Life Hack Topic: Mindfulness

 

What is mindfulness? It is a state of being aware or conscious at the present moment. Why am I talking about this today? Because mindfulness is very important in our daily lives to be happy and successful. I attended a career development session last year and mindfulness was taught for about a few weeks with a lot of emphasis before moving on to resume writing and the job-hunting process.

Imagine you are attending a lecture or listening to your boss for some important instructions, but your mind is drifting away somewhere else. Or you made some serious mistakes because you were not paying attention. Just one small mistake one day can make you pay a big price. So it is extremely important to concentrate better, to be mindful, to be awake at the present moment (however you want me to describe). One of the keys to success is effective listening and we need to be mindful in order to listen better.

Some spiritual coaches talk about consciousness and they use a lot of fancy words and claim they can help people become more aware of themselves. In all essence, they are talking about mindfulness. 

Why is it hard for a lot of us to be mindful? If you notice carefully, when we are not mindful, we are either thinking about some past events or some imaginary future events. We think about the past because-either we want to re-live some happy moments or we wish we could have changed certain things of the past. We contemplate the future because we are either planning something or we are suspecting something good or bad might happen. Now we cannot change anything in the past nor do we have any control over the future. So why spoil the present moment for things which are not in our control? The worst part is, when we are stressed, we tend to be less mindful.

How do you become mindful? I am sharing with you a very simple trick. Whenever you find yourself lacking focus, just breathe in and breathe out, bring your concentration to your breathing exercise for a few moments. Let all other thoughts pass. Activate your senses while you are doing it. Try not to think of anything else. Just concentrate on your existence. Do this simple trick everyday everywhere. It will be hard at first, you will find yourself going in and out of your awareness. But don’t give up, keep practicing. You can spend some quiet time every day doing this mindfulness meditation. Prayers do help a lot as well if you have any particular faith. But you should always be doing this, whenever you are finding yourself not paying enough attention.

The Quickest Way To Make a Lame Decision

I have written lengthy posts about Life Hack Tips: When you should NOT make a big decision and Life Hack Tips: HOW To Make Good Decisions.

But those are for serious life changing scenarios. How do you make small decisions on a daily basis? The kind of decisions which perhaps do not change the outcome of your life but you still end up spending quite a bit of time pondering over them, such as- what you are going to wear for an occasion, what movie are you going to watch and what you are going to eat for the dinner? Something really unimportant yet important.

You might be shaking your head-“why is this even a blog post?” But trust me I see people being indecisive and fighting over small things to come up with a quick decision.

Okay, now I hate to make lengthy posts especially when it is something insignificant. This is how I take a lame decision, “drum roll” please:

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I go to this website: “Fruit Machine” and I write my options and run the fruit-machine for three times, whichever comes the most is usually my choice. People also use the method of flipping a coin. Whatever works for you. The main goal is to know what you “really” want. You don’t always have to follow what the result is. For example, I was trying to make a choice between what to eat for lunch- Indian or Mexican food? Indian food came twice but I figured out I was actually leaning more towards Mexican Food that day. Pretty Lame right!? But it saved me time to decide where I want to go for lunch.

Life Hack Tips: HOW To Make Good Decisions

Previously I have posted an article about when we should avoid making important life decisions. If you have not read it, then check this out:

Life Hack Tips: When you should NOT make a big decision (by Tasnia Ponkti)

As I promised there, I am writing a follow-up article on “how” to make good decisions in life. It is going to be a long post, so bear with me. These are the 7 vital steps to make good decisions in life:

1. Know what you want in your life:

Some people find it really difficult to figure out exactly what they want in life. Everyone should have an underlying constitution in their life. What do I mean by that? The Constitution does not change very often with every small change. So your personal values should not change with every step that you take in your life.know

For example, let us think about career options. Well, what kind of person are you? What really hooks you when you think about career planning? Is it money, fame, honor, wisdom or is it power? Do not do something because the rest of society is doing it or your family and peers want you to do it.

2. Do your own research:

It is important to be resourceful and informative before making a decision. This is related to the previous point. My mother says, “In order to know what you don’t know, you must know something.” It is important to ask the right questions. How do you start asking the right questions? By knowing your available options and gathering information about those options. Evaluate the pros and cons of a decision.

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For example,  I frequently answer this type of question on Quora. People ask questions like what are the minimum requirements of a certain university in a certain department? The real answer is, it should already be listed on that university’s official website. That is where doing your own research and gathering basic information comes into play.  Now suppose you are deciding your options of attending colleges and you have already been selected into a handful of them. Now how do you make the final decision? In no particular order, the aspects would be major/field, educational value, the rank of the school, ROI (return of investments i.e the current prospects of alumni), cost of attendance and cost of living in the area, weather, vibe and atmosphere of the campus, professors rating, etc. Note that you have to re-arrange these options based on your priority and you also need to physically tour the campus to make your decision.

3.Seek an expert’s opinion/help:

It is more like seeking experts and experienced people’s opinions, but at the end of the day make your own decision. Whether it is about education or renting/buying a house, or starting a new career (I have found from my personal experience that) sometimes there are options available beyond what people think they know. Everyone’s advice is somewhat subjective based on their own experience or personal hidden motives but still, it is important to ask the same question to many people around to get different perspectives and honest criticism. From my harsh personal experience, I have faced many discouragements and many rejections, and sometimes heavy criticism from people including closed ones. Whether it was about moving to a new place or applying to a more competitive university or a job- I heard a lot of “no”s because people thought I simply did not have what it takes. That is when my own resourcefulness came in handy. I still kept trying via different options and finally got what I wanted.expert.png

Another thing I have learned, just because someone thinks they are the expert or spent some time in a given career field, does not necessarily mean they can correctly predict everything about a new career option. Which means sometimes there are just no experts and you become your own expert. Have you ever read the monkey’s story? Sometimes people also discourage because they think you cannot do it, as they have never done it or they just don’t want you to do it. So if you are pursuing something very ambitious, keep your ultimate goal to yourself, while you still seek advice from different people. Take advice but do not get persuaded by one-sided strong opinions.

4.  Think rationally but do not over-analyze situations:

While it is important to think rationally and seek different views from people, there are certain things in life we tend to make worse, when we over-analyze. Especially when it comes to selecting a partner for a long-term relationship. Trust your instinct or gut feeling. If you have doubts about a certain person, chances are there is something wrong. Our intuition is a gift to us, so it is better to use it when it is required. It is important to listen effectively, observe people and situation analytically. We have to use a balance of rationality and intuition in most cases. There is nothing wrong with being emotional but it needs to be in check.

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5. Take action:

Now that you have researched all your options, asked for advice, thought about critically using your best judgment, narrowed down to your final decision about what you want in your life-finally it is time to simply just do it. This is the hardest part for many of us. With the advent of the internet and so many online resources, we sometimes spend a lot of time trying to find a solution but somehow still put the final action on hold. Chances are, if you are reading this, you are doing it as well.

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For example, I have spent some time thinking about blogging. Like many of you, I searched many online posts about how to blog, top topics to blog, how to make money by blogging…blah blah, etc. Finally, I thought, isn’t it enough that I love to write as a hobby? And should I just do it for the pure fun of writing and sharing my thoughts? Then I started doing it. Once you start on something, it gets easier to continue even after some initial trials and errors.

6. Be positive, patient and persistent:

Everyone wants to see the result quickly. I was talking about blogging in the previous point. But it’s not just blogging; anything, almost anything good in life, takes time to prosper and grow. Nothing happens overnight. It is really hard to be positive and patient while you are going through a lot in life and want to see the immediate results. Persistence is a whole new level of skill which transforms an ordinary newbie into a successful expert in the field. I have seen many intelligent people lack this skill, which reminds me that persistence is more important than talent or intelligence to succeed in life.

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For example, suppose you are looking for a job in your career and have sent hundreds and thousands of applications. You are unemployed or under-employed for a long time. It is hard for you to smile with positivity and act like you are fine while deep down you are feeling the burning of financial stress every moment. No matter how hard the battle gets, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep tweaking your process. If you are sending so many applications and receiving no interview calls, chances are, you are desperately trying almost anything and not what you are really good at. Narrow down your job search based on your field of specialization and your area of interest. Do not send the same generic resume/CV everywhere. People talk about networking so much these days. What is it really? It is about finding the right-minded people in your career who will guide and champion you to your next career destination. Find those people and keep sharing your goals and ideas with them. I personally got into places just by having a conversation about my ideas.

7. Accept the failure and keep moving on:

Did I mention trial and error in one of my previous points? One of the biggest tests of patience is accepting failure and keep going. The reason why we spend so much time seeking answers and not taking action is that we fear failure. Learn from yours and others’ mistakes, make the changes you need to make in your approach and no matter what happens, keep moving on. Never change your goal but be ready to change your methods to reach it. Never stop. You never know how close you are to your destination. I have seen many people giving up when they were very close to reaching their goals. Remember, the final few steps are always harder.

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Note that numbers 5, 6 & 7 are part of being a farm in the decision.

Thanks for reading.

Life Hack Tips: When you should NOT make a big decision

Being decisive is one of the greatest gifts of life. People who can make the right decisions for important events in their lives, achieve more success and happiness. Sometimes we do have to act quickly at the moment. But if you have the choice of taking your time, avoid making big decisions during these three periods below:

1. When you are angry:  

When we are mad, we tend to act at the spur of the moment which sometimes does irreparable damage that cannot be undone later. It is important not to lose your calm and not to make a bad judgment on impulse. If you think you won’t get in trouble for speaking your mind, do it without raising your voice. While it is important to let people know your standpoint, it is also advisable not to do it in a hurtful manner. When we are angry, we tend to say or do things that do the maximum damage to the person or people we are against at that moment. Later we realize our mistake but it is too late by then. So stay quiet, take your time and think through the situation later, which will help you make rational decisions. angry

2. When you are going through bad times in your life: 

You are sad, depressed, have anxiety, you are simply going through some rough patches in your life. Whether you are financially broke, lost your job, struggling to get your dream career, going through break-ups, physically ill, or simply in a bad situation, don’t take very big steps during those tough times. People usually have low self-esteem during sad times and act desperately to get out of those situations quickly.  People in dire situations fall prey to con artists and scams. Family, society and peer pressure are also liable sometimes to make someone feel desperate in low times. But think for yourself, no matter how much life tests you, have patience. With patience and persistence, you can change your fate for the better. Drugs and alcohol also provoke bad judgment, so avoid these as well.

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One good example is- suppose, you have recently broken up from a long relationship and feel very lonely. Your family and friends are asking you to find someone as soon as possible and you are looking for another partner from a revengeful perspective. Take your time instead. Don’t get into another relationship out of desperation. It will be broken sooner than the last one. Get on a long term commitment when you think you’ve found the right person and you think you are ready. Until then, wait.

3. When you are super excited and happy: 

People tend to overestimate their abilities and tend to make big promises when they are super happy and excited. Your dark days are finally over and you are thankful for those people that have been next to you through this time. While you do want to give it back, remember that promises are often broken but attempts become rather successful.excited.png

One good example can be- If you have gone through some financial crisis in the recent past and now are financially stable, do not take up a higher standard of life right away and don’t promise-making big donations that you cannot keep up. Learn from your past experience and be frugal. Save money for a better future. And do help back those who have helped you but do what is affordable for you.

Moral: Patience is the key.

So I will write a different article on how to make good decisions. Stay tuned and share this article if you have enjoyed it.

Edit: I have already posted:

Life Hack Tips: HOW To Make Good Decisions (By Tasnia Ponkti)

Life Hack Tips: Task Management & Productivity (from a lazy person’s guide)

I am not calling anyone out lazy but I am simply sharing my own experience as a lazy person. I have finished school and have a full time job as an engineer now. My image among my peers and co-workers is portrayed as a hardworking and disciplined person. Disciplined, organized and lazy they don’t seem to fit in the same sentence, do they? But I am originally lazy, yet at the same time have a competitive nature. The competition is not with someone else but rather with myself. There is another thing that works behind that competitive mentality and that is called-anxiety, fear of screwing things up. Now that is a whole different topic, which I will touch another day. Because of my competitive mind, I push myself to be pro-active and a go-getter. I haven’t reached perfection at every level but have made a lot of progress following my own tricks in the past few years.

In my own experience, the number one rule of success in life is called “persistence & perseverance”. In an age of social media, our biggest challenge is to stay on top of our goals without getting distracted. How many of you have thought that, when you get home you will study a bit more about certain topics or get certain things done, yet end up wasting time surfing through Facebook wall, Instagram feed and YouTube videos? Well, I am no exception. I still do that. And I have my own fair share of days when I get pretty much wasted without getting much done. I also have days when I am a peak performer. On those days not only I get most of my things done, sometimes I do even more than I planned.

These are the simple steps that I take.

1. Make a To-Do List:

I know some of you will say you have tried that and it doesn’t quite work for you, you wanna go with the flow blah blah. But it is important to prioritize work specially when you are juggling through multiple tasks. You can go fancy by using alarms, event reminders, to-do-list on your phone etc. But I simply write my things down with a pen on a notebook. Writing with hands does something to me, It helps me remember my tasks. As if I am stacking those list in my brain instead of in the notebook. I don’t even have to carry my notebook with me for the day, I remember it anyway after brainstorming and writing them down. I think that should be the goal. My mom makes a grocery list, forgets to bring it to the store and ends up buying more stuff than she listed while missing some important ingredients. LOL. So your goal is to remember your tasks, no matter how you do it. I make a rough weekly plan and also specific daily plans as well as a monthly plan for paying bills on time. Checking things off from the list as I get them done is very fulfilling to me. I divide a big task into smaller chunks and prioritize them. Make “sorting emails” an important part of your list whether it is work email or your other emails. Checking emails and replying promptly helps you get an idea of the work, event or correspondence that you will follow to keep up.

2. Stick to your plan:

Half of doing is believing that you can.

We have all probably made plans but sticking to the plan is the biggest challenge. Read the written list in between your down time to keep yourself on track. Make or read a list and try if you can back to your leisure. I don’t know about you, but it is almost like some alarm clocks start ticking in my head from the moment I make up my mind about getting something done. And I cannot relax in the same way after that.  I do use alarms and reminder occasionally for big events.  I am big about finishing things before deadline. I also reward myself in between tasks-whether it is food or snack, stretching, walking, checking on phones or listening to some music etc.

I must emphasize, please do not keep changing your plan just because it was hard for you to keep up with it the first time. Stick to it, make smaller flexible changes as you need and learn though your trials and errors. Learning to write computer programming? Playing piano? No matter how bad you are at first, stick to your plan and keep a track of your progress. The key behind success is steady progress. I see it quite often among highly intelligent people juggling through ideas and changing them way too quickly which ends up with no result.

3. Stay away from social media while you are at your work:

Now I am blessed because I cannot take any phone or outside devices to my labs or main work premises and our usage of internet is limited to work related email and research. Because I don’t have any choice of checking on my Facebook wall, Quora or Instagram feed, I use the time very efficiently at work. Without those distraction we tend to get things done faster. So if your work place is not like mine then turn off your phone/put it on silent mode or deactivate your social media accounts while you are in some serious business. Deactivate all phone notifications. Or just better if you don’t have any social media account to begin with. Sounds a bit archaic but if that makes you more productive then go for it. I do use social media in my advantage, to keep up with the updates, to keep in touch but try to control the over-usage.

4. Keep a diary:

You can keep a to do list and diary all in the same notebook or you can separate it by categories. One for work and one for home. If you are keeping a diary at work then refrain from writing too much personal details. The idea is to keep a track of the task progress in your own words.If you are multi/bi-lingual, working in an English speaking country, you can write in your own native language. I personally find writing diaries in my own language very therapeutic. At home I write diaries to vent but still refrain using too much personal details and names. As long as I understand what I write is fine for me. I write down important details and events that took place that day and I also write down possible outcome of a future event (!). I know it might sound interesting but even though sometimes things don’t go exactly as I planned, it makes me mentally prepared for the worse. For example, If I write I won’t lose temper in a certain ongoing stressful situation, I do see myself keeping a calm demeanor throughout the day.

4. Other things you can do to be more productive

Getting rid of stress is very important to be productive. Although I am not very religious, I pray to de-stress. No matter what religion you follow (or don’t follow anything), take some time to do some prayers or meditation everyday. Spend some quiet time with your self. Shut those chatter and noises in your head. The simple rule to relax your brain is, if in the back of your head you are thinking about some possible (worse) outcome of an imaginary situation, don’t follow through. simply change your mind from it. Or just write it down in your diary-what is bothering you.

I do travel, take a walk by the beach (I live in San Diego), take pictures, enjoy fine dining, like to cook, like to dress well, get a massage, read a book, write etc. Coffee is important to me. It keeps me going. Although I have skipped breakfast in the past (which is very bad), now-a-days I take the time to eat something healthy in the morning. Usually few hours in the morning are pick hours to be most productive. So when you have a breakfast, not only you feel more energetic during that time, you also end up eating less at lunch. I am trying to get into a routine of exercising. I do walk regularly. If it is hard for you to fall asleep at night faster, I would suggest finish dinner by 6 pm, do a bit of exercise, take a quick shower, write few lines or read few pages of a book, it should be enough to make you tired and go to sleep. Proper sleep and diet is important. I did not always have a sound sleep and proper diet during my hectic college years. But these are pretty staple to stay energetic and active.

Now-a-days I don’t get much time to draw pictures but I  used to spend down time in creative art before. Now-a-days I read about technologies or do some side gig in my down time. If you have some creative hobbies, keep up with it on the side. Have a pet! I I love puppies and kittens. Currently I don’t have a pet but I spent times with my siblings’ pets a lot. Having pets are very relaxing. Some people make a bed or clean table to de-stress. It does not work for me but it might work for you.

Share in the comment if you have more exciting ideas or tips to stay focused on your daily goals.