK. You're OK." left off and is the natural "next read" of I'm-OK-You're-OK, specially if you're interested in Transactional Analysis as a topic.

Given the fact that  Eric Berne happens to be the father of Transactional Analysis, I had a lot of expectations from this book and this booked lived up to every single one of those expectations.

Apart from the concepts of the Parent Adult and Child (which I talked about in my previous post when talking about I-am-ok-you-are-ok) Eric covers the concept of pass-times that people indulge in and, as the title suggests, the games people play.

Games in TA are certain patterns of transactions (TA refers to both verbal and non-verbal communication between people as transactions) which recur repeatedly in every day life where the intentions of the transactions aren't very obvious.

Eric starts the book with an example of a game call NIGYSOB (Now I’ve Got You, You Son of a Bitch):

While his parents and their friends were drinking coffee at the kitchen table, Jonny, age five, ran in and out of the room, happily pulling his favorite truck behind. Suddenly, there was a crash in the living room, his mother found a glass vase knocked off the coffee table and shattered.

"Who did that?" she asked.

"Doggie," he replied.

Mother's neck reddened. She knew she had let the dog out five minutes before. Stepping forward she hit him saying, "I will not have a child who lies!"

It was obvious who broke the case. Consequently, Jonny's mother's question as to who broke the vase, while superficially an Adult request for information, was, at the psychological level, really an invitation for Jonny to lie - and he did.

As mother's neck reddened, she was switching ego states from Adult to Parent. Her payoff was a sudden surprise feeling of righteous wrath.

We would say that mother played the game of "Now I've Got You, You Son of a Bitch" (NIGYSOB). It should be noted, however, that she had not deliberately and consciously set out to "get" her son and to hit him.

On the contrary, she was quite distraught by the outcome. Jonny  for his part, played "Kick Me". If he had said, "I did it", there would have been no game.

The book goes on to describe not just dozens of games people play in every day life, but it gives each game an equally interesting name. The book makes you laugh, it makes you think and it makes you wonder about how predictable and similar we are as human beings. With every game Eric also talks about how you can choose not to play games and gives solid practical advice on building game-free relationships and eventually a game-free life.

While the book provides an entertaining insight into the games we play and even deeper insights into why we play them, it also nudges us to push the adult part of our brain to take control so that we can have a game-free mature existence.

All in all, a must read for anyone who is interested in becoming a better individual. A book that's much better than peppy self help books because it uses real life case-studies of people who have been given TA treatments to heal them and improve their relationships, personalities and life. If this was an Amazon Rating, I'd give this book a solid 4 out of 5.

posted on Tuesday, March 8, 2016 10:04:42 AM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Monday, January 18, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

I'm OK. You're OK. (Book 1 Of 52).

"I'm OK. You're OK" - was my very first book in the 52 book challenge for 2016. It was also my very first introduction to transactional analysis and to be honest, in-spite of the book being a heavy read, with a lot of theory, I enjoyed every single page of this book.

If you've never come across or read about transactional analysis this book is a perfect starting point to understanding what this branch of psychology is all about.

I personally found Transactional Analysis deeply interesting at different levels. I mean here is a bunch of nerds doctors referring to every interaction that happens between human beings (both verbal and non-verbal) as 'transactions' and then analyzing those 'transactions' to get deeper insights into the human mind, to build better relationships and to help individuals live a more balanced life. It's so... (for lack of a better word)... nerdy!

Here is a bunch of psychologists using cool and simple language to illustrate complicated aspects of the human brain that not just they, but their patients can understand. The following terms and words for example get a completely different meaning in transaction analysis:

  1. Parent - Unlike your biological parent, the word 'parent' in TA (transaction analysis) refers to the recording you as an infant or a baby captured from your parents and grown ups around you. These recordings can range from helpful things your biological parents and grown-ups around you taught you (e.g. 'Never tell a lie'), to your parent's own belief's and prejudices (e.g. 'all politicians are corrupt')  - things that your brain picked up when you were a toddler learning from your parents and grown ups all around you because you believed that 'they were ok; you were not' - the reason why you had to listen to them and learn so much from them. TA proposes that these recordings are deeply embedded in your brain and take over your interaction with others (i.e. your transactions) from time to time, throughout your life; sometimes in ways that are very subtle and even creepy.
  2. Child - Unlike your biological child, the word 'child' in TA refers to the part of your brain that is controlled by pure emotions. From that anger tantrum that you throw to that crazy hairstyle that you take up to revolt against authority, all constitutes the child taking over your transactions. The Child can be a ruckus creating personality that messes up your life, or the charming personality that attracts people towards you and sparks the fire of pure unadulterated fun!
  3. Adult - The 'adult' in TA, is the most interesting aspect of your mind. The peace maker between your parent and the child. The part of your brain that carefully and methodically examines the recordings in your parent, validates if they are right, modifies and accepts what is right and discards them if they have no relevance for you. e.g. 'Never tell a lie' is helpful because if makes you a better person but you will need to turn it to 'Don't lie unless its absolutely necessary'. On the other hand all politicians are not always corrupt and that fact was just a prejudice your dad had and will have to be tossed out. The 'adult' part of your brain does this validation and filtering. This part of your brain also has the capacity of making peace between your Parent and your Child; calming your child down and silencing your parent giving you a balanced healthy life. If your child can spark a relationship it takes an adult to keep the relationship alive for the long term. If your parent keeps you safe and unharmed it takes an adult, to calm down your parent and sometimes let your child play.

This Parent-Adult-Child (PAC) aspects of your brain are a major highlights of the book, which then goes into the positions your brain can take as different personalities of your brain take control of your transactions. For example:

  1. You're OK, I'm not - Usually happens when you are growing up; when your parents are telling you, 'don't do that!' - the book proposes that as a child, because the child has so much to learn while growing up, and because the grown ups / parents are teaching it constantly, it's very easy for the 'child' in an infant's mind to take the position - You're OK, I'm not.
  2. I'm OK, You're Not - As the infant grows up and matures the 'adult' in the brain starts verifying every recording recorded in the 'parent' section of the brain. If most of these recordings are validated as correct, the ones that are not correct can be easily overlooked as honest, well-intentioned mistakes and discarded. But if most of these recordings turn out to be wrong, the position changes to, I'm OK You're Not. Similarly in case of abusive parents, it's very easy for the child to move to a position of I'm OK, You're Not. The book describes some of the serious dangers of this position.

As the title suggests, the book is all about the adult part of your brain doing it's own discoveries and showcases rather interesting stories from the forefronts of psychological treatments where people slowly reach a state of mind where they are truly balanced; the - I'm OK, You're OK - stage. The stage of balanced existence where your mind is at peace with itself, with no inner conflicts and turmoil. A place where your Adult keeps your parent calm and lets your child play but in a very controlled safe environment.

This book is a classic example of why I personally like books on human psychology, behavioral science and neuroscience much more that typical self help books where the author assumes a 'you can do it' tone in a peppy pitch. The book has real life case studies, explanations of studies done in the area, examples, real conversations from real therapy sessions and practical advice on how each one of us can grow a more mature 'adult' that helps create peace and balance between the parent and child in our brain.

All told, It's a heavy read and you may need focused time to go through the book and take notes, but I personally highly recommend the book. There are some typos and grammar errors I picked up in the book, but the content of the book more that enough compensates for the mediocre editing. If this was an Amazon rating, I would give this book a 4 out 5 stars! All told, I highly recommend this book; especially if you are a nerd who likes to dissect and analyze data; dissecting and analyzing your 'transactions' with others can transformative!

posted on Monday, January 18, 2016 2:19:25 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Saturday, January 9, 2016 by Rajiv Popat

Brain Challenge: 52 New Books For 2016

After having finished a challenge for my body in 2015 where I ran two half marathons in the same month, the next goal I plan on setting for 2016 is hitting the gym at-least 4 days a week. But this post isn't about the body. It's about the mind.

Fitness and books; two things I spent my entire school life not liking and then as soon as I finished my school life and started my work life these exact same two things slowly became things that I fell in love with. I think this says something about our education system and how we introduce our students to topics like Fitness and reading but I'd rather not touch that topic today.

For the last few weeks I've been looking for something that challenges my mind and what would be more appropriate than a marathon for the mind after two half marathons for the body?

I've been looking this thread in Reddit and this post on Life Hacker about reading 52 books a year. We're not talking about skimming books. We're talking about reading a book cover to cover and relishing every page of the book. A book a week continuously for 52 weeks is nothing less than a marathon for the brain.

To make things even more interesting I will try to read all 52 non-fiction books which actively and creatively feed my mind with new knowledge, insights and information.

And I'll blog about most of what I read.

I do realize that a goal of this size is pretty similar and involved (if not more involved) than committing to running a marathon; which is why; as the year rolls over I've done considerable planning for this goal.

But how do you plan and prepare yourself for a fun goal like this?

Here's how:

  • You start by picking at-least 10 to 20 books that think you would love reading and put them on a list (personally I use a Google Keep checklist) - that way you have enough material to stop worrying about and constantly finding new books to read and you are good to go at-least for the first 2 to 3 months; which gives you enough time to find other connected books and add them to your list as you go.
  • You enroll either in library or find a source that would be able to provide you these books at a cheaper (or near free rate) with as little wait time as necessary. Preferably a library lets you carry two books at a time and keep them at-least for a period of two weeks. Or Kindle lending which again forces you to return the book in a week.
  • You need to budget for the books that you don't find anywhere if you plan on buying them; especially e-books and audiobooks. Save up for these books and keep that money aside so you don't have to think twice before buying books you can't find in a library or with cheaper Kindle sharing.
  • You need to start taking some active time out to do the reading.
  • You need to start carrying the books with you everywhere you go - either hard copies or start using your kindle or phone or tablet or your i-pod (for audio books) so that you can read in any idle time you find at work and in personal life.
  • You need to cut down on gossip time and learn not to take up useless commitments during the weekends.
  • You need to get into the habit of reading not just for the sake of reading but reading with deliberate practice so that you can learn from the book and then talk about the book. Read, learn, take notes, form opinions about the book,  share what you've learned from the book and practice active immersion as you try to put some of the ideas you pick up from each book into action in your own life.

Why take up a challenge of this sort? Well, this question has an answer which is very similar to how you would answer the question of why anyone chooses to run a half marathon, a full one or why anyone climbs a mountain.

It's hard, it's challenging and it has it's own intrinsic rewards.

When I committed to running a half marathon, I loved to run for a few miles every week. I've been doing that for years. For months I hesitated with the idea of committing to run a half marathon because I was scared that a commitment of that sort would take the fun out of running and turn it into a chore. On the other hand, what the goal actually did was completely different.

It made be a better runner. I learned how to push my body and my mind, to get myself out there and run on a schedule. I read about the science of running, the right forms, the right stride, the right techniques and I learned that sometimes, just pushing yourself to run, even when you are not in the mood, actually makes you feel really good once the endorphins, dopamine and serotonin kick in to take you through runners high.

By the time I hit the half marathon month, I was not focusing on finishing it but rather focusing on doing a good time and running better.  I ended up running two half marathons in two weeks rather than the one that I had initially planned. One was done with really good timing, the other wasn't all that great; but both were fun and both taught me things about my body and mind that I never knew before. From nipple chafing, to blisters, to cramps - as I tried to beat my own timings during practice, I learned the art and the science of respecting the limits of my body and then over-coming them slowly - not once, but twice in two week period.

I have both fun and serious goals and challenges set out for 2016. Reading 52 books in 52 weeks and learning something new from each of these books happens to be one of them. If you're an avid reader I encourage you to join the Reddit thread or any book club that does similar challenges and enjoy the pleasure of words as they transform your mind. If nothing else; I expect this challenge to be fun and to teach me things about my own mind that I never knew before.

What are some of your challenge fun challenges 2016? What are you planning on doing this year that is more than 'scratching the surface' of your capabilities and getting out of your house and your comfort zone? Hope you set high, interesting and fun-filled goals for the next year and you achieve more than what you actually set out to accomplish! Here's wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and a very happy and prosperous 2016 ahead.

posted on Saturday, January 9, 2016 1:05:12 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Friday, August 14, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

The Fallacy Of Copying Successful People And The Outcome Bias.

Most of the self-help industry is built around a simple three step model:

  1. Find people who are insanely and consistently successful.
  2. Find out how they do things.
  3. Do what they do and do it exactly how they do it.

Put simply, use the "Monkey see, Monkey do!" approach to achieve success.

From 7 Habits of highly effective people to the Rich Dad Poor Dad; potentially any self help book that you bump into builds on the foundation of emulating or copying success from people who are hugely and consistently successful.

But success is not as simple as doing what others do. Author Rolf Dobelli describes this fallacy of copying successful people in his book "The Art of Thinking Clearly" which has huge sections dedicated on human fallacies. This specific bias is called the "Outcome bias" and it often results out of the fact that we tend to use outcomes to define and evaluate individuals and why they were successful. Rolf explains:

A quick hypothesis: Say one million monkeys speculate on the stock market. They buy and sell stocks like crazy and, of course, completely at random.

What happens?

After one week, about half of the monkeys will have made a profit and the other half a loss. The ones that made a profit can stay; the ones that made a loss you send home. In the second week, one half of the monkeys will still be riding high, while the other half will have made a loss and are sent home. And so on.

After ten weeks, about one thousand monkeys will be left—those who have always invested their money well. After twenty weeks, just one monkey will remain—this one always, without fail, chose the right stocks and is now a billionaire. Let’s call him the success monkey.

How does the media react? It will pounce on this animal to understand its "success principles." And they will find some: Perhaps the monkey eats more bananas than the others. Perhaps he sits in another corner of the cage. Or maybe he swings headlong through the branches, or he takes long, reflective pauses while grooming. He must have some recipe for success, right? How else could he perform so brilliantly? Spot-on for two years—and that from a simple monkey? Impossible!

The monkey story illustrates the outcome bias: We tend to evaluate decisions based on the result rather than on the decision process.

While there is nothing wrong in having role models and learning by emulating some of their approaches and styles it's also very important to realize that success looks very different in hindsight when it's backed by certainty of known past than it looks when it is clouded by the uncertainty of an unknown future.

It's easy for Steve Jobs to stand on a podium and connect the dots, and for us to listen in awe; even when he is connecting all the wrong dots!

It's hard to understand the fallacy of success and support logically stable approaches over the successful outputs. Rolf explains:

Another experiment: You must evaluate the performance of three heart surgeons. To do this, you ask each to carry out a difficult operation five times. Over the years, the probability of dying from these procedures has stabilized at 20 percent. With surgeon A, no one dies. With surgeon B, one patient dies. With surgeon C, two die. How do you rate the performances of A, B, and C? If you think like most people, you rate A the best, B the second best, and C the worst. And thus you’ve just fallen for the outcome bias.

You can guess why: The samples are too small, rendering the results meaningless. You can only really judge a surgeon if you know something about the field, and then carefully monitor the preparation and execution of the operation. In other words, you assess the process and not the result. Alternatively, you could employ a larger sample: one hundred or one thousand operations if you have enough patients who need this particular operation. For now it is enough to know that, with an average surgeon, there is a 33 percent chance that no one will die, a 41 percent chance that one person will die, and a 20 percent chance that two people will die. That’s a simple probability calculation. What stands out: There is no huge difference between zero dead and two dead.

Even when every probability 101 class teaches us that the odds of getting a heads remains 50% in each toss even if you are going to toss a coin a 100 times and the coin has already landed with a tails 99 times out of those hundred times; we still like to go back and look at past outcomes to forecast future performance of people, organizations and even our own endeavors when in reality, what we be doing is evaluating the approach to solving the problem; not the outcome. Put simply your systems are more important than your goals; and if your systems are correct, a failure or two hardly matters.

So the next time you pick up your favorite self-help book and the author plays the card of how he / she has studied successful people to write the book and how following the same approaches will bring you success, go on and read the book but take it with a grain of salt. Not because the author is full of crap, but because the well-meaning author has fallen prey  to a basic human fallacy and failed to understand success has too many variable components and even the people who are hugely successful don't understand the components that led to their success. Quite a few of these components, are, in reality, beyond your control.

In fact, the only two components of success that you can control, are: how you do your work and how much of it do you. In other words, place a lot of little bets and keep showing up!

By all means have role models and by all means emulate their behaviors if that makes you happier or more efficient. But when these role-models talk about the 'why' of their success don't take their speeches at face value because more often than not, even they don't know why they are successful! They're looking at success from hind-side and the story of success told from the perspective of hind-side often makes even a very successful story-teller fall prey to the outcome bias; irrespective of how well intentioned the story teller is. And when it comes to evaluating people - remember - you can fail at everything and still win big!

posted on Friday, August 14, 2015 7:13:12 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]
Posted on: Thursday, July 16, 2015 by Rajiv Popat

Output Vs. Input

Your workplace has two kinds of people. People who provide inputs and people who produce outputs.

That extroverted manager who gives you opinions on the document you worked really hard to prepare; is giving you his inputs. Ask the same person to produce an output - an end to end project working prototype, a design document, working code --- anything and you'll see a blank face staring at a computer screen for hours.

For someone who has spent his or her whole life giving inputs, producing outputs is hard. These people aren't incompetent or idiots. Some of them are actually smart. But producing outputs require a completely different mindset compared to giving inputs. Smart isn't enough.

Inputs are unorganized; chaotic; random --- they are hit and miss. You can give us a hundred inputs and ninety-nine of those might be really lousy. When giving inputs you can get away with that because the guys producing the final output will edit out all your bad ideas and make your good ideas shine.

Outputs are coherent, edited and structured --- they are a reflection of a persistent mind and dedicated effort. To produce output you have to focus, work hard and edit ruthlessly. When you are producing output you will be judged by many (sometimes even millions) who will give you their random inputs.

Instant publishing is an input. A structured blog post - an output. Random ideas on design are inputs; a design implementation - an output. Audiences give inputs; Artists --- create output. The question is, what will you give to the world? Inputs or outputs?

posted on Thursday, July 16, 2015 9:24:13 PM UTC by Rajiv Popat  #    Comments [0]