Every night sometime after 10pm – I get into this (if I am not watching TV) mental mode where my mind is ripe with ideas and I extend my thinking with new things and thought and dreams. Then I go to sleep – still thinking about some of those things and sometimes I don’t sleep and end up thinking about those ideas. Then when I wake up, the monotone banality sets in – as I walk to work – like everyone around me in this part of the world does – this so called reality tries to mess with my mind saying that – the past night thoughts were fluke and I need to get real.

This literally happens like almost regularly. As regularly as I get a Latte at Starbucks.

Last night as I was getting into my dreamy mode – I was able to stop myself and and then I realized that this critic has infiltrated into my most amazing kid like dreamy state and was trying to stop it at its root. I was surprised and as I was thinking about it – I realized that I really don’t need to ask for *permission* from my own critic. I mean it dominates the rest of day and tells me what I am supposed to do but this time was my exploration time.

As that thought settled in – I also realized that this critic no matter how useful it is for me to do day to day jobs – needn’t run my life the way he runs it. And as I saw the bigger picture – all my life has been one long list of permission list from this critic. Can I do that? Can I participate in it? Am I capable? Do I have the skills? Am I good enough? And on and on…

It also made me realize that how futile fighting this critic is. The more you fight, the more you make him stronger. The only way to escape him is to ignore him. I know it’s impossible to change my behavior over night (that statement was sponsored by my critic) but ignoring him works like a charm. If I see something painful or start to feel anxious about something I don’t know of – I just need to become aware that it’s one of those tactics of this critic.

The way to drain the critic out of you is to stop asking for his permission. Stop empowering him. You can do whatever you want to do. It doesn’t matter if you are good or suck at it. What matters is – whether we are all man enough to overcome this fake critic which got installed into our psyche when we were like kids. This hero worshipping culture enables the latent critic. Makes it stronger. But I don’t have to play by it’s rules.

I am going to to drain him by stopping to ask for permission.

Deliberate Practice, Habits and Rituals

A conversation with friends at dinner made me think about deliberate practice a little bit more tonight. I have been thinking about Habits and Rituals for quite some time. Countless articles and books dissect genius and find out that the success is basically nothing but an outcome of “deliberate practice”. It is said that if you practice anything deliberately for 10,000 hours you would be one of the very few masters of that thing on this planet. I believe it’s completely true. Malcolm Gladwell talks about this and everyday some blog post talks about this.

If we all knew that the secret of success is deliberate practice why aren’t we all super stars in our chosen field already? Because it’s far more harder to do that than to say it. I mean the practice may not be that hard at all, but the deliberate part of it is definitely hard. I have been reading Tony Schwartz’s The Power of Full Engagement. It’s a very interesting idea of looking at our lives from the perspective of *energy*. There are many ways we can divide up our lives. We humans can’t take the whole day by it’s own – we have our own way of chunking and handling our days. Some people divide it by tasks. There is a whole plethora of books, techniques, like GTD,  about how to best manage tasks. Some people divide it by time – instead of taking up a task and doing it, they spend certain amount of time on the task at hand, once the time is up they relax take a break and may be decide to spend another chunk of time on it – Pomodoro technique is one of the many available ones.

But Tony Schwartz talks about dividing it up based on energy. He doesn’t completely define or care about how enthusiastic you are at any given time or whether it’s physical energy etc – but it’s more subtle than that. He talks about how we have certain energy (a mix of physical, mental and emotional) and we don’t have whole lot of it. So, his core idea is – to manage energy. How does he recommend it? Rituals.

Think about it, the most successful people around you definitely have some kind of ritual that makes them stand apart. The friends who are healthier than you are the ones who have a ritual of working out religiously. The people who are peaceful are the ones who attend meditation regularly. Similarly people who are good at doing what they do have some ritual which they follow – no matter what comes into their life.

So these rituals are very simple steps that these people follow to make them who they are. The cool thing about a ritual is – once you get a hang of it, once the body and mind gets used to it – its welcomed whole heartedly. And there are theories around that too (like 21 day rule, or 40 day rule etc). But rituals make or break a successful career, path etc.

Next comes habit – once you follow these rituals regularly and get over that hump of resistance – it’s all smooth sailing from there. It will become a habit. Habit is a mental shortcut. It’s what we do without thinking consciously. It’s the mind’s way to store up a whole lot of instructions in very few synapses. Habits can go both ways. Habits could be a mental short cut helping you or they could also be your blind spots. Habits that are resourceful are the ones that help us.

So what does it entail in the end? Why am I talking about this? I think the only way to make deliberate practice easy is to make a habit out of it. And the only way to create a successful habit is through a ritual. I think that pretty much is a sure path to success in whatever you are planning to do.

Being a programmer it’s nearly impossible to keep track of all the technology that flows by. I am like a kid in a toy store when it comes to all the technology around me (no not the gadgets part of it, but the problem solving part of it). But I can’t be successful in what I want to do if I don’t deliberately practice good problem solving in my career. To make my life easier, here are couple of rituals I have been following –

1. First 90 mins of my day are really important – when I wake up, my mind is fresh and anything I take up at that time just gets absorbed. So, for the first 90 minutes of my day I work on stuff that I love most – in this case – Cocoa programming.

2. Priority List – The night before I sleep I make a list of highest priority things for the next day. That way I can just get on the most important things immediately without wasting time.

3. Email and Chat – When I am focusing, I turn off my email and chat – that really helps.

4. While driving (alone) –  I take up a idea/concept I learned and try to explain it to the non-present 5 year old sitting next to me. Just try to break it down. (I know I know it’s kinda crazy, but it’s part of my ritual)

5. While idle – I try to chant and focus on my breath trying to stay in present.

There are couple of things I want to add to my ritual  like blogging – both personal and technical but I don’t want to overwhelm myself and lose it.

So there you go. The secret of any success is : Deiberate Practice <– Habits <– Rituals. Craft easy and simple rituals and pretty soon you will be successful at what you want to achieve.

Here are some of the books to explore if you want to learn more:

1. The Power of full Engagement

2. The now habit

3. War of Art (not the other Art of War)

The Limbic myopic

Our brains evolved over thousands of years. We don’t have to scan the whole evolution chain, but take into consideration of the era where were hunters. Our limbic brain evolved first. We still got it. It’s the part which is closely connected to our backbone and nervous system and lives in our skulls. The pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain which lives behind our foreheads – developed way later. These 2 systems – limbic and pre-frontal basically define us in our lives.

We have evolved and made ourselves expert in thinking and using our pre-frontal cortex. The pre-frontal cortex is called an executive mind – which we use to plan things about future and think ahead of time. Limbic is more of a raw impulse brain. This is also called the lizard brain – whose sole function is to keep us alive and protected.

I think everyone of us have one of this brain as dominant brain. For some people the lizard brain is dominant and for some the executive. If you scan the list of your friends you can easily tell who has which dominant.

Limbic dominant people tend be more impulsive. They act in now and they are usually cluttery, often late and are able to change their plans and mind easily, sometimes very surprisingly. The Executive brain dominant people are the ones who are cautious and plan ahead. The can change their plans but if it fits into their mental system. Again we all are not that simple and we let our lizard and executive brains become dominant in various areas of life.

That’s one point I wanted to talk about. The second one is  about our vision. According to researchers we can focus on about 2 cm wide area at any given time. Everything else is peripheral vision. When we watch movies – we are not noticing everything, even though we may feel like we do. We notice everything peripherally and what we focus on is totally dependent of what is important to us at that moment. Which brings me back to the first point.

So here is what I am trying to get to –

1. We have 2 kinds of brains – limbic and executive
2. One of it is dominant in our lives based on what we have trained our minds to. (Like I use executive mind for food, but limbic for drinks)
3. Our vision often lead us to make silly mistakes because of the focused area we can concentrate on at any given time.
4. If we have limbic as dominant in our vision area then what we have is – Limbic Myopic

The great example of Lymbic Myopic is the guy who searches through the fridge to find the beer and can never see it right in front of his eyes (I have been there). Women are usually better in searching and looking when compared to men. That’s the reason why they use ‘Screenplay Searcher’ to find the movie mistakes after the movie is done. These searchers are mostly women. With social network effect we have to do that for the rest of us.

This myopism also pops out when we think about ourselves and how smart we think we are. It’s very famously know as Dunning-Kruger Effect

The limbic myopic pops out in lots of situations – searching for the keys to witnessing accidents. We are all victims of it in some form. The key thing is to become aware of those blind spots in our lives and try to be watchful when we are in those situations.

Inspired from the readings of – Why we make Mistakes, The Procrastination Equation and Smart World