Tag Archives: food and drink

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.

Process for Performance

Let us focus on Process

Let us focus on Process

Physicist and Performance

While chatting with a physicist who reads my varied conversations with you, he asked me about my interest and focus on distance running in the general population. I clarified without hesitation that my interest is not in running as much as it is in performance. Whether as a consultant to organisations, a wellness mentor to individuals globally, or a performance coach for business leaders, my focus is on improvement. Running just happens to be one area of technical expertise within that. (To the extent that I even tell you why you need not run!)

When we speak about performance our focus often, quite naturally, goes to the headline number. Who won Wimbledon and in how many sets? What was the new world record set for the butterfly stroke in the Rio Olympics on day 1? How many goals has Cristiano Ronaldo scored? Unfortunately, our expressions of awe at the superhuman outcomes are rarely followed by useful questioning about process. My own interest is almost never in these outcome (I have no clue about the answers to any of the questions above) but, instead, very much in the process that one might follow to achieve them.

Never Mind the Olympics

Unless you are in Rio at the moment, you are probably not very different from the lady you walked past on the street outside. But you too are probably looking to excel at one or more things in your life. And, this could be anything, earth-shattering or trivial – embroidery, cancer-research, tennis, baking, swimming, teaching or dancing the salsa! And, if you remember from when I talked about why I don’t care much about your podium finish, it doesn’t really matter if that lady you crossed on the street is better at that than you are. What matters is if you are performing as close to your potential as you could. I appreciate that that might not be the only thing you have in life to focus on. There are the many constraints of daily life like putting bread on the table, or literally baking bread for the family table! So, how good is your performance given those constraints? Could you be performing better? As I have said before, what matters is the detail. Have you thought through the processes you are following and could you be doing things differently? Could you be doing them better?

Am I lost or am I even following some defined process in the first place?

Am I lost or am I even following some defined process in the first place?

What Could Better Performance Mean for You?

Time = Money = Time

Time = Money = Time

Whether it is Warren Buffet or that lady you walked past, time is money. Given that you probably want to enjoy your waking hours, and I’m assuming you are sleeping well every night, what changes could you make to the many processes or sub-processes you follow that might be improved on, so that you could:
(a) get the same result in less time?
(b) get a better result in the same time?
c) get a better result in less time?
(d) get a better result in less time and save money?
More importantly, how often do you even ask yourself these questions? In other words…
    …how often do you question whether you are questioning your processes?

Are You Missing Out?

If you are not asking yourself these questions about most of the things you do in your daily life, you are probably missing out on a lot in life. How so? For a start, if you had more time, you could spend it doing more things or more enjoyable things – sleep, for example! If you improved your performance that would bring intrinsic satisfaction and perhaps more money too!  And, saving money, well, that’s like saving time!

What Could You Do Next?

So, can you give up 10 minutes of TV time today, or invest some of that time spent watching the Olympics, on this style of questioning? Then use that time today asking yourself questions related to the processes you follow and whether they could be made better. (Hint: the answer is almost always “yes”!) Ask yourself, “is this really getting me closer to my goal efficiently?” (Hint: the answer is often “no”!) Then ask yourself, “how would someone who is doing really well at this be doing things differently from how I am?” (Tip: there’s almost always something you will think of!). For instance, even simply mastering the pushup, or improving the long-term impact of making smart decisions regarding food can be mastered if we focus on improving the processes we follow for them.

You might be thinking, “hey, I’m happy with life, I don’t think I really want to struggle to improve anything” and if that is really you, great! But if you think you do want to do better at one or more things in your life, then, believe me, you can! Never mind the performance of Olympians, focus on your own processes to be a winner!

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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.

I am not a fitness freak

Very average good living

Very average good living

False Accusations

A few years ago, at a dinner with school friends, the wife of an old friend who was complaining about being overweight responded to my simple generous offer to help with “No thanks, you’re just a freak”. Rather than create a scene, I played gentleman (heh!) and shut up politely (yes, just like one can speak impolitely, one can also shut up politely!).

It struck me that evening, and then whenever someone else says to me, “you’re a fitness freak”, that they are so out of touch with a harmonious existence. Of course, I am NOT a fitness freak. Perhaps, the one who proclaims that I am, is the fitness freak! I will now tell you why I think so.

Freaky Definitions

A general definition of ‘freak’ alludes to an ‘aberration’. An ‘outlier’. If you look at this approximate ‘distribution of people’s characteristics in the general population’ you can see that most people are ‘kinda average’ and that there are some people who are outliers (at either end). This is true for most natural characteristics that you might look at, for example, “the weights of boys aged 20 in a college”.

Outliers -- Normal -- Outliers

Outliers — Normal — Outliers

Sometimes, to be an outlier is a good thing – it’s always nice to be one of the top performers in class, to be a high earner within your profession, or to win a race against many other participants. Of course, by definition, we can’t all be outliers. And, more importantly, those are examples of being an outlier in terms of outcome. For instance, I have also told you earlier why I don’t care much about your podium finish (or mine). That outcome is a combination of effort (what you did) and luck (who else turned up at the start line). So, let’s not think about that now. But let’s, instead, think about process rather than outcome.

Ancestor Worship

I have talked about our ancestors numerous times in the past (see here, here and here) and the topic I typically address when I bring them to the present, from the distant past, is about how we have advanced significantly in the area of technology (a good thing) but not in terms of basic biology (perhaps not a good thing). What that means is that…

if you don’t respect the laws of biology your body follows you will end up being punished by the same laws.

When I talked about the accidental wisdom of pain seekers, I referred to this.

Not so long ago our ancestors were more aware that food was their daily medicine, the physically demanding activities of daily life did not require extra time to be made for ‘working out’, and darkness hours were typically for contemplation, rest and sleep.

Your body was designed like that of your ancestors

Your body was designed like that of your ancestors

Anthropologists have confirmed that, for the majority of history, humans lived a life of austerity. Food was not available 24/7. A fairly rigorous daily workout was mandatory for survival – either to hunt and gather or to escape predators or bad weather or tough terrains. Relatively long periods of daily rest were built into night life.

Lack of Harmony is Freaky

We do not need advanced scientific studies to tell us what is plainly obvious – our bodies are still pretty much like those of our distant ancestors. Our bodies have not yet evolved such that we can all have good quality long lives despite not being physically active, eating unmindfully, and sleeping in patterns that are not conducive to healthy physiological balances.

We have shifted our behaviour away from original design

So, who is a fitness freak?

So, if, like me, you too are someone who, no matter what be your primary activity (homemaker, industrialist, professional etc) eat sensibly, try to be active on a daily basis and ensure that you sleep appropriately, then you are definitely not a ‘fitness freak’. You are doing what you are meant to. You have the wisdom and discipline to seek harmony. Perhaps you are also mindful that the details matter in driving results – be it in food and drink, exercise or rest. But that does not make you a freak! You are doing what is naturally good.  You are normal!

On the other hand, someone who thinks that your lifestyle is unusual because their own waking hours are sedentary, they engage in mindless eating and drinking, and regularly have nights with low priority given to quality sleep in order to keep up with social appearances, then you can be sure that that person is a ‘fitness freak’. They are not doing what is naturally good. They are not normal!

Be a fitness enthusiast. Be a health focused human being. Be someone who lives life as per original design!  Don’t be a fitness freak!

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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.

The Accidental Wisdom of Pain Seekers

Wisdom in pain seekers?

Wisdom in pain seekers?

Is Pain your Enemy?
When you Google for its meaning, whether it’s Google’s own dictionary definition or that from medical and scientific websites, ‘pain’ is described as something terrible and best avoided as much as possible. There is a vast amount of literature out there on how we can avoid pain or alleviate pain in those who are victims of it. Almost all of it treats pain as a formidable enemy. An enemy to be avoided, an enemy to be fought, and enemy to be defeated.

I am going to chat with you now about how I look at pain and how you can think about pain with a greater sense of peace and harmony. Peace and harmony? With pain? Yes, peace and harmony with pain. And then, we can think about how you can treat pain as an enabler to achieve more than you ever thought possible.

“Avoidance” should NOT be the Standard Approach to Pain
I’ve been married to a dental surgeon who often mentioned gadgets like ceiling mounted TV screens and special video goggles for patients to watch movies while undergoing treatment in private practice. More recently, a beautiful lady dentist whom I mentor (and is training to trek up to the Everest Base Camp in a few months) was exploring ways to distract herself from the pain and anguish that she experiences when she’s out on a training run. The voices that tell her to ‘stop running’ long before she has really hit her limits clearly needed addressing. She wanted to set herself up to be distracted away from that pain. Professionally, she is being exposed to pain (in others’ mouths) perhaps 10-20 times in a day. The general approach with those patients is to try to alleviate pain by distraction, or to remove the sensation of pain through the use of local anesthetic, or even general anesthesia. She was surprised, at first, when I told her that she needs to do exactly the opposite with her running experience – she needs to embrace the pain.

I do empathize with those who are actually suffering from disease, illness or accident. But, other than those sources of pain, how could you use pain for your benefit?

The Time Dimension of Pain

The Time Dimension of Pain

The Time Dimension of Pain

As with just about everything in life, (see examples regarding nutrition, discipline, fitness) I like to think about the dimension of time when it comes to pain too. Sometimes pain stays with us for a short period of time (medically termed ‘acute pain’) and sometimes it stays with us for a long period of time (‘chronic pain’).

Besides the time duration that pain stays with us, I also consciously think about pain more constructively as ‘pain that I can control the arrival of and pain that I cannot control the arrival time of’. Correspondingly, I also think of the departure time of pain, and being able to (fortunately) control when it leaves me. And, then there’s pain that (unfortunately) I cannot control the departure time of.

Controlled and Uncontrolled Arrival/Departure of Pain

Controlled and Uncontrolled Arrival/Departure of Pain

 

Should you bring pain forward?

Should you bring pain forward?

Two Types of Human Choices
Keeping the dimension of time very much in mind, let us think about human choices with regards to pain. Much like the marshmallow experiment which focused on human choice and delayed gratification, I see the world being made up of two types of human choices with regards to pain. There are contexts where we can see gratification as something we can delay, in order to obtain more after the proposed delay. The definition of financial investment is a good example – a deferral of consumption with the hope of consuming more later. Correspondingly, you can think of pain as being similar to gratification but its converse.

Pain = negative gratification, negative reward, negative return.
Instead of delaying pain, we can consciously bring it forward in time in a controlled manner. Eh, what? Bring pain forward? Why on earth? And, why is Puru making this odd connection?

Not just Physical Pain
If you look around you in any society, there will be those who try to avoid physical effort when it would benefit them. This effort is painful for them. The most common and beneficial form of perceived pain is exercise. (But you can also consider the example of avoiding unhealthy but tasty food.) For instance, the thought of going to the gym or for a cycle ride is one associated with pain.  Well, you have a choice in life, and I state it very clearly here and now…

“You can go to pain regularly at various times of the week that YOU decide, welcome it, embrace it, make it your friend, and then thank it for staying with you for the short while you interacted with it…
or…
YOU can try to stay away from pain, dislike it, be in fear of it, and be guaranteed of its arrival unwanted, unannounced, suffer its presence and perhaps never have it leave you, until you leave it forever.”

Choices about Interacting with Pain

Choices about Interacting with Pain

Perhaps all this sounds a bit abstract…. What do I really mean by this?

Pain Seekers and their Accidental Wisdom

Invite, befriend and embrace pain

Invite, befriend and embrace pain

My friends, mentees and others around the world who make time to exercise when their day-to-day lives are otherwise quite sedentary are the ‘pain seekers’ I refer to. If you too live an active healthy lifestyle, you are making that conscious decision to befriend pain so that the likelihood of pain becoming your enemy at any point in the future is much reduced. You might not specifically focus on the pain when you are making a plan to go out for a run tomorrow, or visit the gym in the evening. But, there is wisdom that you are expressing accidentally that will stand you in good stead. As an economist I call it the intertemporal substitution of pain.

You might have understood from seeing others around you that intelligence and wisdom are not strongly related so please do not expect that all your intelligent friends will have the wisdom to understand (implicitly or explicitly) this beautiful relationship that you can have with pain. The intelligent might want to keep their enemy, pain, away. The wise will want to keep their enemies closer.

Be wise!

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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.