Low flame

When we try to make changes in our lives, we often try to make changes on high flame. Making changes on high flame involves putting a lot of heat on something and expecting near instant change. When we do this, we forget that a lot of great cooking gets done on low flame.

The classic high flame approach is the new year’s resolution. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves in the month of January and expect instant results. The downsides are obvious – we often walk away feeling burnt from the experience.

The low flame approach is a much slower, longer term approach. It involves consistent heat over a long period of time. If you follow the low flame approach, building a strong culture in your organization will not revolve around a culture and values push. It will involve a steady set of initiatives over a long period of time. Similarly, there is no big product launch, only a consistent iteration on your minimum viable product.

The biggest benefit of adopting a low flame approach is when we’re making changes in our personal life. The best way to get fitter is to eat healthier and fit regular exercise into our weekly schedule. This never happens easily. Changing our schedule involves a lot of slow tweaking over time. While we might be able to force a change every once a while, we need to slow down, observe ourselves and allow time for the momentum behind the change to build up.

Slow, consistent, thoughtful, long term – there’s a lot of power in the low flame approach to change.


Later is more than a word – it is an idea whose judicious use can change our life.

When it comes to working on the most important priorities, we don’t ever want to use it. The more we use it, the more we procrastinate.

But, when dealing with behavior that does no good in the long term, it can be a very powerful word indeed. Willpower researchers have found that substituting “no” with “later” when dealing with temptations can successfully resolve the tension in our head.

Therein lies the power of later. Our minds mark the action we’re dealing with as resolved and ease the tension. There are times when easing the tension is useful and there are times when it is counter productive. “Later” can thus be the difference between delaying gratification and succumbing to temptations.

Use it wisely, we must.

Do our absolute best

Much of our lives lies outside our control. People respond to this fact differently. Some like to believe they control everything while others like to believe it is all predetermined. Maybe one of those is the right view, we’ll never know. My preferred approach is to simply acknowledge that large portions of our lives lie outside our control. Once we acknowledge that, the onus is on us to also acknowledge the flip side – there are portions, occasionally significant, that are in our control. And, for those portions, we can choose to do our absolute best.

The context to which we wake up in the morning may be outside of our control. How we choose to live our day today, however, isn’t. And, by living our day well today, we can improve our context tomorrow. This can go on until our context changes again – for no apparent reason. That’s part of the unpredictability and beauty of this life. It can rain when we least expect it. What matters is that we learn to dance with it.

As I thought about the week that had passed by, I wondered if I could have done a little bit more. But, I also remembered to ask – did I do my absolute best? Did I be my absolute best?

Contentment and drive are false choices. There’s a tension between them (and many other false choices) that makes life beautiful. Asking ourselves if we did our absolute best is an example of a question that embraces both. We did the best we could as we knew it. Now, that we know better, we’ll do better.

I’ve learnt that there’s not much more we can expect from ourselves in every analysis. I’ve also learnt that there are few goals that are more worthy of aspiration. So, as I start this week, I tell myself that, at the end of it, I will reflect and ask myself – did I do my absolute best? Did I try to be the best version of myself?

I will likely have made mistakes and mis-steps this week. But, if the answers to those two questions were yes, it will have been a good week.

Monsters in the basement – The 200 words project

When Fred Kofman’s son asked him to accompany him to the basement, Fred asked him why he needed company. He said – “Dad, I’m scared of monsters.”

Fred’s initial instinct was to question the emotion of fear his son was feeling. But, he realized that if he believed there were monsters, he would be scared too. So, he asked his son why he didn’t see monsters when he went down. His son responded – “They go away when you grow up.” :)

In his work as an executive coach at leading companies all over the world, Fred finds that we generally respond to difficult emotions by telling people to suppress them. Telling someone “don’t be afraid” or “don’t feel bad” isn’t helpful. We’re effectively saying – “Push it away as it makes me uncomfortable.” And, bottling emotions up is akin to coiling a spring – they only come back with stronger force.

Difficult emotions are simply reactions to beliefs. Instead of challenging them, we must allow them to be felt. Then, we can discuss or challenge the beliefs.

To manage emotions, we have to learn to be comfortable with them and then inquire to the source of them. – Fred Kofman

Source and thanks to: Conscious Business by Fred Kofman

Bigger houses

There will always be people we know with bigger houses.

We might look at the folks with bigger houses now and think we’d feel better when we have that bigger house. But, when that happens, we’ll start hanging out with people with houses our size and spend our time looking at people with even bigger houses.

Of course, this isn’t about houses. This could just as easily be about bigger cars, teams, companies, following, etc., etc. With constant connectivity and exposure to everyone else’s life and career, a friend described this as an arms race. One better social media update needs to be matched with another.

It is ironical that arms races have the word “race” in them. While they contain the speed element of a “race,” arms races rarely have a winner. Most arms races only leave behind losers at every turn.

The only way out of such meaningless arms races is by asking ourselves one question – how will I measure my life? Once you have a hypothesis, you just need to keep plugging away to make your life meaningful – by your standards. In the final analysis, all that will matter is how you did by your own yardstick.

The rest is gravy.

“Just a little”

It is better to be completely honest or completely dishonest. Being “just a little” dishonest is a problem.

Being just a little honest/kind/environmentally conscious means we are only those things when the situation suits us. The moment the going gets hard, we change our behavior.

The problem here isn’t just the unpredictability of our behavior – though that is definitely a problem. The bigger problem here is that we live a life built on lies to ourselves. We just rationalize away any bad behavior and think of ourselves as honest human beings. We do so by blaming all of our “just a little” behavior on extenuating circumstances. And, by gradually believing this lie, we stop feeling the kind of guilt that focuses us to take action.

The “Just a little” way of life is a massive problem because it is built on bad behavior during extenuating circumstances. Life, it turns out, is just a series of extenuating circumstances.

Path focus

As we journey through life, we can choose to adopt either a path focus or a people focus. Journeying with a people focus means walking with our eyes on others’ paths. The questions that arise from such a journey are all comparative – is she ahead of me?, doesn’t he seem happier?, is she covering ground faster?, how can I show them I am awesome?.

The questions that arise from a journey with a path focus shuns comparisons. Here, the questions are – am I going in the right direction?, have I made the right decisions thus far?, am I being the best version of myself?.

Author Garth Stein once wrote – “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle.”

Journeying through life isn’t much different. We will go where we focus our thoughts and eyes.

Better our path than theirs.