A different 5 step approach to New Year Resolutions

Here’s a thought – why don’t we make a slight change in the approach to new year resolutions?

Instead of deciding on a new year resolution like “I will eat better food this year”, my suggestion would be as follows –

1. Decide on 3 things you’d like to achieve this year
E.g. Better health, better relationships etc – vague is okay.

2. Break them down into a few daily “core” activities
E.g. Better health = 30 minutes of exercise + Maintain daily food journal.

3. Find a coach
Start with someone you know who does what you want to do, well.

4. Commit to sending this coach a daily update on your score for the day with a consequence if you don’t achieve your target.
E.g. $1 to charity for every day you miss 30 minutes of exercise. If you really want something done, raise the consequence.

5. Set aside 15 minutes of “Re-commitment” time every weekend to review your progress for the week, and plan for the next.
This can be done with your coach if you prefer that.

This will be a bitter pill to swallow if you decide to get to it. If ease is what you prefer, then I’d definitely recommend the usual fluffy new year’s resolution that will be shelved within the next 15 days.

There is a danger this might actually help us get the “resolution” accomplished.

Update the new year wish

It’s new year’s season and wishes such as – “May this year bring you success, wealth, joy and happiness” etc.

Here’s a thought – why don’t we all update our new year wish, just a little bit? Do we really just hope the year will bring “success”, “wealth” etc. What about disappointments, frustrations and all those things we grow through? We might argue that they will happen anyway – why mention the bad/negative stuff?

But, is it really “bad stuff”? Would we know joy without pain? Would we enjoy success without many disappointments?

Last year, I had the fortune to receive a wonderful new year wish that I’ve mentioned before –

‘May your life continue to engage, fascinate, frustrate, challenge and reward you as you grow as a person and as a professional.’

I thought of it many times during the year, especially when I felt frustrated and needed a pep up. It reminded me that the great stuff was bound to follow..

So, on that note, I wish you a wonderful new year – a year of curiosity, fascination, hard work, painful practice, significant achievements, meaningful learnings and love..

(This is v1.0 of the wish. To be improved. Suggestions welcome.)

“Sorry, but what do you mean when you say that?”

When asked politely, this question is the ultimate “fluff-cutter.” It helps us boil down to the specifics.

A few other fluff cutter questions..

“Why do you feel we need to do that?”

“What is the rationale behind doing this?”

“I don’t understand. Could you help clarify that?”

As you might have observed, “I don’t understand” fits very nicely at the start of any of the “fluff-cutters.” One of the key steps to understanding is acknowledging we do not understand..

“I am not learning anything.”

Of course you are. You just haven’t taken time to reflect.

If everything we do in life is an “event”, the preparation exists to ensure that the event goes well. The event is where we execute. And, it’s in the reflection that we glean the learnings.

This “event” could be absolutely anything – a serious presentation, a project, a task or even a movie. As long as you have engaged in an activity, it is very likely (>90%) you have learnt something from it. Life doesn’t hand the learnings on a platter though. It just requires us to take some time to reflect.

(As a result, it is possible to just move from “event” to “event” without learning anything i.e. “monotony”/”drudgery” of professional lives as described by many.)

So, the next time you feel you aren’t learning anything, set aside some time for reflection . That’s where the magic lies.

Some Reflections from the Life of Pi

I just walked out of the theatre having watched “The Life of Pi” an hour ago and thought I’d write some initial reflections. I’m sure I’ll have more to add to the list as I give the movie some more thought.

For starters, the movie was incredibly deep. It wasn’t just about the fact that it was a visual treat (it was). It wasn’t the fact that it was a captivating story (it was that, too). And, neither was it the fact that there were few dialogues that seemed to convey so much. In my eyes, the life of Pi brought out some of the most profound truths about what it means to be human.

Image Source

I apologize for any spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie. I had a few stand out points..

The relationship between Pi and the Richard Parker was based on need and circumstance. All our relationships are based on need and circumstance and this was no different. They hated each other, at first, and then gradually began tolerating each other. Adversity tends to bind people to one another and it did that to the pair.

Routines, busy-ness and hope matter a lot. As the life boats drifted in the middle of the ocean, Pi speaks of the need for simple routines, to keep yourself busy without over-exerting yourself and most of all, to never lose hope. I wonder if our lives are any different.

Fear keeps you alert. Insecurities matter. I have long pondered about the importance of insecurities. My theory is that that we all have our insecurities and it’s these insecurities that give rise to the drive we have within. Now, “having insecurities” is different from “being insecure”. We can choose to operate with confidence as our basis and rise above these, or choose to be insecure and let these insecurities define us. A lot of the world’s greatest achievers tend to be very insecure (A certain Mr.Jobs comes to mind..). It is my belief, however, that there is little happiness to be found in being incredibly insecure.

Insecurity theory aside, Pi beautifully illustrates the importance of fear in our lives. He attributes his survival to his fear of Richard Parker as it “kept him alert.” We all need a bit of fear so we keep alert. If we come from backgrounds where we cannot afford basic, the fear of survival is a natural driver. And if not, we need to make it a point to spend time with people who scare us a bit (e.g. coaches, teachers..). That fear will keep us alert and ticking.

Hunger changes everything. Have you faced the sort of primal hunger that brings out the animal within? I know I haven’t. It’s a reminder that I’ve been fortunate to lead a good life. I am thankful for that.

Keep moving out of your comfort zone. The carnivorous island that Pi and Richard Parker get to is a beautiful representation of the comfort zone in my eyes.

They find this beautiful island in the midst of their quest and it threatens to make them forget about their quest. Luckily, Pi realizes that there were others who were consumed by the island and decides to move on.

Some relationships mean a heck of a lot more to us than they do to the other person. There’s a beautiful moment in the movie when Pi watches Richard Parker leave without saying goodbye. Their relationship is over from Parker’s point of view. Pi is left heart broken.

It’s a feeling I have experienced a couple of times and the truth is telling. It also reminds me that there are likely very few relationships in our life where both sides hold the relationships equally important or dear. Treasure them.

Closure matters. “I suppose in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.”

This one struck a chord deep within. Having lost two important people early in life, you realize that letting go is a vital part of being human. But, you also realize that closure matters. A lot.

“It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.” (from the book)

Truth is vastly stranger than fiction. This one took a while for me to understand and digest. I read a few reflections from others in a couple of forums before forming my own theory.

The background here is the exchange Pi has with the writer.

Adult Pi Patel: So which story do you prefer?
Writer: The one with the tiger. That’s the better story.
Adult Pi Patel: Thank you. And so it goes with God.

Here, Pi shares two explanations with the writer. The first is one that involves people, hatred and cannibalism and the second is one that involves sharing a boat with the tiger filled with wondrous stories and escapes.

He leaves the writer with a choice – believe a story that seems believable or take a leap of faith and believe the story about the adventure. The latter is the truth, of course and I was reminded of a story from an English textbook in high school that said “truth is vastly stranger than fiction.”

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?” (from the book)

One of the best movies I have had the fortune to see.

ALearningaDay Book Awards: The 5 Books of the Year 2012

Note 1: These books were not necessarily published in 2012. These were chosen from the books I read this year.

Note 2: I only count “geeky” books/books that make me better here i.e. books related to history, psychology, self-help, business et al.

I thought I’d continue the tradition of publishing a top 5 list of the best books I’ve read this year. This year has not been too different from last year in terms of books. The count is at 23 (vs 24 last year). For all practical purposes, it’s been a busy year with a lot of truly fantastic books read. There were 2 big themes this year – happiness and human behaviour. And, thanks to Audible and my R15 system, I’ve been able to keep up 30 minutes of book reading or more pretty much every working day.

Over to the awards, then.

Winner – Book of the Year: So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport

Why? This was simply the best book of the year. As a mark of it’s brilliance, I have already gifted around 10 copies to various friends and family. The book beautifully tied together a whole bunch of concepts that I have come to understand over the year – the importance of deliberate practice, the importance of excellence in finding purpose and the importance of taking lots of “little bets.”

For all those who would like to make more of their life and careers, this is a book that comes highly recommended. I have attempted to summarize the key principles of the book in a recently concluded book learning series (here).

Impact? In my case, aside from solidifying my understanding of many of the basic principles of excellence, it has taught me to focus hard and “be so good they can’t ignore you.”

Additionally, I have now been inspired to ensure I apply the principles of deliberate practice in every aspect of my life.

Great job putting this together, Cal. Thanks a lot!

1st Runner Up – Book of the Year: Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

Why? Because it’s awesome.

This is not a new book by any stretch of the imagination. Somehow, it slipped under my radar for a while. And boy, it did absolutely blow me away when I did get to it.

Talent is overrated examines performance in great detail. It beautifully deconstructs the myth of talent and, instead, focuses our attention on a concept called deliberate practice that has gone on to shape our understanding on performance.

Impact? It took me months to truly understand the kind of impact deliberate practice could have on one’s life.

I began applying it fervently to my guitar practice (as it’s a concept easily applicable to sport and musical instrument learning) and I’ve seen the difference. Now, I’m working to make this a habit and apply it to everything I do. More to follow on this initiative..

2nd Runner Up – Book of the Year: Start with Why by Simon Sinek


Why? It teaches you to ask “why?”. The book is an expansion of Sinek’s famous TED talk and is meaningful, engaging and fun – all at once.

Impact? The book has begun to change the way I communicate. I find it’s effect nearly every time I begin to launch into an introduction or explain something – I ask myself to “start with why.”

It has also solidified some of my own beliefs and biases on leadership. Very inspiring book.

Fourth Place – Book of the Year: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg

Why? Like all books written by journalists, the Power of Habit has a compelling narrative. But, books don’t make it to this list for their compelling narratives – this book is incredibly powerful in that it underlines how important a role habits play in our lives.

It goes deep into the science behind habits and helps us understand the nature of our behaviour.

Impact? The Power of Habit helped me understand the real difference between the most productive people on earth and the rest – habits. They had habits of deliberate practice, winning etc ingrained in their daily schedules.

This book has inspired me to re-examine my own life during this break and commit/re-commit to creating and strengthening some important habits. In my case, I have 2 habits I would like to build – 30 min of exercise 5 days a week and deliberate practice in everything I do. This is going to take work but I’m looking forward to building systems to make this happen in the new year.

Fifth Place – Book of the Year: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

Why? Jonathan Haidt is the man behind the very powerful “elephant and rider’” analogy for our minds. He also has a very clear and thought through theory on happiness, which he examines in detail in this book. I loved this book.

Impact? Understanding the fact that our mind consists of 2 very distinct beings – the elephant (i.e. the strong emotional part. In scientific terms, our lymbic system or old brain) and the rider (i.e. the weak logical part. In scientific terms, the pre frontal cortex) has helped me understand how I can work with my mind to get things done.

Understanding the elephant and the rider is critical to help us understand ourselves.

And Jonathan Haidt’s studies on happiness also helped me re-commit to little habits like counting 5 blessings every day.

Special Mention – Book of the Year: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

Why? Simply one of the most sincere books I’ve ever read. Brought tears to my eyes. And, if you need any convincing, just read this passage..

“Again and again, I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success – the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue.

And it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge. Then you will live to see that in the long-run, in the long-run, I say(!), success will follow you precisely because you had forgotten to think about it.”

Impact? This passage alone has inspired me to no end. It reinforces the principles from the books above – focus on being excellent and giving what you do everything, and success and happiness will follow.

I am working on making sure I have reminders of this passage all around me.

There were a few other books that deserved to make it on this list, and almost did. These were –

The Honest Truth about Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Quiet by Susan Cain
The Big Short by Michael Lewis

And thus, another year has passed. There have been so many learnings and changes in my life thanks to some of these books. If you haven’t gotten to them, I hope you will find time during the holidays..

And, if you need any help with getting together a system to help you stick with reading, do let me know and I’ll be happy to help.. (And on that note, if you do have a system that enables you to exercise 5 times a week, I’d love to hear from you as well!)

Here’s to many great books in 2013!

Happy Holidays

It’s time for the holidays, for rest, reflection and relaxation.

The new year will be upon us soon, and will usher in new hopes, dreams and promises.

That’s still a few days away though. For now, let’s enjoy the good food, the rest and celebrate a year that’s gone by. For those still working, I hope you don’t work yourself too hard..

Happy holidays!

Learning from Hits vs Misses

You just finished a presentation and are sitting down for a debrief with your team. What do you focus your energy on? The “hits”? or the “misses”?

If you are following normal habits, you will likely gloss over the hits and go really deep into the misses. That’s the norm – don’t focus on the strengths or what you did well. Focus hard on your improvement points.

Now, let’s imagine you are a football player. You took 2 shots during the game. The first shot was hit with the wrong part of the foot and fizzed wide. The second shot, however, hit just the right spot and you scored?

What do you do now? Spend all your time figuring out why the bad shot was hit that way? Or do you spend time practicing so all your shots hit the right spot, like the second one?

We tend to be critical by nature and finding flaws in a process or person comes more naturally than finding strengths. Finding flaws and criticisms is the easy thing to do.

The hard thing to do is to figure out all the things that went well so success can be understood, and replicated.

(PS: Things will go wrong anyway, no matter what you do and learnings from those misses will always follow if you take some time to reflect..)

On 10 Questions with Yourself

This week’s book learning is the traditional final book learning of the year.

The year end review form has become tradition by now. This year, however, the sheet has undergone a bit of an overhaul to include questions regarding deliberate practice (for example).

Here are links to the DOC and PDF versions to ensure you have a version easy to print/type. As always, I look forward to any feedback you might have on how this form can be improved for next year.


Sketch by EB

I sincerely hope you find time with yourself to go through your annual review this holiday season. And I hope this sheet helps!

Here’s to reflection and review this week!

Process vs Outcome

There are 2 ways to approach anything in life – By process or by results. We can choose to measure our success and happiness by the results we have generated or by the process/method we apply to life.

The catch, of course, is that the external world judges us by our results. As a result, we are trained through life to look at outcomes and results. We grow up, as a result, worrying more (on average) about our grades vs understanding, our medal vs our running style, our presentation vs our preparation.

The flaw in this approach is obvious. More often than not, we don’t control the result.

So, what then? Ignore the process approach and only worry about the result.

My take is to shun the outcome. Never mind what the result is. Focus intensely and deliberately on the process. Become the master of approach and the master of an awe inspiring process. Hone your skills, and approach your work like it’s a craft.

It’s only a matter of time before you churn out craftsman-like results. Success and happiness will ensue.