Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How to incorporate exercise as a habit

The last 10 days have been raining heavily and Bangalore is at a freezing cold temperature in the mornings. It would be nice and comforting to snuggle inside a cozy blanket and get some more sleep. But my body clock wakes me up on time for my Yoga class.

It's been 6 months now since I started doing Yoga and it has become a part of my routine now. On days when there is no Yoga class, I feel something is missing and my body also feels the same. It has taken me so many years to incorporate a regular exercise regime in my day. I find keeping my eating habits under check relatively easier than doing regular exercise. I had struggled, been lazy, gave myself enough excuses over and again but Yoga has finally helped me to break all the obstacles that I had built for myself. If you are like me who is struggling to get some exercise into your routine, the following 6 tips might be helpful.

(1) Try multiple forms of exercise and pick the one that you like the most
For years, I have tried hitting the gym, jogging at the nearby park or a lake, at-home aerobics, brisk walking and even tried to learn swimming. But I hadn't been consistent at any of these. I had tried Yoga for a few weeks at home by myself after my awesome Swaswara trip. But the motivation didn't last long. This time, I found a Yoga class being organized in my apartment and it has clicked for me. Don't give up if you find a form of an exercise boring. Keep trying new ways until you figure out the one that you enjoy.

(2) Choose the one that offers low resistance to get started
By low resistance, I mean the one that doesn't provide you many excuses to quit early. When I started jogging at a nearby lake, I enjoyed it for a few days. But the walk from my home to the lake is taxing and I would eventually end up using this distance as an excuse to quit. The same problem happened when I was enquiring about Yoga classes in a center which was around a km from my home. I'm sticking to my present Yoga classes because it happens within my apartment complex and at a convenient time of 7 AM. Make a list of common excuses that your mind throws when you begin an exercise routine. Don't resist but be aware of them. See if you can appease some of these excuses, particularly those with respect to time, distance, schedule etc.

(3) Try to compete with yourself, not others
If you are amidst other people either in a gym or a class, do not compare yourself with others. You would come across people who are better than you, can jog for a longer duration, can stretch a lot more, have more stamina etc. But don't let that demotivate you so much that you end up quitting. Set targets for yourself and make minor improvements everyday. If I'm stretching for a Yoga pose and my instructor counts upto 10, I would see how much longer I can hold. If I was able to hold for 5 counts, I set a target for 6 counts the next day. I have no idea how others in the class are progressing. I'm focused on myself and see how I can improve a little better today. It's like a game I play in my mind where I set achievable targets.

(4) Focus on the work, not on the outcome
I know it's easier said than done, in a results-oriented world we live in. But this really seems to be working for me. In my "Weekly goals" plan, I set a goal that I should go for atleast 4 Yoga classes every week. The goal is not about weight loss or inches loss which I may or may not be able to influence completely. If I keep being regular at my exercise routine, I believe the outcomes would eventually fall in place. So instead of checking if the weighing scale is showing any improvements every week, try setting measurable goals that are focused on the work to be done.

(5) Make friends, form a group, find a partner
Being amongst a group of people with a common objective really helps you to be regular at your exercise routine. If not a group, atleast find one other person - a friend, a colleague or a neighbor so you can motivate each other. I think this is one of the important reasons why I have been consistent with Yoga but got so bored in a quiet and lonely gym. There's more people to talk to, have fun and crib about "sore pains" :-)

(6) Find an instructor or a mentor who will push you
When I used to do Yoga on my own, I never pushed myself to stretch a little more or hold for few more seconds in an asana pose. As humans, we love comfort and our minds wouldn't want us to step out of our cozy comfort zone on a normal day. But eventually our bodies would get used to any exercise routine, unless we keep increasing the stretch limit. I'm so grateful to have found a Yoga instructor who pushes me every single day and helps me to understand how much I'm capable of. I have improved step by step in getting many asanas right in the last 6 months.

Sitting is the new smoking for our current generation. So keep moving, be physically active and try to get some exercise into your day, however busy your schedule might be. Hope these 6 tips were helpful to you. Would love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Buying clothes with a clear intent

 It's clearly etched in my mind. When I was a kid, we had a Godrej steel wardrobe in our home that had 4 shelves with a locker. The top-most shelf was used to keep unstitched dress materials, dhotis and other rarely used stuff. The second one was for my dad's clothes, the third one for my mom's and the bottom most shelf had mine and my brother's. These clothes were the ones we used to wear when we go out. The daily-wear clothes were kept separately outside in a trunk.

I remember we used to buy new clothes for two occasions - one for our birthday and the other for Diwali. The birthday purchase was done only for us, the kids. Our parents never bought anything for their respective birthdays. If there was a wedding or any other family function, new clothes would be purchased. Other than that, Diwali shopping was the only time when we buy new clothes for the entire family. And it used to be an exciting trip, going all the way to T.Nagar and hopping from one shop to the next. Rains would visit the city of Chennai exactly a week before Diwali but it wouldn't hamper our shopping plans.

20 years later, this is how the story of my wardrobe unfolds. I must tell you this in advance. I hate to shop for clothes and I don't buy that often. I'm a price-conscious consumer and so I don't shop at expensive places like M&S, Lifestyle etc. I also admit that I have made the mistake of buying less expensive clothes which eventually faded or shrunk after two washes.

I have a whole wardrobe to myself - with Western outfits, ethnic wear and sarees arranged neatly. Pregnancy and motherhood brought some changes to my size in the last 4 years, which the wardrobe accommodated gracefully. Thanks to Yoga and my food habits, I have brought myself back to my pre-pregnancy size.

Sometime in the end of Apr-2015, I took a pledge that I would only buy clothes with a clear intent or purpose. No random shopping anymore when I see something nice or when there is a sale. It's been 6 months now and I have stayed true to my pledge.

I got myself a top and a skirt for my birthday. There were a couple of unstitched salwar materials that were occupying space in my wardrobe. I got them stitched which I would be wearing for Diwali. I got a Shoppers Stop gift voucher which I redeemed to buy two simple kurtas (ensured that I didn't exceed the voucher limit).

Since the "inflow" of new clothes has almost stopped, it gives me enough space to think about the existing clothes. I gave away a few old salwar sets in good condition which I don't wear anymore. I started to wear sarees more often - for my weekly visit to a nearby temple or at home on special occasions.

There were a couple of close calls though. I did get tempted by some nice cotton kurtas when I visited Dastkar Nature Bazaar and Bhoomi Utsav but thankfully I didn't give in :-)

Being aware of what's inside your wardrobe, retaining the clothes that fit you well (and that you like to wear) and disposing off the remaining ones will give you the space and time to think through what you need and purchase only those whenever there's a sale or when you go shopping.

I plan to continue this habit in my journey towards leading a minimalistic lifestyle and hopefully, reach the one-shelf practice which my parents followed years ago.

There are three reasons why I'm going down this route:

(1) I'm fascinated by the idea of minimalistic living. For me, minimalism is not only about keeping the expenditure in control, but towards leading a simple living and cutting down on non-essentials.

(2) When choices are too many, it clutters our mind and hampers the decision making. I definitely don't want to spend a lot of time thinking "what to wear today?". Research has shown that too many decisions to be made in a day affects our cognitive abilities.

"decision-making is very hard on your neural resources and that little decisions appear to take up as much energy as big ones."

(3) Clutter causes stress and anxiety. Over-crowded shelves, heaps and heaps of clothes piled up till the point it collapses are all possible sources of adding more stress into your lives.

If you are looking at reducing your wardrobe clutter, take a pledge
that you will not make random purchases
that you will buy only with a clear intent or purpose
that you will take stock of what's already inside your wardrobe.

Would love to hear your comments.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Book Review: Present - A Techie's Guide to Public Speaking

 I love public speaking. The preparation, topic selection, putting together a structure and coming up with a seamless flow of thoughts/ideas, delivering the presentation in front of an audience, taking questions - the entire process excites me.

Though I have participated in a couple of speech and debate contests at school, I wasn't naturally good at it from my childhood. I wanted to become a good speaker and have been investing time and effort over many years. Thanks to my first job at Oracle where there was an active Toastmasters club, I started to work and refine my public speaking skills. Whenever there's any presentation to be given at work either to an internal audience or to customers, I look forward to it. I also love to speak at lectures/sessions at public events and I have managed to speak at 4 such sessions so far (would love to do more!). Although I have good experience in public speaking, I still believe there are certain areas that I need to improve upon. I listen to prominent TED speakers and observe their style and presentation during my free time.

This interest towards public speaking led me to stumble upon Poornima Vijayashankar's works. I have listened to some of her talks in her Femgineer youtube channel. She is very natural in her flow of words, very confident and has a good style of coherently presenting a concept/idea. When she announced that she is looking for peer reviewers for her new book "Present: A techie's guide to public speaking" which she has co-authored with Karen Catlin, I jumped at the opportunity immediately.

Expressing and articulating your ideas clearly and to-the-point is a valuable skill in today's knowledge economy. Unfortunately, this skill doesn't get enough attention in our schools and colleges. When young talented grads enter the workforce, they find it really challenging as they lack the confidence to speak up.

After reading the book, my instant reaction was "Wish I read this book 13 years ago". The ideas and principles that Poornima and Karen have put together are very easy to understand, with interesting personal anecdotes and experiences that we can easily relate to. Right from tackling stage fright, picking the right topic, developing the outline and preparing an engaging talk, Poornima and Karen have covered it all. The exercises give enough direction and guidance to practice the principles that make you feel more confident.

The five key take-aways for me from this book are the following:

1. "You don't have to be an expert" - Keep the topic within the scope of your knowledge and experience. Set the expectations clear.
2. "Evoke an emotional response from the audience". Share personal stories, interesting and frustrating moments, humor, suspense etc. This is applicable even if the topic is a serious one.
3. Build up an audience focused proposal. Identify their persona and their motivations. List down the take-aways that would be relevant for them.
4. Leverage the power of stories. Stories make abstract ideas concrete, they are relatable and captivating.
5. Develop an outline and practice your talk before you start preparing your slides. This came as a surprise to me. I usually prepare with ideas and thoughts jotted down in an Evernote note, translate them to a rough outline in Powerpoint, nail down the flow while working on the slides and then practice a few times using the slides. The authors however present a different view though, which I now believe makes more sense. Slides should only help accent your presentation and shouldn't become a crutch.

I loved reading this book and I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in public speaking - whether you are a new or a seasoned speaker, I'm sure you'll find a lot of take-aways.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Book Review: Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book couldn't have come into my hands at a better time. Many of the passages felt like the author had visited me, knew my creative dilemmas and wrote those responses exclusively for me. As I was reading "Big Magic", I could feel nodding my head vigorously at multiple places.

The author talks about our creative genius, the process of feeling inspired, the fear and excuses that hold us back and most importantly, falling in love with the process and keeping the outcome aside. Bhagavat Gita has conveyed the same principle but it has to be retold again and again, given the pressure that we (and our society) place on outcome. Elizabeth's personal anecdotes and her easy-to-read flow of writing make this very interesting non-fiction book a page turner. Perhaps, call it the self-help book on creativity.

She starts off brilliantly by posing a thought-provoking question.

 "Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?"

The process of uncovering these treasures is what she refers to as "creative living". She quickly clarifies that it's not just about arts but any activity that elevates us, that makes us feel alive. Many of us feel scared to go down this path, as we doubt ourselves and fear that we don't have talent, resources, time, blah-blah….Fear actually makes our lives boring and she suggests that we acknowledge the presence of fear but not be driven by it.

Once we give the rightful place to our fears, inspiration finds a way towards us. I just loved the way how she describes an idea as a living entity in the cosmos and it's sole purpose is to get manifested by the right human being. Many times, we get inspired or drawn towards certain ideas and they keep coming back to us at many different places in our life, trying to grab our attention. It's all about how much we are ready to pay attention towards these interventions.

"Be ready. Keep your eyes open. Listen. Follow your curiosity. Ask questions. Sniff around. Remain open. Trust in the miraculous truth that new and marvelous ideas are looking for human collaborators every single day…."

She hits the nail on the head when she argues about why creativity is for all and not for the selected exclusive few. "If you're alive, you're a creative person". Period.

Her sincere advice to those who have found their creative calling is to be persistent and disciplined and enjoy the work you're drawn to, without worrying about the outcomes. There will be times when you are frustrated but frustration is not an outcome but it's part of the creative process itself.

Do you burden your creativity with paying your bills? She suggests not to and I agree with her reasons. The other issue that prevents us from staying in the game is the fantasy of perfection. Done is better than good. Enjoy the smallest progress, Be actively creating something.

"Big Magic" is filled with these little nuggets of inspiration, the common myths that engulf the creative process and actionable insights towards a creative, fulfilling life.

I wish she had also talked about a few examples of creative process in the corporate world across various domains. It would have helped me to tie together these different ideas on creativity, given my background.

Relevant and hard-hitting, I highly recommend "Big Magic" to anyone who is curious about creativity.

P.S. The book was sent to me by Flipkart as part of their "bloggers initiative". The review is my honest and unbiased feedback of the book.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

2 lessons I learnt on behavior change

Last night, I had prepared white rice for my 4 year old and broken wheat for myself for dinner. The accompaniments were rasam and carrot curry. D had little rice and was curious to know what's inside the pressure cooker. She has a fascination of pressure cookers just like me :-) I said "that's broken wheat for amma". She said she wanted to taste it and so I offered her a spoonful of it. She loved it and then finished almost the entire cup with rasam and curd. After finishing her dinner, she said, "mumma, this is yummy. Tomorrow, I want buckwheat". Don't be surprised yet.

During the weekend, I had prepared ragi idlis and regular rice idlis for breakfast. While I was feeding her ragi idlis, she asked "mumma, are these kambu idlis?". (Kambu means pearl millet / bajra)

This is the effect of our reading ritual. Every night before going to bed, we go through pictures in the book "aaraam thinai" and that's how she knows the names of other grains.

My in-laws were visiting me last week and I had offered them a choice of ragi idlis and regular idlis. Without a second thought, they replied, "we are fine with regular idlis". The fact they are both diabetic and have hypertension didn't motivate them to choose the healthier option. Given that they are used to eating rice idlis for so many years, they are scared to do the switch at this age. They didn't even want to try a piece while my 4 year old was happily eating her ragi idlis. It's a different story that they got hungry soon and were munching on bread toast with diabetic jam (sugar-free jam).

On reflecting upon these incidents, I learnt a few lessons on behavior creation and behavior change. Nothing earth shattering here, but plain old common-sense.

1) It's much easier to create a new behavior in children. Whether you want them to eat healthy, be responsible towards nature, care for others etc, start as early as you can. On a related note, children like to emulate what their parents do. So if you exhibit positive qualities in front of them, they will reflect the same.  My motivation to eat healthy and remain fitter has become stronger now, as I see how my daughter is trying to follow me.
2) It's a tougher ask to change deep-rooted behavior. Even if there is a genuine reason to change a not-so-good behavior, the resistance is high and people prefer status-quo. As the years pass by, the beliefs get so strong that even if there is a scientific proof about a belief being wrong, people do not want to change them. For instance, a strong belief that's no longer true => Cow's milk being the "only healthy" food for a child for getting calcium and protein.

If there are certain behaviors in yourself that you want to change, start NOW. Don't wait for the right moment / right time / right place / right situation. As time passes by, the resistance to change will be so high that you wouldn't want to take even a small step towards it.