Category Archives: processes

Genetic Potential Fitness

GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness

What is Genetic Potential Fitness? How do you apply the concept to your favourite hobbies? Did you know it need not have anything to do with your physical fitness? Can you possibly measure it accurately? How could you estimate it? How does it vary through your life? What is an optimal level for your performance target? What should you do to ensure that your performance stays optimal?

What is GPF, Genetic Potential Fitness?

In a recent media interview when I made reference to Genetic Potential Fitness, a term I coined when proposing a framework for lifelong assessment of progress, I meant for it to be relevant for all your dimensions of existence. Although, at first, because of the word ‘fitness’ in the acronym, GPF appears to be relevant for sporting activities, it is applicable for just about every dimension of human endeavour. Or even where you are not consciously making an effort.

Your performance at anything you do, whether it be playing a game of chess, writing poetry, painting or running a marathon is a combination of the genes that came from your parents and the nurturing of that aspect of your life. You cannot do better than your genes will permit – a fast tortoise will never overtake an average rabbit – but how good can you get? As good as your genes will permit!

It is important to note that I am not saying that only your genes solely determine your actual performance. As a matter of fact, I live my life believing and professing quite the contrary. What I am referring to is an upper bound on your actual performance – and if your actual performance is 50% about your genes, then the other 50% is driven by all those parts that were in the roots of the Wellness Tree.

Your GPF has nothing to do with what others are doing

When I first had an IQ test about 30 years ago two things became clear to me around that time. One was bad news, the other good. The first was that deterioration was guaranteed (bad news) but the second was that the rate of deterioration was significantly under my control (good news). From that time on, just being smarter than over 99% of the population in a very narrow dimension of existence was not what was all important for me. My own performance relative to myself is what matters. I made direct reference to this when I spoke to you about what you could do regarding Competing and Comparing, Targeting Happiness Maximization.

What therefore became more relevant for me three decades ago was the need to have a strategy to maintain that specific measure of (mental) fitness as close to what was genetically possible for the next 80 years ahead. And the same for all the other parts of my Wellness Tree. This theme also appeared when I told you why I do not care much about your podium finish (or mine)!

What does GPF apply to?

I spoke a few days ago about the Wellness Tree but what about achievable targets for those many branches of wellness? Your fitness levels in physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health are all equally important. From those branches, even if you pin-point a very specific leaf e.g. controlling anger, you can have a quantifiable measure that can be improved upon. Perhaps the measure chosen for a specific leaf is open for debate – for instance, what measure correctly captures how mindful you are? Having said that, it should be possible for you to focus on ways to work on your performance in that dimension.

Because you can think of GPF being applicable to anything you do, there are literally millions of versions of it depending on the granularity you decide to look with. For instance, you could have your GPF with respect to muscular endurance, or specifically running, and even more specifically, running marathons, and to be yet more specific, running long distances uphill. In summary, the concept of GPF can be used to focus-in with depth, or it can be used to zoom-out to look at your life from a broader perspective.

Can you measure your GPF exactly?

I do not believe that you can measure your true GPF exactly. Because you are typically so far from your genetic potential in most things, and perhaps a little closer in a few that interest you, you rarely ever have a precise measure of it. Perhaps if you are competing at an elite level e.g. Olympic swimming, you can have a narrower estimate range for your GPF in that specific sport – in fact specifically for the stroke that you specialize in. For the rest of us, non-Olympians, GPF is a measure that we are typically very far from. In fact, even the Olympic athlete is likely to be close to his GPF in only a specialized set of activities that her focus is on e.g. 50m backstroke.

Estimating GPF

Although you cannot measure it exactly, what you can do is estimate your GPF. If you work really hard on your squash game for 12-24 months you could get to a level that is very close to (but lower than) your GPF for squash. Because you are close to it, estimating your GPF is likely to be more correct. However, if you have never played water polo, during that same period of squash training, you are likely to be very far (much worse) than your GPF in water polo. And, because you are far from it, confidently estimating its level within a narrow range is difficult.

Estimating your GPF is easier when you are closer to it

How can GPF be useful for you?

So, if your GPF is something that is far from your current ability and is difficult to estimate anyway, what use is it?

Each of the three individual terms provide clues to answer that question. One of the benefits of giving serious thought to the concept of GPF is that it allows you to think about what you might be naturally capable of, given your genetic foundation. The other benefit is that it allows you to think about your potential and thus it can be a realistic motivating factor in your practice. And, finally, to the extent that the term fitness focuses your mind on the various branches of wellness, that is a good thing too.

How does your GPF change through your life?

You will have gathered by now that your GPF is a useful benchmark about where you could get to given your genetic material. Your GPF will change throughout your life for various reasons and depending on the activity or measure you are considering. Some physical fitness measures e.g. muscular endurance peak in the second or third decades of our lives. Typically flexibility is highest closer to birth. Some skills based measures deteriorate faster than health based measures of fitness. Your IQ (as measured by standardized tests) will have peaked in early adult life. Some measures of emotional health can get stronger as we age. Perhaps some measures of spiritual health continue to strengthen as we go through life all the way up to the point of death. And, it may be that something like wisdom necessary increases through life, almost by definition.

Your GPF varies differently through your life depending on what it is focused on

If you examine the roots in the Wellness Tree you will see that many factors feed into the branches. Because life is typically path dependent, your GPF will also be altered by what you feed the roots for the branches to flourish. At a microscopic level, your body literally turns genes on/off based on the exposure it faces. So, you can think about the various factors (roots of the Wellness Tree) and how they might turn certain genes on/off.

Although I said earlier that your GPF has nothing to do with others, there is of course an environment that is created by others too that affect your life and possible gene expression. This could be as sinister as second- hand smoking or even third-hand smoking, or as benevolent as a best friend with an excellent sense of humour.

What is an optimal level to be at relative to your GPF?

Depending on what you are measuring this ought to vary considerably. For instance, if you enjoy playing your piano for recreation, perhaps being far from your GPF is desirable or at least not a problem. On the other hand, if your interest is in performing for others then perhaps you will want your performance at the piano to be pushed closer to your GPF. Or it might simply be that taking your playing closer to your GPF is precisely what makes you happy, even though you play for no one other than yourself.

The largest constraints we typically face are those of ‘time’ and ‘money’. And for most of us, the constraint that is typically binding is ‘time’. So, with constraints of this nature and many different areas of interest, it is natural to think of a portfolio of interests and trade-offs between them in terms of proximity or distance to their respective GPFs.

And as you go through life, your interests and preferences will change, as will your constraints. If you think of your basket of interests, the decision for each constituent in that basket will also vary. Perhaps running marathons is of less interest to you now that you have taken up Latin dance and bread-baking. Approaching these changing interests in a structured manner will allow you to be at greater peace with the decisions you make. Even Olympic athletes cannot simultaneously maintain fitness close to their GPF in more than a few areas.

How do you get to your target level relative to your GPF?

The simple answer is “it is complex”. If you look at the Wellness Tree again, you will see the myriad pathways to the roots of the tree. To ensure that any branch flourishes will require you to engage as many of the paths in some optimal manner. I shall explain this in more detail in future conversations. For now, the key thing to remember is that your GPF is your GPF, that your GPF varies over your lifetime, and you can do things to get yourself to get closer to it at any age – but only if that is your wish. There is no compulsion!

Puru

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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.

As Beautifully Simple as PuruTheGuru’s Wellness Tree

The Wellness Tree – CLICK to ENLARGE

I have grown it for you, and here it is today, The Wellness Tree from Puru The Guru.

Quick Background

A few weeks ago, I presented you with The Better Life Infographic. That infographic pertained to information, thoughts, feelings, actions, results. However, almost every day someone I mentor asks a question about the benefits of ‘this’ or the problems associated with ‘that’. The ‘this’ or ‘that’ could range from anything like ‘running while listening to music’ or ‘the impact of drinking coffee on the effort to regenerate the beta cells of the pancreas’ or something as banal as ‘body-sculpting to get a 6-pack’.

The Wellness Tree

For living life well, I believe we need to focus on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. These branches of the tree of wellness will be healthy and grow well if the driving factors that feed into them, the roots, are managed well.

Most things in life are multifactorial, and so it is with wellness. Some things have a small impact, some large, some a positive impact, some negative, and in most cases the impact is non-linear. In addition, things can get confusing from interactions between two or more factors. On top of that we have the impact of my favourite variable, time! In practice, almost nothing stands still as time flows. So, as I’ve said before, details matter.

Fruits from The Wellness Tree

In the weeks ahead, you will hear from me on a wide range of topics. I grew this Wellness Tree as a backdrop to describe various concepts, discuss many hypotheses and present guidance – usually with, sometimes without, evidence.

This tree probably won’t grow much above the ground i.e. I am unlikely to change my definition of wellness. However, below the ground, the roots might start branching further as the weeks go by as and when I decide to fill in further detail as relevant to the topic, or based on my mood. For instance, if you look under wellness->activities->social the root has not branched out further yet – but, perhaps, it will! Whenever the tree grows in any part, the ‘last updated’ will have a fresher date. Keep an eye on that!

I suppose one more thing to point out at this stage is that often what we think is important for good health is just one part of myriad changes we can make in life for living it well. For instance, it might take you a while to even locate ‘exercise’ in that tree, and when you do, you might continue to look but will not find something as powerful as ‘running’ in it. At least not in this version of 8th May 2017. That should also not surprise you if you have already read what I have said about why you need not run.

Learning from The Wellness Tree

You would do well to spend time looking at this tree as often as possible over the next few days. (Go ahead, bookmark this page, or save the image on your smartphone.) I suspect that, if you do, over time certain new thoughts will come to your own mind that you will be happy to explore further to live your life well – to live it better.

I will chat again soon, perhaps about that 6-pack question – or perhaps about the regeneration of the beta cells of your pancreas…who knows? We’ll see!

Enjoy the fruits of The Wellness Tree by focusing on the roots

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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.

How Green are my Movements? 100 Days of Data

It is worth reflecting on HOW you move

Global warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards benefiting the planet.

Quick Background

With a clear interest in protecting the health of our planet, and a strong belief that data tells us more than what we would ‘choose to remember’, I started collecting data about my transportation modes at the start of this year. Yesterday was the 100th day of the year. Here are some thoughts on the subject that I felt were worth sharing with you.

Since the Summer of ‘69

“Mummy” is no longer a mode of transport for me

In the summer of ’69, my father was navigating a Boeing-707 flight from London to New York that he did on a weekly basis when my mother packed her bag in their home in London, dropped my elder sisters off at a friend’s and drove to the hospital where I was born a few hours later. Apparently, my father was pleased when he was given the news, “it’s a boy”, upon landing at JFK Airport.

A few years later, growing up in Mumbai, I loved cycling, and although my father drove a British car on Indian roads, we were always encouraged to walk wherever we could. Those were the 70s and 80s, times when even the upper middle classes, if they owned a car, typically owned just one.

Cycling back from lectures

Moving ahead in time, as a student of engineering and management at the University of Cambridge I learned a fair amount about inefficient modes of transport from a ‘green perspective’. In fact, since the start of motorized transport, the rule at that university was “no cars permitted for undergraduates” and so, no matter what your social status, you would typically move around Cambridge by bicycle or foot. Whether it was to the boat house to row early in the mornings, or to parties in colleges across town, the common feature about the transport was green. The environmental benefit of such a culture will be obvious to you even if you were to visit Cambridge this summer.

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Mumbai: when motorized transport is so slow, pedestrians will walk on the road (PC: Mid Day)

Moving ahead another 30 years, back in Mumbai today, it is awful to see how the city has only become worse in many respects, as each decade has rolled by. One of these, familiar to anyone who has spent even a few hours in the city, where I spend a good chunk of each year, is the terrible state of roads, and inefficient use of public money. The popular media has published many reports [see this for an example from 9 years ago, and this one more recent] on how most tax dollars are spent on providing facilities for the limited number of car users when in fact the largest percentage of travel is done by public mass transportation (bus, train, metro) or bicycle and foot. What makes the situation sadder still is that despite the disproportionate allocation of tax money to the roads, those roads are in a terrible state and the transport on them crawls along – and that is when it does move! May God help you if you need an ambulance for an emergency in that city!

From BMW to Bicycle

With many claims to be green and being someone who generally likes to walk his talk, I thought it would be interesting to collect broad level data on my transport modes. My first car 24 years ago was a BMW but for the last 10 years I have not owned a car. In Mumbai, I own a bicycle instead. I have a strong preference for ‘as green a form of transport as possible’. Public transport is not particularly comfortable in Mumbai but I have typically opted for a bit of personal discomfort to benefit the city.

Bombay Bustle – Bicycles Faster than BMW

Data Collection and Behaviour Change

Normally, the commencement of data collection about oneself tweaks one’s behaviour (for instance, there is some evidence that those who weigh themselves daily, tend to lose more excess weight than control groups who don’t). Because of my choices for many decades now to minimize my carbon footprint from transportation, there was no sudden change in my travel methods. In my on-going quest to understand myself, the data simply gives me a better handle on my claims about being greener than the next guy stuck in traffic.

Simple Data Collected

Easy to record the data every night

All I recorded each day was the number of different journeys I did and their modes of transport. Often to meet someone, I might cycle to the station, take the train, and then walk at the other end. In many European cities that is not unusual at all. In Mumbai, a city that could really do with what I call CTW (cycle-train-walk) it is very unusual – especially for those who live in million dollar homes!

What I recorded was simply a count of the number of journeys, not the kilometres travelled. Given that the two transcontinental flights that I did take in February were of 8000km length each, whereas most of the bicycle journeys are for just a few Km, the story would be quite different if represented by carbon footprint. Having said that, there are clearly some journeys that cannot be done by greener modes of transport. Mumbai to London for a week with family is one of them!

How Green are my Numbers?

Breakdown of # Journeys by Mode of Transport for 100 days

How Bad am I?

I could be doing much worse

At first I felt terrible that I was not at 90% green. But then it struck me that I was still doing a lot better than most well-educated and reasonably wealthy people in pretty much most of the urban centres of India. Not that they ought to be anyone’s benchmark, but still.

What can you do?

You must not leave it up to your government to make the change you want to see. Even as I clicked on “Publish” for this article, I received this news snippet from a friend. If the news reporting is correct, it is tantamount to expecting people to eat less because grocery stores are shut on a Sunday. No, I’m sorry, that will not work!

Wherever you live, and in everything you do, you always have hundreds of choices daily. Every decision that you make that helps the planet, will help you in the long run. You might think that ‘since the bus is going there anyway, I might as well ride it’ is a green choice. But even getting off a stop earlier and walking 500m does have a positive impact on the planet. Whenever you are green, you can probably go even greener. If you collect data about yourself, you are more likely than not to make wiser decisions. I urge you to try that.

It is not about competing with your neighbour

Although it is not a bad idea to compete with your neighbour to be greener (why care what he drives!) you should keep your focus on simply becoming better yourself. Once you appreciate that everything you do has a definite impact on the only planet you have, you will make other changes that are better for your own health too. For instance, unless you are predominantly plant food and drink (please say NO to milk whenever you can!) human it is likely that giving up meat and dairy (yes, Mrs Vegetarian, give up milk – it did not come from a plant!) will have an even bigger positive impact on the planet than taking that bicycle to work. Better still, do both!

My Lucky 13

Today is day # 101 of the year 2017. I plan to take my son to an afternoon appointment a few kilometres away. He is visiting from London after 2 years but is comfortable cycling wherever we need to go in Mumbai. If he can do that at age 13, I reckon that just about everyone in this city can.

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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.

Attempting Work-Life-Balance? Instead, plan for Time-Optimized-Living

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Daily Work-Life-Balance is great, but what about Time-Optimized-Living?

Happiness warning: This conversation might make you plan your life towards greater lifelong joy.

From Work-Life-Balance to Time-Optimized-Living

I hope you have what the world calls ‘work-life-balance’. Perhaps you have figured out some method in your busy life that works for you in achieving that. But what if you are still missing something? Something much bigger that you had not given much thought to! In fact, I am willing to bet that the vast majority of people with ‘work-life-balance’ are missing what I think is of greater and overriding importance. So, today, I am going to talk to you about what I call ‘time-optimized-living’. I will also suggest a few tips for your journey towards achieving it.

I am addressing Everyone

This topic is of relevance to everyone. I consider myself lucky to have friends with accomplishments in various domains. Blockbuster movie stars, championship sportsmen, international sportswomen, fashion models, poets and book authors, award winning surgeons, globetrotting dentists, journalists, tech entrepreneurs – the list can go on…

As I state very clearly to billionaires or to those with a millionth of that, we all have only 24 hours in the day, but we don’t all have the same number of days. And it’s not clear that for a given 24 hours, that each of us spends it wisely. Yes, we all do things that we think maximizes our happiness (and often it doesn’t even do that). And, yes, we all try to do it with intelligence – but do we do it wisely?

Time is Money – Demonetization in Different Currencies

Thank God I’ve had a lot of minutes!

I am quite obsessive about time and how I use it. Besides being disciplined about punctuality with meeting times, I like to keep track of how my time is used once a meeting commences. Humans are not naturally programmed to have a supremely optimal handle on time. Besides the circadian clock that is controlled naturally by the light-dark cycles driven by the earth’s rotation, human perception of the passage of time is very subjective. That subjectivity is captured beautifully by Einstein’s quote about a pretty girl, a hot stove and the passage of time. Most of this relates to short time spans – a minute, an hour, a day, a week or even a year. But what about longer periods – multiple years, decades or even large lifetime fractions? Unfortunately, the phenomenon of mishandling time, at a practical level, gets worse – for individuals and, therefore, for society.

You WILL die – you WILL leave it all behind

I would like you to now internalize this ultra-simple graphic of your financial life. Whether you are one of my billionaire friends or one of my friends who struggles to make ends meet, ignoring debate about the slope or the lengths of any of the lines, this pretty much captures it succinctly. What is clearly not up for debate is that you came to this life with nothing and you will go with nothing.

A picture worth remembering

Satisfying our Professional Passions or Hobbies

Partly because of the need to survive and thrive, but mostly because corporations tell us we need to do it, we spend a very large part of our adult years uncontrollably engaged (I wrote ‘enslaved’ and as an afterthought changed it to ‘engaged’) in some form or the other by the corporate world. Whether we have very satisfying professional careers, whether we started off our adult lives with large amounts of endowed wealth or whether we build profitable businesses from scratch ourselves over decades, the connection to the world of business is strong. And that is perfectly fine, as long as there is balance. And by ‘balance’ I mean balance in all time-intervals of life. In that ‘all’ lies the key to my message.

Do you think working to make too much money is risky?

Work-Life-Balance does NOT necessarily imply Time-Optimized-Living

We are all aware of the general idea of ‘work-life-balance’. Whether your business is in New York and pays lip service to it, or in London and encourages it, or in Mumbai and doesn’t care about it, you will have a decent idea of what it means – even if you do not have it. We even have businesses that are built around that concept (hey, why work in the kitchen when you can order in, with a few clicks on your smartphone? never mind that this habit will kill you slowly).

Now, here is the central point of my chat today. What I would like to draw your attention to is the distinct possibility that, perhaps, if you focus on daily or weekly work-life-balance, you are highly susceptible to incorrectly reaching the conclusion that you have achieved a state of time-optimized-living – balance across the time span of, not a working day, or a work week, but over your expected lifetime. Although work-life-balance is very important, it is only one, perhaps necessary, component of time-optimized-living – it is not time-optimized living.

We think we have a good handle on certain time spans

Mind you, if you do not even have work-life-balance then it is near impossible that you have time-optimized-living. I have friends, some younger than I am, who have shortened their lives significantly with the false belief that a terrible lifestyle to accumulate financial assets is some form of time-optimized-living. Intelligence being applied, I’m sure, but wisdom, not!

Do not let it be a vague fear; face it, deal with it, and then move on

Money has Time Value, Time has Money Value, in all Denominations

In my career as a finance professional I have been fortunate in being able to work in settings where the intellectual focus of problem solving has spanned across time horizons of micro-seconds to multiple decades. Typically, in any of these settings, at any future horizon under consideration, the typical goal is to maximize benefits with respect to the costs incurred. Whether it is to execute thousands of stock-portfolio trades a minute, or set strategic asset allocations for pension funds with future promises to beneficiaries, 70 years from now, the problem statement is clear – maximize profits, minimize shortfalls, keep costs low.

In my years of advising professionals on their career plans or individuals on their wellness, it is evident that, as humans with cognitive biases of all kinds, we do not necessarily optimize across all the relevant horizons in optimal ways. Because the human species is not specifically designed to do this well, that is nothing to be ashamed of. However, the “wise person” inside of you ought to be extremely conscious of it – that ‘awareness‘ is the first step to positive change. Being focused on daily or weekly ‘work-life-balance’ without also paying attention to lifelong time-optimized-living is similar to studying very diligently for medical school entrance exams when, in fact, you want to major in computer science! You might even get into and go through medical school, but you will have thereby missed the big picture of where your true happiness might lie.

Practical Tips for Thinking about Your Solution

Everyone has different circumstances, so a one-size-fits-all solution cannot work. However, the problem-solving framework for every one of us can be common. Here are just a few tiny pointers on the heavy stones in your bag.

Financial

Create a simple spreadsheet model that simulates your future financial wealth. It needs to have just a few columns, for example:

[1] month (e.g. May-2019)
[2] future income
[3] future expenses
[4] their difference i.e. monthly savings and
[5] accumulation of savings shown in [4].

Even a simplistic approach such as this is extremely powerful in the insights you will gain. You can even assume, to get started, that your investment return on savings will be 0%. Once you have set it up going out into the future, you will begin to place appropriate weight on the true risks of living with less wealth. In fact, if you do not do this, you run the risk of focusing on the accumulation of too much wealth beyond your needs! It might seem odd that someone with a doctorate in Finance is suggesting that you worry about the risk of accumulating too much wealth, but the actuary in me is saying precisely that!

When was the last time you knew someone yourself who died penniless? On the other hand, when was the last time you knew someone who died with a fair amount of wealth left behind? My guess is that the former is quite rare and the latter very common. Food for thought, eh!

In many urban cultures (e.g. Indians, Chinese) there is a popular lifegoal of working towards leaving ‘a separate home for each of the kids’. If that were to happen for you by chance, that’s great. But to have that as a general goal, to me, is clearly unwise. As for ‘wedding costs’, if you are reading this, you are from a socio-economic background that would normally imply that your child should be able to have a wedding that they can afford for themselves. Pay for a decent well-rounded education, and that’s all.

Medical

A very real fear that many humans have is that of healthcare costs when they’re much older. Given that physical health is so closely tied to mental, emotional and spiritual health, this is a concern that I do think you should take seriously, especially because it pertains directly to you – and not to someone else in your generation, previous generation, or future generation (see previous points about leaving homes for your kids or paying for their weddings). The vast majority of my conversations with you over the last few years have been about precisely this aspect – your physical existence and, if you’ve been paying close attention, to other dimensions of your existence.

The best medical insurance you can get for yourself is an improved lifestyle! Anything you pay for over and above that in term of insurance premiums should really be just for the unexpected large medical problems. [Note, of course, medical insurance companies do not exist to make your life easier, they exist to make profits for their shareholders. So, watch out for exclusions, deductibles, sum insuredsub-limits and other features that might leave you ‘open to risk’ when you are least prepared for it.]

Recently, an old friend who was forced to quit what he described as “the corporate banking rat race” wanted to get back into it very soon because, in his own words, “I will get medical cover”. Besides the numerical value of providing that perk being meagre (cost of medical insurance being small in the grander scheme of things) it was going to ‘allow’ him to continue complacently down the same path of unhealthy living that he had been taking for decades. Please do not get me wrong – I have nothing against working for large corporations per se; what I am against is unhealthy living – across all time horizons!

It is not easy, but it is definitely not impossible

If I were to grade the people whose lives I know fairly well, on a scale of 0-to-100 for time-optimized-living, they would span that entire range. Even the wisest urban yogis will not get very close to 100. And, perhaps, the most intelligent among us is closer to zero! Developing wisdom will help us get closer to 100. But, we have to work towards it, on a daily basis. It definitely doesn’t just happen overnight – even if you have had a sudden and unexpected heart attack!

Although I talk about lifelong time spans, do not leave it until some future day. Whether you die later tonight, or 10 years from now, you will go with nothing. You have been guaranteed that. Get started with a plan for time-optimized-living today.

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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.

Race Start Logistics – Chaos, Flow and Entropy

Should you really be up front in the crowd at the start line?

Have you ever run one of the big races in India like the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) or the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon (ADHM) and had varying experiences about the ‘flow of crowd of runners’? As the number of racers has grown and the increased focus on logistics for handling them has tried to avoid making a mess and avoid a human catastrophe, I have been curious about the flow of runners at the start and its subsequent impact along the route. Today’s conversation, with some interesting pictures, is about that. Takeaway lessons for you, racer, pacer or race organizer, will come soon.

Roadmap

I will first talk about the distribution of runners and how it transitions from start line to finish line. I then introduce you to my idea of ‘disorder’ in a race, with a measure that I call the Race Entropy, and show how that beautifully captures the flavour of the ease of flow within a race. I use the case of the Mumbai races (SCMM) to show how start-enclosures have helped with achieving less disorder (but significant room for improvement exists). I also show what impact the extreme pollution scares in New Delhi last winter had on the race that was held at that time (ADHM2016).

Gross Time, Net Time, Mat Crossing Time

I have shown you numerous graphs in the past of race finish times. These are typically histograms of ‘net finish times’ that show how many runners cross the finish line within each time bucket, where each bucket might be just a few seconds wide. What you will have probably never seen until today is a similar picture of what happens at the starting line.

How do we spread ourselves out over time?

Because not everyone crosses the starting line at the same time, there is a ‘spreading out’ or ‘distribution’ over time of runners crossing the starting line. This distribution is what leads to the need for recording gross finish time and net finish time.
The gross time is based on the natural clock time – the same clock for all the runners.
The net time is the specific time taken for each individual runner measured as, starting at their specific start line crossing (time = 0) and ending at their crossing the finish line.
Many races have RFID timing sensors placed under mats over which runners pass at the start/finish line, and so we often use the terms ‘starting line’ and ‘starting mat’ interchangeably.

Easing Flow

If your race’s logistics are handled smoothly, the fastest runners would be placed right up front at the start line and the slowest runners placed towards the back of the crowd. In the extreme scenario of the runners being released in descending order of their speed, in the hypothetical situation of constant speed for each runner, the number of ‘overtakings’ would be 0. No one would overtake anyone despite everyone running at their race pace. This would ensure a smooth flow of humans across the starting line and thereafter.

Smooth flow of runners ranked in order of speed

In practice, although it ‘feels good’ to overtake other runners, the truth is that it always involves some risk. Besides the physical risk (of impact) if the runner being overtaken sends you negative thoughts as you try to glide past him, that cannot be good for your soul.

Consider now, the worst situation for race start ordering, the slowest runner being placed right up front and the fastest runner at the back of the pack. In the extreme situation of N runners placed in such a reverse order of their speed, the fastest runner would have to overtake N-1 other runners to finish 1st. The runner who comes in second would have to overtake N-2 runners to come in 2nd. And so on for all the other runners… And, therefore, {ignoring the school maths proof}, the total number of ‘overtakings’ for all N runners would be ½*N*(N-1). Let us call that measure MaxPossibleOvertakings – e.g. for 10,000 participants placed in this reverse order MaxPossibleOvertakings will be 49,995,000.

Flow disrupted when runners not ranked in order of speed

For any given race with an actual ordering at the start line, we can also easily add up the minimum number of ‘overtakings’ that would have led to the actual finish ranking observed. Let us call this MinPossibleOvertakings.

Having defined a measure for the actual starting/finishing rankings of runners and the theoretical measure with maximum disorder, let me now tell you about what I call the ‘Race Entropy’ of an event. If numbers or equations faze you, hang in there, there’s nothing particularly complicated in what follows.

Entropy

Borrowing from Thermodynamics, I define the measure of disorder in a race as being the ratio

Entropy – a measure of disorder in your race

If the runners are released in the perfect ranking of their eventual times, so that there will be no overtaking, the Race Entropy will be 0.
If the runners are released in the perfectly reverse order, the Race Entropy will be 1.
If the ordering is purely random chance, the Race Entropy will be approximately ½.
We hope that the Race Entropy for any race will be less than ½ and closer to 0.

Start-End Ranking Plot

We can also visualize this order and disorder with what I call a Start-End Ranking Plot – a rank for crossing the finish line plotted against the rank for crossing the start line. This example plot shows the two ends of [1] perfect order and [2] perfect disorder as well as [3] the case of purely random start ordering.

Start-End Ranking Plot: Avoiding disorder or wrong order is a worthy effort

Start-End Ranking Plot: Avoiding disorder or wrong order is a worthy effort

With this distilled single measure of disorder, Race Entropy, and the Start-End Ranking Plot, let us now examine a couple of interesting stories from the Indian recreational marathon scene.

Case 1 – Chaos to Order: Introduction of Enclosures for SCMM

The first year that I happened to run a distance race, quite by chance, was the flagship Mumbai Marathon in 2010 (SCMM2010). I remember being at the start line and witnessing the undignified pushing and jostling. It was pretty much ‘law of the jungle’ up there akin to the local trains I took to work daily. It was a free-for-all, first-come-first-serve type start, so everyone pushed up ahead, with no real attention to ordering themselves naturally by expected finish time.

Race Start Enclosures

Race start enclosures or ‘holding areas’ were first introduced to the Indian running scene in January 2012, at the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon. These enclosures, now common in the races with large numbers of participants, are set up with the philosophy that the fastest runners are kept together and typically go past the start line first, the slowest ones last, and the ones in-between following the same principle. In order to decide which start-enclosure you wait in before you start the race, race organizers request a recent race timing certificate from you at the time of registration. Based on this ‘previous timing certificate’ you, the customer, are allocated a start enclosure, specified visibly on your racing bib.

Pre/Post Enclosures

Start Enclosures help ensure reduced Race Entropy (disorder) despite an increase in competitors

If we examine the difference between 2010 & 2011 compared with 2016 & 2017 there is a noticeable reduction in Race Entropy despite the number of participants rising. Having seen the Race Entropy drop between 2010 to 2017 despite the massive increase in participation, we can see the Start-End Ranking Plot which corresponds to those numbers and the picture tells us the same story.

Comparing the Start-End Ranking Plot for 2010 with that from 2017 indicates a clear move away from high disorder towards greater order.

Population increase need not be a problem if mismanagement is replaced by better management!

Case 2 – Pollution Reduces Race Participation: Massive Reduction in Delhi Disorder

The flagship race of New Delhi, soon after the worldwide scares in the media about the city’s air pollution levels at the end of 2016, saw a massive reduction in actual participation on race day (ADHM2016). My simple but sensible estimation method tells me that 40% of those who had paid and were registered to race did not show up on race day. This is almost always fortunate for the race organizers and those who do show up to run. The race experience is always better for such large races when the turnout is lower {fewer people chasing the same resources including, quite literally, air, water and land}.

What did the fearless who turned up experience?

What is interesting is that the Race Entropy was so much lower (20.3%) than in 2012 (32.0%) when the ADHM first introduced start enclosures. It was also considerably lower than the previous year where in ADHM2015 the Race Entropy was 26.8%. Perhaps, the general time trend in Race Entropy shows that the running population itself is becoming slightly mature and sensible as a group about the race start. For ADHM2016, it is possible that a predominance of experienced runners showed up and many of the newer runners stayed away. Or, perhaps, managing fewer runners with arrangements for many more (who did not show up) induces lower Race Entropy (lower disorder). All my friends who ran ADHM2016 had a fantastic experience. As luck would have it the weather was (described by a mentee who ran) ‘absolutely perfect’ and my guess is that the reduced disorder added to a better overall experience.

Pollution Scares: Did the drop in crowding make humans more relaxed and reduce irrational crowding?

Once again, comparing the Start-End Ranking Plot for 2017 with that from 2012 when the number of participants was similar and start-enclosures had just been introduced indicates a clear move away from high disorder towards greater order.

Did the reduced crowd density encourage more orderly behaviour?

Summary and Way Forward

I introduced the concept of ‘disorder’ or Race Entropy to characterize the (lack of) ease of flow within a race. I showed how the introduction of start-enclosures based on ‘expected finish time’ helps reduce this Race Entropy (disorder). So, besides features such as aid stations, route marshaling, medal quality, pricing of race entry tickets, and post-race refreshments Race Entropy serves as a superb single measure to capture the overall race experience for those who turned up.

I will write again soon and provide guidance to you the racer, race pacer or race organizer based on this dimension of analysis.

Until then, try to not bump into anyone 🙂

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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.

Competing & Comparing – Targeting Happiness Maximization

Eyeing your competition, how can you make the comparisons happy?

Eyeing your competition, how can you make the comparisons happy?

Happiness warning: This conversation pertains to all aspects of your life, not just physical fitness.

It has been a while since I chatted with you about Why I don’t care about your Podium Finish (or Mine). Since then it has been one of my most widely read articles. Those who know me well, know that I am extremely competitive, but I would like to think they have always thought it to be an appropriately targeted style of competitive spirit. At the same time, one of the terms and conditions I set in place early when I mentor anyone is “you will not compare your performance (e.g. running times) or attributes (e.g. body fat %) with that of any other person”. So, if that’s the case, do I think it is good for you to compete? Yes. And, do I think it is good for you to compare? Yes. So then, is there a catch? What is the framework within which competing and comparing can be life-enhancing?

Roadmap

I will speak swiftly about competing, comparing, benchmarking, competition and control, and then make recommendations around compassion, detachment and improvement. In a few minutes, I hope you will have a happier and clearer path to follow.

About Competing

Researchers in the area of happiness and social psychology have demonstrated that in order to enjoy an activity and derive happiness from it, the level of difficulty has to be just slightly higher than what you are currently capable of. Have you noticed that when you take up something like badminton or squash, those who are a lot better than you do not really want to play against you if they can help it. Or have you noticed how you do not want to always train for a race with someone who is much slower than you?

About Comparing

Comparisons within a population

Researchers have also shown that comparing yourself with others does not lead to truly sustainable happiness. Comparisons with those much better than us can be demoralizing. Comparisons with those much worse than us can lead to arrogance. At the same time, comparisons are inherent to the survival of living things. Even single-cell organisms compare the immediate environment to what is ideal for their proliferation to decide what their next move should be.

Comparing and Competing

So, if you are to compete, and you are to compare, then how do you do this in a way that leads to greater happiness and fulfilment? You probably know the answer to this already having heard it often – and even in my previous article. Do not compare with and compete against others, compare with and compete against yourself. Now, let us examine this more closely and try to understand why it works.

GPF – Genetic Potential Fitness

Who is a hero by moving towards their GPF?

Who is a hero by moving towards their GPF?

In Why I don’t care about your Podium Finish I had described how the very slow lady who was getting faster was developing herself as a person, whereas the complacent lady with better genes for that domain who was winning races was, perhaps, not. It was in this earlier news article that I first publicly mentioned what I call GPF or Genetic Potential Fitness. Although, at first sight it appears that I am talking about physical fitness, in fact, I think of this as being applicable to any domain of your life that interests you. From running to sleep (yes, you can train yourself to sleep in the best way possible), from body strength to singing (do you know someone who has a lovely voice but never makes it to a performance stage because they are too lazy to practice?), from calisthenics to cooking (isn’t it amazing to come across a teenager who can knock your socks off with an amazing dessert?).

You and I both have immense potential in each of the areas of life that interests us but we rarely get close to that potential. We allow ourselves to wallow in the middle of our abilities, far from our genetic potential.

Benchmarking vs The Competition

Once we leave school and college education, unless we are professional athletes most of us have no formal competitive benchmark placed before us to beat. Sure, a sales professional has to beat his competitor’s sales in the next quarter, a housewife feels the pressure to cook her husband’s favourite dish better than his mother does, and a fund investment manager attempts to beat the industry benchmark agreed with her client. The rest of us tend to find some path through the various constraints we face while trying to produce better results, whether in the kitchen, office, boardroom or bedroom.

Cross-sectional vs Time-series

Time-Series vs Cross-sectional

When we compare with others we are typically doing a “cross-sectional comparison” – an observation of many people at a given point in time. Although that has value in some settings, and perhaps can even be one form of short-term motivation, I prefer to think of “time-series comparisons” where I am the only subject in the data set and observe progression through time. Why do I do this and what is the special strategic advantage in doing this?

Control

Transform yourself by working to be closer to your GPF

Transform yourself by working to be closer to your GPF

Whenever we announce the result of some study, typically of an activity and its effect, there is always the implied question “what control group did you use as a benchmark?”. Unless you can study yourself along with clones of yourself for a cross-sectional self-study, it is really not possible to fully and precisely understand the effect of an activity on only you as a specific individual – be it the effect of regular exercise on your health, giving up sweetened drinks, or the introduction of meditation into your life. However, you can do something almost equivalent to that in a manner that will lead to greater happiness.

Although you can’t do a cross-sectional comparative study of you with your clones, you can do a time-series study of yourself. The DNA is held fixed at least! Besides keeping track of your actions (the ‘process’), we can also keep track of your outcomes (the ‘goals’) over time.

Comparing Happily

The beauty of this approach of ‘self-comparison’ is that if you approach the dimension being pursued (e.g. your speed with Sudoku) with ‘self-compassion‘ (which, incidentally, is the other attribute that increases happiness) there is unlikely to be jealousy or even envy. After all, when was the last time you were jealous of your recent self? So, comparing with yourself will not produce negative happiness outcomes. (Of course, we might all look back much further with nostalgia or yearning at our more youthful days.)

Competing Happily

If you set your personal targets wisely to be just slightly better than what you think you are currently capable of, then the competition is also healthy! Often, we set unrealistic targets and then are not happy with the outcomes. Perhaps, one day soon I will speak about target-setting specifically.

Conditioning for Happiness

Whenever we have an outcome that is better or worse than what we hoped for, we can explain the difference between what we expected and what transpired with some obvious factors. And, often some of the difference remains unaccounted for given the information we possess. [I did something along those lines at a population level when I made this assertion.]

Now, think about the following – when you compare with others in daily life, you really have no clue about all the factors that lead to their performance. (You almost always don’t know what constraints or opportunities the other person had.) So, then, the comparison with them leads to very little value add to yourself. When you compare against your own (recent or distant) past, however, you have so much more information and there can be a lot more value captured (in the form of actual learning and progress, or even plain-and-simple ‘satisfaction’).

Performance Attribution

If you record information about yourself then understanding why your performance was better or worse than expected is easy to do in a dispassionate manner. The more information and the richer the information you record, the more you will be able to understand yourself, your processes and your performances. For example, “I swam slower today because of a slight cold and blocked nose”. The positive feedback loop also serves as a wonderful tool for self-motivation.

Inward Looking is Forward Looking

A key distinction between comparing and competing with others rather than with yourself is that of the target view being outward versus inward. The more you look inward, with or without explicit recording of data, the less you will find the need to be emotionally affected by the performance of others. Never mind what everyone else is up to, focus on your own growth towards being a more intelligent soul. The more you try to improve by controlling yourself, the less you will find the need to control other people or events [a surefire way of being unhappy in the short, medium and long run].

Making Outward Looking also Forward Looking

When you are observing others, make it about process observation along with performance observation. Observe the changes in process that lead to differences in performance for that person. That will allow you to learn without comparing yourself with that person – you are comparing that person with that same person for your own self-improvement! There is, however, no competition with that person!

Final Wisdom – Interested in Outcome, Unemotional about Result

When you work hard, you are interested in the result. However, it is important to develop a habit of being unemotional about the result that transpires- you are not your result. This form of ‘detached attachment’ is good yogic wisdom and can be made easier if you can attribute your performance to various documented factors, and attribute the (tiny) balance i.e. what you cannot explain to ‘luck’ or ‘chance’. Perhaps data can help you transcend!

I wish you happy comparing and happy competing for your personal growth and fulfillment!

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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.

Reporting on Pacing Failures at the SCMM 2017

The FunRunParty Bus

The FunRunParty Bus

The Messenger is Back
Ever since my “Being a Pacer, Choosing a Pacer – A Guide” I have published a table once a year after the Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon (SCMM) on the performance of official pacers selected to set the pace for other recreational runners for various target times.

The reason for my tabulated updates after the race are outlined in the 2016 report and some lessons from pacer failures are outlined in the 2015 report.

Last Sunday, it felt great to be greeted throughout the race morning of the 2017 edition by runners who had used my freely available pacing bands. Even the tiny proportion of runners who decided to race with a pacer would have done well to use one of my pacing bands. For the SCMM, they were first released in 2016, and then republished in 2017. To see why I think they are calibrated brilliantly read this.

This Time you may Shoot the Messenger

Lights, Music, Dance, Colour

Lights, Music, Dance, Colour

A whopping 184 runners pre-registered their interest to make history and run on my FunRunParty 2-hour Bus and many others joined along the way. The goal was to party along the entire route and, as promised, we had lights, music, dance and other action.  Wine, however, was not served – nor was beer! Save a few grumblers, everyone who was part of it had a wonderful experience… so, success was achieved at least on the ‘fun party’ dimension!

Shockingly enough I did not realize until I crossed the finish mat that I had missed my own strict deadline requirement by 32 seconds! Abominable and unforgivable! So, this time around, we can shoot the messenger! Not that one should have any excuse, but I did encourage everyone on my bus to wear the pacing band for their own target times, and I joked that those who were targeting 1:59:00 were to keep me on track. (It’s not the easiest thing to watch both wrists in crowds when carrying a very large flag while running at 10.6228 km/h. Excuses shex-queue-zes… Stop it Puru!!)

Results

OK, so here are the results in two separate tables for the half marathon and the full marathon.

Half Marathon

SCMM 2017 – Half Marathon – Pacer Performance

Full Marathon

SCMM 2017 – Full Marathon – Pacer Performance

Why are things still going wrong?
To continue to have half the pacers in the full marathon failing again this year is not a joking matter! The half marathon had significantly more failures than last year and the year before that– again not something to take lightly!
In terms of process, there continue to be odd things happening in the race times of the pacers listed. Just to cite a couple of examples and I am sure there are more:
Example 1: One of the 3-hour pacers for the half marathon was announced to have dropped out of the event because of a prior injury but his race time shows up as 2:17:33.
Example 2: Prior to the event I received communication from puzzled runners about the 3:45 pacer for the full marathon whose prior best time with the SCMM was 4:06:34. To give him the benefit of your doubt, which would have been formed based on what was advertised, perhaps he had indeed trained enough to achieve 3:45. However, those who decided to not run with him based on public information would have felt vindicated after he finished in 4:09:03.

So, What Next?
Presenting this table each year seems to not affect the outcome in the next year. But, it is still worth my doing so for the running community. On the bright side, do look out for more interesting articles from me based on this specific race in the weeks ahead that might be more relevant to your training as well as race experience.

Wait for the messenger!

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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.