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Category: choice

How to make the right decision?

You know how we are at a crossroads so many times in our lives? We need to make one decision or another. This job or that. This country or that. This course or that. This institution or that. And so on.

Despite this, we rarely have a clear blueprint of how to go about these decisions. So critical, yet so confusing.

A senior satsangi this past weekend gave a simple yet profound 3-step technique for just this problem:

  1. Pray for the right wisdom.
  2. Ask for guidance from materially successful mentors especially if they are also on the spiritual path, such as a part of the same satsang.
  3. Understand deeply, that the grass is always greener elsewhere. Not that we shouldn’t strive for better – but just that it helps to have realistic expectations.

Decision making conquered!

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How much to donate?

Took a rickshaw ride to the metro station today. Turned out to be a very expensive one. Instead of paying x, I paid 10x.

Why? Because the rickshaw driver got a 10-second call in between, told me he just got news that his wife delivered twins, and congratulated himself. He then said all was good till 5 days ago when his father passed away. And that his wife was in ICU and that he had no money to buy her medicines. He wiped a (possibly) non-existent tear from his left eye too, whilst slapping his forehead a few times.

I gave him a little cash, and he asked for more because “medicines are expensive”. I told him that’s all I had, and he motioned to the QR code stuck on his vehicle and said I could transfer the money to him. To which I reminded him that the meter showed x, and that I’d just paid him 10x.

Even 10x really wasn’t a very big number – hardly anything. Maybe I should have been more generous – because what if he was being genuine? But some of this also seemed like it was pre-rehearsed. Was he lying? Was this a scam? I have no clue. No way of finding out.

My Guru says a) donate 10% of your post-tax income, and b) to make said donation only to the cause he has selected (education for the underprivileged). Why ‘only‘? Because he has already done the research, and knows the practical difficulties of trying to help everyone and supporting every cause. While ad-hoc folks asking for money like the example today is not uncommon in India, following principles ‘a’ and ‘b’ is what gives me peace of mind.

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Desert rose

“Oh desert rose eh ley hi ey ley…” crooned the legendary singer Sting many years ago.

I have never figured out the words after ‘rose’, but that’s digressing from the point.

No one likes deserts no? Not desserts, which are universally loved (except by the 22 year old trying desperately to get his abs to show!), but the dry arid landscapes that parch your throat just by thinking about them.

A dry barren dune-filled land is always considered infertile and useless. “What will anyone do with such a place?” is the first thing that comes to mind.

But even weaknesses can be turned into strengths. That’s my learning. We know this, but still get dejected in the face of adversity. Here’s a nice line I saw about the Indian state of Rajasthan, as part of a tourism advertisement.

“A pioneer in the green revolution (to generate solar energy) in India with 300-330 sunny days a year, which is comparable to the deserts of California and Nevada!”

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10,000 by 3

Remember Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour practice rule? You practice anything for 10,000 hours and you’ll become world class (like a concert violinist or pianist or a professional soccer or cricket player).

The breakup was that if you can practice something for 3 hours a day for 10 years, you’ll easily achieve an unparalleled level of expertise.

For many of us, even taking out 1 hour a day to do something we’d loosely classify as a “hobby” would be extremely difficult.

And if we did get the 1 hour out of an already maddening schedule, then it’d just be better to unwind with Netflix or Prime no?

One way I like to look at this, is to put in the 10,000 hours at our work. Our office job. The day job. Whatever it may be. And guess what, we work 9 hours a day anyway. So that’s 3 times more than the 3 hours per day needed for mastery in 10 years. Which means we could be masters at our work if we spend just 3.3 years!

Instead of spending time by the water cooler, gossiping and talking politics and what not, why not just use every single opportunity to learn, spend the 9 hours in the most efficient manner possible, and become the best-of-the-best in your line of work, whatever it might be? ๐Ÿ˜„

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Vocal for social

Imagine a chaotic check-in scene at an airport. At least 300 passengers are waiting for their turn to dump their luggages and collect their boarding passes. All in serpentine queues that would put a new iPhone launch line to shame.

There are many that have their flights departing in under an hour, and so the line-cutting begins. It’s chaos. It’s madness. It’s chaotic madness.

And then as one elderly chap begins to raise his voice against the (terribly) understaffed counters, a smart employee in counter 1 asks him to come over so that he could quickly be serviced, and more importantly, silenced.

What would most people do in such a situation? Take the shortcut right? The guy should have quickly taken his family to that counter, cutting ahead of at least a 100 passengers, simply because he raised his voice.

But that’s not what he did. He made his family stay back in line, went to that counter and reprimanded the employee for encouraging such shortcut behavior. He then proceeded to manage the line (and force other cutters to go back in-line) until his family got to the counter, after waiting in line. A role model citizen if there was one!

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VVP – part 2

We looked at Vyakti Vastu Paristhithi yesterday.

Today is another VVP. Something called a Value Validation Project.

I came across this awesome concept online. It’s amazingly helpful if you want to land a new job. It’s also amazing if you want to know if you want that job in the first place.

What does VVP involve? If you are applying for a job as a coder (say), the easiest thing is to click the ‘Apply’ button, ship your CV to the recruitment team, and hope for a response, just like a million other applicants.

But how to stand out? By validating your value, via a project. Use the opportunity to code something now itself for your prospective employer, so they see what you can do for them once you join.

This is not limited to coding of course, but can be used in any field. Value validation is not easy, but worth it. Shreyas over Preyas.

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Fired up

‘Tis the time of The Great Resignation.

Some are leaving the workforce altogether, while others are leaving for better jobs.

The latter often find fatter paychecks elsewhere.

If a person’s salary was 100, and they asked for 120, sometimes they’re let go, only to be replaced by someone with a salary of 150. Isn’t that insane?

As they say, train someone so well that they can leave anytime. But treat them so well that they never want to leave.

Nice saying, but does anyone implement this in real life?

Most retention exercises are purely fire fighting exercises. Running from pillar to post to douse out the flames.

Why not start by not having any fires in the first place?

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Extreme meditation

Chapter 6 of the Gita is all about meditation. Funny then, that verses 16 and 17 would talk about moderation in food. Is there really any sort of connection?

A very deep one in fact.

A spiritual aspirant may think that “we are all Brahman, we are not the body”. And such a person might decide to eat too much or too little, and in general become careless about his/her health.

As we very well know though, if we are sick, then there is little ability to get any work done – whether material or spiritual (including meditation progress or prowess).

That’s why Krishna makes it very clear in this verse, that extremes won’t do. The body is the tool and vehicle provided to us to achieve our spiritual objectives. The mind might like extremes, especially good ones, but the body thrives on moderation.

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Aww-scarred

In an awards ceremony, the host made a joke about a man’s wife.

The man got up from the audience, walked to the stage, and slapped the host on his face.

The host was stunned, but carried on, as though nothing much had happened.

The man went back to his seat, and loudly reprimanded the host for talking about his wife.

Is it okay for people to make lewd jokes in public?

Is it okay for people to take matters into their own hands literally, with physical violence?

Is this a reflection of the times we live in?

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Pretrust

A friend of mine who runs a very successful start-up said something very nice recently.

It was about tipping.

Most people tip, like at the salon, or a restaurant or such. If the service was great, we may tip more, and if not that great, then we may tip less.

But he was talking about the brilliant effect of tipping before the service even starts.

His thought process was, that the service providers are often expectant of a tip, but unsure of whether they will get one or not. Because not everyone tips. Hence giving the tip upfront puts the receiver at ease.

But no. In a conversation with his own barber, who he tipped beforehand, he got a different reason. The guy told him that it was not about the surety of money, but the surety of trust. The trust placed on the service provider of superlative service, even before the service began. Such a nice way to think about this isn’t it?

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Secret goals

The title of this blog post might have you think that maybe some goals should be kept secret. Or that there might already be some secret goals. Or that all goals are secret. Those who don’t have any goals at all may wonder what all the hoopla is about!

There is evidence that it is best to keep one’s goals (especially the big ones) secret.

An NYU study in 2009 found this. Pretty startling.

A lot of people love to toot their own horns, whether on social media or in real life, and whether for minor achievements, or major goals.

Why does keeping your goals a secret matter? This is what the study found. That telling others about your goals apparently creates an unconscious win – tricking our minds into thinking that we have already accomplished the goal.

An important goal would hence be to keep all future goals a secret. My lips are sealed ๐Ÿค๐Ÿ˜‚

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Distracted

Ever felt this way before? Unable to concentrate because your phone notifications bar just popped up? What’s that now – oh a new Whatsapp message. You click once, harmlessly, and before you know it, 30 minutes have passed, you having gone from “reading a book” time to watching random reels on Instagram.

A book by Nir Eyal called Indistractable is all about solving this attention problem.

First, the word itself. You know the base in ‘distraction’? It’s ‘action’. And it is the same in ‘traction’ as well! Wow, that never struck me before. Distractions move us away from what we really want. Traction is the opposite.

Avoiding distraction is a skill, it can be learned, and needs to be practised. 3 things to help in this journey as per the book:
1. We never run out of willpower, so keep at it.
2. Reaffirm positively
3. Practice self-compassion

Other stuff: turn off notifications where unnecessary, delete apps that are not needed, use your phone’s ‘do not disturb’ feature etc. The last one I can really vouch for!

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Digitox

A few days ago, it was decided that we should step out for a quick weekend getaway.

Someplace nice. Someplace serene. Someplace where the concrete jungle can be left behind completely.

And so we started looking through the various hotel aggregators. These have so many reviews, and taking them into consideration is always a good idea.

One recurring theme in the reviews in certain properties was the blessing of a digital detox.

What’s that?

Is it that there’s a cocktail of greens that one can down in a gulp and be freed of red eyes from staring into a screen for too long?

Is there something else the property offers that people praise the on-site digital detox so much?

Not in the least. All it means, is that the resort is completely isolated. No cell towers. Zero reception. Zilch.

If that’s what it takes to digitally detox, to spend so much money for it, why not just sit at home and switch off the phone? ๐Ÿ˜€

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Mispriced asset

“I’m a mispriced asset”, is what a friend told me recently. He took up his job because he didn’t have a choice. He wanted to break into a specific market, and because he didn’t have the relevant work experience, he had to take a pay cut.

We know how this story ends right? The guy after 3 years in his ‘compromise’ job, managed to get another offer elsewhere, better pay, and before you know it, it was mispricing no more.

Each of us who is in the corporate world comes across this question often. How much am I worth?

The answer as the experts will tell you, is not your intrinsic value. Rather, what you are worth, is simply what someone is willing to pay you. Aka, the greater fool theory. It’s just like the stock market, or the market for art or collectibles, or cryptos or NFTs today. If someone will pay 10, then why settle for 6?

While this is great in the business world, it doesn’t matter in anything in life outside of economic comparisons. Keep wealth aside, and the equations change. If you pay for your house help’s kids’ education, they will likely shower you with more gratitude than any billionaire could hope to amass.

But even that, is looking outward. Your real value, only you can ascribe. And that too might be quite limiting, and mispriced.

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If then

Everyone talks of software coding to be the next great money-spinning skill in life. I don’t know much about that, but I did see one nice quip by a child recently. “Coding is nothing but a glorified bunch of ifs and for loops.”

Our lives aren’t very different. We keep repeating various patterns and rituals like for loops. We also are faced with many conditionalities, like the ifs, based on which we make certain choices and move ahead in life.

But the real problem? We worry about the ifs. A lot! What if this happens, or what if that happens. Constant worrying.

So here’s a lovely story about tackling the what ifs.

You know Sparta, the ancient Greek city famed for having really tough citizens. King Phillip II of Macedonia had invaded many other neighbouring territories, and then he set his target on Sparta.

King Phillip sent a letter to the Spartans in advance. โ€œShould he come as a friend or a foe?โ€ They replied, โ€œNeither.โ€

So Phillip sent another message. โ€œI advise you to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city.โ€

Once more, the Spartans replied with just one word: โ€œIf.โ€

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Smoked

An 18 February 1882 newspaper carried an advertisement for cigarettes with the following benefits:

  1. Immediate relief in the worst attack of asthma, hay fever, bronchitis
  2. Daily use results in a complete cure
  3. These cigarettes have been successfully tested and recommended by the medical profession for many years
  4. They are perfectly harmless and can be smoked by ladies, children and the most delicate patients

This was a time when even doctors and nurses were not just smoking themselves, but also encouraging their patients to follow suit.

We may think we have come a long way – evolved. Yes we have, at least when it comes to smoking.

But there are so many things today’s generation has little clue about. Parenting. Food choices. Exercising. Health choices. Professional choices. Lifestyle choices.

Another 100 years, and people from then will look back at us and laugh. All the while going through their own sets of blind follies.

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Religious matters

World over, people are fighting over religious issues.

Theists fights atheists. But also atheists fight atheists, and theists fight theists!

Followers of one religion fight, abuse and slaughter those of another religion.

But equally, followers within the same religion might fight, abuse and slaughter one another due to perceived ideological differences.

It seems as though one just needs a reason to fight, abuse and slaughter.

Here’s another perspective. What if religion is not about God, but about work. Not any work, but about the work each one of us does.

If we can do our work selflessly, and without expectation of the result, wouldn’t that be the pinnacle of all work? Maybe that’s why work is called worship.

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Great falls

Shlokas 36 and 37 of chapter 3 in the Gita are eye-openers.

36 has Arjuna asking Krishna why people sin, despite knowing better. And he’s not asking about normal people. He’s asking about those very close to or even at, the pinnacle of spiritual progress. The jnaana yogis.

A jnaana yogi practitioner truly sees everything as the same – no discrimination. He sees the Atman not just in himself, but also in everyone around him. And he also experientially understands that all of these are no different from paramatma. Even so, our mythology is replete with the greatest of rishis, committing the gravest of mistakes, and falling from glory. So Arjuna wants to know why.

The Lord answers in 37, that this is all only because of our desires. “Desire is a great devourer – a great sinner, this is the enemy.”

My Guru is very clear on this too. It might sound boring. But if you want moksha, then this is the way (channelling my inner Mandalorian!). Not for material objects mind you – so not about praying for promotions and bonuses and topping in exams or begetting progeny, but for moksha alone. He doesn’t advise any maha mudras, or maha mantras, or maha japas, or any kundalini rising, or maha meditations – nothing. The only requirement he says, is to give up desires and attachments – that’s it. Can it get simpler?

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Always day 1

Amazon.com has a concept called ‘always day 1’. Jeff Bezos talks about it a lot, and also writes about it in all his annual letters to shareholders.

The idea is this: despite Amazon being an absolute behemoth, their mindset will always strive to remain that of a start-up, i.e. nimble and eager to grow.

We can apply day 1 to our lives too. And I take inspiration from looking at the way babies see the world.

You can tell them the same gaga-googoo thing a hundred times, and they will gurgle their laughter back at you each and every time. Tried peek-a-boo? While doing the act, we may get bored, but babies love it. Every time they see it, they act like it is being done for the very first time. They react to their parents smiling at them as though they’re seeing this wonderful sight for the very first time. In short, it is always day 1 for them.

Imagine if we could go to work each day as though it were day 1. Looking at every negative comment, every rebuke, every failure, as nothing more than day 1. Why is this awesome? Because the bad stuff happened before and that baggage is forgotten, while today is day 1, a new beginning, and a hope for great things to come.

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Good politics / bad politics

We all know folks who get so disgruntled with office politics and say “I will never drop to that level. I hate all this backbiting.”

For sure, dealing with office politics can be tricky. For a superior, even acknowledging that it exists can be tricky.

But the word ‘politics’ is most likely a misnomer in office situations. Or at least not completely representative of the truth.

For instance, politics is a concern for those who struggle to build and maintain relationships. On the contrary, for those with the increased ability to get along with people, politics is rarely an issue. Is there something wrong with having the increased ability to deal with people? Most work is all about dealing with people only! When most people are running to master Photoshop, Excel, Python, Matlab, Web Development and myriad other skills, the one that probably matters the most is being left out.

From our point of view, we can always try to benefit the maximum number of people with our actions. This will ensure a positive rub off from any ‘politics’. And it goes without saying, that politics of the bad kind, where the focus is one-upmanship at the expense of others, is avoidable. However, there is nothing wrong with asking for a promotion or a raise, as the effort is one’s own, and by the book. Right?

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