Saturday 1 July 2023

40 lessons from my 40 years

I turned 40 years of age on the 14th of August 2022. I began creating a mind map containing forty lessons I had learned over as many years. However, I did not publish them as I was being too wary about sharing them. I'm not sure why I was being so cautious, especially since one of the lessons I have learned is about valuing progress over perfection.

Therefore, following my own advice, I am publishing it even if the writing is not as polished as I want it to be. These lessons and my personal growth hold great value for me, and perhaps they will be valuable to others as well.

So, here I go.

#1 The master appears only when the student is ready. This is the first lesson. What it means is what I have to say in the following thirty-nine lessons may not resonate with you at all, and that is fine. The learning will only be relevant to you when you are ready. So ignore those that do not matter to you, even if it is all of them, and move on. Don’t try to force anything, it's futile. You will be ready when you are ready

#2 Deep breathing for 10 minutes a day is life-changing. This is no understatement. This wisdom might seem woo-woo as it is ancient and it is also new-age. I resisted it for these reasons for 34 years of my life. Then I started doing it. Now I cannot resist deep breathing. It is very possible also that it will not have any effect on you initially. You will be skeptical about its use and relevance. But then suddenly it will become transformative for your life. That change happens all of a sudden. This is one of those areas where you have to just do it to know it. The deep breathing I do is the Wim Hof method. It’s exactly 11 mins daily if you follow that popular YouTube video of Wim’s. But do whatever works for you. But ensure you breathe thru your nose deeply for 10 uninterrupted minutes daily.

#3 There are seasons in life. And like seasons they are cyclical. For me, it is about the seasonality of how disciplined I can be in my life. Sometimes I need to hold a tight leash and be very disciplined and stick to every routine and habit. I have the mental strength to push thru. This leads to the leash becoming taut and tense. That’s OK. Because this is followed by a time when there is a general sense of looseness. Things are relaxed and you are missing your habit markers. The learning from this is to not beat yourself up about it. By design, life is cyclical this way. Trying to adhere religiously to one state or another, despite the internal change of seasons causes misalignments. I have learned that one needs to introduce the mind to a concept of flexible discipline. Another way to look at it is to have healthy addictions and obsessions. But remember to switch between the addictions and to cycle through between them. Don’t be addicted to being addicted.

#4 Incentives in life seem to be biased toward the fast and the agile. I believe it is a FALSE motivator to succumb to. I use the word succumb as it is easy to do so and in fact, society will incentivize you to succumb to it. It might be a good motivator in the short term and in some seasons surely one needs to go at it fast. But know that it is not useful in the long term and in fact, can affect you negatively. The true joy in life is found in slowing down, backing yourself, and in fact, getting bored. Mono-tasking is such a tremendous source of joy. In fact, it's a luxury. If you are able to mono-task, you are actually winning. It comes when you are able to resist the urge to get more done in the short term.

#5 Books in all forms make life worth living. Not much to elaborate on here, but I genuinely believe this to be true. Something about books makes learning from them, fun and life truly enjoyable. 

#6 Life changes from moment to moment. And it changes every instant. When the spotlight is on, say for example when a loved one is going thru a health challenge, you can feel the change. Everything seems to be different. Everything is noticeable. At other times when most of life is running smoothly, you don't see the changes. But change is happening. These imperceptible changes can be momentous or insignificant. Therefore resisting changes is sort of futile and makes no sense. It's easier to assume that because of the changes that are imperceptible, one's life can dramatically change at any given moment. But, I will be the first to concede that when you become mature enough to understand this, it sucks. It is not a pleasant insight. To appreciate it, one needs to also understand the paradox of control.

#7 Paradox of control is real. Because of the previous point, one obvious conclusion to come to is 'nothing is in your control'. Which is mostly true. But it's also mostly irrelevant, as there is one very important thing that is in our control, which is crucial. We can control how we react, and what we choose to think. That is the most important. The paradox is this - don't try to control change because you cannot; control your reactions to change i.e. be accepting of it, fully. Then the change will be under control.

#8 Acknowledge the separation of action and reaction. An extension of the paradox of control is that one cannot actually make someone else happy or sad or even angry. That is a reaction that is not in your control. Your actions can certainly evoke certain feelings in another, but what that feeling is, is never in your control. By understanding this you set yourself up for a life of less misery as you can live without having to overthink everything. Don't try to willingly hurt someone, or do hurtful things, but at the same time do not censure yourself.

#9 Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional. Pain is the first arrow that is shot at you. But suffering is the second, third, and n-th arrow you shoot at yourself. 

#10 Beyond a certain threshold, there is more joy found in eliminating than in adding. Nothing feels as good as not having one more thing to be responsible for. Especially if you can eliminate the things which can cause niggling issues - pain, repeating setbacks. In fact, removing something that is an issue is more likely to bring you happiness than incremental improvements in some aspects of your life. One of life's purposes is to lower that threshold to the bare minimum so that not much is needed to find joy.

#11 Simplicity unlocks a power that can surmount the challenges that complexity imposes. We often underestimate the simple as we seem to think the complex is better. 

#12 Lowering one's expectations actually helps one enjoy things more. This is almost like a law of simple physics. Low expectations fulfilled consistently is more satisfying than high expectations which constantly fall short of being satisfactory. This can also help one mentally to simplify one's personal surroundings and more importantly, one's decision-making heuristics. It is beneficial in the short term and in the long term. 

#13 Consistency beats intensity. If one has low expectations, they can be met consistently without life interrupting them. This way you can reap the benefits of compounding. Intensity is good in short bursts, but cannot be maintained and therefore does not reap the rewards of compounding.

#14 There is a fine line separating being disciplined and being hyper-intentional. The latter is just another form of perfectionism that is willingly inviting suffering. Trying to be hyper-intentional is like grasping at things that are outside your reach, for a reason. A deliberate life is better. There may be a season for hyper-intentionality, but it is something deliberately done, not because of the demands of society. In essence, hyper-intentionality and 'hustle' are unnatural.

#15 Life is meant for leisure. We have been fooled into thinking that work is everything. Work needs to organize around leisure, not the other way around. We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS.

#16 Focus on the big things first. Don't sweat the small stuff, especially in the beginning. As Steven Covey said, put in the big rocks first, the other small stuff will organize itself around the important things. Also, you are what you give your attention to.

#17 Surmounting the fear of failure is pivotal in every endeavor. It is the number one thing holding most of us back from living a deliberate life. To overcome this it is useful to start from knowing that it is biological. So, one has to find ways to manage the biology of fear. Courage, as Lewis Carrol said is the form of every other virtue at its testing point.

#18 Incompetence is better than insecurity. I will go as much as to say that one of the lowest kinds of behavior is letting one's insecurity determine the interactions with others, especially those who are less fortunate. An incompetent, but kind person is better than a competent, insecure, and scheming person. 

#19 Consumption without creation can be addictive. One of the challenges of modern existence is a person can now easily survive by consuming more than creating. This can apply to almost all aspects of life including food, ideas, entertainment, relationships, work, etc. The antidote is to take breaks from consumption and create something, however trivial it is.

#20 Eat plants and food made from them. Avoid at all costs, animals and their secretions as your sustenance. Voluntarily putting parts of a carcass never appealed to me. I am now also convinced that consuming dairy taken from a mother, while depriving her child of it, is even more cruel.

#21 Overeating is worse than fasting. The after-effects of over-eating are a worse affliction than fasting for reasonably long periods of time. Occasionally skip meals. Fasting, done right, can be a panacea.

#22 Relationships can be hard but need not be. Given time every relationship, even the one with yourself becomes fraught with burdens. Do not kid yourself that some will be easier than others. But this does not mean you should not have those relationships. In fact, 'you' exist mostly in the intersection of the Venn diagram of the relationships and roles you play. There is no escaping it. Instead, make the intersection large enough by being consistent and interesting enough by being unique. This way, you can enjoy every relationship you choose to have.

#23 Identify who you give your time to in life. This may seem harsh, but identifying who you value in life (and give time to) and who you don't (and not give time to) is essential. Learning to do this deliberately and without drama will transform your mindset. Without prioritization, perfectionism will corrode your existence. 

#24 When in doubt, put pen to paper. If you are feeling frantic about anything, sit down with a pen and paper and write about it. This might give you insight which might solve the problem for you. If not, it will give you time. Either way, you will be better off.

#25 Iterate, Iterate, Iterate. Learning to do this, taking small risks, experimenting, and treating every day as an experiment is contra-intuitive. It is actively discouraged in life. But you must. It is transformative. This can be applied in most domains of life - mental, physical, emotional, professional, and even spiritual aspects.

#26 Live life with a gardener's mentality. Gardening requires persistence, delaying gratification enough, but not too much. It requires building systems and developing a craft. And above all, it values patience and a willingness to weed out the inessential. 

#27 Competitiveness is an overrated mindset. Like hustle, it is a false and dubious driver. We should treat competitiveness and the comparison it evokes as drugs. In small infrequent doses, they are helpful to alter your state and elevate performance. But they are highly addictive, and lead you towards a downward spiral. Beware while using competitiveness, to not end up abusing it. 

#28 Shame is self-imposed. It is not an emotion others can impose on you. Liberate oneself from shame and definitely don't feel a sense of it always. 

#29 Short sounds confident. Elaborate sounds nervous. Speak, write, and communicate with brevity as much as possible as it will make you appear confident. But do so with clarity and kindness. 

#30 Leading is making others feel that they are important. A manager casts the spotlight on him or herself. A leader, on the other hand, will make you feel important. Choose to be a leader most of the time and a manager only when necessary

#31 Solutions can be found when those looking for them feel valuable. Make oneself and others feel valuable and useful, the solutions to problems and issues will appear before you. It is indifference that blocks the obvious and makes us blind.

#32 Praise them even when someone is not worthy. Providing positive motivation rewards you as much as it helps others. Share the rewards, and acknowledge their contribution, vocally and publicly. It feels good and leads to better outcomes. Being stingy in positivity is of limited utility, and does not maximize potential. 

#33 Strive to be worthy of what you receive. Taking more than your worth and getting the praise that is not yours to take, will make them feel less rewarding. Greed deadens the senses and very soon even what you deserve will feel bitter and unfulfilling.

#34 Fortune favors those who are prepared to receive it. If you are getting some benefit while not being intentional, know that it is accidental. Enjoy it briefly, but it is not sustainable. One starts becoming lucky when he has started cultivating luck. 

#35 Work based on time goals, not completion goals. Work expands to meet the time you give it. 

#36 Make the criteria for saying YES broad enough. But beyond that boundary automatically say NO. There is more to be lost by saying yes to everything, than by saying no to some things. Make the decision simple and automatic. Make it clear so as to not have to spend precious energy deliberating it.

#37 Pay twice as much, but for half as many items. That way you will get quality and you will save money. Also, merchants who sell at higher prices will also give you more quality attention than those who sell less valuable items. 

#38 Having energy and enthusiasm for a task will help you get closer to completing it than having the expertise to do it. Same for an idea. An idea's chance of coming to life is higher when the person having the idea is energized and enthusiastic about it. Even more than if the person is well qualified but lacks enthusiasm for it. Relatedly, giving too much feedback to a person's idea which can dampen their enthusiasm for it, will lead to worse outcomes than what the feedback intends to improve. 

#39 Action relieves anxiety. If you are feeling anxious, get moving. If you are worrying about the outcome of something, just start doing the task, and the anxiety will melt away. If you don't have the motivation to do something, just mechanically start doing a part of the task, and motivation will emerge. As Rich Roll says, mood follows action. 

#40 Trying too hard is a sure-shot way of failing. Life is too short for wasting it away setting yourself up to fail. 

And finally a bonus one,

#41 We only have the rights to our labor, not its fruits. As Lord Krishna said in the Mahabharata, do not be bothered about the fruits of your actions. Do your duty and things will fall into place.

This collection of lessons represents only a fraction of the wisdom I hold dear. There are many other valuable insights that didn't make it into this list, but I plan to compile an honorable mentions list in the future and incorporate them accordingly. Additionally, I acknowledge that certain quotes I have included in this compilation were borrowed from others, and I haven't altered them as their original framing holds a certain beauty and power. Crediting the sources appropriately will be a priority in future iterations.

However, for now, embracing the principle of progress over perfection, I am choosing to publish this compilation