The erase or dwell response problem

For most of us, an unpleasant situation typically results in an “erase or dwell” response. Here’s an example – I was recently reminded of a small incident that felt unpleasant. Now, I could choose to do one of two things – erase it from my memory and aim to completely forget it happened or dwell on it for a long time.

I’ve come to find that this choice is one we generally make based on our personality. The more extraverted folk tend to erase while the introverted ones typically tend to dwell on it.

The two approaches have one thing in common – they both suck. That’s because erasing an unpleasant memory implies we walk away without learning anything from it. And, on the other hand, dwelling on it for long periods of time mean we make ourselves very unhappy by regularly making mountains out of molehills.

Here’s a suggestion – replace the “erase or dwell” response with a question – “What did I learn from this?” Then, if you feel like taking it a step further, write or type down what you learnt.

This simple question solves both problems with the erase or dwell response. First, it helps us squeeze the learning(s) out of an unpleasant situation. The general rule here – the more unpleasant the situation, the more there is to learn. Second, processing the learning helps bring closure and allows us to let go. Writing/typing it down helps greatly with the closure.

Unpleasant situations, even minor ones, are generally filled with learning – both about ourselves and others. Learning to not waste them is critical to our growth. And, just focusing on the learning enables us to look forward and learn to let go. That, in turn, is critical to our happiness.

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Penny saved is worth more than a penny earned

We’ve all heard the adage – a penny saved is a penny earned. While it is normally attributed to Ben Franklin, it turns out that the real author is likely 17th century Welsh poet George Herbert.

The important thing, however, is that the adage is flawed. As Andrew Tobias explains in his excellent personal finance book “The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need,” these were written at a time before taxes were institutionalized. Now, a penny saved is worth a lot more than a penny earned because you’ll need to earn much more than one penny to ensure you save as much after taxes.

After some financial mismanagement in my undergrad period (that had knock on effects until 2 years after I graduated), I worked hard to be very diligent about spending a lot less than what I earned. It has only been 6 years since but it has enabled me to pay my way through business school without any debt. And, my learning from that is that saving is just part of a conscious lifestyle where you are mindful about every expense. A couple of ways I improve consciousness is by taking note of all expenses manually into an app called “Envelopes” – I still don’t use Mint as it is all too automatic for my taste. Every weekend, I transfer these expenses to a Google Doc that tracks my expenses – again, manually. I wrote about this process back in 2011 and it is one that has worked well for me. Given how much convenience credit cards and frictionless payments have brought to my life, I do go out of my way to ensure there is some friction at least when I’m accounting it.

All this doesn’t mean all saving and no fun. There are three areas I’ve found to be wonderful uses of money – spending it on experiences versus things, spending it on people you love and spending it on people you don’t know. I’ve come to realize that how you define experiences is a personal thing. For some people, driving every day is an experience. It matters a lot which car they drive. For us, we realize that living in a nice home is an experience because we spend a lot of time on weekends at home. Others would rather allocate that money to activities over the weekend. It matters that we allocate some of our money for “guilt free spending.” But, that can only come after we make sure we’ve saved.

Many of these lessons on personal finance are in an infographic/”learnographic” a friend and I created a couple of years back on personal finance.

penny saved, personal finance, money

Personal finance thoughts aside, simple insights like this one repeatedly demonstrate the power of books to change our lives. In the four weeks since I’ve read the book, I find myself repeatedly remembering the fact that dollars saved are worth more than dollars earned as I make spending decisions.

It is an incredibly valuable reminder… literally.

HT: Seth for the book recommendation

Finding cousins – The DNA journey

Danish travel site “Momondo” teamed up with a DNA testing service “AncestryDNA” focusing on a group of 67 diverse people who all were very patriotic and had strong views about their heritage and of other countries and cultures.

The video is 5:16 long. I will still be here once you are done watching it.

(Thanks Adweek)

There is a beautiful moment at the end when one of the participants is told that she actually has a cousin in the audience.

cousins, dna, momondo, world

There are a couple of messages that make the video powerful. First, it seeks to make a point that there would no such thing as extremism if people really knew their heritage. After all, every one of us has more cousins than we know. It then drives home the idea that an open world begins with an open mind. It beautifully illustrates that you have more in common with others in the world than you think. That is so true.

I have been away from home for 10 years now. I have found family in most of these places who share similar values and aspirations. We just have to make the effort. Humans in the hunter gatherer era needed to form groups in “we’re better than you” contests for survival. We are still stuck with that natural reaction (why else do we like following sports teams as much?) – even though we will be better served collaborating rather than competing for resources. There’s plenty out here for all of us. And, if it isn’t out here yet, there’s plenty among us who can invent ways for us to get will be necessary. The nature of politics, however, is to divide and conquer. And, we are at a time when there is a massive amount of hate and xenophobia.

As this video shows, we are more similar than we think. It is up to us to accept it and act like it.

The initiative fallacy

The initiative fallacy revolves around the idea that initiative is a trait we are born with. That is nonsense. Initiative is developed, one small act at a time.

For those interested, here is an action plan to develop initiative. Today, pick one small thing you wouldn’t normally have done – asking for something at a store that you wouldn’t have asked, planning a small thoughtful gift for a partner or friend, organizing a weekend activity, or even signing up for a new activity.

Repeat for 24 days (24 is arbitrary – just so you have no easy excuse to postpone it) and send me an email on rohan at rohanrajiv dot com to tell me how you feel about taking initiative.

Initiative is a habit. Like all habits, allow it to gain momentum and it will be unstoppable and addictive. It is a beautiful thing.

One last thing – another piece of the initiative fallacy is that initiative requires confidence. Again, that’s nonsense. Confidence is just a lazy out. We don’t need more confidence, we need more commitment. More unwavering commitment results in more confidence and the confidence built on commitment is the kind that lasts anyway.

initiative fallacySource Image

Leadership and consistency – The 200 words project

Essayists like Ralph Waldo Emerson who shaped the 19th century view on leadership defined it around heroic consistency of message – no matter what the evidence. So, political campaigns are now lost the moment a candidate switches views on a topic. While political candidates are often guilty of changing views based on when it suits them, we also end up punishing those who’re changing it because of better data.

The greatest leaders, however, have always been incredibly persuadable.

Abraham Lincoln, for example, was a notorious flip flopper who changed his views on the civil rights movement as new data presented itself. Sadly, the 2012 “Lincoln” movie made no mention of this inconsistencies –Pulitzer Prize winning historian Eric Foner lamented the absence of his hallmark of greatness – his capacity for change and growth. Even black scholar and activist W E B De Bois, who was often critical of Lincoln, admired his always critical and flexible brand of leadership.

As Jeff Bezos says – people who were right a lot of their time were often people who changed their mind. Perhaps we should revisit our responses when we see our leaders change their point of view based on sound evidence?

Abraham Lincoln is the greatest figure of the 19th century. He was to be admired not because he was perfect but because he was not and yet he triumphed. Out of his contradictions and inconsistencies, he fought his way to the pinnacles. And his fight was within as well as without. – W.E.B De Bois

leadership, consistency, change, flexible

Source and thanks to: Persuadable by Al Pitampalli

Brexit reflections

The excellent Quartz daily brief newsletter opened with a few reflections on the Brexit this morning.

There are good reasons to leave a marriage—constant conflict, deep differences, a deranged partner. There are also less good ones—conversation’s a bit dull, the sex isn’t great, or you have the same thing for breakfast every morning.

British voters just called it quits on their 43-year-long marriage with the EU. The 52% who voted “leave” may have believed they did so over deep-seated and long-held grievances with the status quo: They were on average older and poorer (paywall) than the population at large. Yet their poverty was long-entrenched, not necessarily connected with growing economic inequality or foreigners taking jobs, and the regions that voted to leave were those that most depend on trade with the EU. Dull, passionless, and repetitive it may have been, but theirs was a boring marriage, not a bad one.

The Brexit campaign made a simple but alluring appeal to them: “Take back control.” And it worked. But some Britons are already realizing the grass isn’t magically greener. More than 80 pro-Brexit parliamentarians urged pro-EU prime minister David Cameron to stay in his job for stability’s sake; he promptly resigned. The “leave” campaign suggested that divorce proceedings with the EU needn’t be too hasty, but Brussels isn’t in the mood for delays. As the pound tanks and stocks tremble, it’s getting harder for the Brexit camp to maintain the claim that warnings of an economic wipeout were anelaborate EU plot to bully British voters.

Even nationalist leader Nigel Farage admitted one of his side’s key campaign pledges—to redirect funds from the EU budget to the national health service—was “a mistake.” And though Boris Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign and now frontrunner for prime minister, rebuked those such as Farage “who play politics with immigration,” the “leave” campaign played plenty of that politics itself, and Johnson may find it hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Divorce can be thrilling, but in the cold light of the morning after, freedom isn’t always such fun. When you “take back control,” there’s nobody left to blame when things go wrong.—Jason Karaian

My 3 notes –

1. I found the speed with which the “Leave” campaign acknowledged that one of its key pledges was a “mistake” amazing. Politics is a different kind of beast.

2. I am a big believer in the power of incentives. It has been apparent for a while that David Cameron would resign if the “Leave” campaign won. It is interesting that the poster child of that campaign – ex-London mayor Boris Johnson – is the expected next Prime Minister in that event. Incentives drive behavior. And, egoistical behavior is typically indicative of bad decision making.

3. At the end of the day, however, the buck stops with everyone who voted. Google’s reports of post-vote searches for consequences of a “No” vote is both sad and scary all at once. Box CEO Aaron Levie had a pithy tweet in response to this as a takeaway for the elections in the US in November – “Before you’re allowed to vote in November, you should be required to watch videos of British people regretting the way they voted in Brexit.”

Damn right.

Understandably, there’s a lot of grief among the younger generation in the UK. A poignant comment left on the Financial Times website yesterday summed their emotions up beautifully.


The question the comment ends with – “But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?” is incredibly powerful..

Go backward or go forward

In a huge step forward for 3D printing, Airbus unveiled the world’s first 3D printed aircraft earlier this month. The aircraft was tiny and windowless – yet, it was the star of the show.

In a survey of folks in the aviation sector in Germany, 70% of the respondents believed that airline parts would be 3D printed in airports by 2030.

Can you imagine the number of jobs that will be lost when that happens?

When faced with a proposition as scary as this, we have a choice – we can either focus on moving backward or focus on moving forward.

Focusing on moving backward would mean lobbying government to put all sorts of restrictions and tariffs to stifle innovation in 3D printing. It would mean doing everything in our power to keep the status quo or even reverse it if at all possible. This is the corporate version of fundamentalism and is one most incumbent companies practice. If this is your approach of choice, good luck.

Moving forward, however, would require us to embrace the scary idea that 3D printing will not just take away jobs in airline manufacturing but in many other industries. There will be millions of people displaced. The solution to this problem will not be obvious now. But, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. One thing is clear, however – we will only get there if we accept that change will occur whether we like it or not. It has its way of forcing its way through.

We can choose to either ride the wave or be drowned in it.

Don’t scar on the first cut

Jason Fried has a great post on the excellent Signal v Noise blog about policies as organizational scar tissue.

The second something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to create a policy. “Someone’s wearing shorts!? We need a dress code!” No, you don’t. You just need to tell John not to wear shorts again.

Policies are organizational scar tissue. They are codified overreactions to situations that are unlikely to happen again. They are collective punishment for the misdeeds of an individual.

This is how bureaucracies are born. No one sets out to create a bureaucracy. They sneak up on companies slowly. They are created one policy — one scar — at a time.

scar, cut, policy

It is a beautiful post for 2 reasons. First, it explains nicely why so much of corporate policy doesn’t make sense to people who join years after their creation.

Second, it is as applicable in our lives as in our companies. We often tend to have strong reactions to negative stuff that happens in our lives. Many folks I’ve met over the years refuse to trust people because they were cheated once many years ago. Many parents, on the other hand, refuse to let their kids fail after their first experience with their kids suffering.

On the one hand, making a scar out of the cut feels like the right, safe thing to do.The trouble, however, is that by inoculating ourselves from the pain of a cut, we also stop all the beautiful stuff that follows. From making mistakes with trusting people, we hone our people judgment. By failing, kids learn to deal with adversity while parents learn to let go.

Don’t scar on the first cut.

Great advice – thank you, Jason.

Teaching by being

Most teachers associate teaching with the act of teaching. However, if the point of teaching is to maximize learning, very little learning happens that way. Learning happens when teachers simply be someone worth learning from.

Sure, you might walk out of a “class” learning a nugget or two that might help your career. But, great teachers become great because they massively influence how we see the world and, by extension, how we live our lives.

We can all become good teachers by having excellent grasp of our content, by structuring our communication and by delivering it well. But, good teachers become great outside the classroom. They become great when they demonstrate, in thousands of small ways, how much they care. They become great when they demonstrate that being great teachers requires them to be as dedicated toward learning and mastering a craft as we need to be as students. They become great when they live by the idea that learning and growth is a 2 way street.

Great teachers don’t teach. They learn, grow, and inspire. Such people don’t come by often. When you find them, hold on tight.

PS: If it wasn’t evident, great teachers are rarely “teachers” by profession.

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Attitude toward discomfort

Many lives and attitudes are designed to avoid discomfort. Avoidance isn’t all that hard if you develop an attitude that seeks to avoid problems and treat discomfort as a bad thing.

However, that approach goes against the principle of mindfulness. To solve problems, we must spend time with them. Discomfort, typically, is one of the best indicators of potential problems. I say “potential problems” because the feeling uncomfortable doesn’t guarantee a problem and we mustn’t treat it as such. Instead, the feeling should be used to dig deeper and seek an understanding of the situation and ourselves. Discomfort, in effect, is an indication that further analysis is required.

This approach – dig deeper and analyze whenever you experience discomfort – can sound like paranoia. It is. Changing Andy Grove’s famous book title, I’d say – “Only the paranoid thrive.” Extreme emotions dull our awareness of the subtle indicators that help us be more mindful of what is going on around us. Understanding what makes us uncomfortable helps us make better decisions.

And, if that isn’t enough, the habit of being comfortable with being uncomfortable is a big contributor to happiness. Attempting to avoid it only prolongs the feeling and that, in turn, ends up playing havoc with our ability to let go of difficulty.

By helping us stay present and happy, our attitude toward discomfort goes a long way in predicting our quality of life.