Internalizing the sine wave

One of the multi-year projects I committed to in the past decade was improving my equanimity. I struggled with equanimity in my late teens and early twenties and wrote about my struggles on this blog.

While awareness is a good first step, regular practice is quite another. And, of the many experiments I tried, the one that contributed most to the improvement I’ve made has been internalizing the sine wave of life experiences.

The idea is simple – I visualize life in terms of a series of ups and downs. When I have an up, I gently remind myself that a down is likely around the corner. This reminder injects that touch of paranoia to make sure I’m not getting too carried away.

Image result for sine wave

Similarly, when I experience a down, I remind myself that an up is likely around the corner. This reminder helps inject that touch of optimism that carries me through.

Over the years, I’ve come to think of the sinusoidal nature of this life experience as a fact of life. The gap between an up and a subsequent down may vary – sometimes, we move from one to another in a matter of days and, during other times, it may be a matter of months.

But, the pattern of ups and downs remains. And, understanding and internalizing that pattern changes our experience of those ups and downs in a wonderful way.

Making peace with limits

Much of learning to prioritize is learning to make peace with limits.

Limits on…

…how much time we have in a day.

…what we want to accomplish in that slice of our life.

…how much we can get done in the time we have.

…how much we control.

The more we replace any time we spend complaining about them or wishing they went away with time spent acknowledging them and figuring out how we can do our best within them, the more productive we’ll be.

Wasted envy

A reminder for the next time we entertain envy – a large proportion of the envy felt around the world is wasted.

It is wasted because we lack context of what that other human being is going through. We think they have the perfect life, the perfect family and the perfect career.¬†However, it is only when we get closer do we stumble onto the fact that the reality isn’t anywhere as rosy as it seems.

Every once a while, we might stumble upon a person we consider successful in their career who is also a success in their life. But, it happens less often than we might think.

The stuff we tend to envy – wealth, prestigious degrees, power, and fame – don’t guarantee happiness. Instead, they often make it that much harder to find it.

If we must do so, envy folks who are happy. Find out how they design their lives to be so and channel any energy from that sort of envy to applying it in our own lives.

The rest is wasted.

Getting feedback on that workshop

Large group meetings and workshops are expensive and, thus, important to get right (or at least as right as possible). A simple technique I’ve found useful to keep honing those large group meeting/workshop skills: carve out 5-10 minutes at the end to ask for feedback.

Sending a survey can work for massive events as we’ll likely end up with a large enough sample. But, for most of us, organizing a massive event isn’t the norm.

So, in these 5 minutes, we can choose to either request folks to fill up a simple survey or just ask folks for 1 thing that went well and 1 thing they’d improve. I’ve seen both work really well.

Regardless, the main thing isn’t so much the technique of asking the question (this can be tweaked) – instead, it is to simply prioritize it enough to ensure it is on the agenda.

Priorities, lists, and focus

There are many books written about productivity in any given year. The essence of most of these books is as follows –

1. Start with your priorities – the easiest way to get to these is to work backward from what you are seeking to accomplish.

2. Make a list of things you’d like to get done and ensure these are ordered in alignment with your priorities.

3. Block out distractions and focus to get everything you want done as efficiently as possible.

Rinse and repeat.

Do more? or less but better?

One of our morning activities on holiday in a new place is to have a discussion about what we’d like to do that day.

(We like to leave plenty of buffer time in our schedule for relaxed starts and generally avoid booking too many things in advance. This approach has its trade-offs – but, we’re comfortable with them.)

Ergo the morning discussion on what we feel like doing during the day. The crux of the discussion tends to revolve around the trade-off between breadth and depth. Should we do more? Or less but better?

There isn’t a right answer to this. On some days, we choose breadth and, on others, we pick depth. I notice we pick depth more often than we do breadth. But, on reflection, it isn’t the specific choice that matters as much as the discussion of the trade-offs and the explicit choice that follows that discussion.

There’s never a perfect answer to how to spend a great day on holiday. If we’re lucky, we may find the perfect answer given our constraints and preferences.

It applies just as well to a day on holiday as it does to any other day in our lives.