Wednesday 26 May 2021

A story about a green boy who saw beauty in everything - A children's tale

Green Boy was on his way to school, where he would learn about the important things in life. Along the way, he had to go through the forest. Green Boy was a happy child and eager to learn, so he set out on the journey with a keen sense of adventure.

The evening on the first day of his journey, as he walked in the forest, he came upon a tree full of fruits. Green Boy looked up, hungry after an afternoon full of walking. And in the tree, he found many juicy fruits. Green Boy eagerly climbed up and ate a few of them.

As he was munching on one of the fruits, up higher in the tree, what did he see?

A shiny juicy fruit nestled amidst the leaves, all the way on the top of the tree. Shinier than any other, and bigger also. Green Boy was intrigued. He climbed up to get to that fruit and as he reached the top, he realized that it was actually the moon!

"Oh, such a wonderful thing!", Green Boy exclaimed "It would have been such a juicy shiny fruit!"

Hearing this exclamation, Mr. Merry Moon was amazed.

He said to Green Boy, "Wow! Green Boy, you are the only one who looks at me and sees a shiny juicy fruit, everyone else thinks I am a stinky old piece of cheese." Green Boy smiled sheepishly.

"Thanks to you, Green Boy, I feel happier today. You are a good friend", said Mr. Moon. Green Boy tipped his hat and went on walking.

It was dark by now and the forest was very silent, except for the rustling of the leaves. As Green Boy was turning into a path, what did he see in the bushes ahead of him? A pair of angry yellow eyes, shining from amidst the bushes.

Then came a growl and a roar and out came a large Grey Devil with its fangs! Grey Devil started chasing Green Boy, who ran for his life.

Grey Devil shouted behind him, "Stop you small little inconsequential little fellow. Ha.. ha.. you cannot run away. I am going to trouble you!"

Around the trees, amidst the bushes, on top of the stone path, the Grey Devil chased poor Green Boy. But Green Boy kept running. It was almost dawn by the time Green Boy managed to escape the Grey Devil.

Green Boy was tired. He had been running. He was tired, thirsty, and hungry. He came upon a green lake, filled with glassy green water and lots of leaves and plants floating on it.

His face lit up with a smile and he sat on the bank and started drinking water from the lake.

But soon, he heard a loud croaking noise. "Ribbittt. Ribbittt. Ribbittttttt".

Two eyes popped up from below the water. Green Boy was nervous and about to run away when he heard a voice call out.

"Who drinks the water from my lake without my permission?", Mr. Warty Frog said.

Green Boy was relieved it was not the Grey Devil.

He said, "Oh hello Mr. Frog. Sorry, I did not ask your permission. I am Green Boy. I was thirsty and this water looked so nice and refreshing. It was also the same color as mine. So, I took a sip"

Mr. Frog looked surprised.

He said, "Oh, what a wonderful thing to hear. Everyone else thinks this is a dirty swamp with stale icky water. You, Green Boy are the only person to think that this water looked nice and refreshing!"

Green Boy smiled sheepishly. Mr. Frog said, "You are surely a friend, Green Boy". Mr.Frog continued, "Come, let me take you to my home under the water and give you some breakfast".

So Mr. Frog took Green Boy into his lake and to his underwater home. There, Mr. Frog introduced him to Mrs. Frog and their two hundred children, all called Tadpola or Tadpolee. They all sat down and had a scrumptious breakfast.

After breakfast and after resting for some time, Green Boy bid farewell to Mr. Frog and his family and off he went. Along the way, in the forest in the late morning, he observed the beautiful things with happy eager eyes.

He was wandering through the green forest lost in its beauty. So lost was he that when he turned a corner he missed the large spider web and landed smack in the middle of the web.

Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider sat watching as Green Boy tried to jiggle away trying to free himself. But as she approached him, to see what to do with him, she was pleasantly surprised. Instead of being scared, Green Boy was actually in awe of the web.

He was saying, "Wow, look at this. Such a beautiful silver design, it catches the light so amazingly. Look at the intricate patterns and designs. Surely, whoever wove this web must be an artist"

As he gushed over its beauty, Madam Spider felt amazing about the web she had woven.

She went up to Green Boy and said to him, "Green Boy, you are amazing. Everyone else just gets scared when they get caught in my web. But you, you called me an artist. Made me appreciate my own creation!".

Green Boy looked sheepishly and smiled.

"Come, let me show you how to free yourself." Madam Spider said as she showed him the way to free himself from the enormous web.

Green Boy thanked Madam Spider and went on his way.

Along the way, he came across a giant anthill, built like a large castle rising from the ground. All around the anthill were busy ants marching in and out, carrying their food and other necessities. It was really a hive of activity, and there were so many things going on everywhere that it seemed like complete chaos.

Green Boy stood there looking absolutely amazed at this sight. His eyes were big as an owl's and he was genuinely amazed.

He exclaimed, "Wow. Such an amazing display. So organized these ants are. And so hardworking. Look how wonderfully they are going about their work!".

Hearing this, General Order Anticus the Third, or GOAT as he was known amongst his friends, stopped directing his battalion of soldier ants and looked incredulously towards Green Boy. He was so happy that a big teardrop formed in his ant eyes.

He came running towards Green Boy and kissed his hand and said, "Green Boy, you are so kind. Everyone else thinks we are pesky pests and calls us busybodies who are running around all over the forest floor."

He said, wiping away the tears of joy, "You, Green Boy are the only one who has said we are something good! You must surely be a friend."

Green Boy blushed again.

General Anticus said, "Come, I must take you to meet our Queen. She will be very happy to see you".

And off they went into the anthill. In there, General Anticus introduced Green Boy to the royal family and they all had tea with the Queen. It was a very fancy affair with many amazing intricate pieces of cutlery and grand paintings on the walls. Green Boy really enjoyed himself.

After Tea, Green Boy, bid farewell to the Queen and to General Anticus and his ant friends and headed onwards on his journey.

It was late evening again, and Green Boy was nervous about having to encounter the Grey Devil again. But, he wanted to make his way forward, so on he went.

As he was walking, he came across a quiet part of the forest. There were more hills and stones than trees, and the trees that were there did not have many leaves. He came upon one such barren tree, old and majestic, but without many leaves and pockmarked with age. But it was tall and sturdy.

Green Boy looked up in awe and even though it did not give any shade or a cool breeze, he was amazed by its tallness and strength.

He said, "What an amazing tree. And how many years it must have seen and how many people it must have provided shade and a cool breeze too!"

From way above the tree, from an eyrie up in the high branches of the tree, came a high-pitched whistle. A happy high-pitched whistle.

It was Grandma Glory Eagle. Down she came from her eyrie to meet Green Boy.
She took him under her wing and said, "Hello there Green Boy. Welcome to my home. Thanks for calling my home tree amazing. It is an amazing tree. My eyrie up there has been on this tree for so long. Nowadays, people just want to cut down this old tree, but you called it amazing and recognized its long strong history"

Green Boy felt happy listening to Grandma Eagle. He smiled sheepishly.
Grandma Eagle then took him up to her eyrie and she gave him cookies and an assortment of snacks to eat. They talked all about Green Boy's adventures and all the new friends he had made.

Then, when it was time to leave, and Green Boy was about to get down from the tree, he heard loud rustling from below the tree. There below the tree stood the sneaky, Grey Devil, looking up with its sharp teeth. It was looking up right at Green Boy.

Grey Devil was prowling, waiting for Green Boy to make his way down.
"It's trouble time for you Green Boy!" sneered Grey Devil, "I have got you now!".

Green Boy was worried. He asked for Grandma Eagle's advice on what to do. She suggested that he call all his friends and make a plan. So, Green Boy used Grandma Eagle's phone and called all his friends.

He called Mr. Merry Moon, Mr. Warty Frog, Madam Itsy Bitsy Spider, and General Order Anticus the Third. On a conference call, they all heard Green Boy's predicament, and together with Grandma Glory Eagle, they hatched a plan to put an end to the trouble Grey Devil was planning for Green Boy.

And what a lovely plan it was!

Soon, it was night, and Grey Devil was getting agitated. He was taunting Green Boy to come down.

The friends started putting their plans into action.

First, Mr. Moon turned off the lights completely.

It was pitch dark black and Grey Devil had trouble seeing himself, let alone the surroundings. He got nervous. What was happening?

Then, Mr. Frog started making loud and fierce croaking noises.


It was so loud and eerie in the darkness, that Grey Devil started shivering.

Then Madam Spider threw a huge web onto Grey Devil and trapped him where he stood. He could move just a bit, but could not get himself loose.

He was really nervous now. He was in the dark, hearing scary sounds and now he was trapped. He began sweating and shivering.

But the friends were not done. General Anticus had come with his battalion of soldier ants and they charged Grey Devil and started biting his legs.

"Awww, Awww, Awww", Grey Devil screamed as the stings of the soldier ant's bites ran up his legs. He was in trouble and he knew it.

Then Grandma Eagle swooshed down from high above with her powerful wings and sharp talons making a screeching sound.

Grey Devil could not see, but he knew that something big was rushing fast towards him. Left completely in the dark, with scary sounds, combined with feeling trapped from the web, stinging bites on his legs, and the screeching approaching monster from above, he finally had it. He started wailing.

He was so afraid by now, that when Green Boy said, "Hey, Grey Devil, will you trouble me again? Do you see what I can do?", Grey Devil immediately begged him to let him go.

Grey Devil said, "Oh, Green Boy, I am sorry to even think of troubling you. I saw you were small and inconsequential, so I thought of troubling you. But, you are so much more powerful and magnificent."

He shivered and continued, "I will leave you alone, and from now on, I won't trouble anyone because they are small or inconsequential. Please let me go."

Hearing his honest plea, the friends decided to end his misery.

Grandma Eagle went back to her eyrie. General Anticus asked his soldiers to stand down. Madam Spider withdrew her web and Mr. Frog stopped making the horrible croaking noise. And finally, when Mr. Moon turned on the lights, Grey Devil ran away so fast it was a funny sight to see.

All the friends had a hearty laugh. They all joined Green Boy in Grandma Eagle's eyrie and they had fun discussing the events of the evening. They told jokes about how they met Green Boy, and also about Grey Devil.

Grandma Eagle kept them supplied with cookies, cakes, and tasty juices. What a wonderful evening it was.

The next morning, Green Boy bid farewell to his friends. He had to head over to his school. He was eager to learn about the important things in life.

Grandma Eagle offered to show him the way so that he could reach there faster. So she flew above and Green Boy followed her down on the forest floor, observing the many things around him.

Soon, they reached the school and Green Boy said thanks to Grandma Eagle and bid her farewell. He had arrived at his school and was eager to go and learn new things.

It was a bright new morning. Green Boy felt happy in his heart. He had learned so much along the way, and he was eager to learn so much more!

Monday 25 January 2021

Process quest

The Bhagavad Gita has one of the earliest articulations of what we today know as the importance of mindset. It talks about the importance of "doing one's duty and not focusing on the fruits of one's labor". This is such a fundamental framing of the concept of mindset that many other following philosophies and disciplines have borrowed this and articulated it for their specific contexts.

But in many ways, following what the Bhagavad Gita and others say can be rather unnerving. Applying this mindset in one's daily life can feel like exhausting. It can feel like you are not making any progress at all. But you still need to keep on going, not worrying about or focusing on, expecting results.

Now there is emerging research in the field of behavior change, from the likes of BJ Fogg, that adds a different dimension. This identifies the role of small wins and incremental success markers have in wanting us to keep going. And help our brains wanting to adopt a new mindset. Andrew Hubermann, Stanford neurobiologist, and his study of the human brain has also shown that this 'incremental wins' approach is among the best ways to keep the motivation going and to reinforce it along the way. Most of the dopamine release in the brain happens not after achieving some big goals. But it is actually released when we are in pursuit of those goals.

So, is the timeless wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita which calls for a detachment from the goals and BJ Fogg's research about celebrating micro-wins inherently at conflict with each other? How can these two forces be resolved? One which is philosophical, and the other, that seems more practical and looks to create an environment that reinforces motivation by training our brains to be driven by the incremental wins.

Actually, it struck me one day that there is a very elegant resolution for this. And it can be very simple. It goes as follows.

Reframe the mindset into one which falls in love with the process. In fact, staying detached and doing the work is exactly what the incremental rewards should enable.

Fall in love with the process of doing and get the rewards from this. I would like to call this as the habit of 'going on a Process Quest'.

This is the simple and straightforward framing that makes the Growth Mindset something that can be learned. Which is to fall in love with the process. Change the mindset from "success comes from the eventual outcome of what you are doing", to "success is doing the process". This way the micro-goals and small wins will indeed be triggered when the process is being done.

Going on a Process Quest nicely resolves the tension. Detachment from goal orientation on one hand. And the motivation for behavior change requiring small wins on the other.

A Process Quest mindset provides an elegant solution by making this into a workflow for the mind, eliminating friction.

Saturday 23 January 2021

A time-blocking workflow

Time blocking is a very effective workflow for me. Time blocking is a process where one creates set blocks on their calendar as a way to get things done. I have explored different ways to do it. These have been influenced by advice from the likes of Cal Newport, Nir Eyal, and Curtis McHale. What I have compiled below is something of a workflow I have created for myself to make time blocking work for me.

My workflow uses the concept of time blocking but marries it with two other productivity concepts.

  1. TO-DO lists - which don't really need to be defined.
  2. Setting specific intentions - which is the process of creating more specific intentions for tasks to be done in these time blocks. A side note: if I remember right, I heard about specific intentions in a podcast between Tim Ferriss and Jim Collins.

Specific intentions are clarifying the specific actions one wants to achieve in a specified time. The specificity is not at the outcome level, which is also needed, but the specificity is at the level of the granular actions, step by step if possible.


My workflow for time blocking follows a few steps.

  • There is information capture, which is the primary role of a TO-DO list.
  • There is converting that into specific intentions/actions.
  • Finally, there is the need to block time on the calendar to do those actions and not letting it just be a TO-DO list.
    • There might be an important sub-step which is to pre-assemble the items needed to do the work, as making the context right is very important to get things done.


Let me now provide details on how this process works and how I build a really productive workflow. As mentioned in the summary there are these steps. I encourage you to think of the steps. Thinking of it in steps is good as they reinforce the point of view that it is a workflow and needs to be done in a particular order for best results.

Step 1: Have a to-do list to capture tasks and outcomes with deadlines

This is needed for the 'capture and classify' part of the workflow. My experience tells me that using a calendar to capture is not a good choice. It does not seem to work as a good inbox. This is especially true as it does not allow for a neat list view and automatic reminders. I use Microsoft To-Do for this, but any other to-do list application can work as well.

Step 2: Then do the step of breaking the tasks up into specific sub-actions, step by step if possible

This is the essential task of schedule building as Nir Eyal calls it.

This is the way to convert a to-do list into an actionable, specific intent. Some tasks will need more effort to break down into specific sub-steps. Some will be self-explanatory or granular enough.

Spending this time to make it specific is an art and one needs to start doing it to find what works for you. And yes, this action itself will require a specific time-block on the calendar, ideally every day, to get this done. For me, one slot in the morning and one slot in the evening is needed on workdays. The evening slot can also be used to wind down.

Step 3: Then transition the specific actions into clear time-blocks on the calendar

These specific intentions are now converted into actual time-blocks on the calendar. This will take time and one will learn over a period of time how to get this right. But blocking time for tasks on the calendar is the only way to ensure there is a scheduled time to get to the job of doing this. In fact, I have seen that however specific the intention and however neatly it is captured in a TO-DO list with reminders, etc, if it is not assigned a time in the calendar, the likelihood of it getting done is low, and the likelihood of procrastinating or 'snoozing' the tasks is much higher.

Step 4: (might be needed) pre-assemble the items needed for the task or make that into a separate task and in the time block - write down the very 1st action

This is an essential task for when it is a big task that has multiple steps and has actions that are very dependent on some items which are needed to help complete the task. Allowing for the items need to to do work (tools, documents, location) to be readily accessible is a way to make it more effective and the ability to keep to the time block. This along with step 2 of articulating the exact first step will be the topics that will cause the most friction if it is not done. This is an important managing the context hack to get time blocking workflow to work well. Also, in my experience, it will help immensely in actually feeling productive and making progress.

That's it. Once these steps are followed, you have a workflow and you can actually get work done.

Other hacks that will help improve this process

There are few more hacks that can be added to this workflow which is suited for someone more advanced in this. They are:

  1. Ensure that recurring tasks are done on the same day / same time as that helps with habit-forming
  2. Ensure in a time-blocked calendar there is enough downtime and the calendar is not packed. Planning to do too much can be the easiest way for the system to fail
  3. Ensure to coordinate the schedule with others and ensure it is not infringing / too-rigid

Thursday 14 January 2021

How does insight emerge?

How does insight emerge? How is it formed? Where is it formed? And how can it be got out of the mind?

I have one simple answer to these questions.


Yes, the process of finding insight is literally to take it out of your mind and to put it outside your mind.

Take a pen and paper. Open up your laptop or iPad and write.

Write down what you are thinking. Write down what you want to think. Write down what someone told you to think. Write down what you told someone to think about. Write, and insights will come.

Writing is essential. It is the only way insights can form. I am not exaggerating. Even now when I am writing this, my mind is helping clarify thoughts I have on how insight emerges. My insight about insight is developing as I write these words.

Writing forces one to think and clarify concepts that are swirling in the mind. In doing so, writing provides the fastest way to develop insight.

It can be any form of writing. It can be in a physical paper note pad, it can be digital. In digital it can be in any format. A text file, a slide deck, a sheet with numbers. Anything works.

Read. And after reading, write

There are other aspects that help with the process of finding insight.

Reading is important as well. But, not as much as writing. My assumption here is one who is on the quest for insight, is naturally going to be a reader. A consumer of information. So that will be a natural process. It is not something that needs to be debated or told.

But after reading, getting out a pad, and writing about it, may not be an obvious action for most. In fact, I will guess that most do not do this. Many people are expecting to come up with something insightful just by thinking in their minds about what they have read. This very rarely works.

Writing is engaging

The process of engaging in writing, when the body is mostly stationary and the mind is nimble, is ideal. There is something about this.

One can observe that it is possible to talk while walking. It is possible to eat while walking. It is also possible to think while walking. In fact, a lot of thinking actually happens when one is walking. Movement is great, don't get me wrong. It might even help to move before getting to the act of writing.

But one cannot write while walking. Well, nothing beyond a short scribble, maybe.
So in some ways, one needs to be stationary, to write. Sitting or standing.

Writing is connecting, simplifying, and solidifying

Writing is an essential and necessary step to help the brain form connections. And from those connections come the insights.

The mind is always making connections, even when you are not writing. But, this kind of connection is at best temporary. It is flimsy and not yet well-formed. But when you write about it, the connections become stronger. Both on the writing apparatus, but also interestingly in the mind.

James Clear observes, "To simplify before you understand the details is ignorance. To simplify after you understand the details is genius".

By just thinking or reading, and not writing, we are trying to simplify before we have understood the details. This is a state of ignorance and no real insight comes from there.

But when we write, we have better understood the details. This is when real insight emerges from.

Basically, writing connects simplifies, and solidifies concepts that are in the mind. And from this fertile base, which is connected, simple and solid, insights can germinate, take root, and sprout.