Jul 3, 2020

The conversation

Last night, I couldn't sleep and was tossing and turning quite a bit. Then a conversation started happening in me that brought a lot of clarity.

Let's call the two characters - Logical Anu (LA) and Dreamer Anu (DA)

DA: I'm not able to sleep. And I know the reason. I've been hosting these workshops in the past few weeks but there are hardly any signups. Today, I announced the workshop for Saturday and there's only one confirmed registration so far. 
LA: Didn't you say it's for parents with children below 5 years age? How is it possible for them to sit through a 2-hour workshop?
DA: That's true....I was hoping that the mother and father can take turns and listen to the workshop, take notes and then have a fruitful interaction on how they can implement some of the ideas being shared.
LA: Hmm, that's possible but chances of it happening are farfetched. Child Nutrition is still the sole responsibility of the mother in our society. What other reasons do you think?
DA: Maybe, people have other commitments at the same time
LA: Yes, many online workshops are happening on Saturdays, people might have signed up for them.
DA: Also, there's a possibility that people might think Rs.500 for a 2-hour workshop is steep
LA: You have put in so much effort in researching, exploring and compiling the content for the workshop. If you offer it for free, people won't value it. I don't believe Rs.500 is steep in today's standards
DA: People might also think "She has been sharing her content for free through her blog and Instagram. Why pay for a workshop?"
LA: Yes, that's a valid point. But the blog content is based on individual ideas. You have tied them together in a proper structure for the workshop, along with personal experiences and anecdotes. That's what makes it valuable.
DA: True, I'm confident in the content I have prepared.
LA: What about marketing? What are the channels have you explored?
DA: I just posted on Instagram stories and updated my blog.
LA: Duh, Have you forgotten all you learned about marketing in your MBA programme? You will have to identify your target audience, figure out the online spaces where they frequent (groups, social media) and promote your workshop aggressively. 
DA: Hold on, I'm not looking for a large crowd. If I can empower at least 10 parents with the information I share, I'm more than happy. 
LA: How about influencers on Instagram? Did you reach out to any of them?
DA: No, I find the whole process so artificial. If anyone believes what I'm offering can make a difference in someone's lives, they would be motivated to share it themselves. Sucking up to influencers is definitely not my cup of tea. I have seen how an individual who used to say nasty things about an influencer then goes onto commenting nice things on every single post of that influencer, just because she wants to promote her business. I don't want to label her as a hypocrite because that's how the system is designed to be. 
LA: You are one adamant girl with respect to your principles. Maybe, you should put up videos of D more often. And for God's sake, why D? Why not reveal her real name? 
DA: hahaha....D is my daughter but that doesn't give me the right to invade her privacy. She might be too young to understand privacy but I don't want to use her. I see so many parents sharing videos of their kids, just before announcing their workshop on parenting. Why are these so-called influencers painting such a rosy picture of their lives? Why aren't they also showing reality? 
LA: Again, it is your personal value system coming to play here. It is your choice not to show a video of your daughter in a public forum, as much as it is their choice to show videos of their kids.
DA: Moreover, how is it going to help a young mother when she sees my daughter eating a bowl of veggies? If her child doesn't eat vegetables, it will only make her feel uncomfortable. I'd rather share the process I experienced and learned that has helped me in making my daughter eat her vegetables.
LA: That's a good perspective. Maybe, you should make your posts sound extremely aspirational. People will then feel more curious. Why not share raw vegan ideas or similar such higher goals? Why post a picture of kesari and bajji?
DA: I want people to know the reality, lady.....this is what I eat. People should be able to relate to me easily. This will motivate them to implement the ideas I share. We can aim to climb to step 10 of the ladder, only if we climb steps 1 to 9. Just standing at step 1 and looking at people in step 10 wouldn't help. 
LA: Phew....I ran out of my logical questions now. What do you plan to do?
DA: I enjoy conducting these workshops. I'm in a total state of "flow" during those 2 hours where I get to talk about the topic I'm most passionate about. I wish I had this information handed to me in a platter when D was a baby. I want young mothers to feel empowered. So even if it is just one registration, I'm going ahead with it. I don't treat this as a business but my CALLING. I'm answering this calling in multiple ways, one of them being these workshops. While I do my duty, the universe will take care of bringing the people. 

Jul 1, 2020

Mindful Content Consumption on Instagram

Most of us have become more conscious about what we put in our mouths. We have now reached a stage where we need to become more conscious about what we put in our minds as well.

Similar to junk for the body, there is junk for our minds too. Yes, I'm talking about the various forms of content we consume. It is even worse, you know how? Even if you can gobble up a party pack of Lays chips in one go, our stomach would eventually push the Stop button and say, "Enough, I can't take it anymore". But with content, we can keep consuming so much in a single day. Our appetite for new content can never be satisfied unless we end up with eye irritation or headache late in the evening.

I love reading and I consume content in all forms - books, videos, articles, blogs, news etc. I used to be active on all social media platforms. I used to "Pocket" so many links, just so that I can read them at a later point of time. I used to open so many tabs in my browser. Many times I would hit a half-century of open tabs. My laptop would slow down but I wouldn't.

Last year, after reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism, I consciously started taking note of my content sources and consumption patterns. I had implemented a few changes then, which are still going strong. I completely stopped using Facebook and Twitter. I was sharing my content on nutrition and packaged foods but I hardly got much engagement. I could no longer resonate with the content I was consuming. After a point, I just lost interest in these platforms.

I also realized that I was spending more time on Instagram. So I came up with a 30-min time slot per day when I would install the app, post/comment/reply to DMs and then uninstall the app. This was working fine to some extent but the number of DMs and comments started to increase and it was hard to keep up with them in the 30-min slot. Moreover, I couldn't really engage with the posts of people whom I follow.

That's when a major realization happened. I "follow" someone because I find something of value from their posts. 

"Value" could be ideas (recipes, cooking tips) or inspirations (parenting, life hacks, productivity, personal experiences). 

The habit of randomly consuming content or bookmarking relevant posts seemed counter-productive until and unless I make the recipes or try out the insights I learned. 

Around that time, I was following around 150 people. I decided to set a "following" target to 100 and the decision to follow/unfollow happened with the help of these three questions:

Do I enjoy the content shared by this person?
Is the content from this person something I can practice in my life right away?
Do I feel overwhelmed or anxious when I see their content?

I was able to bring down the following count to 100 and was sustaining this number for quite some time. I used to have FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) in my 20s but no longer in my 30s.

Then COVID happened and my content consumption went haywire in March. I went back to my twitter and Linkedin feeds, which only added to more anxiety. After a few days of panic and confusion, better sense prevailed. For most of April, I stopped using all social media platforms. From May, I starting using Instagram again, and even with the limited following count, there was just too much information for me to absorb. Pruning happened yet again and I have brought down my following count to 60, using the same three questions.

If you feel overwhelmed or disturbed after using social media, take a break for a few days. When you come back, make sure you go through the list of people whom you follow. If someone's content(including mine) makes you feel anxious or disturbed, mute them or unfollow them. Decide the technique based on what works for you. I personally don't like to mute as it gives a false perception. Moreover, I want to engage with the content of people who I follow. 

"Wait a minute. You have only spoken about consumption. What about connections and friendships we form on social media?", I hear your question.

There are 3 Cs that we try to accomplish by spending time on social media - Creation, Consumption and Connection.  The main objective of this article is to be mindful of the 2nd C - Consumption.

Regarding the 3rd C, I asked myself - How are Connections formed on social media? 
It again goes back to discovery through value. I find something valuable and interesting in a post. I start following the person. As I explore their previous posts, I start noticing synergies in our thought process/ideologies/beliefs. I connect with the person more through his/her posts, we DM each other and we form a bond of friendship. This whole process takes time and doesn't happen overnight. For someone like me, I prefer to have this circle of friendship quite small. It is just not feasible for me to build a large network of "friends" on social media. Friendship needs time commitment from both parties involved. 

In this post, I have shared how I'm mindfully consuming content on Instagram. In the subsequent posts, I'll talk about newsletters, emails, Youtube channels, WhatsApp groups etc.

Jun 25, 2020


What is me-time? This is a question I'm pondering about. 

These are the activities I earlier considered as me-time:
reading, browsing my phone (Instagram, Youtube), browsing my laptop (articles, blogs), watching movies.
I've started to take a different perspective these days.
Me-time is when I'm with myself and my thoughts without any distractions.
All the activities I had listed above are not really my thoughts. I'm investing my time and energy in the thoughts of others in the form of books, movies and social media updates. These are filtered information that is being shared. There are quite a few insights that I have gleaned from these sources over the years. But only when I started incorporating those insights in my life, I learned more about what works and what doesn't work for my situation.

Learning from others doesn't give a complete picture of the context. What we see/hear/read is only the final outcome that a person shares on any platform. This blogpost is a filtered output of my thoughts on how I have started to interpret me-time.

Let's take social media as an example - we only share what we want others to see. We don't share a complete view of us - the good, the bad and the ugly. Firstly, it is humanly impossible to share each and everything that happens in our day-to-day lives. Even if we roam around with a camera on hand all the time, we filter and show only the parts of our day which we feel like sharing.

When we see a post, our mind immediately creates a perception of the person sharing that post. These perceptions are shortcuts that our mind creates to categorize people. This happens subconsciously based on our beliefs, the environment we grew up in and many other factors.

These mental shortcuts are useful for us to foresee any danger and be prepared to fight/flight. But they can also mislead us and we might end up forming false perceptions of a person. "Don't judge a book by its cover" equivalent of "Don't judge a person based on what he/she shares on social media", if I may say so.

Recently, I had assumed something about a person based on what she shared on her social media feed but later when I realized the assumption was wrong, I felt a tinge of disappointment.

My point is that we try to grab our "me-time" from our loved ones, in order to scroll through our phones and absorb these false perceptions created on social media. Same goes with youtube channels where many people show their perfectly crafted lives in the form of vlogs but the reality is totally different. 

Yes, we can take inspiration from many people but a mere collection of ideas will not take us anywhere. As I reflect deeper, the books I love the most are those from which I have been able to incorporate certain ideas into my work or personal life. 

I'm trying to be more mindful and conscious of my "content consumption" these days. I have started to ask myself the following questions:

How much time I'm spending on consumption?
What is the quality of the content I'm consuming? Is it worth my time?
How much is the quantity of the content I'm consuming? Is it worth the context switch I'm experiencing, consuming on a wide range of topics?
How do I feel after consuming the content? Is it triggering or influencing my emotions in any way?
What are the learnings/takeaways from the content consumed? How do I plan to apply the same?

As I'm reducing my content consumption patterns, I'm also trying to grab me-time opportunities where I'm with my thoughts completely. An important idea I learned in my minimalism workshop with Durgesh Nandhini is this - "Chores are a form of meditation with eyes open". This statement was an eye-opener. Though I never detested doing chores at home, I never thought of it from this perspective.

Thanks to lockdown, I'm more engaged in household chores for which I had a house-help earlier. I'm also now making sure that I don't multitask while doing chores. I used to proclaim, "multitasking is my strength" but I now seek out opportunities to focus completely on a single task at hand without any distractions.

My me-time is now shifted to the following activities:
  • Cooking
  • Washing dishes
  • Sweeping and mopping
  • Folding clothes
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Yoga and Pranayama
  • Walking (no step counters, no music, no podcasts, no audiobooks)
  • Sitting quietly without doing anything - toughest one but I'm trying 🙂
What is me-time according to you?

P.S. The structure of this blog post came to me while washing dishes last evening :-)

Jun 20, 2020

Birthday cake

For the past few months, whenever I attend a birthday party or see pictures of a birthday party, I ask myself, "Why do we need a birthday cake?" The immediate answer that comes to my mind is "Duh, that's how people celebrate birthdays all over the world".

I haven't researched the history behind birthday cakes but as I look back, my brother and I never had a birthday cake during our childhood. Our parents used to buy us a new birthday dress every year. We would wear it to school and distribute chocolates to our classmates. We would take blessings from grandparents and they would give us a small token of money as a gift. Our grandmother would make payasam (kheer) on our star birthday date (which would mostly be a different date than the English calendar date). That's the ritual for kids' birthdays up to the age of 10-11 years. Our parents never celebrated their birthdays. I don't think it is due to financial constraints but more about the mindset. When we ask why they don't celebrate their birthdays, Appa would just say, "ezhu kazhudai vayasaachu, inime enna birthday celebration!" (We are old enough that we don't need any celebration for our birthday).

These days, every family who can afford a birthday cake buys one for each family member, irrespective of age. Children enjoy the cake whereas adults eat with a lot of guilt and apprehension - "Let me just take a small slice", we tell the host. Most bakeries and home bakers take birthday cake order of 1/2 kg minimum, which is quite a large quantity for a small family of 3-4. We might end up either overeating, distribute to a few others or end up throwing the remaining cake. The bigger the cake, the larger the wastage. For most birthday parties, people end up ordering large size of cake with sugar-loaded fondant or rich icing, decorated with artificial colors. Again, a big portion ends up in the trash can. That scene from the first story of "sillu karupatti" is heart-wrenching, where the kids scour through trash in a landfill to find fondant of an Elsa doll on a birthday cake. 

A few days back, my husband K decided to bake a chocolate cake. While he was getting the ingredients ready, he screamed out loud, "How much sugar and butter go into this! I didn't realize it this long". The same realization happened with me when I started baking in 2014. The amount of sugar, refined oil and maida that goes into baking a cake is just unbelievable. I try and substitute with slightly healthier options - 50:50 wholewheat flour and maida, jaggery or cane sugar in place of white sugar on the rare occasions I bake at home. But most of the commercial bakeries don't choose healthier ingredients. With home bakers, unless we specifically ask them to make a healthier version, they would also use the same maida, sugar and oil combination.

One might argue, "It is just a once-a-year event. Why fuss over so much?". Let me break the harsh truth - Even if we have reached ezhu kazhudai vayasu (adulthood), birthday cakes are being bought for us. So for a family of 4, there are 4 birthday cakes in a year. Add a wedding anniversary cake and a couple of other celebrations like New Year, Valentine's day etc. Not to forget the umpteen birthday parties in the apartment community, office birthday parties, school friends' parties etc. No wonder, birthday cake bakers are raking in the moolah while we keep wondering how our HbA1C levels are climbing. 

For the past two years, I asked my husband not to buy me a cake on my birthday. I'd rather enjoy a small bowl of paruppu payasam with jaggery on my special day than eat junk. 

Why treat our bodies with junk on our special day? Is this how we want to celebrate?

That brings me to the next question.

"Why do we even celebrate our birthdays?" 

Celebrations are a good opportunity to spend time with loved ones, feel special and be treated extra special. It is a perfect day to create good memories.

But can't we celebrate our lives on a daily basis? Why wait for that ONE special day? Why can't we feel special every single day?

It is okay if you disagree with this post. I'm just sharing my thoughts here. Let's not argue over it.

The one thing that has struck me from Durgesh Nandhini's minimalism workshop is "Question everything". I question the need for a birthday cake through this post. Recently, she posted a picture of her daughter's birthday cake made with fruits. How beautiful is that cake! Layers of watermelon surrounded by grapes and banana slices. Just amazing! Maathi yosikkalaame !! (Let's think differently)

Jun 17, 2020

How to sustain motivation?

I was talking to a startup founder a couple of weeks back and one of our common interest areas was "health and wellness". He brought up an interesting point, "I believe the key problem to address in this space is the lack of sustained motivation". 

I have been mulling over this phrase - sustained motivation and started observing myself to understand this phrase in depth. 

This morning, I rolled my Yoga mat to start my morning practice. The next one hour felt so blissful as I stretched and pushed myself. I wouldn't have done this self-practice a couple of years back but now it has become a habit every morning, especially since the lockdown in March.

What has changed in order to feel this motivation and sustain it for a period of time? I think it boils down to these 4 reasons:

Intrinsic desire:
I have started telling myself, "I want to do Yoga". The statement is no longer "I have to do Yoga". This simple change in the conversation we have with ourselves makes a world of difference. We need to feel that want, that desire in order to pursue a goal.

Tiny wins:
While going for my classes, I used to set tiny goals for myself - hold a particular asana for at least 7 counts, hold the plank for at least 15 counts etc. I'm continuing the same habit while doing self-practice these days. Recognizing and appreciating tiny wins matter. Let's not link success with big outcomes like losing 10 kgs in a month OR doing shirsasana as soon as we enroll for Yoga. Knowing our current potential, setting tiny challenges to improve ourselves and valuing these tiny wins is the way to sustain motivation in the long run. 

Results and process:
Since I have been practicing Yoga for nearly 5 years, I have realized the tremendous benefits it has brought in me, both in my body as well as mind. Let me admit - results do motivate me quite a bit. Having brought up in a society that values achievement and accomplishment, I'm not gonna feel bad for saying that out aloud. I have also realized that until I enjoy the process, I don't see myself pushing towards the intended results. The process needs to be fun and joyful in order to feel motivated. For any wellness related effort, after a time period of 3-6 months, our body starts to respond beautifully. Enjoying the process for those 3-6 months is essential for us to start noticing the intended results.

Influence of our family/society:
It is quite upsetting to see the health ailments that my family elders deal with - diabetes, blood pressure, arthritis, obesity etc. I don't want to get into the trap of lifestyle diseases and the numerous medications (and their side effects). It is not about anxiety or worry but more about understanding my priorities that prevention is better than cure. I visualize myself to be a fit and active person in my 60s and 70s. 

What motivates you to sustain your effort for a longer period of time? Share in the comments.

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