Sep 23, 2016

What goes behind deliberate practice?

Twitter is my go-to source when I need some inspiration/learn new things/access interesting articles/stay up-to-date on what's happening in my areas of interest. On one such twitter browsing session this morning, I came across a story "the science of practice" from Hardbound. It is an excellent compilation on what goes behind the achievement of world-class performers. We have all heard about the 10,000-hour rule that was popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers". 

The quantity of time spent in "deliberate practice" of a skill matters. But what is equally important is the quality of time spent towards building a skill or expertise. I have been curious to understand how one builds expertise/mastery over a subject/skill. Mastering a skill is not possible by just reading books/articles, taking courses, listening to podcasts etc. 

This story link talks about a research by Dr.Ericsson that went into discovering the 4 elements of deliberate practice. 
  1. Goals - well-defined, specific. Acquire micro-skills
  2. Focus - full attention, block out all distractions
  3. Feedback - take the help of a coach
  4. Discomfort - push yourself out of your comfort zone. Set more difficult targets to achieve.
Sounds simple but made a lot of sense to me. It gave me a useful framework to work with. 

Many of knowledge-oriented skills are vague in the sense there is no clear destination or milestones defined. So it is a challenging task to define specific goals and identify micro-skills to be built in the journey of mastery. Say, you want to be a world-class digital marketer, what are the intermediate micro-skills you need to build? what goals you need to achieve?

In today's world of constant distraction, focus is a precious commodity. If we are constantly checking our phones/devices for FOMO, where's the attention needed to focus on a specific task at hand? When we were in school/college, studying for 2 hours at a stretch without any distractions was easily possible. Is this achievable in today's times? Do read this brilliant piece by Joshua Becker on why you should disconnect.

Without the right feedback, we wouldn't know which areas we have improved and which areas need more practice. Taking feedback from a coach/mentor will help us course-correct and plan our mastery journey better.

Just like how our bodies get used to certain fitness activity and has to be progressively stretched, our minds also need to be pushed out of our comfort zones. Extrinsic motivation through publicly announced goals to a friend/partner would help. Even if you don't announce your goals to the outside world, writing them down in a journal can motivate you to stay committed. The Goldilocks principle of "not too much, not too less, just right" holds true for progressively increasing the challenge levels of the skill that we are building. 

Take some time and write down the list of skills you are trying to become a master at. For each of these skills, think about these 4 elements of deliberate practice and how you plan to address each of them. I'll share my experiences once I put down this framework for the skills that I want to build.

Sep 15, 2016

What's your slash?

I stumbled upon this site this morning - FindYourSlash

According to this site, a slash (/) represents the following:
It is a symbol used to express the eclectic ensemble of avatars of those living in many different worlds. You could be an Artist/ Blogger; Writer/ Photographer; Technologist/ Musician; Fashion DesignerDJ; anything you love. 
While browsing through this site, it reminded me of the conversation I had with a classmate from college days when I met her a couple of weeks back. She decided to be a homemaker after her son was born. During our conversation, she remarked how her relatives are mocking at her for "wasting" her engineering degree. Do note that she did work for many years after college. She is now learning Sanskrit slokas and ancient Hindu scriptures. The casual chat I had with her that day triggered many questions in my mind.

1) If you pursued an engineering degree, does that mean you "have" to be in the same field for your lifetime? Once an engineer, should you "always" be an engineer?
2) Was the decision to pursue engineering solely made by you? Or was it made due to parents, peer pressure or societal expectations?
3) At the age of 17, did you have enough options in front of you (like today's well-connected generation)? Did you have the exposure on various fields that might interest you?
4) 90% of us (including me) took up Engineering because that was the only option students with good marks can get into (apart from medicine that was anyway not within the reach of deserving students who are "unreserved"). So what if you pursue engineering, later do an MBA and get into banking? The popular question asked by Aamir Khan in 3 idiots is absurd to me. 
5) Is becoming the CEO of a company the "ultimate" purpose for everyone in the planet?

Life is a journey. We evolve as we age. Our interests, preferences and ambitions would keep changing throughout this journey. If someone had told me when I was 15 that cooking would become my passion in my 30s, I would have laughed at them. The world is too big a place to just pursue one career for lifetime. 

One of my friends who is also an Engineer is awesome with arts & crafts for children. My husband's school friend who is a doctor writes amazing poetry and fiction. The rat race doesn't give us enough space and time to even think about other creative pursuits. 

For moms, we are blessed with a temporary break called maternity to rediscover ourselves. If you can financially afford to take a maternity break, I would highly encourage you to do so. If your industry doesn't appreciate career breaks, then do part-time work / consulting assignments during the break. Stay relevant, keep yourself updated with what's happening in your area of interest/industry/domain, never stop learning.  But also take the time to figure out what inspires you, what makes you happy, what impact you want to create, what legacy you want to leave behind in the world. Find your slash. 

How Shalabhasana taught me a lesson on failure?

Today is a special day for me. Having struggled with Shalabhasana for the last 1.5 years, I was able to do this Yoga pose today for 10 counts and most importantly, with ease. When I started out with Yoga last April, I had such a hard time whenever my teacher asked us to do this pose. My legs would hardly go up an inch. I pushed, struggled, tried a lot but failed multiple times. Though I was getting better at other asanas, this one gave me such a hard time. As months passed, I could see that I was improving a little bit and my teacher also recognized that. Today, when I got this asana right, I patted myself on my back. Certainly, a satisfying moment it was!

This experience reminded me of this interesting talk by Bharathi Baskar I listened to a few days back. She is one of my inspirations and I love her books and speeches.

In this talk where she talks about first-rank holders in schools (from 31st min of this video), this statement on failure struck a chord in me
"People who taste success all the time don't know how to face failure. Failure teaches us grit and determination to overcome any obstacles in life"
I had been a top-rank holder pretty much all the time in school and college. I never gave importance to sports or physical activity (except for a brief spell of basketball sessions in 6th grade). I used to play outdoors a lot when I was a kid/teen but never been part of a regular sports activity. Life in my 20s was spent mostly in comfortable cubicles, conference rooms and classrooms.

Years of sedentary lifestyle and lack of exercise has reduced my flexibility and strength. Through Yoga, I'm realizing the positive impact of regular exercise, both in my body and mind. I still can't get many asanas right but the small improvements I make everyday give me such a high. It's okay if I fail and struggle but I know one day I'll get it right, like today.

A few of my favorite quotes on failure
“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” - Denis Waitley  
“It’s not how far you fall, but how high you bounce that counts.” - Zig Ziglar  
“When we give ourselves permission to fail, we, at the same time, give ourselves permission to excel.” - Eloise Ristad
What lessons have you learnt from failure? Do share your stories.

Sep 14, 2016

சிறு மகிழ்ச்சி

என் வயதில் பதினைந்து
வருடங்கள் பின்னோக்கி
சென்றது போல்
ஒரு உணர்வு
எண்ணம் புரியாத
ஒரு குதூகலிப்பு
முகத்தில் அகலாத
ஒரு புன்சிரிப்பு

இமைக்க மறந்தேன்
கணினியில் உன் சிரிப்பை
கண்ட தருணத்தில் இருந்து,
தனிமையின் பெருமை
இதயத்தின் படபடப்பு

எங்கோ எட்டா உயரத்தில்
நீ இருந்தாலும்
அருகில் அமர்வாயா
என்று ஒரு ஏக்கம்
அந்த புன்முறுவல் தருவாயா
என்று ஒரு ஆசை

கண்களின் காந்தம்
உன் மொழியின் அழகு
தேர்ந்த பல்வரிசை
ஈர்த்ததடா என்னை
இதயத்துடிப்பு வேகத்தில்
இடி முட்டியது விண்ணை

புயல் போன்ற இந்த
ஒத்தி வைக்க
என் பணிகளில்
மனம் செலுத்த
அல்லல் படுகிறேன்

வேண்டாம் இனி
உன் திரைப்படங்கள்
வேண்டாம் இந்த
இளம்பருவத்து இன்னல்கள்

கடமைகளும் எதிர்பார்ப்புகளும்
அலைக்கழித்துக் கொண்டிருக்கும்
வேளையில் இந்த சிறு மாற்றம்,
வியர்க்கும் கடும் வெயிலில்
வரும் சில்லென்ற கோடை மழை
தாகத்தில் தவிக்கும் பயணிக்கு
தரும் ஒரு கோப்பை குடிநீர்

இந்த சிறு மகிழ்ச்சிக்கு
ப்ரேமம் கலந்த நன்றி,
உன்னால் ஈர்க்கப்பட்ட
ஆயிரம் "மலர்"களின் சார்பாக! :-)

Dedicated to all Premam fans and to the one and only Nivin Pauly :-)

Sep 13, 2016

How to present healthy foods to children

This post is applicable to parents of children between the age group of 2-6 years. I'm not sure if the tips shared below would work out for older kids, but do give it a try :-)

"We eat first with our eyes" - this quote has struck me deep, ever since I came across it. The fast food / junk food manufacturers have been successfully applying this principle on us through their posters, large banners, drool-worthy advertisements etc. When you see a big hoarding of a burger with dripping mayonnaise and colorful veggies, you automatically salivate. In reality, the burger would be smaller and there would be hardly any veggies.

Children start to become fussy eaters when there are alternatives. When we were kids back in the 1970-80s, we ate what was given to us, no complaints or cribbing helped. We didn't have any McD or a supermarket stuffed with Kinder Joy or Lays chips right next door. As parents of today's age, we have an added responsibility (and challenge) to present healthy, home-cooked food in an attractive way so that kids eat without a fuss and not demand junk food for every meal.

Here are my 8 tips on how to present healthy, home-cooked foods to your children.

1) Buy a steel plate that has 3-4 compartments. For major meals like lunch or dinner, make sure you have different food items in these compartments. Children love variety. By variety, I'm not saying that you cook many dishes. Let's say, the dinner menu is chapati and dal. Apart from these 2 items, add few sticks of cucumbers and carrots. Add a few spoons of curd or a tomato raitha.
2) Children love colors, so make the plate look colorful. If your main course is say lemon rice which is yellow in color, add cucumbers, color capsicums, tomatoes etc. The overall color quotient of the plate goes up and the kids try the veggies too.
3) Play with textures and shapes. My daughter loves raw carrots. So in any meal, I give carrots in one of these forms - sliced in round shapes, cubed, cut into sticks, shredded (big, small) etc. Same strategy applies to cucumber, red radish, cabbage etc. For water melons and musk melons, use a melon baller to cut into round balls. You can also cut a watermelon slice in the shape of a triangle, top it up with some grated cheese and black grapes / olives and serve as a fruit pizza.
4) Take an extra minute and present rice/upma/kichdi in a round shape (fill it in a small cup tightly and flip it over on the plate).
5) Use cookie cutters/moulds and cut chapatis/parathas into desired shapes. It takes some time to cook each individual piece, so try this when you have some time in hand or during weekends. I have a few moulds in the shape of heart, star, hexagon etc. My daughter loves the mini-parathas when I cut into these shapes.

6) For salads, arrange the veggies/fruits as a smiley and let them eat as finger foods. Ask them which part of the smiley face they are eating :-) Try making a house, cat or even simple shapes like square, rectangle, triangle etc. No limits to your creativity :-)
7) Use a similar compartmentalized steel plate for evening snack too. You could serve some cut fruits, a bread toast or a mini sandwich, dry fruits/nuts, cheese cubes etc. As I keep reiterating, stock up on healthy, quick eats like fruits, dry fruits, chikkis, cucumbers, sprouts etc. Children's appetite is very less and they like to keep munching something or the other every hour or so. During holidays, all I hear from my daughter is "I want to eat something" every 30 minutes :-)
8) Change of place also helps. Arrange a small picnic in your balcony or garden. Spread a mat, bring the food and eat - nothing fancy.

This quote from Dumbledore changed my life -
"you always have a choice between what is right and what is easy"

Packaged foods are the easy choice - children love them, they don't take much of our time, they are convenient. I admit I have taken the easy choice multiple times. Moms are not robots who can operate at 100% throughput always. But if I'm able to give healthy meals to my child atleast 80% of the time, I feel content and satisfied.

Hope you find the above tips helpful. Do share other easy/quick techniques you use to present healthy food in an attractive way to your child.

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