The Dilemma of Good and Pleasant: How Our Brain Works and 10 Powerful Ways to Overcome Instant Gratification.

Image result for 2 choicesIn the Ancient Indian scripture Kathopanishad, there is a verse spoken by Lord of Death to the child Nachiketa that describes the dilemma that we all often face: of choosing to do what is right and good for our future even though it’s uncomfortable right now OR doing things that give instant gratification right now but harm us in the long term-
“Every person is faced with 2 choices: The Good (sreyas) and The Pleasant (preyas). A wise person chooses The Good, even though it’s not pleasant. A fool chooses The Pleasant, with only instant gratification in mind and suffers later.”
-Kathopanishad, 8th Century BC, India.

We’re faced with this choice numerous times every day: Should we choose the healthier salad or the delicious dessert? Should we watch the TV right now or study? Should we take the stair or lift? Should we write the blog post or continue browsing Facebook? Make the important call or watch another video? Discuss the important but difficult issue with our partner or go on with our day.

And we choose the pleasant more often than we would like to. Not only that, sometimes we understand the Pleasant would ruin us, we don’t pursue it but we indefinitely delay doing the Good. This gives rise to missed deadlines, amassing of guilt and regret, introduce excuses, lying, dishonesty, bad habits usually follow and over long time, can result in far worse outcomes than one can anticipate like ill-health, failure, rejection and broken relationships. This may sound too extreme but it’s the small everyday wrong choices that may result in such apocalyptic outcome.

Knowing is Not Enough
In another scripture from India, the Mahabharata, the antagonist prince Duryodhana, offers the following perspective when asked why he continues to do the bad deeds despite knowing what is right:
“I know what is dharma (i.e. righteousness), yet I cannot get myself to follow it! I know what is adharma (non-righteousness), yet I cannot abstain from it! O Lord of the senses! You dwell in my heart and I will do as you impel me to do.”

This seems all too real and relatable. We ‘know’ what is the right thing to do and what we should avoid, despite this knowledge we end up pursuing the Pleasant and delaying the Good. As if our brains our wired to do that. Are they? Yes!

The 3 Evolutionary Layers of Human Brain: Lizard, Monkey and Human
Even when we know, we only know what is right and wrong but it also helps us to understand how our brain has evolved over hundreds of millions of years and retained some of its ancient parts and tendencies.

The Evolution of brain can be generalized in 3 stages (see notes at end):
1. The Reptilian/Primitive Brain: The most primitive part, it’s the part over spine with brain stem and cerebellum. It’s responsible for involuntary functions like heartbeat, blood circulation etc. as well as the flight or fight response.
It’s rigid, automatic and compulsive. It wants the gratification right now! We have very less control over it in comparison to the other 2 parts.

2. The Monkey/Emotional Brain:
This part evolved in earliest mammals. It includes hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, fear/pleasure response circuits among other parts. It’s responsible for emotions, subconscious actions, learning and responses. Also helps in forming and retaining memories.
The Reward Circuit and Addiction:
A neural pathway involving major parts of this brain layer is responsible for reward/ reinforcement learning. When we do something pleasureful, a neuro-transmitter (a chemical) called Dopamine is released. This makes us happier. The monkey brain again anticipates/demands that trigger, we do it and again dopamine is released. This results in dependence on that trigger. The trigger can be drugs like cocaine, intoxicants like alcohol or cigarette, it can also be porn, compulsive web browsing, shopping or over consumption of some food.
This reward circuit if properly adjusted, can be used for building good habits by utilizing non-addictive rewards. (See point 9 below)

3. Neo-cortex (New/Human Brain): This part evolved in earliest primates and culminated in humans. It’s the 2 large cerebral hemispheres and is responsible for problem solving, languages, abstract thoughts, imagination, learning, thinking and also for will power (especially the pre-frontal cortex).

Our Brain is Still Mostly Animalistic
The neo-cortex part of brains has evolved relatively recently and the earlier 2 layers are far more dominating. This is why we’re often swayed by our impulses and have to consistently rely on our willpower but…

The Willpower is Limited
In her book, The Willpower Instinct Dr. Kelly McGonigal writes that willpower is a limited resource. It’s generally highest in the morning and slowly diminishes as we utilize it and as the day progresses it becomes harder to resist temptations.
This means you can’t just wake up at 5 AM on 1st of January, do 10 mile run, start eating healthy, be more responsible, be on time and finish your work. If you didn’t already have the habit, you’d have exhausted significant part of willpower by waking up at 5 AM alone.

The Monkey in the Market:
75000 years ago when we were wandering nomads and food was scarce, it made sense to eat the sweet fruit immediately, it had a lot of calories and so we could go one longer. Similarly, it made sense to mate, sleep and do other fundamental, sustaining functions immediately; you never knew if you’d get a chance. As it also made sense to run on the sight of an animal with really long teeth like a Saber-tooth cat. The flight/fight response, the pleasure aspects of our brain saved us.

Slowly as we began to live in groups, our lives became more and more complex. We needed more self-control and restraint in regard to food, mating, resources and duties like hunting & protecting our tribe. Our brains evolved functions of will power, empathy, self-control and neo-cortex became larger and more integrated with other brain parts, having more control over them as well as more influenced by them.

But we retained the earlier aspects too. So when we’re in market it’s really difficult to not eat the pizza, cake, chips and chocolate or do a lot of shopping. We’ve hundreds of distractions on internet, in TVs and phones and our brain’s reward circuits are on fire. We can’t form good habits because eating a chocolate or watching a movie etc. appear more pleasurable and make complete sense to our animal brains than starting the habit of working out.

We’re like a monkey in a market place, he’s never been to a more lucrative, tempting place. He can’t decide what to do. He wants everything and he wants it all right now. When there is food and fun, why be in self-control?

The Opposition Stacked Against Us So Far
So far I’ve only described how we choose instant gratification despite knowing what is right, how our brains are wired for temptation, how we live in an age of distraction & temptations, how our reward circuits are on fire – giving rise to bad habits and how we have limited will power.

There’s Hope
If humanity is a religion, it’d be a blasphemy to say that we cannot do anything and we’d always be a victim of our urges, temptations and instincts. Looking around us confirms this, we’ve made great progress and attained remarkable achievements – our ancestor 75,000 years ago could never think of a smartphone but slow, incremental discoveries of fire, agriculture, metal, industry, electricity, semiconductor – step by step like this has taken us here.

Instead of being scared of the knowledge of how our brains work, we should use this to our advantage.

How to Beat Instant Gratification?
I’d describe the following 10 ways that I’ve observed have helped me:

1. Start Small (so small it seems ridiculously easy):
This seems too simple but I cannot stress enough how important this is, if you just take one single point and adapt it, take this. Whether it is starting good habit or breaking the bad one, start small.
Never worked out? Do 3 repetitions of push up. Do it 2 days a week. Then take it to 5 repetitions one or even 2 weeks later. If regular push ups seem difficult, do it with knees on floor, same amount. Never ran? Run 5 or even 2 meters. Start so small it seems ridiculously easy that you can’t think of quitting or doing something else.

2. Just Start It:
I could make this corollary of point 1 but it’s too important and often overlooked. You want or do not want something, you have to start it. The Psychologist Timothy Pychyl has coined “Just start it!” based on Nike’s Just do it. Take the first step.
Want to stop with alcoholism? Sign up for alcohol anonymous. Next step would be to go there. Want to start with the essay/blog post? Just decide the topic and write it down. May be next step would be to write the outline. After that the first point and so on.

3. Minimize Temptations (Remove Them!):
Start this small too. Slowly begin to decrease the temptations around you. Distant yourself from the dependencies that give rise to The Pleasant. Examples would clear them better:
Smoke 10 cigarettes a day? Buy a smaller packet. Decrease 1 over week/ 2 week. Drink too much? May be don’t hang out with the buddy who bathes in alcohol. Waste time on distracting websites? Install blocker extensions like StayFocusd. Gossip too much? Meet the person less or talk about something else. Don’t want to eat the pastries? Don’t buy the pastries or give the ones away and so on.
Corollary: Meaningful Distractions
Some distractions can help you delay the more dangerous gratification. Want to smoke? Watch the TV series or to feel less guilty, go for a run, call someone. Meaningful distractions deviate your focus from instant gratification.

4. Be Consistent (Build the Momentum and Be Committed)
When you’re making a life changing decision or habit, start small and build it up slowly. But be consistent. Decide the frequency: whether hours or days or weeks you’d do something and then on those times, short of World War 3 or a Family Crisis you must do it! Tolerate no excuses, you’re already starting small. I’d say sitting down for 1 hour of an episode is more uncomfortable than 1 or 3 or 5 push-ups, you do twice in a week or once in 2 weeks (depending on your progression).

5. Willpower Can Be Replenished and Increased
Dr. McGonigal also describes that ‘Willpower Reservoir’ can be replenished with Sleep, Rest and when you need it for small time, a minimum 5 minute breathing, relaxing meditation.
It can also be increased with regular physical exercise. Also, as you slowly begin to do the uncomfortable activities that you’ve been avoiding, start small and slowly buildup, you’d expand the limits of your willpower. What seemed too difficult in the past would seem part of nature sometime later. The same activity consumes very less or NO willpower at all after some time. And this willpower you’re free to use on other activities. Yay!

6. It’s Okay to Fail:
In the pursuit of anything, you’d fail. There’d be days when you’d even miss the 3 push ups and WW3 hasn’t started and it’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up for it. There may be relapses in your habit, recurrence of the behavior you’re wanting to change, reemergence of the thoughts you’re trying to get over and it’d be tough. Sometime they’d overcome you. Sleep on it, don’t think on it. But make sure to take the step you missed as soon as you can. We have to practice tough self-love but not beat ourselves either. Balance it.

7. Be Mindful (Acknowledge I’ve a thought or Start Journaling):
There is all sort of confusing mess about mindfulness. For our discussion, it’s simple: Be Aware. Observe your thoughts. Like observe the thought you want to eat a chocolate.
This unfortunately doesn’t work for everyone. You can start a journal, where you pour thoughts about what you want to do, pro & cons against it and track progress. But people can procrastinate on journaling too.
In short, I’d say learn to observe your thoughts. Have some mantra, motto, a mission statement or a catch phrase. Observe the tempting thought and recall your motto. If still have the same thought, distract yourself with the motto. This needs like 2 blog posts of its own to explain properly. It’s the essence: Be mindful. Then direct your awareness to the Righteous.

8.  Start Accountability and/or Support System
Sometimes this journey can be daunting alone and may be you’re observing you’re failing too many times, then open up and ask for help. If you’re too shy to talk with your loved ones, go to a support group. These are especially helpful in addictions and for bad habits.
If you find it hard to be committed and perform the necessary action, have your ruthless friend make you more accountable. Example, if you don’t study and show him/her your progress every 3 days you pay him/her $5 or $15 or do their home work. The idea is to have a higher discomfort in this penalty than the actual task itself. There are apps that automatically do that.

9. Build a Healthy Reward System:
Example, if you stay committed and do not give in to instant gratification say for a week then you can have a temporary unrelated reward. Unrelated as in if trying to overcome alcoholism, it must not be related to alcohol or any addiction, may be eat a cake. But if it’s related to cakes, and you don’t eat for a month, then may be watch a movie or TV series? So on.

10. Delay (Defer Gratification):
This is in the end for a reason, you’ve to follow some of the above steps, but some can just do this: Whenever feeling the urge, delay. Don’t act immediately. It goes hand in hand with meaningful distraction and mindfulness. Distract yourself. Overtime it becomes a habit by itself. You have all these thoughts, you observe them and they go, like a flowing river. They don’t have an obstruction to stop the flow and flood, meaning, there is no anchor stopping those thoughts, one thought is replaced with another. With meditation, thoughts can be replaced with thoughtlessness. There is no thought, hence there is no action that follows that thought. Keep realigning your focus.

This has been one of the longer posts. I hope it has been helpful. I thank you very much for reading it and request it to share it, if it’s been helpful.

All the best with your goals. You can message me on Facebook if you want to talk about something. Take care. Keep smiling. Keep progressing towards your dream. Keep Trailing on Your Untrailed Path.


Notes:
1. The Triune Brain Model: Evolutionary Layers of the Human Brain

2. The Status of Triune Model: Triune Model: What to keep and what to discard

3. Duryodhan’s Verse: Janami Dharmam

4. Verse from Kathopanishad:
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2017 Reading List and Reading Challenge – 100 Books, 2 books each week

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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.”
-Charles William Eliot

Reading good books is one of the most enriching activities that always stretches us. One of my greatest mistakes has been reading less books or reading books related to only a few fields of knowledge. I decided to change this in March 2016 by reading about 1 book per week but could read only about 30 books.

I’ve decided to challenge myself to read or listen to 2 books/audio books each week in 2017, and round it off to about 100 books.

I’ve selected the following 98 books after thinking a lot on topics I want to read, followed by deliberate search for best books and then reading multiple positive and negative reviews. I’ve left out 2 books for great recommendation I come across.

I also wanted to cover a lot of areas, some directly related to my goals like Philosophy, Computer Science and Genetics, while others less related but are related to people I’m inspired by, causes I care about (Cancer Treatments, Overcoming Depression) or School of Thoughts I follow like Stoicism, Survivalism etc. I also challenged myself to read topics I don’t generally read like Finance, Relationships and Addictions.

I’ve marked books with over 450 pages as L for long and with over 700 pages as VL for Very Long and books demanding exercises or with complex material like text books as C for Complex. I’d probably read them over weeks. The ones I’ve already read are marked as such in green. I’d keep updating.

Here are the books:

Biographies + Autobiographies (7)

  • Elon Musk – Ashley Vance Read
  • Einstein, His Life and Universe – Walter Isaacson
  • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin – Benjamin Franklin
  • Leonardo da Vinci: Flights of the Mind – Charles Nicholl
  • Isaac Newton – James Gleick
  • When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
  • The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt -Edmund Morris (1st of triology)

Psychology + Self Development (18)

  • Deep Work – Cal Newport Read
  • Flow – Mihaly Csikszentmihaly
  • Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
  • 4 Hour Work Week – Tim Ferris
  • The Art of Manliness: Manvotional – Compiled by Brett &  Mckay
  • Think and Grow Rich -Napoleon Hill
  • The Road Untravelled – M. Scott Peck Reading
  • How to Win Friend and Influence People -Dale Carnegie
  • Self Control, Its Kingship and Majesty – William George Jordan
  • The Crown of Individuality – William George Jordan
  • Eat That Frog – Brian Tracy
  • Peak: Secrets from New Science of Expertise – K. Enders Ericsson
  • Mastery – Robert Greene Reading
  • Radical Acceptance – Tara Brach
  • The Willpower Instinct (Maximum Willpower) -Kelly McGonigal
  • Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  • As a Man Thinketh – James Allen
  • Extreme Ownership –  Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

Suicide, Depression and Mental Illnesses (2)

  • The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression – Andrew Solomon
  • Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide – Kay Redfield Jamison

Survivalism (Survival Guide + Survival Stories) (4)

  • US Army Survival Manual (FM 3-05.70)
  • Unbroken – Laura Hillenbrand
  • Adrift: 76 Days Lost At Sea – Steven Callahan
  • Man’s Search for Meaning -Victor E. Frankl

Genetics + Molecular Biology (6)

  • The Gene: An Intimate History – Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Manga Guide to Molecular Biology – Masaharu Tekemura
  • Genome: An Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters – Matt Ridley
  • Molecular Biology of the Cell – Bruce Alberts
  • The Language of Genes – Steve Jones
  • DNA: The Secret of Life – James Watson

Food + Recipes (2)

  • Eating Animals – Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Vegan Recipes Book

Cancer (2)

  • The Death of Cancer – Elizabeth and Vincent DeVita
  • The Truth in Small Doses – Clifton Leaf

Running + Running Inspiration (2)

  • Born to Run -Christopher McDougall
  • Faster than Lightning: My Autobiography – Usain Bolt

Procrastination (2)

  • The Procrastination Equation – Piers Steel
  • Solving the Procrastination Puzzle: Timothy A. Pychyl

Addiction (2)

  • Gun, Needle, Spoon – Patrick O’Neil
  • Alcoholics Anonymous: Big Book – Bob Smith, Bill W. and others

Philosophy + Spirituality (15)

  • Walden -Henry David Thoreau
  • The Art of War -San Tzu
  • Tao Te Ching (The Way) -Lao Tzu, Translation of Gia Fu Feng
  • Vivekchuramani – Adi Shankaracharya
  • The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying – Songyal Renpoche
  • Freedom From the Known – Jiddu Krishnamurti
  • The Analects – Confucius
  • The Principle Upanishads – Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan
  • Brahmasutra – Badarayana
  • Ethics – Baruch Spinoza
  • Thus Spoke Zarathustra – Friedrich Nietzsche
  • The Nicomachean Ethics – Aristotle
  • Pragmatism: A New Way for Some Old Ways of Thinking – William James
  • The Republic – Plato
  • Discourse on Method – René Descartes

Health  and Fitness (1)

  • Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and Brain – John Ratey

Science (Multiple Disciplines) (3)

  • Gödel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Golden Braid – Douglas Hofstadter
  • Cosmos – Carl Sagan
  • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions – Thomas S. Kuhn

History (3)

  • A Short History of Nearly Everything – Bill Bryson
  • Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Socieities – Jared Diamond
  • The Price: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power – Daniel Yergin

Biology + Epidemiology + Anthropology (4)

  • The Vital Question – Nick Lane
  • Eradication: Ridding the World of Diseases Forever? – Nancy Stepan
  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind – Yuval Noah Harari
  • Your Inner Fish – Neil Shubin

Relationships + Biological, Evolutionary Aspects of Romantic ones (3)

  • The Relationship Cure – John M. Gottman
  • The Chemistry Between Us – Larry Young
  • The Evolution of Desire – David M Buss

Mental Toughness (3)

  • The Art of Mental Training – DC Gonzalvez
  • Unbeatable Mind – Mark Divine
  • 10 Minute Toughness – Jason Selk

Stoicism (3)

  • Enchiridion – Epictetus
  • Letters from a Stoic – Seneca
  • The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday

Business + Finance (4)

  • The Hard Thing About Hard Things – Ben Horowitz
  • Zero to One –  Peter Thiel
  • Good to Great – James Collins
  • Rich Dad, Poor Dad – Robert Kiyosak

Nonfiction Books By Steven Pressfield (4)

  • War of Art Read
  • Turning Pro Read
  • Do the Work Read
  • The Warrior Ethos Read

Computer Science + Programming (4)

  • Introduction to Algorithms – Thomas H. Cormen et al (VL, VC)
  • Cracking the Coding Interview – Gayle Laakmann McDowell (VL, C)
  • Peeling Design Patterns – Narasimha Karumanchi (C)
  • Elements of Programming Interviews – Adnan Aziz (VL, C)

Mathematics (3)

  • Discrete mathematics and its applications – Kenneth H. Rosen (VL, C)
  • How to Solve it? – George Pólya (C)
  • Statistics – David Freedman (VL, C)

Full Rereads or Part Rereads (1, Full rereads are marked with *)

  • Bhagvadgita – Original translation (without commentary) *
  • The Emperor of All Maladies – Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
  • War of Art – Steven Pressfield * (Already counted)
  • The Manual of Warrior of Light – Paulo Coelho

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”  – Dr. Seuss

What are your favorite books? Which books would you suggest me to read? Share in the comments!

Till the next time, take care, keep smiling, stay positive and Keep Trailing on Your Untrailed Path.

A Message for a Better New Year 2017 – Key Ideas, Books and Habits to Follow

Image result for happy new year 2017

As we wrap the year 2016 and collectively begin a new revolution around the sun, I wanted to share a few thoughts to you that may help you have a better year.

I want to discuss a few ideas to meditate over & imbibe, a few books to read and a few habits to instill. Every idea, habit and book deserve their own post, which I think they’ll get. This is just a short collection.

  1. Key Ideas to Learn:
    Following are the best and most important ideas I learned this year and tried to apply in my life. I highly recommend you to try them out:
  • Learn to beat negative self-talk by focusing on the solution to problems. Worrying and negative self-talk only intensify the pain and take you away from solutions and relief from pain. Instead of letting the emotional vehemence originating from a problem dominate your conscience, pause and focus on solution, on ways of getting out of the problem.
  • Learn to recognize signs of Resistance & procrastination in your behavior and learn to overcome them as they try to stop you from doing any creative work. Resistance is our reptilian brain trying to control our behavior through fear & doubt and trying to keep us in our comfort zone, hindering our growth and progress. See War of Art in Books below.
  • Focus on shipping vs polishing i.e. delivering vs. delaying things. After making the decision to do a work, just start it and deliver it. Don’t indefinitely delay it and worry how people would receive it. Ship.
  • Increase self-awareness/mindfulness: This is probably the single most important key I learned for a better life. If you can fix your awareness, you can fix your thought process, actions, how you manage your time, energy, emotions and productivity. The easiest approach is clear your head of thoughts and steer towards what you want to do/think. Focus on this moment.
  • Be a survivalist: Life is precious. We should strive to be healthy and live longer through our daily habits. Eating well, working out, meditating, all are a form of self-respect that you show towards yourself, towards your life.
  • Shortness of Life: Life is Short. The things to pursue are too many. We should realize the importance of time and try to utilize it in the best manner and avoid wasting it in temptations, mindless & unending entertainment, impulses and instead use it in productive pursuits.
  • Learn to minimize distractions and work in distraction free environment.
  1. Books to read:
    This year I read relatively lesser number of books (about 24) because I am focusing on a field and studying from a lot of books related to that field. But I still got a chance to read some really great books. I’m selecting the following 5 books & 1 essay, I highly recommend you read them:
  • Meditations – Marcus Aurelius
    One of the greatest books on virtues, more resilient life and other pearls of stoicism. As relevant and helpful and it was about 2000 years ago. I read some of my favorite meditations quite frequently.
  • War of Art – Steven Pressfield
    This is a controversial book. However, if you can ignore the exaggeration at some places, it’s definitely one of the best books to overcome procrastination. He defines Resistance as “Most of us have 2 lives: The life we live and the unlived life within us, between the two stands Resistance.”  When do we face Resistance? “Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity will elicit Resistance.” I’ve read it more than 4 times this year and I benefited immensely.
  • Elon Musk – Ashlee Vance
    Elon Musk is perhaps the most workaholic, ambitious and magnanimous entrepreneur. In this sort of official biography you get a great insight in this incredibly inspiring person’s life, his mind-set and how he kept going despite insurmountable obstacles.
  • Deep Work by Cal Newport
    In this book Cal guides us to do cognitive demanding, creative work in distraction free environment to learn faster, better and deliver higher quality work.
  • Thinking Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
    Daniel has won a Nobel Prize in economics. In this book you’ll learn about the two types of thinking we have, how we think and how we make decisions. It’s a really great book on psychology and behavior and is a surprisingly fun read.
  • On the Shortness of Life (Essay) – Seneca
    I’ve been reading parts of this life changing essay every week for over a year. The essay really makes you realize how short life is if we’re distracted and pursuing hollow passions. However, if whole of it is well utilized, life is long enough for some of the greatest achievements.
  1. Tiny Habits to Form:
    My yearly habits revolved around consolidating the key ideas I mentioned above, some of which I learned last year and some I learned this year. Apart from them, some other tiny habits:
  • Whole Body Stretching: I’ve been working out for about 3 years but didn’t stretch whole body. I recently started daily whole-body stretching after waking up and it has helped me get rid of lot of sprains, pain and muscle pulls. Also lessens fatigue and tiredness. Highly recommended.
  • Before Sleep Meditation: Before going to sleep, meditate for 5 minutes, you’d fall asleep faster and get deeper sleep.
  • Improving Vocabulary Daily: Learn a few words every day. We think in words. More number of words we know, more appropriate words we know, the clearer we can think. More descriptive we can be.
  • Saying No: Earlier I used to say to a lot of people and activities on the cost of saying no to what was important to me. I still haven’t overcome completely but slowly I’m learning how to politely say no to people and activities.

From tomorrow to the next December 31st, you’re going to get brand new 12 months or 365 days or 8766 hours or 5,25,960 minutes or 3,15,57,600 seconds. Remember we live our life and make our decisions in moments and that’s a lot of seconds you have. Spend them wisely.

A year is a long-long time. Visualize daily where you want to be by the end of the year. In the next post I’ll share how to form goals and take steps to make proper progress on them.

Finally, don’t spend your last day of 2016 or first day of 2017 drunk, wasted, in intolerable noise, with blinking lights. You don’t begin an important journey distracted and being out of your mind. No. Start the year better by being focused on what you want to achieve, learn and improve in 2017. Set Quarterly and Yearly goals and chart your course along them. Be committed to make this the best year yet. All the best.

May you have best of health, happiness, inner peace, prosperity and achievements you’re proud of throughout the year 2017.

Have a great year.

Top 10 Qualities of Mahatma Gandhi and How To Incorporate Them In Your Life

Mahatma Gandhi was born on 2nd October, 1869. Today is also celebrated as the International day of Non-Violence in his honor. Though there is some controversy and debate about his choices, there’s also a treasure trove of wisdom to be learned from him. The word “Mahatma” is made up of two Hindi words Mahan and Aātma; meaning a great soul. When asked about what message he would like to give to the world, Gandhi said, “My life is my message”. Here are 10 great strategies and virtues we should learn from the great life of Mahatma Gandhi. All the quotes after headings are by Mahatma Gandhi:

  1. Faith in self
    “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” And also,
    “Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn’t have it in the beginning.”

Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t a great orator, didn’t have a very attractive physique, lived a life of simplicity and avoided limelight as much as he could, but still he is regarded as one of the greatest persons to have ever walked on earth. The reason is he always believed in himself. He believed that he has a great responsibility to free his country and he had complete faith in himself. He knew he’d a play a significant role in the freedom of India and so he did. His faith in himself triggered the faith of millions of Indians in him.

How To Develop Self Faith?
All of us have great abilities and great responsibilities. All of us play a very significant role in the flow of History. The reason we never realize is because we never believe we can have a worldwide impact. We need to stop belittling ourselves. We can accomplish any task but we must have faith in ourselves. The ability to repeat your goal in your mind, refocus when distracted and concentrate on your objective while ignoring unimportant tasks can build unshakable faith in ourselves over time.

  1. Resistance & Persistence
    “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you and then you win.”

It was very tough to lead the Independence movement of a huge country such as India, that too with non-violence and against the violent & cruel British army. Gandhi was beaten a lot of times, left bleeding on the ground and sometimes it seemed that he won’t see the sun next day but each day and each time he faced the opposition, he resisted, he persisted and he got through all the opposition.

Stand Up for Your Cause
When you fight for a noble cause and you know that you’re doing the right thing you’ll face the opposition. As Einstein remarked, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds”. The opposition may make everything seem worse, you may feel like you’re the only one standing up for your cause and the whole world is against you. That’s the time you might feel like giving up but you must resist the opposition, and must persevere to make your dreams come true. You must remind yourself why you walk the path and let your mission rekindle the fire within, no matter how many times people try to exhaust it. A person with truth on his side is a majority, even if he is alone. Don’t mind the opposition, keep going. The like minded people would join your side but you must lead first.

  1. Forgiveness
    “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Mahatma Gandhi was thrown into jail, beaten on the roads; many people conspired to kill  him and many assassinations were attempted on his life. But he forgave them all. He always forgave the people that might have hurt him in any way.

Why You Should Forgive?
What people don’t understand is that forgiveness is not only a great quality but it’s also somewhat a selfish act. When you forgive the people that might have hurt you or caused you some problems, you let go of the negativity associated with that event. Also, forgiving people causes a long lasting positive impact on their lives and builds everlasting relationships. As Lincoln said, “I destroy my enemies when I make them friends”. So issue a blank pardon and forgive everyone.

  1. Learning from mistakes
    “Confession of errors is like a broom which sweeps away the dirt and leaves the surface brighter and clearer. I feel stronger for confession.”

Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t perfect from the beginning. When he was child, he lied, he stole, he fought, he cheated, easily gave in to temptation, was too much after material things and fake recognition. Some of his actions were condemned in his own land, by his trusted circle of people. He made mistakes throughout his life but always strived to avoid making the same mistake twice. He often failed but tried to rectify his shortcomings.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
We’re all humans and making mistakes is a part of being human. But we should pause frequently, assess our mistakes, what caused them and how can we avoid them in future. If we learn from failures and mistakes, they’d eventually turn out to be as grand success in life.

  1. Strength of Character
    “There are seven sins in the world: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice and politics without principle.”

Mahatma Gandhi was a man of great character. He always favored the truth and honesty, he condemned violence, kept himself away from the materialistic desires and walked a path of high moral. He was a celebrity who was recognized worldwide and yet remaining unaffected from the limelight he lived a life of an ascetic. He maintained a life of simplicity and discipline.

Importance of Self-Mastery
I’d put forth this quote by Leonardo da Vinci on self mastery: “You will never have a greater or lesser dominion than that over yourself. The height of a man’s success is gauged by his self-mastery; the depth of his failure by his self-abandonment. He who cannot establish dominion over himself will have no dominion over others.” A life of discipline & virtue is not possible without organization and self-mastery. And mastery over self begins with mastering our thoughts.

  1. Love, Don’t Resort to Hatred
    “Whenever you’re confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.”

This is a quality most of the people would have difficulty to adopt but it’s a quality often found in great people. It was present in the Buddha, Christ and in other great spiritual leaders. This was something Gandhi adopted from his ideals.

Conquering The Enemies with Love
When you avoid a fight and instead walk out of the arena with your opponent, both having a smile on their faces: it might look stupid. But it actually works in your favor. Two things you’ve won- the fight without even actually fighting and a good friend that might help you in the ups and downs of life. Actions like this help in building everlasting relationships.

  1. Truthfulness
    “Truth stands, even if there be no public support. It is self-sustained.”

Most of the people reading this post would not know that before becoming a freedom fighter, M.K. Gandhi was actually a lawyer. Often people assume that the profession of lawyer requires much cunning and lying but still Gandhi never resorted to lying. He promoted truth throughout his life. He always called truth as his most powerful weapon. He named his own autobiography: “My Experiments with Truth”.

Speak the Truth, Even if Your Voice Shakes
While lying might serve your purpose for a short time, truth lasts forever. If you say the truth every time and to everyone, you don’t have to remember anything. While one lie triggers even more lies, Truth stands for itself.

  1. Living in the Present
    “I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following.”

Gandhi believed in living each moment at fullest and concentrating at the task in hands. He didn’t waste his time looking back at the past or wondering what would happen in the future.

Focus on the Present
Concentrating on the present benefits you in two ways: it let go you of the worries of the past and the future but also it increases your efficiency at the task you must focus right now. It sorts out your priorities and help you avoid procrastination.

  1. Take the First Step and Do it anyway
    “Nearly everything you do is of no importance, but it is important that you do it”

Gandhi himself suffered from the menace of procrastination when he was in school and later on when he went to England to learn law. Then he devised this method of taking first step in faith and doing the task anyways. He knew that not all the actions that he’d take would be important but he knew that they will have important results later on.

Take the First Step
If you don’t do something about it, it will never be done. The great tasks in future should never be at the mercy of leisure and laziness. If you want something to be done the best thing is begin it and do it anyway.

  1. Non Violence
    “My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him” And also,

“An eye for an eye would soon make the whole world blind.”

Mahatma Gandhi is known in the whole world for his principles of non-violence. He never resorted to violence and was the most prominent figure in the non-violent side of movements for the independence of India. In his memory and honor, today “International Day of Non-Violence” is observed worldwide. If we begin to resort to and resolve our problems and conflicts peacefully, without violence and in cooperation with each other, thousands of innocent lives can be saved that are lost in mindless wars.

Wars are Rarely the Solution
Wars can rarely solve issues, more frequently they simply terminate them.

In the end, a quote by Gandhi that would help you to reach your destiny-

“Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny.”

On this birthday of Gandhiji, make a pledge to assimilate and adapt these qualities in your life and help make the world a better place 🙂


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This post was originally published on our old blog, I’ve edited it significantly: Top Qualities of Mahatma Gandhi | Untrailed Path of Man of Wisdom

Till the next time, spread smiles. Stay positive. Take care. Keep trailing on your Untrailed Path.

Life is Short: 10 Ways to Stop Giving Your Life Away and Make The Best of It

Every moment we spend with someone or on something is part of our life that we’ll never get back. Our time is limited. No amount of power, force, pleading, intellect or effort can bring back even a single moment of our life. Time is like a river, you can never wet your toes twice with the same water. Lost money one can re-earn but lost time is lost forever.

“If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.” -Bruce Lee

How much time do we really have?
Global average life expectancy at birth is about 71 years. In other words you get about 25915 days, 621,960 hours, 2,239,056,000 or about 2 billion seconds to live. This is average, you may live more or may be unfortunately you may live even less. Of these 2 billion moments we spend about one-third (33%) in sleeping and about 6.25% in eating. That’s 40% non-negotiable, essential investment of time. If we consider 1 hour everyday for bathing, peeing, pooping and getting ready, that makes up about 4% of our life. Since we aren’t 100% efficient that we leave the lunch plate and a second later we start working i.e. context switching is costly. So our total reaches to about 45% of our life spent on eating, sleeping and bathing. That leaves about 55% of our time to us or 39 years. At least the first 10 years are spent in speaking, walking, eating properly, elementary education & so on. And hardly anyone realizes what they want to do in life or develops concrete action plans or goals in order to achieve them. Thus we can subtract at least 10 more years from our total to arrive at final time in our hands: 29 years.

Think about it. That’s 29 years you have. So even if you live for 71 years, you actually have 29 years to do whatever you want to do in life: to fulfill your dreams, to stand up for a cause, to realize your destiny, to reach your goal. Though the question is how much of it we actually utilize for our goals?

Do we even have this much time?
My most favorite essay of all time is “On the Shortness of Life” by Roman stoic philosopher Seneca, written about 2000 years ago and still as relevant. I used to read it every week at least once in the past. Now I read parts of it every day and carry it around with me everywhere. It’s a life changing, soul-shaking piece of marvelous writing that really makes you realize the shortness -or length of- life and how to make the best of it. In the essay Seneca asks a 100 year old man the following:

“I see that you have reached the farthest limit of human life, you are pressing hard upon your hundredth year, or are even beyond it; come now, recall your life and make a reckoning. Consider how much of your time was taken up with a moneylender, with a mistress, with a patron, with a client, how much in wrangling with your wife, how much in punishing your slaves, how much in rushing about the city on social duties. Add the diseases which we have caused by our own acts, add, too, the time that has lain idle and unused; you will see that you have fewer years to your credit than you count. Look back in memory and consider what work you have achieved in so long a life, how many have robbed you of life when you were not aware of what you were losing, how much was taken up in useless sorrow, in foolish joy, in greedy desire, in the allurements of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will perceive that you are dying before your season!”

None of the things he’s mentioned are from the essential activities I’d counted. And they didn’t even have internet back then! If we consider these, we have even far less time to live, not even 39 years. Life is really, really short.

So is life really *that* short?
Seneca answers that too:
“It is not that we have short time to live but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough and it’s been given to us in generous measure to accomplish the greatest of things if whole of it is well invested. So it is—the life we receive is not short, but we make it so, nor do we have any lack of it, but are wasteful of it. Just as great and princely wealth is scattered in a moment when it comes into the hands of a bad owner, while wealth however limited, if it is entrusted to a good guardian, increases by use, so life is amply long for him who orders it properly. ” -Seneca

How to live and not merely exist?
Each point here deserves its own post but for now, in brief, here are 10 ways to help you live for most of your life:

1.  Before doing any task, ask “Is it worth exchanging my life for?”
Everything we do, we exchange a part of our life that we will never get back. Ask yourself, is it worth it? The mindless gossiping, the useless chit chatting, the passive entertainment, that task you’ve to attend to be formal? If you had only one day/one week/one month to live, would you do it? No? Then don’t.

2. Delay Gratification
The ability to delay gratification is one of the most important predictors for success. So much of our life is spent on just instant gratification of our senses or desires that are harmful to our health, our time and thus our lives. Sometimes the inability to avoid or delay gratification is also responsible for degrading morals, weakening of character, destroyed relationships and wrecked reputation.
Learn to delay gratification by rewarding yourself, keeping in mind your goals, by staying focused in the present moment and on your goal.

3. Stop Passive Entertainment
This is closely related to gratification. One of the most common form of avoiding pain that people indulge in is passive entertainment. There’s a deadline, there’s a higher priority task, nothing in your to-do list has been finished and instead of attending to any of these, you binge watch a bad tv series that you may have already watched, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or Twitter feed, idly checking emails or refreshing it. This is passive entertainment.
You don’t mindlessly enter a mall and give away your money to buy things you don’t need, right? So don’t mindlessly squander away your time in things you actually need to avoid.

4. Build Daily Rituals Instead of Habits
We have limited will power and a lot of it is consumed in starting something as we try to get out of our comfort zone. The key is to build systems or rituals, doing similar things same time everyday without distractions or any noise. Overtime it takes no or very less will power to get started and get things done.

5. Manage Your Thoughts
“You are today where your thoughts have brought you, you will be tomorrow where your thoughts will take you. -James Allen, As a Man Thinketh
Focus on thought management instead of time management. Because your actions originate in your head. You are nothing but what you think. If you can steer your thinking towards the things you need to accomplish, towards utilizing your time well and not merely planning; you can accomplish anything with un-parallel focus. I firmly believe that a better life begins with better thoughts. We can change our lives by changing what and how we think.

6. Find Time for Health
“Those who don’t find time for health will sooner or later have to find time for illness”
While we are striving to make the most of our time and our life, it also makes sense to prolong it and preserve it. Else we spend our lives indulged in habits we know are harmful such as smoking, drinking, not exercising, sleeping too much or too less, overeating or eating unhealthy food and then in old age with weak bodies we fight the diseases caused by our own actions. Healthy eating, sleeping, working out and meditation should be a part of your daily life style. Consider this time as an investment – a retirement plan – which would increase the time you have on earth and keep you healthy in old age.

7. Prioritize
“There is nothing quite so useless, as doing with great efficiency, something that should not be done at all.”  ― Peter F. Drucker
So much of our time is spent in doing things that we must avoid. For deciding life priorities, Warren Buffet suggests to write 20 things you really want to do in your life, from most important to least important then draw a line after the first five goals and never even touch the next 15.
For everyday activities, maintain a not-to-do list. List out all the things you do not want to do, so you can focus on things you want to do. Life is too short to do unimportant things.

8. Learn to Say “No”
Every time you say “yes” to someone or to things you do not really want to do, you say “no” to things really-really want in your life. How many people take away our life because we are too nice to say no. Because we think we may be hurting them. How many social outings you went to where you enjoy neither the conversation nor the company? It’s great to be selfless and help people, but not at the cost of your own happiness.

9. Instead of Past, Focus on the Present-
Regretting wasted time is even more wasted time!
A lot of our time is spent on thinking about past, regretting, reminiscing it, ruminating on it. May be your past was really great or it was really bad. May be you made some decisions you shouldn’t have had or mistakes you could have avoided. That’s all okay. It’s a part of being human. We’re work in progress and we continue to improve. That’s really the key. Learn from the past, live in the present while regularly checking your course towards your destined future.

10. Keep a Track of Your Time
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time given to us” -J.R.R. tokien
Lastly, keep a track of your time: Which activities take up most of your daily time? Can you reinvest your time in something more important?
To keep track of my time I use the app aTimeLogger where you can create activities and measure the time spent. To keep a track of daily habits, I use the app Loop -Habit Tracker. Here are screenshots of my usage:
habits atimelogger1 atimelogger2

Bonus: Visualize Your Life with a Life Calendar
On the blog Wait But Why, the author Tim Urban compiled a whole human lifespan in one page, each box represents a week, each row a year. Being able to look at whole life at one glance can have a profound impact. You begin to look at life with a different perspective: Your life in weeks.

We have one life and many goals, time is fleeting, distractions are too many; so learn to make the most of your life.


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Till the next time, keep smiling, keep manifesting the best of humanity, keep spreading positivity. Keep Trailing on Your Untrailed Path. Take care.