May 22, 2021

How to increase attention span?

In my previous post, we discussed the need to measure our attention span instead of relying on averages concluded by popular media. Do try out the proposed exercise in that post for a week and gather your observations.

In this post, let me share with you 5 strategies by which you can increase your attention span. Tried and tested by yours truly🙂

(1) Avoid multitasking - yes. Stop doing more than one task at once. Going for a walk? Enjoy the walk. Don't try to optimize that time by listening to an audiobook/podcast. When we stop multitasking, we are focused on that single task we are engaged in. This increases our ability to stay mindful for a longer duration.

(2) Avoid frequent context switching - this is an extension to the first strategy, but deserves a separate point, given the amount of information we consume across multiple sources. Reduce the number of people whom you follow on social media. Identify 2-3 topics you are interested in and follow people who share content on these categories. For eg, I have fixed the max number of people whom I follow on Instagram to be 60. The topics I focus on are food/nutrition, Ayurveda and lifestyle that inspires me.

(3) Invest time in activities that put you in a state of FLOW - a state where you are so engaged in an activity that you don't feel the need to reach for distractions. For me, reading, writing, cooking, and public speaking are activities that give me the experience of being in FLOW. I make sure that I invest enough time every week in these activities.

(4) Consciously engage in activities that require more time and focus. A few examples 

    • Read long-form articles - Do you easily get put off when an article is lengthy? Do you bookmark it for later reference but don't come back to it? If yes, then I'd highly recommend you invest time every week in reading articles that require at least 10 minutes of dedicated time.
    • Watch videos at normal speed - This might be a counter-intuitive idea, but hear me out. Many of us like to watch videos at 1.5x speed to grab more information in less time. Some even watch at 2X speed where one could hardly hear the words being spoken, let alone understand the content. Our attention becomes jittery to the point where we might even experience anxiety. By watching at normal speed, we end up seeing fewer videos. We also signal to our mind that the information is important and it requires focus.
    • Practice active listening - When someone is having a conversation with you, give your complete attention and listen without interrupting or fidgeting with your phone. I had written a detailed article a few years back on the benefits of listening. 

(5) Incorporate "Do Nothing" moments - Our attention gets fragmented when we are busy throughout the day. Consciously taking the time to do nothing, even if it is just for a few minutes in a day is so helpful to realign and focus on fewer priorities. A few minutes of stillness can give us momentum for the rest of the day.

A bonus strategy from the point of distractions - remove apps from your phone that give variable rewards. I had written about this earlier. This strategy converts distraction-inducing smartphones to just another tool we use to get things done. 

I hope you found these pointers helpful. As I had mentioned earlier, attention is our MOST VALUABLE asset. Let's protect it with utmost care.

May 20, 2021

Measure your attention span

 We often keep hearing about how the attention span of humans is dwindling. Popular research articles declare that the average attention span of humans is now 8 seconds and we are lagging behind the goldfish (9 seconds apparently). 

Instead of arguing over whether such studies and conclusions are valid and accurate, let's do a personal exercise.

On a normal day, how long are you able to sit with a task at hand? 

Let's say, you are reading a book. How long can you read without getting distracted by your phone or other temptations?

You are cooking lunch. How long can you focus on this task without picking up your phone?

When you are engaged at work, putting together a presentation/document, how long can you focus on this task without checking email/Slack/instant messaging/social media, etc?

I'd highly encourage you to do this experiment for a week and note down the times you have been able to focus on various tasks. 

You could refer to this sample template to track:

Let's not judge or criticize ourselves if the results aren't what we wanted them to be. The first step to change is becoming aware. 

All of us have experienced a state of distractions and an inability to focus from time to time. But is this becoming a norm rather than an exception? The above exercise will help us understand our patterns.

It is also interesting that once we start becoming conscious and self-aware, we tend to focus better.

In my next post, I'll be sharing 5 strategies that have helped me increase my attention span.

Related articles:

Win back your attention and focus

May 19, 2021

How to navigate the content maze?

 Thanks to the Information age we are currently living in, we consume humongous amounts of content every single day through multiple sources - books, social media posts, podcasts, videos, webinars, conferences, workshops, courses, and much more.

Irrespective of the source, we can group the content (across various topics/genres) into 3 broad categories. Since I create a lot of food-related content, let me elaborate on these 3 categories using examples from food.

  1. Information - Mostly facts, either verified or unverified. For eg, nutrition profile of millets, recipes using millets, where to procure them => a few examples of content that fall under this category
  2. Perspectives - An individual's analysis / understanding / experience / interpretation of a concept / topic. For eg, I write about how consuming millets have helped me in reversing my PCOD. This is my perspective and may / may not apply to everyone. 
  3. Implementation - An individual's approach / action / next steps towards a particular problem / objective / challenge. For eg, I share about how I have incorporated millets in my weekly meal plan - I plan and consume millets 3-4 times a week in the form of idli, dosa, pongal, etc. This may or may not apply to everyone.

My general observation is that Information focused content doesn't motivate us to take action as we don't connect to such content at a deeper level. We might save or bookmark them for future reference.

More than Information, we tend to connect with content that belongs to either Perspectives or Implementation. 

Perspectives help us learn from other's experiences and interpretations. Some perspectives can be inspiring and elevating. Sometimes, they help us see a situation through a different lens. When our perspectives match with that of the content creator, we feel a good vibe and we want to hear more from him/her. But let's also keep the caveat in mind - perspectives are influenced by multiple factors, sometimes these could be biased by his/her past experiences and conditioning. A perspective may be the TRUTH for him/her, but it isn't the TRUTH for everyone else. 

Implementation-focused content gives us nice little tips, tricks, and ideas to work on an idea. They can motivate us to take action and proceed in a certain direction. It also gives us the confidence that a certain way of implementation works for this person and so it should work for us as well. But, there is a caveat here as well. The implementation approach is completely dependent on the individual's situation - family, environment, context, his/her strengths, support system, etc. What works for someone may or may not work for everyone else. 

The next time when you consume a piece of content (from any source), ask yourself - "Which of the 3 categories does this content belong to?"

If it belongs to either Perspectives or Implementation, do your due diligence, analyze if it makes sense for you, your family, and your current situation before adopting it right away.

Many times, we take someone's perspectives and implementation as the ultimate truth, try to incorporate it into our lives, fail miserably, and feel disappointed. 

Perspectives are abundant in the content maze we live in today. What will change your life is YOUR perspective of looking at life. 

P.S. Take a guess which category this particular post belongs to :-)

May 18, 2021

The Most Valuable Resource

What's the most valuable resource that all of us have been bestowed with? 

For many years, I had thought of TIME to be the most valuable resource. All of us have the same 24 hours in a day. How we use this time determines the quality of our life.

As I pondered more on this question, I have concluded that more than time, our attention is the most valuable resource.

Attention implies all that is within our awareness at this very moment. 

Our attention can be captured by our thoughts, taking us on a time machine ride

  • to the past - triggering nostalgia, good memories, regrets, bad decisions, remorse
  • to the future - triggering worries, anxiety, uncertainty

Attention can also be captured by external factors

  • through the content we consume - social media, OTT, Youtube, news channels, etc
  • through people whom we interact with
  • through objects in our vicinity

Let's consider this situation - It is a beautiful morning. You have woken up early and have gone for a walk. 

What are the things do you notice around? 

What do you pay attention to?

Where do you pay attention to?

Whom do you pay attention to?

Do you go on a time machine ride through the vehicle of thoughts?

If so, are you traveling more to the past or the future?

What we pay attention to influences our thoughts and actions in the short run. Over time, what we pay attention to influences our behaviors and our beliefs as well. 

If attention plays such a vital role in our lives, shouldn't we protect it with utmost care? 

We spend a hefty annual fee on our bank locker to keep our valuables like jewelry and documents safe. Would we hand over the key to this locker to anyone so casually?

But we do tend to hand over the keys to our attention to so many factors every day without giving much a thought - every time we pick up our phone, every time we scroll through social media without any intent, every clickbaity video link we open, etc.

Let's give our ATTENTION at least the same respect and care (deserves even more) we give towards our bank locker. 

Let's give authorized access to our attention to anyone and anything that demands access. It just takes a second of awareness to ask ourselves this question - is it worthy of my attention?

May 14, 2021

In defense of reading

 This post has been lying in my drafts for over a year now. Finally wrapped it up as this is something I want to convey.

Do you love reading? Does your child love to read? 

If yes, continue this powerful habit, even if you hear otherwise.

If no, that is perfectly okay too. There are various other ways by which we can learn and understand the world.

I belong to the first category. I love to read, so is my 9-year old daughter. Our conversations at home are mostly triggered by books. 

There are multiple reasons why people read.

Some enjoy reading as an activity per se. They read for pleasure - just the process of reading a moving prose or poetry that paints a beautiful picture is such an elevating experience in itself. From the magical world of Harry Potter, certain lines of Dumbledore are stuck to my mind for eternity.

"Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic, capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it."

Reading helps you visualize and create mental images. I agree with the argument that real-life experiences are more valuable but not everyone has the resources (time, money, effort) to experience all that there is to experience in a single lifetime. For eg, I'd love to visit Mussoorie to experience the pine forests that Ruskin Bond so beautifully explains in his books, but I'm more than content, for now, reading his prose that paints vivid imagery of the flora and fauna of the hills.

Books can be a perfect companion, especially in the present lockdown times where you can be transported to a different place in minutes. Books take us down on a journey through various cultures, timelines, and situations. 

Reading puts you in a state of flow and helps to increase focus and concentration. Reading by itself can be a meditative activity. 

As you can see, the purpose of reading is not only about gathering information. 

I came across another argument that reading increases our EGO and that people who read a lot have more EGO. I respectfully disagree with this generalization. I know many people who read a lot and are so down-to-earth. I also know people who don't read books but have quite a big ego. 

Being an avid reader, what I have experienced is that books have made me more humble. Every time I read an inspiring book with thought-provoking ideas, it just makes me feel awed and reinforces the idea "katradhu kaimann alavu, kallaadhadhu ulagalavu" (What I know is a drop, what I don't know is an ocean).

Any action we do can boost our ego if we allow it to do so. Reading, writing, teaching, sharing, learning, content creation on social media - any action for that matter. 

Our ego can also be boosted by the information we receive, regardless of the source of the information - books being one of the sources. Getting a lot of information from people can also boost our ego. It isn't dependent on the source, but rather how WE perceive ourselves based on the information gathered.

The other argument often heard is that the application/implementation of what we have learned is more important than gathering knowledge. Yes, there is a lot of merit to this argument. But I see it from a different angle. When you read a book with a lot of ideas, it isn't possible to implement all that's been shared. From the 100 odd ideas, picking the 10 key takeaways that are relevant to your situation and life is in itself a skill. This cannot happen if we just skim through a book. Deep reading is essential to distill those crucial ideas relevant to us. 

Another argument against reading is that books are written from an author's perspective, his/her context based on his/her problems and the solutions he/she has figured out. I don't see this as an issue at all. When we have conversations with people, aren't they too sharing their perspectives, their context, their problems, and solutions? Yes, the body language, voice modulation and tones used do make a difference and we can learn more from such cues.

But not many of us have one-on-one direct access to people from whom we can learn from. Access to people might seem easy in the current social media age but not applicable for all. Opening up to people and strangers doesn't come naturally to everyone. Suppose, a person whom we admire sits in front of us. The ensuing conversation completely depends on the kind of questions we ask this person. If we feel shy or too conscious, we may not be forthcoming with our questions. If their body language isn't friendly enough, we might not want to intrude on them with our "silly" questions. But when it comes to books, the author anticipates the questions a reader might have while reading a particular chapter or concept. The author might be willing to elaborate the concept with his/her personal experiences that one can resonate with. Many times, I have felt an author talking directly to me, the questions that came to my mind getting addressed in the subsequent chapters. 

There are multiple sources of learning - books, podcasts, articles, videos, courses, in-person conversations. Choose the ones that work for you based on your personality and convenience. No one source is superior or inferior to another.

May 13, 2021

The space crunch

 A particular situation comes to our life to teach us a lesson. If we don't reflect on the situation and learn the lesson it intends to teach us the first time, the situation repeats in 2X magnitude to make sure we learn the lesson. 

In the past year or so, this is what I have observed from my life. A situation literally increased in magnitude from 1X to 2X to now 4X. I don't want to get into the specifics but I'm glad to share that I have indeed learned my lesson. And that is what I wanted to talk about in this post.

I had been desiring for a perfect space for myself in my home - a room or even a cozy nook which is accessible to me 24*7, where I can keep my things, where I can focus and do deep work, where I can practice Yoga, meditate or journal without getting disturbed. 

Ever since Mar 2020, this desire has been eluding me so much. The harder I tried, the more difficult it kept getting. 

I realized that I have been using this "lack of space" as an excuse. As I complained about situations beyond my control, more and more such situations kept on coming. 

I'm presently writing this article sitting on my bed, while D is loudly singing "Do you wanna build a snowman" next to me, a pile of washed clothes waiting to be folded, a stash of books waiting to be put back in their respective places and the sound of drums practiced by a neighbour's son.

Yes, it would be ideal to sit in a quiet, locked room and jot down my thoughts. But I need to accept that such ideal scenarios aren't gonna come by so easily, given the current situation. And that shouldn't stop me from doing the things I want to do. 

"Where there is a will, there is a way" - if the willingness to do what I want to do is strong enough, then space (or lack of) shouldn't be of much concern. If I'm finding excuses to avoid the work I want to do, then I need to question the intent behind the work and the lack of willingness to make progress.

Apr 27, 2021

When life answers your question

 It was 5:40 PM. I just freshened up and was about to step into the kitchen. I noticed D playing with her dolls and Lego blocks. Instead of heading to the kitchen, I sat down with her. She then asked me, "Can you play with me for some time?". I replied, "Sure, I can play for 15 minutes". She immediately looked at the clock and then asked me, "Can you sit with me till 6 o'clock?". I responded with a Yes. While playing the pretend play game, she kept on checking the clock every few minutes. I asked her why. What she said gave me the answer I needed to hear. Her answer was "I want some human to play with me". It just broke my heart. For the past few days, I had been busy, stocking up groceries, cooking, doing dishes, laundry, cleaning, etc. Though I have conversations with D throughout the day, I wasn't dedicating my complete time and attention to her. During her playtime, she reads books, plays with her dolls or our kittens/cats (we now have 6 of them at home). We played together till 6:15 pm and both of us felt so happy.

Now you might wonder what my question was. I had been pondering over how I can contribute to the current lockdown situation. I had been seeing so many posts on Instagram related to providing home-cooked food and I was thinking whether I should sign up. My bandwidth is very limited, given the other home responsibilities. Cooking a few extra meals, ordering extra groceries/vegetables, packaging, and coordinating the delivery require time and effort. I wasn't sure whether I'm ready for it. I had been grappling with these thoughts the whole day and then the above conversation with D happened.

I uninstalled Instagram and decided to take a break for a few days. I don't want to feel overwhelmed. Though I enjoy cooking and love to cook for others, I realized this is NOT the right time.

My 9-year-old daughter needs me. Spending time with her and helping her cope with the current situation is more important. Contributing to others doesn't necessarily have to be through home-cooked food. 

Respecting the norms (wearing masks, not stepping out unnecessarily, maintaining social distancing), 

Being mindful about not sharing unverified/fake news on social media, 

Taking care of my physical and mental health,

Taking care of my family members' needs,

Praying and sending good vibes to the world

These are also valid contributions amidst the current situation. 

If you are feeling overwhelmed about how to contribute, take care of yourself and your family. Charity begins at home. 

This post is in no way undermining the contribution of so many kind souls who have taken up the responsibility of providing home-cooked meals to the affected families. Huge respect to every one of you! 

Apr 23, 2021

Celebrating books


A day to celebrate books. World Book Day is celebrated on April 23rd every year. 

In this age where information comes to us in various forms (audiobooks, podcasts, courses, videos, online workshops, etc), my preferred source is through books, especially physical ones. I love to read on my Kindle as well, but I find that I retain the information much better when I read from a physical book.

I prefer to read non-fiction books on topics related to psychology, nutrition, wellness, health, self-development, productivity, philosophy, marketing, etc. I do read fiction books/novels but I don't tend to gravitate towards them naturally. Childhood conditioning played a major role in shaping my book preferences. 

A couple of years back, I had made a list of my favorite books. I'm sure there are a few more that I'd like to add to this list. "Biology of belief", "The Heartfulness Way", "Many lives, many masters", "Atomic habits" to name a few.

I used to buy a lot more books 3-4 years ago, but these days, I have been reading what's already piled up on my bookshelves. I have also come to believe that a book arrives in your attention space at the right time. For eg, I had bought "Living with the Himalayan masters" a decade back but never read a single page. I picked it up a few days back and am awestruck with how it answers all my questions.

Though I have stopped buying new books, it is hard for me to let go of the old - both the read as well as the unread ones. This is one of the points of conflict between K and me🙂

While reading a book, I always have a pencil/highlighter with me. Yes, even while reading a fiction novel 🙂 Lines that made me go wow, phrases/passages that I'd like to reflect upon or jot down, inspiring anecdotes/incidents - I tend to grab all of them by underlining. D has also picked up this habit from me.

This is my journey with books so far. Share yours too. In these uncertain times, let's hold onto books that inspire us, provide solace and reprieve. 

Apr 22, 2021

Accept and surrender

 I'm a continuous learner. I seek information and knowledge from various sources. But over the past few months, I have experienced this realization -

Some life lessons are best learned through experience.

Let me give you an example -

I'm the kind of person who loves to be in control of various aspects of my life - be it food, lifestyle, productivity, time management, interests, etc. 

When things went out of my control, I got quite stressed. I tried researching more about why certain issues were happening, watched a ton of youtube videos, discussed a lot with my husband, and tried to gather a logical explanation. 

The time spent in these activities didn't alleviate my stress levels but rather increased them even more.

I couldn't understand the deeper meaning behind these phrases "Surrender to the situation", "Accept it wholeheartedly" and "Let go" when I heard them from multiple people whom I respect and adore.

Once I started to apply these phrases in their truest sense in my life, I felt a huge sense of relief. Things that are beyond my control didn't hurt me as much as they did earlier.

Situations come to our life at the right time when we *can* handle them. They also come to us to teach important lessons. When we accept and surrender, we will be able to sail through that particular phase without much pain (both physical and mental). And, as we introspect more on the situation without distracting ourselves, the lessons become more evident in front of our eyes.

When life pulls you in different directions, sometimes it is better to quieten our logical reasoning that seeks answers to "Why" or "Why me?" The experiences themselves will give us the answers as we accept and surrender to them.

Apr 12, 2021

Book Review: The Search that seeks you

 A question that had been lingering in my mind for decades is finally getting answered in the past one year through various sources. When I heard this answer for the first time, I couldn't accept it. I faced a lot of internal resistance. The answer then explained itself through deeper questioning and serendipitous interactions. The answer became even more convincing through multiple workshops (Durgesh Nandhini's OMW, Tushita's meditation sessions and Anbe Yogam's 4 Gates 1 Home). 

As if these weren't enough, I accidentally stumbled upon this book in my community library and it simplified the answer even further. 

Yes, I'm now a firm believer of karma, the universal cause-and-effect law applicable for everyone. I now understand the deeper meaning of it and it has helped me connect many loose ends.

The main protagonist of this book "The Search that seeks you" written by Sangamithra Amudha is named Karma. It is a simple story of Karma's self discovery through his life experiences and spiritual encounters. 

From the author's words, 
"We create karma through our actions and thoughts. The good and bad things that we experience are all due to karma."

Karma's story is easy to relate to - the incidents, people in his life and their influences. I particularly loved the writing of the first half of the book. The conversations that Karma have with the spiritual gurus are so deep and profound, yet written in simple language. 

The latter half felt a little forced, where situations and conversations were disconnected to the story and didn't sync with the main plot. Nevertheless, there were many interesting insights that I had jotted down to reflect upon further.

A few such points listed below:
"A mind without thoughts is a valuable treasure. In the absence of thought processes, the mind can experience contentment"
"Only when unnecessary thoughts and bad intentions are removed, we can get to the temple's treasures, that is, true happiness in our lives"
"The mind is a driving force that can help you to keep re-emphasizing goals. When you keep re-emphasizing your goal, it tries to find a path to achieve it"
"It is our responsibility to manage our tough times rather than lose our mental strength by thinking about why we have to suffer"
"If it is in your karma that you have to help others, the same manifests as the desire to do so"

Spirituality explained through simplified writing and an easy-to-relate story. Loved reading it.

Apr 10, 2021

Importance of planning on challenging days

 As I shared yesterday, I was going through a couple of unexpected health issues in the past few weeks. Sleep-deprived and at the same time, not enough food intake made me feel quite drained.

Days just went by without much focus. Many good habits that I had incorporated had fallen off the track. After a few dull days, I picked myself up, restarted a few good habits (not all of them) and I could see a clear shift in my energy levels. 

I had a different set of responsibilities (and its challenges) from Oct-Feb. I had presumed that March will be a time when I could focus on a few personal projects, but then these health issues cropped up all of a sudden. This experience made me realize that there will never be a perfect time when everything falls in place the way we wanted.

Our responsibilities and life situations keep changing. We need to adapt our schedules with clear intentions along with a "Terms and Conditions Apply" mindset. That's where planning comes in handy.

We may not be able to accomplish the 100 things we want to get done, but with proper planning, we can accomplish at least 2-3 things on days when we don't have much control over situations. 

"Plan your days even when your days aren't going as planned" - this is the thought I wrote down in my journal a few days back. 

The purpose of planning on such challenging days is not to feel overwhelmed, but to have intentions/hope towards progress. 

No hustle, no busyness. Slow, steady progress. 

Apr 9, 2021

2 life lessons related to Health

 You might have heard of instances like "I bit a murukku and my tooth broke", "I bit a seedai and my tooth fell off". Have you ever heard this statement - "I bit into a samosa and my teeth came out". Well, that's what happened to me 3 Sundays back. After a long long time, I was tempted to eat a samosa. I bought home a piece from my favorite sweet shop, poured the chutneys on top of it, and took ONE bite from my front teeth. My next reaction was OMG! My 4 front teeth dropped off on my plate.

If you are shocked at this point, let me admit - the teeth that broke were my 10-year old ceramic bridge. From my teens, I had many tooth cavities, got many root canal treatments done in my 20s, and had to get a ceramic bridge in 2010. 

I shouldn't be blaming the samosa or the fact that I was tempted to eat it. The incident happened, which was beyond my control and I had to fix the issue. Over the past 3 weeks, after multiple trips to my dentist and various procedures, I got a new ceramic bridge fixed. Thankfully, since wearing masks being the norm, I could manage conversations with people, without feeling awkward.

Because of the dental procedures and lack of front teeth, I could hardly eat much, mostly semi-solid food like kanji, kichdi, or rice-based meals. Around the same 3 week period, I also experienced severe pain in my feet and legs during the nights. Checked with a couple of doctors and seems like the pain was due to Vitamin B12 deficiency. I'm currently on supplements and slowly recovering from the pain. 

These 3 weeks have taught me two valuable lessons. 

(1) Health is NOT only influenced by these factors - nutrition, activity, exercise, sleep, meditation, sun exposure, self-reflection, etc. There will be circumstances beyond your control, which might end up affecting your health. In such situations, surrendering to the discomfort without resisting too much is the key. 

(2) When the factors (that are under your control) are taken care of, the unexpected circumstances become more manageable. The recovery is faster. Though these circumstances might make you uncomfortable, you will have the inner strength to sail through.

As I'm "chewing" a plate of kambu idlis along with tiffin sambhar for breakfast this morning, I feel so much gratitude for my teeth (both the natural and the ceramic ones). 

Apr 6, 2021

7 tips to fix your sleep routine

 I recently stumbled upon this term called "Revenge bedtime procrastination". This implies that we delay sleep on purpose to gain some me-time. 

As I was reading more articles on this topic, this one by BBC had elaborated it very well

"people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours”.

I remember many years back (2012-13) when D was a toddler, I would put her to sleep by 10 PM, make myself a nice cup of hot chocolate and watch an episode of "Castle" on Star World from 11-12. Though I knew I had to catch up on my sleep, I would delay it, just so that I can grab an hour for myself. Fortunately, there wasn't any Netflix/Prime during that time as I might have ended up binge-watching one episode after another.

Off late, I have been observing this sleep procrastination happening among my friends and family. During this past year of work-from-home, it is becoming a much more prevalent practice.

Though most of us understand the importance of sleep in our overall well-being, we succumb to the temptations of social media, Youtube, and streaming apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Sharing with you 7 tips on how you can fix your sleep routine.

(1) Maintain a sleep log

Track the number of hours you sleep. Most of us aren't even aware that we are sleeping less than 6 hours a night. Also, keep a note of the following aspects - how do you feel after waking up - do you feel energetic, do you reach for more cups of coffee/tea to get through the day, do you feel sleepy after lunch, do you have sustained energy throughout the day? These questions will help us become aware of how poor sleep affects our energy levels.

(2) Prioritize your sleep schedule

Fix a time to go to bed. Turn off all your gadgets/devices an hour before your bedtime. Follow this habit at least during weekdays. You might have heard this multiple times but if you are finding it difficult to implement, start slow. If you are used to sleeping by midnight, shift it to 11:30 PM (the gadgets to be turned off by 10:30 PM). Only through conscious habits, we can make a permanent change.

(3) Plan your calming hour

During this one hour before bedtime,

  • go for a short stroll
  • meditate
  • read a book (preferably a physical one)
  • journal about the day
  • write down a plan - tasks/to-dos for the next day

(4) Plan your work schedule

I often hear from many people that in the past year, they have been working longer hours. The commute time, lunchtime, and casual conversations at work with colleagues are now replaced with more and more meetings and work commitments. 

Time-box your day and fix up a clear schedule for various activities (meetings, email, work, research etc). Block a few hours to do deep work without any interruptions.

(5) Set clear boundaries at workplace

Work-from-home doesn't mean that you can be reached at any time of the day. Communicate your availability to your peers/co-workers. Having a fixed work schedule doesn't undermine your commitment to work. 

(6) Block time in the evenings to relax and unwind, so that you don't compromise on your sleep. Allocate an hour to catch up on your favorite series/youtube channels/social media.

(7) Identify *offline* activities that you enjoy and at the same time, give you a break from your gadgets. Me-time doesn't necessarily have to be scrolling through social media feeds. 

Good quality sleep is as much important as eating a nutritious meal / getting an hour of workout every day. Let's not compromise on our sleep for anything else - be it work commitments, catching up on favorite TV shows, etc. So not worth it!

Mar 29, 2021

Nestle Koko Krunch Breakfast cereal review

 For the past few days, whenever I open a Youtube video, the default ad that's being shown is the Nestle Koko Krunch breakfast cereal. Given the success of Kelloggs Chocos and Soulfull ragi bites in the urban markets of India, many brands are vying for a slice of the growing pie.

When a brand claims that it is tasty, delicious, kid-favorite, yummy etc, I have no qualms whatsoever. But the moment a processed "breakfast cereal" brand talks about health and nutrition, we need to be a little more vigilant. 

Let's first look at the messages being conveyed in these short 20-sec ads:
  • Is your child eager to grow? Highlights that the product contains Calcium + Vitamin D
  • Why are whole grains good for your kids? Highlights that tproduct contains Wheat, rice, jowar and oats, which help fill your child's tummy
  • Is your child low on energy in the morning? Highlights that the product has Vitamins B2, B3 and B6 that help release energy from food

The ad also indicates the presence of the following:
4 grains
Vitamin D and B
Iron and Calcium

As always, let's not blindly trust these claims. Let's understand the nutrition labels.

  • Whole wheat atta and rice flour contributes to 36% whereas jowar flour and oat flour contributes to only 11.4%
  • For a 30gm serving size, the Total Sugars value is mentioned as 7.2 gm (close to 2 tsp of sugar)
  • For a brand that highlights "whole grain" so much in their promotions, there is hardly any fibre present - 1.2 gm in a 30 gm serving size
  • Presence of maltodextrin (mentioned twice) is a concern. It is a cheap carrier ingredient with an extremely high glycemic index.

Regarding synthetic vitamins and minerals, I'd rather prefer to consume real, natural food sources and let my digestive system extract the required vitamins and minerals. 

As parents, let's take the time to research about packaged foods we buy for our kids. Let's give atleast the same priority (if not more) towards their foods intake as much as we give towards their education and extracurricular activities.

The brand promises on retaining the crunch after adding milk and doesn't tend to get soggy (In fine print, it says crunchiness lasts approx 4 minutes after warm milk is poured on the product). Seriously, is this the product differentiator? Did their market study suggest that parents expect crunchy breakfast cereal for their kids rather than soggy ones? 

Our kids don't need packaged, processed, sugar-laden breakfast cereals - crunchy or soggy .

Mar 27, 2021

Book Review - Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan

 Yet another example of how the Universe brings in the right information at the right time. Once I started trusting this powerful principle, I'm just amazed at the sheer number of coincidences and serendipitous events.

This month, I had enrolled in a couple of courses on "The Buddhist path of training the mind" conducted by Ven.Drolma in association with Tushita Meditation Centre

While the course was progressing, I was shopping for my next book to read from my bookshelf. Yes, there are loads of books yet to be read and I decided to shop from my home first before I look elsewhere.

I spotted this book "Search inside yourself" in a corner and I couldn't recollect when I had bought it. I later realized that K had purchased it many years back but yet to read it himself🙂

The title of the book piqued my interest and I started reading it one night. Frankly speaking, I just couldn't bear the tiny font size of the print. A book with such powerful messages needs a BIGGER font. I hope the publishers have corrected it in the subsequent editions (the one I have is the 2013 edition).

How is this book connected with the courses I enrolled in, you might ask? Even if you didn't, let me answer🙂

This book explains the importance of mindfulness in daily life, meditations, self-awareness, dealing with triggers, etc. As I was reading chapter after chapter, it felt like a perfect supplementary reading material to my meditation course.

The author who calls himself the "jolly good fellow" working for Google has brought in a lot of interesting, easy-to-understand perspectives on the nature of our mind and emotional intelligence. His writing style is quite humorous, relatable and well-structured. Each topic is substantiated with a meditation practice/ exercise prompt.

He first talks about the intra-personal aspects of emotional intelligence. Understanding ourselves through mindfulness, training our attention, self-awareness and emotional mastery lead to self-confidence. I especially loved the section on mindful conversations. 

"Our attention is the most valuable gift we can give to others. When we give our full attention to somebody, for that moment, the only thing in the world we care about is that person, nothing else matters because nothing else is strong within our field of consciousness"

On self-regulation, the author mentions letting go of two things - grasping and aversion. I heard the same from Ven.Drolma in her class. I just can't stop thinking about how the Universe tried to reinforce the message to me through this book. 
"Grasping is when the mind desperately holds onto something and refuses to let it go. Aversion is when the mind desperately keeps something away and refuses to let it come"

He then moves onto the inter-personal aspects of emotional intelligence - empathy, compassion and goodness. The last few chapters focus more on applications of these aspects in the context of work and professional interactions. The topic on Mindful Emailing should be a MUST READ for all professionals. Such relevant insights!

I got so excited to read about the meditation practices I learned during my class - Loving-kindness and Tonglen.

I'll stop right there as I just can't stop myself from raving about this book and the perfect timing of this read. When you read matters as much as what you read.

Do pick up this book if you are also interested to search inside yourself for answers....and make sure the font size is readable.

Mar 13, 2021

Being gentle with your habits

 I started tracking habits in my journal from 2019. I had written a detailed post on how I do the same. Do check it out if you haven't seen it.

Though I knew the benefits of habit tracking, I wasn't being consistent at it. For some months, I was following it diligently. For some months, I completely stopped writing them down. For some weeks, though the habits were planned, I didn't follow through. 

Many experts suggest that we identify ONE single habit and focus only on that for the next 21 days. Personally, for me, it sounds quite boring to just focus on ONE. I prefer to work on multiple habits at the same time. 

Over the past few months, I wasn't quite keeping track of my habits as diligently as I wanted them to be. I restarted my habit journaling from Mar 1st. Here's a snapshot of the past 12 days.

  • The habits I listed down was a mix of old and new - a few I've been practicing for many months, a few I'm kickstarting new and a few I'm restarting. This way, it feels balanced and achievable.
  • I didn't precisely define the tangibility of a few habits. This was intentional as I'm restarting the tracker after 5 months. For eg, a morning walk gets checked whether I walk for 15 minutes or 30 minutes. Fruits intake gets checked whether I eat a single banana or a bowl of watermelon.
  • As I'm taking up a course in the morning hours, many of the habits that I usually accomplish during that time went for a toss. Not going to feel bad about it. I don't have Hermione's time turner to do multiple things at the same time :-)
  • There were certain habits that I was consistent at and a few others in which I didn't make much progress. The purpose of the tracker is to give me some clarity and not to make me feel guilty. Now that I have the data from the past 12 days, I can plan out the habits for the next 12 days that are more realistic.

Many times, we give up on habit tracking when we don't see a checkmark against every habit. Our focus shouldn't be checking off every habit. Rather, we should use the habit tracker as a way to understand whether we are setting realistic habits, where we are falling off, what could be the reasons and how to correct them. When we are gentle with ourselves, we can use habit tracking as a supporting friend and a guide to navigating our daily routines.

Mar 11, 2021

Book review - Practical Yoga Psychology by Dr. Rishi Vivekananda

First book review of 2021 and the 3rd book that I finished reading in 2021.

I've decided to talk about books/courses ONLY after I have finished reading/completing them (unless and until if someone explicitly asks me this question "What are you currently reading?" )

I realised that talking about something that I have just started doesn't help anyone (neither me nor others reading about it). Let me complete or reach a stage (say, 21 days or 48 days) in order to have understood a little bit or gathered a little depth before talking about a new initiative (book/habit/course etc) on social media.

Let's dive into the book review.

Information comes to us at the right time. This statement keeps reinforcing through my experiences over and over again. I randomly picked up this book without any expectations. Little did I knew that I would get a lot of clarity on topics I have been meaning to learn about
  • Formation of our unique personality through our perceptions, memory, thought, emotions and behaviour
  • Chakras and their significance
  • Gunas (Satvik, Rajasic and Tamasic) and their connection to our personality
  • Different streams of Yoga and the associated lifestyle practices (Raja Yoga - yamas and niyamas, Karma Yoga, Bhakthi Yoga, Gnana Yoga)

This is a dense read, it needs a lot of focus and attention to absorb the material and cannot be skimmed through. The author has explained in detail on how Yoga can help us in our journey of evolvement. Yoga is generally misconstrued only at the asana practices level but Yoga plays a much bigger role in our mind, our personality and the journey towards self-awareness. 

The chapter on Koshas (the five sheaths) was super fascinating to read. Lot of aha moments while reading the personality chapter where the author linked the respective chakras along with their levels of gunas to get a deeper analysis of evolvement of our personality. 

Every chapter had so many insights and realizations that I had underlined quite a few passages. A few favorite lines listed below:
"Perception is the process whereby a person's sensory stimuli are translated into organized experiences that have personal meaning for him or her."


"All knowledge is available at some level of consciousness and we only need to tune into this level for it to become available to us."


"Real security is a quality of the universe, not of our little human endeavours"


"The whole cosmos is a vast network of communication, and that every word and every thought reverberates throughout the whole"


"If I am not the doer, and I am unattached to the outcome of the process, and anyway I realize it is 'all in good hands', how can I have a problem?"

If these topics are of interest to you, do pick up this book and take your time to read and digest the material at a slower pace.

Mar 5, 2021

Top 10 favorite songs of Harris Jayaraj

Is music a part of your daily routine? 

Music plays such a positive role in our mental well-being. Be it singing, playing a musical instrument, or just listening, there are multiple benefits that music offers. Yet sometimes we do tend to deprioritize what we like to do when we feel overwhelmed with the demands of our daily grind.

It's been 5 months since I played any music on my phone or iPod. As I prefer to listen to music through speakers and not use headphones/earphones, I couldn't get a space for myself where I can play music while doing chores or relaxing. 

I started to feel the void created by the lack of music in my days and so I intentionally added "Listen to music" in my habit tracker for March. For the past four days, I have been playing my favourite songs on Spotify and I could easily sense what I had been missing.

What surprised me the most was that I didn't play my usual ARR or Illayaraaja albums. For some reason, it has been the music of Harris Jayaraj (HJ) that I keep gravitating to over the past few days. 

One of the sources of comfort is Predictability. HJ's songs have a predictable pattern but I have no complaints. I enjoy his melodies so much that even if he repeats the same pattern for another 10 years, I would still love to listen to them. The clear tracks, emphasis on the clarity of lyrics, foot-tapping interludes, and the right choice of singers make his songs pleasant to the ears.

Right from Minnale to Dhruva Natchathiram, I love many of his creations that I like to revisit them often. Yes, we all need that source of COMFORT and PREDICTABILITY, not just in our choice of music albums but also in our food preferences (kichdi for a few, thayir saadham for a few, rajma chawal for a few) and our entertainment choices (umpteenth time FRIENDS binge-watching on Netflix, anyone?).

Here are my top 10 favorites of Harris Jayaraj in no particular order (extremely challenging to pick just 10, but let me try)

(1) Oru Manam from Dhruva Natchathiram

I casually stumbled upon this single a few days back and I'm hooked onto it. Classic HJ! Such a feel-good romantic song. 

(2) Unakkene venum sollu / Idhayathai edho onru from Yennai Arindhal

Two songs, different singers, different lyrics, different moods, one tune - both are so soothing and bring out the mood so beautifully. 

(3) Ennai Saaithaalae from Endrendrum Punnagai

I'm yet to watch this movie, but I have watched this song so many times on Youtube. One of the rare romantic songs where I'm in love with picturization. Love the tune and the lyrics as well.

(4) Uyire en uyire from Thotti Jaya

No idea when this movie was released, but this song has been on my playlist for many years. I love the effortless transition from Anuradha Sriram's voice to Bombay Jeyashree's. Yet another melody with the right singers.

(5) Mun andhi chaaral nee from 7aum arivu

A soothing romantic number. And simple, beautiful lyrics. Enough said!

(6) Ennai pandhaada pirandhavale from Ullam Ketkumae

It is very rare for a song to be present in both K's and my playlists as our musical tastes are so different. One such rare song is this romantic melody. Srinivas had sung it so beautifully. 

(7) Uyirile from Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu

A simple duet with a touch of melancholy. The clarity of the lyrics elevates the beauty of this song.

(8) Mundhinam paarthane from Vaaranam Aayiram

When this album was released, I went gaga over this song. It was such a beautiful retro picturization. And what a dialogue at the beginning of the song! 

(9) Ivan yaaro from Minnale

While the whole world was in love with Vaseegara when the album was released, my favorite has always been Ivan yaaro. Such a feel-good number!

(10) Gulmohar malare from Majunu

Ah! this song brings back memories of the SS music days! My brother and I used to be hooked onto this channel back in 2001-02 after we return from college. Yet another sweet, pleasing song. Hariharan's voice modulations give a nice touch to the song that flows like a breeze.

Bonus numbers that didn't make it to the top 10 

(1) Aagaya suriyanai from Samurai

(2) Oru maalai from Ghajni

(3) All songs from Lesa Lesa - this album gave me the required comfort when I felt seasick while going for a weekend sailing trip in SFO back in 2003. While it was freezing cold outside and shaky inside the sailboat, all I did was listen to Lesa Lesa cassette in repeat mode. Yes, good old cassette days!

Are you a fan of Harris Jayaraj albums? What are your favorite songs? What do you like about his work? Share in the comments below.

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