Monthly Archives: May 2016

Setting Achievable Goals

Setting Achievable Goals

Originally published here on 5-Jan-2014 at

Goal Setting

As a teetotaller who never smoked and has never been severely overweight, setting new year’s resolutions was not something I did or worried about not doing.  However, I have always set goals and, more importantly, ways to achieve them.  The start of a new year is not the only time we need to take stock and set goals we’d like to achieve.  Birthdays, anniversaries, month beginnings, or simply today is a good day to start!  So, if you have not yet set a resolution for the year, perhaps you can today?  But why do some people fail to achieve their health and fitness or other life goals while others manage to work so easily and achieve them?  Read on to find out how to be more successful at setting goals or to understand why you are someone who is usually more successful at it than others around you.

Remember, this approach applies not just to your health but also to your wealth (professional or business goals) and to your personal relationships.  In the end the goals you set and how you go about achieving them is a reflection of yourself and about your state of mindfulness.

Practical Tricks to Use

There are three broad tricks that I find useful to be mindful of…

The first is that of creating a simple hierarchical structure which helps break down the problem into manageable components that then allows you to (a) see sensible goals and (b) help you with the second trick.

Hierarchical Goal Setting

Hierarchical Goal Setting

The second trick is that of setting a goal but thereafter focusing not on the goal but on the process.  Remember, performance is an outcome of the process.  You cannot plan performance (the goal), but you can plan the process.  Stating “I’d like to lose 5kg in 2014” is all well and good, but meaningless without further thought.  A better resolution may be “I am going to cut out sugar in my coffee”.  The former was a goal, the latter a process.  This second trick then leads on nicely to the third trick.

The third trick is to leverage off what I call “the power of miniscule change”.  A small change, when repeated daily (365 days in a year) or weekly (52 weeks in a year) can have a significant direct impact and an even more significant indirect impact.  Small changes are easy for us to handle.  In the example of the “sugar in my coffee”, if I had two teaspoons a day, on a calculation of fat loss (assuming that sugar was being stored as fat), giving it up would mean a direct loss of 1.3kg of fat in a year.   And, if like me, you had four (yes, four!) spoons of sugar in your coffee, moving down gradually in steps to three, and then two, and then one, and then none would lead to a higher probability of success than trying to give up in one go (blech!!).  Remember, “the power of miniscule change”!   And after seeing the impact of the small manageable change over time, you will soon find yourself being self motivated to make further small changes – a nice cascade effect – again, “the power of miniscule change”!

What else could you do to increase the probability of success?  Here are interesting variations that I like to think about:

mix and match your goals e.g. say your daughter goes to karate class three times a week.  Walk her to the weekend class with a healthy drink and sensible snack instead of sending her with a maid by cab.  You’d get time with her (family) with exercise (health) and, hey, you’d save money (wealth) and protect the environment!  So, you aren’t making a heavy commitment of taking her to each and every class but, perhaps, one day you’ll change your lifestyle so that you could!

link your goals to the goals of others e.g. if your wife would like to learn salsa this year – why not promise to enrol for at least 12 lessons with her?  not a lifelong commitment, but perhaps it might become a lifelong passion?

I’ve been asked by numerous friends what my current set of resolutions is.  I have worked through a hierarchical tree (in my head) and have a long list – most of the entries have no specific date tag. They are invariably linked to the achievement of the goals of others. Following my approach to goal setting, process definition and execution, the likelihood of my success is high.

I would like to hear about your achievable goals!



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Approaching the holiday food and drink onslaught

Holiday food can be life enhancing

Holiday food can be life enhancing

Originally published here on 22-Dec-2013 at

The Holidays are Here
In the Northern Hemisphere, we are in the warmer months of the year and are either on holiday or planning on going away on one soon.  Whether it’s travelling to some far off place to get away from busy city bustle, visiting relatives, or simply going extra wild with partying without leaving the limits of your town, the general mood is one of letting out steam and unwinding to refresh and energize ourselves for the cooler months ahead.

How we spend our holidays is a reflection of the quality of life we think we can afford financially.  Another perspective might be that the manner in which you spend your breaks sets a theme for how you continue the year.

Dissonance Destruction
The typical holidaymaker faces dissonance between his goal of having fun (undoubtedly good for the mind) and having fun (eating and drinking without thought, undoubtedly bad for the body).  Our minds are fantastic at blocking out thoughts we would like to be blind to – in this case, the unhealthy choices or quantities of food or drink we may consume.  In her book Wilful Blindness Margaret Heffernan refers to this state of mental blindness affecting not just individuals but entire nations or global ecosystems.  We usually do this to avoid some kind of pain or discomfort.  In our holiday context, it’s the psychological pain of giving up some food or drink that gives instantaneous pleasure.  How does one overcome that pain in a way that is sustainable?  Here is how I do it.

Be Analog Not Binary
Unlike a court judgement ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ we need not approach our apparently painful decisions to eat and drink healthily in quite the same binary and ruthless manner.  What actually works well is making small gradual changes – the “perhaps guilty or “perhaps innocent” approach.  It is the small changes that we make that are both (a) easier to make and (b) more sustainable.  In turn they provide positive feedback of encouragement (call it self motivation) for further good and positive tiny changes.

War on Buffet
Imagine that you’ve arrived at the breakfast buffet at your holiday hotel.  You know you’ve already paid for the spread that’s laid out.  No one likes to get cheated out of her money’s worth.  So, the first thought that usually goes through your mind is “how do I eat as much as possible?”.  As a result, from the moment you approach the meal, your focus is very different from the one you would have if you were eating at home.  How do you beat yourself at that game?  Let me tell you how I do it.

Even as you are getting dressed for breakfast, ask yourself this question “what healthy food am I going to eat so as to make the money, that I have already spent, work wonders for my body?”.  You need not answer this question until you get to the breakfast table, or even articulate an answer at the table.  But simple asking yourself this question (repeatedly) changes your frame of reference.  This new reference frame makes the healthier decisions at the buffet table a lot easier, and more automatic.  Try it!

Asking yourself this one innocent question can have a significant impact on the choice you make.  A tiny thought? Yes.  A small influence on your decision? Maybe.  A massive impact on your lifestyle?  Perhaps!  You’ll see!

This approach of changing your frame of reference by asking yourself a simple question works with any meal where you might drop your guard.  The garden table at a summer barbecue.  A wedding banquet.  And that expensive talk-of-the-town restaurant dinner.  Have a go, and let me know what you thought of the experience – the self-questioning (before), the mindfulness (during) and the resultant impact (later).

Long Flight Tip
Let us now move on from this simple motivation tip to some hands-on guidance for you if you have a long flight ahead.  Did you know that the level of humidity inside the aircraft is at best just one-third the level you’d normally find in a comfortable indoor environment?  That means a constant loss of fluid without perspiration.  How do you combat that?

– drink a bottle of water before you board the aircraft
– avoid caffeinated drinks
– avoid alcohol (wait till you get to that hotel mini-bar!)
– avoid tea and coffee

I love my caffeinated drinks, but when I fly, I stay well away from them.  The only time I might make an exception is when the aircraft is close to landing and when I know I need to stay alert for the next few hours through important meetings.

Mindfully Wild
I will hope you too will be mindful of the fact that you are what you drink, even when the holidays are here, and beyond!



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

You are what you drink

You are what you drink

You are what you drink

Originally published here on 18-Dec-2013 at

The phrase “you are what you eat” needs no expert skills for a broad interpretation.  It is generally clear that those who eat well look better than those who don’t.  Similarly, those who keep a watchful eye on what they drink also tend to look better than those who don’t. And, in between solid food and liquid drink is a wide and colourful range of thick porridges, soups, broths, fruit juices and other beverages.

The truism “health is wealth” also needs no expert skills for a broadly correct interpretation.  However, that most people who have the wealth to afford good health do not pay attention to their health has many causes and unfortunate effects.

So, how do we become more mindful about what we put into our bodies?

Whether you are a busy housewife, an overworked manager, a stressed out boss, or a carefree student with wild days and crazier nights, how could you pay attention with minimum effort to the state of your body and to what you put into it?

In the weeks ahead, if you read what I write on this blog, you will notice that you are automatically steering your ship towards uncharted yet safer and healthier waters.



Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.

Pushups for the Ladies


I know you are a man, but don’t go away yet!
If you are a man, don’t think this chat isn’t for you. In my days managing part of a quantitative financial trading outfit I was shocked that 2 young men on my team could not do a single pushup. Interestingly enough, one was over 6-feet tall and skinny, the other was noticeably below 6-feet in height and far from skinny! So, although I have called this chat “Pushups for the Ladies”, you too can learn and benefit from it, bro!

Why do pushups anyway?
From a functional perspective, it’s easy to list a few reasons very quickly – closing stiff or heavy drawers, pushing a car when stalled instead of looking helplessly at strangers, pushing an attacker away when against a wall to open up a gap for escaping. If you happen to be a cross country skier or a long distance runner then the pushup and its mirror image exercise are superb relevant performance enhancement drills. Very specifically, the pushup’s major working (agonist) muscles are the triceps and the chest and, given how the pushup requires your entire core to be engaged, it’s a total body muscular strength and/or muscular endurance training exercise that is easy to do anywhere without additional equipment – you don’t even need a yoga mat!

Hiding the science
In order to focus on getting you there, and not losing your attention, I will avoid feeding you with too much science (anatomy, exercise physiology, periodization etc.) and keep this chat at a simple practical level to produce results for you easily.

Those knee pushups won’t get you anywhere

Knee Pushups - Ya whatever!

Knee Pushups – Ya whatever!

Often ladies or newbies at the gym are taught how to do what I call “sissy pushups” – pushups on the knees. These have some purpose and, sure, something is better than nothing. But this easy alternative to the “regular pushup” is limited in what you achieve, and so won’t help you get going much further, as progression from there to the regular pushup isn’t direct. As a result, it will keep you limited, you are then restricted and cannot move onto anything more advanced, explosive or fun. If you’ve been doing those, don’t worry – just forget about them for now and read on…

Anyone can do proper form, quality pushups
Just about anyone can do a regular pushup if they progress to it in a logical manner from super easy to apparently tough. I have taken many ladies from the inability to do a single pushup to being confident about doing many! Here is how you can too, and quite easily. All it requires is that you trust me and remain patient with the process. Even if you don’t believe in your ability to eventually get there, I do believe you can, so stick with the process. I promise, you will get there!

The 2 ends of a pushup

Core engaged plank-like in all positions

Core engaged plank-like in all positions

The start and end of the pushup, along with every point in-between, typically requires that your entire body other than your arms remain in the same position relative to each other. “Stiff, pretty much like a plank of wood” is how I like to put it. We have the lowering phase (going down gently resisting gravity) and the rising phase (pushing up against gravity). With your head, thorax and abdominal area ensuring that you maintain a ‘neutral spine’ position throughout, the idea is to go from the high point (arms straight at the elbow – plank position) to the low point (arms bent at the elbow, nose almost touching the floor) and back up to the high point.

Do not disengage between the start and the finish
Whether going down or back up, it is important to stay mentally focused on keeping your core engaged so that your entire body other than what is meant to move around the shoulder and elbow joints stays sturdy like a tree trunk. With the spine neutral and this rock solid core, one can imagine a long broomstick that ought to maintain contact with the back of the head, top of the upper back and your buttocks throughout the movement. Maintaining a stiff plank, by engaging all the muscles in your core is absolutely essential to good form of movement during the execution of a regular pushup. By ‘core’ we do not mean just the abdominal muscles, but everything other than the head, arms and legs. And remember, lack of good form is typically what leads to injury or pain. Have you heard of people with lower back pain from gym visits? This is what they failed to remember!

The journey of a 1000 pushups begins with a quarter step!

I strongly advise you to not skip any of these stages. Failing to do so might lead to problems at that time, or in the long run. Doing all the stages will ensure 100% success in time.

Stage Minus One – Be hot stuff
Warming up the muscles that will do the work of a pushup is important. If you are in a cold environment you will have to pay extra attention to this. A general warm up like a brisk walk or a light jog will warm up your body but, perhaps not the specific muscles of the pushup. If you have a very weak upper body, then even standing exercise drills that simulate pushups in the air, or against a vertical wall will help you break into a sweat. Do that, a specific warm up first!

Stage Zero – Plank it first

Hold a plank well first

Hold a plank well first

If you have never attempted a pushup before, it is best that you develop strength in your entire core by spending a few days, or even a few weeks, simply extending the time that you can hold the plank position for. And it is best to do the ‘plank’ (palms on the ground, arms almost straight) rather than the ‘modified plank’ (forearms on the ground, what many people incorrectly refer to as the plank). Only once you can hold the plank position for 30 seconds, without your body beginning to tremble, should you consider yourself ready to commence your progression to good quality regular pushups.

Stage Middle – The Most Important For Eventual Success
You’ve heard me speak earlier about how, in general, we can achieve high levels of success in anything we do – the money is in the detail. So, this stage is all about making things easy for yourself so that you do succeed in the end. It is the bridge between “oh, pushups are too tough” to “yaay, I can do 10“! Here is how…

Whether you are trying to correct your form or attempting to do your first pushup properly, it’s best to reduce the load being lifted by starting off with what I call “assisted pushups”. You do not need any special equipment for this. Simply find a horizontal raised surface for your hands e.g. kitchen counter or the trunk of your car! If at the gym, you can use a squat rack and its barbell rod. (Have a look at Mrs Arora in the photos below.) The key point to note here is that if your feet remain on the ground and your hands are placed on a surface above ground level, the resistant force to work against is lower. To understand this clearly, picture yourself standing straight against a wall and pushing against it – almost zero effort, super easy! But we don’t need it that easy. With the hand positioned sufficiently high, it should be possible for you to execute a good quality pushup and feel the effort of doing so. Remember, your nose now needs to go down to the level of an imaginary sloping floor that runs from your toes to your hands.

How high should your hands be placed? If you can manage 12 good form pushups at a certain height that is good. If you find it difficult to perform 12 repetitions, raise the level of your hands to a higher surface. If you find it too easy, lower your hand position.

Progression – is what we always look for

Progressive overload across sessions

Progressive overload across sessions

It is best to keep a minimum 48-hours gap between your pushup sessions. This allows your body to have recovered and adjusted to the load of the previous session by becoming stronger. How you progress shifting your hands lower and lower down the vertical height until they are on the ground will be a function of various factors (age, gender, weight, body fat percentage, to name just a few). Erring on the side of caution so that you are progressing slowly but surely will ensure that you do not develop any injuries. It may take anything between 1-6 sessions before you feel confident that you can “try one level lower”.

Pyramiding down within a session

Pyramiding down within a session

Within any one set of 12 repetitions, you may want to also have a 3-5 second gap, holding the plank position, to allow your muscles to refuel enough to execute 1 (or even 2) additional repetitions. When you pause this way for a few seconds, I call it a “split set” and that’s perfectly OK to do. By pausing and shocking your body safely with an extra repetition will yield benefits.

Pyramiding Down is also useful with pushups as you get fatigued within a session. This would look something like:

Set 1 – 12 repetitions on Level 1 (toughest)
Set 2 – 12 repetitions on Level 2 (tougher)
Set 3 – 12 repetitions on Level 3 (tough)
Set 4 – 12 repetitions on Level 4 (tough enough)

Opposing exercise

Row to mirror your pushups

Row to mirror your pushups

In order to maintain aesthetic beauty, and ensure harmonious development of opposing muscles, the exercise to pair this with is the row. This could be seated or standing (pulley machine). If you are in a playground with parallel bars (ideal for dips), you could also do the mirror action of the pullup there.

Dangers – Avoid Spine problems in the Cervical and Lumbar areas
There are many classic errors I see men commit at the gym. Some can be instantaneously dangerous while others can cause problems in the long run. Be a good lady, set a good example for those men. The most common errors I see men commit include:

  • Moving their heads vigorously, looking here there and everywhere, especially at mirrors or ladies walking by, instead of looking downwards to keep the spine neutral; looking upwards (hyperextension of the cervical area of the spine) can be very dangerous in the short and long run
  • Arching the lower back (usually because of a weak core initially, and then the habit persisting because of neuromuscular learning gravitating the body automatically towards that posture) so that the lumbar area of the spine (around the trouser belt line) is curved more than it normally is – this excess lordosis will often lead to lower back pain

Ah… push it…
I hope you will read this a few times in your journey to a series of good quality pushups. If you ever happen to catch me in person, don’t hesitate to ask me to check your form if you’re willing to drop down and give me 10!

Just push it!


Dr Purnendu Nath spends his waking hours focusing on helping individuals and organizations reach their goals, to make the world a better place. He speaks, writes and advises on topics such as finance, investment management, discipline, education, self-improvement, exercise, nutrition, health and fitness, leadership and parenting.