Tuesday, February 09, 2016

How to be a good finisher

On my farewell day at Oracle in 2006, one of my senior colleagues said to me "You are a good finisher". It struck me and I was glad that someone else was able to spot something about my personality that I wasn't even aware of.

A finisher is someone who takes initiatives to completion and persists at them for long enough. In today's distracted world, we start multiple new initiatives at work, at home, as part of our continuous learning process, new hobbies etc. But the steam dies down after a few days, weeks or months. The opportunities are aplenty and there's no reason to stick to one thing if it doesn't work out. But persisting, keeping at it and taking it to completion has numerous advantages.

It helps us to proceed down the road of mastery. As we practice a skill long enough, we become exponentially better, it gives us tremendous confidence and boosts our self-esteem. Even if we started out as novice, we can progress step by step and reach the pinnacle if we persist.

Having said that, I don't think I'm the perfect finisher yet. There have been many new projects and initiatives that I had started but dropped mid-way. But there have been instances where I'm carrying through without losing interest. These provided me opportunities to learn what it takes to be a good finisher. In short, it requires these 6 steps.

(1) Be a great starter
Yes, that's right. You ought to be a great starter to become a good finisher. A starter is someone who is curious, willing to learn and explore new avenues and ready to step out of his/her comfort zone. I'm a firm believer that learning is an ongoing process and the moment you stop learning, you become dull and boring. Read up on new topics, research about experts in those areas, listen to their talks, be curious.

(2) Address niggling, resistance-inducing excuses
After you begin a new initiative - be it learning a new skill, practicing a new hobby or starting a positive habit, the initial few weeks are extremely important. This time period can be exciting but can also make you anxious and feel overwhelmed. We start to look for excuses that will make us eventually quit. Ever tried starting a new form of physical exercise? The number of excuses our mind throws up is just unbelievable - "Oh, the gym is too far", "my shoes are not comfortable", "the instructor pushes me too much", "I'm tired" etc etc. Be conscious of these excuses and try addressing atleast a few of them to quieten your excuse-spewing mind.

(3) Give yourself time
I started with blogging way back in 2004. It was jittery and I was struggling with getting the right words. The thoughts weren't free flowing as I wanted them to be. But I kept at it for more than 10 years. There have been weeks (and sometimes months) when I hadn't written a single word but the slump didn't push me out of the track. After 10+ years, I'm more confident with my writing abilities. Words flow much more faster and easier. And most importantly, I enjoy the process of writing. It's one such activity where I experience "flow" most of the times in a week. Many of my friends who started along with me and who were better writers than me blogged for a couple of years with some interesting, creative work but unfortunately they dropped out.

(4) Accept your current skill level
My colleague had commented about me being a good finisher, seeing my persistence at Toastmasters for nearly 4 years. Public speaking didn't come naturally to me. I was struggling a lot. Stage fear, excess use of filler words, lack of clear structure and many such areas that I needed to improve upon. There were wonderful speakers who spoke with clarity and conviction during my initial few Toastmasters sessions. It was easy to just give up, looking at their performance levels. But I decided to accept that I needed to climb a tall ladder to address many of my shortcomings. At the end of 4 years of Toastmasters, I became a confident speaker, learnt a lot and made many friends.

Just like writing, public speaking has become an activity that I started to enjoy and look forward to. With every speaking opportunity, I learn more about my abilities - what works and what doesn't. Acceptance is a critical requirement towards mastery. Accept yourself for who you are and where you are currently.  Do not criticize or loathe yourself. Most importantly, do not compare yourself with others who might be better.

(5) Don't let the steam blow out
When we start learning any new skill, there's the initial novelty period where we go full steam and try to learn as much as we can. But the steam dies out after a few weeks, either naturally or due to some obstacles on the way. It's better to take it slow and admit that roadblocks are bound to happen. In 2012, I started learning Python (the programming language) and was progressing nicely with full enthusiasm for a couple of months. But as I started stepping into more advanced concepts, I hit some roadblocks and then eventually quit learning Python.

(6) Set intermediate, tangible milestones
The power of goals cannot be undermined when you seek mastery. They motivate us and keep us on our toes, specifically those with timelines. As we set out to master a new skill or a new hobby, plan and setup a few intermediate milestones that are tangible. Create a roadmap for yourself. Keep them realistic and at the same time, a little challenging to push your limits. Celebrate when you hit those intermediate checkpoints. If you are unable to, don't fret too much. Do course correction and keep moving.

Are you a good finisher? What other steps do you take to keep up your motivation and persist with the initiative/skill/hobby? How do you handle obstacles along the way? Do share your thoughts. Would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

8 ways to reduce dry waste

Dry waste collection happens in our apartment complex every Sunday. We have a separate bag in our utility balcony where we dump dry waste (plastic, paper) on an ongoing basis and on Sunday morning, we keep this bag outside for collection.

Last Sunday, when I peeped into our bag, there was hardly anything. And then I realized that this had been the case for the last few Sundays -  the bag hadn't reached its full capacity for the past several weeks. This made me feel happy and gave a sense of satisfaction that I'm contributing a teeny tiny bit towards reducing waste and garbage.

Our bag that day had plastic milk packets, a few plastic covers and some torn paper bills and receipts. Over time, we have made many changes to our lifestyle that has resulted in a positive impact towards reduction of garbage going to the landfills. I'm sharing those changes here, hoping that you might get a few ideas.

1) Kitchen DIY - I had already written a detailed post on it. Yoghurt boxes, ready-to-eat processed food packets and idli/dosa batter pouches are all made of plastic. They are neither good for your bodies nor for the environment. Try to be self-sufficient in certain practices - set curd at home, make idli/dosa batters and replace processed foods with fresh home-made foods, fruits and nuts.

2) Shop vegetables from a local vendor - I can't digest the fact that we bring in loads of plastic covers along with vegetables whenever we go for weekly grocery shopping to a supermarket or a large retail chain. I don't understand the convenience claim. It's such a stupid practice, if you ask me. Take a cloth bag or a jute bag to your local vegetable vendor. Buy vegetables of your choice and carry them home in a single bag. Sort them at home, wrap in thin wet cotton towels and keep them in fridge. Believe me, it stays fresh for atleast 3-4 days. If you need to wrap in plastic bags, reuse the ones that you get from grocery products like dals, grains or flours.

3) Reduce consumption - I firmly believe that reducing consumption yields 10x better results than recycling or upcycling when it comes to conservation or sustenance of environmental resources. Though the e-commerce boom is helping us in many ways - be it convenience, price or accessibility, the packaging material is creating a huge damage to the environment. Even if you order a single book, the amount of packaging that comes along with it is mind boggling - a thin plastic wrap, a bubble wrap and an outer cardboard box / a thick plastic cover with sealed tapes. Before you hit the "Order" button, think twice and ask yourself whether you really need to buy that specific product. 

4) Make time to cook your food - The proliferation of food tech startups indicate that home cooking is on the decline. The food you order mostly comes in cheap quality packaging made of plastic. Regular consumption of food in cheap plastic containers can be harmful in the long run, leading to diseases like cancer. If reducing packaging waste is not a good enough motivating factor to cook your own food, what if I tell you that cooking can be one of those activities that keep your creative juices flowing? It can keep you healthy and fit too.

5) Reuse paper - Whether it be bills/hand-outs/print-out sheets, check if you can reuse it before you throw it in the trash. One-sided papers can be handy for shopping lists, random to-dos, brainstorming, mind-mapping or even letting your kid scribble with crayons.

6) Carry your own water bottle - Whenever we step out, we always carry a water bottle each for all three of us. We don't buy packaged water unless we are traveling long-distance and we run out of water from our bottles.

7) Carry some bags - In my handbag, I carry a few cloth bags of different sizes. If I need to shop for a few items, I use one of these cloth bags to carry the items home. In our car, we always have 3-4 large sized jute bags that we carry for shopping. We have almost completely stopped taking plastic bags from the vendors.

8) Reduce tissue papers - When I used to work for an MNC, I have noticed many times that people take a bunch of tissue papers along with their lunch trays. I used to wonder why one tissue paper wasn't enough. Then I observed how they were using a tissue paper for every 2-3 mouthfuls of rice/roti. Western practice adopted for Indian eating habit, I presume. Anyway, my point here is that the usage of tissue papers has gone up so much in India in the last 10 years. Our parents eat using their hands or a spoon. They then wash their hands with water and wipe their hands using a handkerchief. Isn't that a better practice? I don't use tissue papers at home but I do see a stand with premium kitchen rolls in every modern kitchen counter. Honestly speaking, I'm unaware of its use but if it's for wiping your hands, try to use a simple cotton towel.

Some of you might wonder if these ideas are practical to implement. My answer is a resounding YES if you can make time for it and care about the future of our children and ofcourse, our Mother Nature.

I'll continue to write more on how I try to reduce waste further. If you have any other ideas, please do share. Would love to hear your experiences.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The musical destination

A few days back, I went for a Bollywood dance night in my apartment. It was a lot of fun, dancing after a long time. Great energy, adrenalin pumping and a good workout. But I felt a slight tinge, which made me realize something. Of the 25+ songs played that night, I could hardly recognize 3-4 of them. Most of them were the latest Bollywood dance numbers. I haven't been in touch with Bollywood music off late (with the exception of ARR's albums). But that's not exactly the point. I didn't like many of these new songs. Neither I'm able to recollect them now nor I feel the urge to look them up. The few words that I was able to recognize made me uncomfortable. Is it a mandatory requirement that all dance party numbers need to have words like dhaaru, vodka etc? 

When I was a school going kid, I used to wonder why my dad never appreciates Illayaraja, AR Rahman or Jatin/Lalit albums. He is quite happy, repeating the same MSV and RD Burman albums over and over. He still bores me sometime with repeats of the sad Gemini Ganesan songs in loud volume :-) I remember he did mention once in the 90s that the latest songs are so loud and jarring.

I guess I have now reached the same stage in my life. I can listen to Kishore Kumar, Rafi, Illayaraja and ARR a million times again but cannot bear the latest noisemakers. I miss the Hindi Pop of 90s. It's not that I don't want to accept new music but the new ones don't appeal to my taste anymore. Is this called "growing old"? :-) I'm sure in a few years, D would wonder why I'm not liking her kind of music. If she asks, I'll tell her that I have arrived at my musical destination.

I'll continue to search for albums across the world that fit my taste and discover new musicians and new forms of music. In that direction, I have set myself a goal for this year to start listening to more Indian classical music - Carnatic and Hindustani. Any recommendations for artists/musicians/albums, please share. Would love to hear from you.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

10 habits to keep PCOD under control

Disclaimer: I'm neither a gynecologist nor a dietitian. This is purely based on my experience. Do consult your doctor if you are making any major changes.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS / PCOD) has become so prevalent among women these days. The official reports state that 25% of women in India face this problem but the actual numbers might be more. And this percentage is on the rise.

I've been facing this issue for many years now. There's no medicine/treatment to completely cure this hormonal disorder. But there are ways by which you can ensure that it doesn't lead to further complications.

I'm not going to talk about the symptoms or complications of PCOD as the primary purpose of this post is to help women who are already facing this issue. So my assumption is that you are aware of PCOD and looking for ways to keep it under control.

Here are the 10 habits that I follow diligently for the past few years that have resulted in a positive impact in my overall health. If you look at these habits, these are lifestyle changes that will help you stay away from all non-communicable diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and PCOD.

1) Cut down on junk foods and packaged foods completely
It's not as hard as it might sound. The high fats and sugars in packaged foods lead to weight gain, especially the abdominal fat. Except for occasional biscuits, I have stopped eating any ready-to-eat foods in packaged form. I take the time to make all my meals at home. If you don't have the time, hire a help/cook. I also include a lot of fruits, nuts and vegetable salads for evening snacks.

2) Keep your weight in check
Women with PCOD tend to gain weight easily, especially around abdomen and thighs. So it's necessary that you keep a tab on your weight and ensure you are within the healthy BMI range. If you are overweight or obese, consult a dietitian and a fitness trainer. Studies show that weight loss of just 2-3 kgs can regulate your menstrual cycles. Thanks to my genes, I was always underweight until my early 20s. The sedentary lifestyle in my 20s increased my weight but now I ensure my weight is steady and within the ideal range.

3) Do not skip breakfast
This is the mistake that costed me dearly when I was in my teens and early 20s. Except for a cup of coffee, I didn't eat anything while going to college. When I started work, I skipped breakfast number of times. I would feel hungry by lunch and gobble up a lot of simple carbs based foods like rice and roti, along with a sweet dish from office cafeteria. Take the time to prepare a healthy breakfast at home. Get up early if you have to but please don't skip. And no packaged sugar-coated cereals please.  Choose simple Indian breakfast dishes like idli, poha or parantha, boiled eggs and/or some fruits.

4) Reduce simple carbs
By simple carbs, I mean the foods that have high glycemic index (GI) - those that get digested faster and release sugars quickly into your bloodstream. The pancreas secretes insulin, a hormone that helps the cells to better absorb sugars and convert to energy. Women with PCOS have insulin resistance and so the pancreas has to secrete more insulin. The high insulin leads to increased secretion of male hormones like androgen.

Being a South Indian, I used to eat a lot of white polished rice. Now I have reduced my polished rice intake and have been consuming more millets. Millets are high in fibre and have low glycemic index. So you feel full for longer time and you don't stuff yourself up with more carbs. Ever since I switched to millets, I notice that my abdominal fat hasn't increased and my overall carbs intake have come down. Wheat is also fine as long as you are taking whole wheat flour and not processed flour (maida). Also do check if your body agrees to wheat. Listen to your body's signals. For me, wheat in excess causes acidity and bloating. So I cannot take wheat in all my meals.

5) Stop sweets, desserts and chocolates
Indian sweets are my weakness. I can say NO to ice-cream but not to a piece of gulab jamun :-) Sweets made out of white sugar have high GI and so the same issues mentioned in habit (4) are applicable. If you have sweet cravings, eat a piece of date or a sweet made of jaggery. But do not overeat.

6) Increase fibre in your meals
The importance of fibre cannot be emphasized enough. It increases satiety and also helps to flush out toxins from your digestive system. Sprouts, raw veggies and fruits, slightly steamed veggies and pulses are all good sources of fibre. Ensure you get your 3 servings of veggies and 2 servings of fruits everyday. I find this a tough task but I'm slowly getting there by being aware of my eating habits and making small changes.

7) Exercise consistently
Though I have been watchful of my diet by following the first 6 habits, reversing the damage done earlier was made possible ever since I started exercise consistently. My mood swings haven't been drastic (one of the symptoms of PCOD). My monthly cycles are more regular now. Consistency is the key here. Whichever form of exercise you choose, be consistent at it for atleast 4 days a week. Give importance to daily exercise, just like you brush your teeth or take a bath everyday. No compromises. Get it over with, first thing in the morning, before the other priorities take you over. Do check out my earlier post on how to get into exercise as a regular habit.

8) Control your stress levels
Stress plays havoc with your hormonal levels. Try to dig deep on what's causing stress on you and take steps towards reducing it. Is it work, relationship, commute or internal conflicts? Two mantras that have always worked for me - "Let it go" and "This too shall pass". Compared to my 20s, I'm much more calmer and relaxed. I'm clear about my priorities now.

9) Get your 7-8 hours of sleep
Lack of sleep for just a couple of days can increase your blood pressure and your stress hormones like cortisol. To stay awake, many of us tend to drink many cups of coffee or tea, which increases acidity, leading to headache and a whole lot of other complications. Give priority to your well-being first, before you think about night-outs for your work or studies. I have never done night-outs and I'm proud of that. Stop checking your phone/laptop atleast an hour before bedtime. Read a book, listen to soothing music or play with your child. These will calm you down and will help you to sleep better. There's nothing more important that requires you to compromise on your sleep.

10) Live mindfully, slowdown, stay happy
This is applicable for all women, irrespective of whether you have PCOD or not. Worries from the past and anxieties about the future take a toll on our mental health. Be mindful about your present moment, take deep breaths, meditate, spend time amidst nature, do what makes you come alive, invest in a hobby and learn to relax. There were times when my to-do lists were long but now I have accepted that there should be DO-NOTHING days where I can just relax and enjoy the slow afternoons, sipping tea and reading a book.

If you have read this far, hope you found this list helpful. Do let me know if there are any questions.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

10 Tamil melodies of AR Rahman that you might have missed

One of my goals for 2016 is to get back to listening to my kind of music more often whenever time permits. The little one has been hogging my iPod with her favorite fast beat songs and I hardly get to hear even a single favorite of mine :-)

I grew up with the music of ARR and have been a hard-core Rahmaniac for the last 2 decades. More than the popular songs, I love his melodies - soul stirring, soothing and relaxing. He has given some fantastic melodies that have been quite popular even after the release of the movies and the music channels repeating them everyday. But there were many beautiful songs that didn't get the attention they deserve. I'm sure these reside in the playlists of Rahman fans like me. Here's a list of 10 such least popular melodies that I love:

1) Nenje Nenje from Ratchagan
The right choice of singers in KJ Yesudas and Sadhana Sargam, meaningful lyrics and the music that doesn't interfere too much with the flow and the words. The tune just before the second stanza is so soothing that you should just close your eyes and listen to it. In the same album, there is a tiny song "kaiyil midhakkum kanavaa" which is also a beautiful one.

2) Kalakalavena Pozhiyum from Rhythm
Yet another beautiful album where each song emphasizes on one of the five elements of the Universe. Though I like the popular "kaatre en vaasal", the song that I love the most is the one that focuses on the sky and the clouds. Sung by Sadhana Sargam, the beat that's present throughout the song, along with the sound of the anklets is so addictive.

3) Ennuyir Thozhiye from Kangalal Kaidhu Sei
Though this movie was a big flop, the music is just awesome. This song sung by two of my favorite singers Unni Menon and Chinmayi has a soft Carnatic base. I'm not sure about the raaga (Carnatic music fans, please share if you know). The music yet again provides a nice, supporting gesture and the voices sound so clear.

4) Sonnaalum from Kaadhal Virus
I clearly remember the time when this movie got released. I had just shifted to Bangalore and while I was hanging out with friends in Brigade Road, I quickly hopped over to Planet-M and bought the cassette. When I came home, I listened to it in my new Sony Walkman :-) The singers Harini and Unnikrishnan have given their best performance in this song but sadly the music didn't reach the masses.

5) Azhagae Sugamaa from Paarthale Paravasam
I fell in love with this song when I heard it the first time. It didn't need any time to grow on me. Soft and melancholic tunes, beautiful lyrics and soothing voices of Srinivas and Sadhana Sargam convert this simple song into a masterpiece. The violin tune towards the end gives a caressing feel to it.

6) Thoda Thoda from Indira
This is one of those songs which you should listen to, closing your eyes after a long tiring day. This song relaxes me completely if my mind is disturbed or overactive for some reason. The legendary singers SPB and Chitra make it sound so effortless and easy.

7) Naan Paadum Sandham from Duet
I came across this song long time after the album was released. I somehow missed it even when I saw the movie. It's a happy song, aptly supported by the saxophone tunes of Kadri Gopalnath and the voice of SPB.

8) Kangalil Enna Eeramo from Uzhavan
This movie got released right after Roja, I guess. But I never got to listen to it. I discovered this particular song only a few years back and regretted why I didn't hear it for so many years. Chitra has poured in so much of emotion and hope into this song. After the first stanza, the song elevates to a more positive, spirited one, sung by SPB. When you are down or upset, I highly recommend this song as an antidote.

9) Sevvaanam from Pavithra
I remember hearing this song in Oliyum Oliyum in Doordarshan many years back but never knew it was from ARR. It's definitely not a unique or special one but for some reason, I like this song. Reminds me of simpler times, I guess :-)

10) En Swaasa Kaatre from En Swaasa Kaatre
Last but not the least, how could I miss this one? I even wrote a blogpost on it couple of years back. This song reminds me of the beautiful times when my hubby came into my life :-) And ofcourse, the times when my little baby used to sleep on my arms, listening to this song as a lullaby.

P.S. I so wanted to add "Vellai Pookal" from Kannathil Muthamittaal to this list but I presume it's a relatively popular song as compared to the songs listed above.