There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who divide everybody into two kinds of people, and those who don’t.
I alluded to taking a training on 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in my previous month’s article. One component involved playing tic-tac-toe. We were told that every time we won, we would get one point. Every time we lost, we would lose nothing. And so I began playing with someone, who happened to be a co-worker and friend. I struggled to remember the strategy I learnt as a kid to win at this game, but I was determined to win. We played, and played, and played. Tie every time.
After we were done, the instructor asked us, ‘I said you get a point every time you win. Why didn’t you just let each other win by taking turns?’
There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who look at the world through the lens of abundance, and those who don’t. I tried to be the former. I tried to move away from a win-lose mentality, or worse, a win mentality, into a win-win mentality. It didn’t involve giant gestures, rather trivial tweaks in behavior. Try it. It will help you more than the other person.
Something about life at work
In the past month, and maybe even the past few, I found myself in situations where I had to make a crucial decision. I could collect input and ask for feedback, but I had to learn to say yes or no. It was on me. I had to set in stone (read: write on a document) what we would do next. It is almost funny to think of the amount of times I’ve thought to myself, Does this person know that this is my first job, that I’m a toddler when it comes to my career? What if they trust me to make the right decision but I mess it up?
It is at the same time a position of privilege and of perturbation. In school, you have little control over your life. Actually, strike that. You have little control over your schedule. Even when you take up projects, the sphere of influence it has is limited to your class or the University, or in the best case scenario, the scientific community. In a company, the control is flipped somehow. The decisions you make could affect thousands, or millions, of people. Yet C.E.Os don’t spend their days marveling at their sphere of influence. Maybe because they are always looking forward to influencing more people with their product. But mainly because of a concept called psychic numbing, if you lose the negative connotation it has.
When I had to make those decisions, it made me understandably anxious; I didn’t always make the right decisions and say the right things, but it’s now part of the collection of stories I get to pull out of my hat when I meet someone new.
Sometimes, the best decision is to simply make a decision.
In the past few months, the other theme that surfaced constantly is the importance of relationships. Once I built a bridge with someone, sooner or later I walked on it to complete a task within a much shorter period of time than what it would have taken otherwise. Although most interactions I have had as a Product Manager were transactional, there were those rare times when I see a tiny potential for it to be more. I tell myself to act on it without fail.
Something about life outside work
If you want to know how someone accomplished a great feat, don’t try to weave a story from their background to create a satisfying picture. Rather, look at their day-to-day mundane habits.
Erik Kennedy says learning to design is 10% consumption and 90% creation. Somehow, I see use of that analogy here. Learning to build a habit is 10% consumption of content that will keep you going and 90% saying no every time your brain tries to look for the junk food. The 10% is the easy part in the age of information overload. The 90%? Not so much.
Someone asked me yesterday, why do I find it so hard to sit in a chair and read for 30 minutes? You know why? Because it is hard. For you. For me. For everyone. Similarly, saying no to the temptation monkey in your brain is not supposed to be easy. It’s important to establish that as a norm before you discourage yourself out of the habit forming process.
After observing myself for a month intently, and for years passively, I know there are three factors involved in maintaining good habits: a) Setting up your environment for success, b) Replacing one habit with another, and c) Making incremental changes. You unlock the real benefit when you keep playing all three mantras like a broken record at the back of your head.
For example, I get home at ~9:15 PM every day from the library. I quickly change, go to the gym downstairs, and finally get to sit on my couch at ~10:30 PM to eat some dinner. My mind obviously is as tired and hungry as my body, and wants to snack. There have been days when I let it, by watching a few episodes of F.R.I.E.N.D.S (for the 178th time) or something else I’ve seen before. The other days, when I feel the urge to do that, I sit still and observe myself. I ask myself, why do you want to watch something, Pooja? Because I feel bored. Okay, why not listen to a podcast? Because I’m mentally tired and don’t want to do something that requires attention. Okay, then why don’t you call someone? Hmm.. sounds good. I would my call my parents or message a friend at this point. If I do call, I either call via video or hold the phone to my ear while talking so I don’t also do something else on my phone. Here, I’m essentially replacing one habit with another. Making incremental changes. And setting up the environment for success by not multitasking.
Not all situations are as clear, though. But what is ubiquitous is our tendency to search for frictionless paths. So it is imperative that you identify your triggers before you begin to replace them. (The same way it is important to know that turning off notifications on your phone and keeping it out of sight is better than giving up technology altogether). Again, it’s not easy because it’s not supposed to be. Anyone who says otherwise or makes it seem otherwise is just a really good actor. 🙂
Something about life
I like to read two to three books at the same time so I can mull over the essence extracted from all of them, as opposed to just one. Sometimes, I experience a joyful moment when I find correlation between the topics written, but from two entirely different perspectives. It happened last week.
I grew out from being a devout theist to now a secular agnostic (for lack of a better word). It was one the transformations that I wish never happened in my life, but I know is irreversible. When I visit a pagoda, I see expensive and intricately carved statues. When a Monk visits a pagoda, s/he sees the manifestation of a superior force and feels most at home. When I see wine, I see something that doesn’t suit my palate. When a Catholic Christian sees wine, s/he sees the blood of christ.
The believers have the ability to believe in complex fictional stories that secularists don’t. Of course, I too believe in some fictional narratives: country, money, rules, regulations. But the list is short. The correlation between the books happened when I read about secularism in both 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and The Flow. One written by a historian in the 21st century and the other by a psychologist in the 20th century. Yet they both hint at the reasons why being secular is so hard, and so important. Harari says,
In the absence of absolute divine commandments, secular ethics often face difficult dilemmas. What happens if the same action hurts one person but helps another? Is it ethical to levy high taxes on the rich to help the poor? To allow an unlimited number of refugees?
On a different breath, Mihaly says,
Over the course of human evolution, as each group of people became gradually aware of the enormity of its isolation in the cosmos and of the precariousness of its hold on survival, it developed myths and beliefs to transform the random forces of the universe into manageable patterns.
Believers, theists, devouts — whatever you call them — enjoy two privileges that I don’t get to: having ready-made answers to difficult ethical questions and living at the center of the universe (at least, what they think).
I, on the other hand, tend to doubt the truth of almost everything. I understand the insignificance of my time on Earth. I strive to continue to learn and break stereotypes I formed when I was young. But sometimes, rarely, I wish things were easier. I wish that I could base all of my actions on religious texts written a few centuries ago. But that is when I feel closest to committing blasphemy.
Because although secularism is hard, although searching for the truth, championing for equality, taking on responsibility, and being compassionate is maddening, acting any other way is impossible. I hope you feel the same.
All images were taken by me.