Dec 31, 2021

Behaviors across physical and digital worlds

The way we interact with the physical world and the digital world has a lot of similarities. Let me explain.

Last weekend, I had been to a book store, which had a wide collection across various categories. How did I navigate this place?

First, I went to the categories that I'm mostly interested in - psychology, business, marketing, spirituality. As I was walking through the different aisles, I picked up books to browse - those I have either heard of OR added to my Amazon wish list. Except for a few random books with an interesting title, I mostly stuck to books that I was familiar with.

I wanted to take a look at this book "Behave" by Robert Sapolsky but couldn't find it under psychology. I asked an associate working there and he brought the book from the "Science" section.

I also enquired about a few other books and also wanted to check if they are available in the used books collection. The associate answered all my questions patiently. I ended up buying the book "Behave", which had been in my wish list for a while but couldn't make the purchase decision earlier because of the font size and cost.

A few years back, I was visiting a book store in Chennai. It was a nice, cozy place with a limited collection of books. As I was browsing through the aisle, a gentleman introduced himself as someone who works at this store and would be able to recommend books to me. Without asking whether I'd be interested in such a service, he started picking books from the shelf and was showing them to me, explaining a little bit about the book, the author, etc. Without giving any time for me to process the information or peruse through the book he handed over to me, he went ahead and brought more books. After a point, the whole experience felt irritating. I left the place without buying anything.

As I thought about these two incidents, a few ideas emerged on how these translate into building meaningful experiences in the digital world.

  1. There will be a set of users who need guidance and help to pick from a collection - be it books, online courses, jewelry, clothing, etc. Maybe, they are beginners or they would need some assistance in making the right choice.
  2. There will be a set of users who know exactly what they want. They are capable of searching it themselves through the catalog. If they are not able to, they might ask for help. Maybe, they were looking for it in the wrong place, their search queries may be incorrect or the catalog doesn't have a robust search capability.
  3. Make sense of their actions, beyond just clicks. In the physical world, this would mean - the person looking clueless in a bookstore and he is just going in circles, sometimes even looking around for help. In the digital world, this would mean - opening multiple product descriptions across various categories, scrolling randomly without getting into any specific product description, looking for FAQ/Help/Support pages.
  4. If you notice a user behavior pattern that matches to users being clueless and might need some help, take proactive steps and offer suggestions. Ask for permission first. Then ask a few questions (without sounding too intrusive) to understand their intent and suggest a few options that might be relevant. Make sure to consider their budget - in terms of money, time, or effort, depending on the context.

Dec 28, 2021

2021 - Review

 Every year, I look forward to jotting down my year in review. It is such a powerful, reflective practice that I have incorporated into my life and it is fun to read reviews of previous years.

As I reflected upon 2021, the immediate memories that came up were all the challenges life threw at me this year. It was like life telling me, "Oh, are you complaining about what I'm throwing at you in Jan? Wait till May, my dear."

After going through multiple challenges, the ONE powerful lesson I have learned is this - "Never take anything or anyone for granted".

Most of them were related to health issues that cropped up one after another for EVERY SINGLE family member. These got nothing to do with the Covid virus, but the fact that these issues came up during the pandemic made it even more challenging for all of us. And the person who suffered the most is my dad, an active 71-year old man with no history of any major lifestyle disorders.

He got diagnosed with a critical illness but is curable through medications and treatment. The diagnosis took a while and we ran from one specialist to another. At one point, his condition became too critical that we thought we had lost him. Taking him in an ambulance at 10 PM, waiting for emergency intervention followed by 3-days in ICU, taking care of him in the hospital, watching him suffer when he struggled with the basic functions - memories that are hard to forget. He then got discharged but was completely bedridden for nearly 3 months with a food pipe connected through his nose. The recovery has been slow - transitioning over to liquid foods gradually, getting slight movements, taking a few baby steps with the help of a caretaker, and now able to talk comfortably and eat mashed solid foods. It has been one hell of a roller coaster ride for him as well as for all of us at home. His condition is normal now but he needs to regain his strength (and weight). He is on medication that would go on for another 5-6 months.

Though this whole episode overshadows everything else that happened in 2021, there was a lot to be grateful for. Spending time with my brother during these 4-5 months, extended family members who supported us, our angels in the form of kittens, friends from social media, and common groups who messaged me now and then - thankful to all of them.

As dad's condition started to become stable, I decided to get back to work. Found an interesting opportunity in a niche startup and immediately joined them. Sometimes, the best way to come out of a challenging situation is to take on a new challenge right away. It's been a month and am excited about the opportunity and the new learnings in this space.

On reading,

I managed to finish 11 books this year. There were quite a few books that I started reading but am yet to finish. Here's the list of books completed.

  1. Protection from diseases ebook
  2. Montage of my life by Kalyan Sarkar - Kindle Unlimited ebook
  3. Practical Yoga Psychology by Dr.Rishi Vivekananda
  4. Search inside yourself by Chade-Meng Tan
  5. The search that seeks you by Sangamithra Amudha
  6. Living with the Himalayan masters by Swami Rama
  7. The subtle art of not giving a f*ck by Mark Manson
  8. Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss
  9. Karma by Sadhguru
  10. Zero to One by Peter Thiel
  11. Badass Making users awesome by Kathy Sierra

Being a person who is fascinated by learning,

I enrolled in multiple courses this year, mostly on topics related to philosophy and self-awareness.

  1. Buddhist path of training the mind courses (Tushita meditation centre) - 2 courses, 4 weeks
  2. 4 paths 1 goal course on Bhagavad Gita (Anbe Yogam) - 4 weeks
  3. Deepen a caring heart (Tushita meditation centre) - 2 weeks
  4. Power of words / Non-violent communication (NVC) - from Oct, ongoing

On writing/blogging,

I wrote 58 posts this year. My favorite posts in no particular order

  1. The wake-up call 
  2. Being environment agnostic 
  3. In defense of reading 
  4. How to navigate the content maze 

On public speaking,

I got the opportunity to be on "The Habit Coach" podcast. It was my first experience being on a podcast and I loved it. I did a few Insta Live sessions on topics related to healthy eating, packaged foods, and the importance of reading. I also conducted two sessions - one on mindful eating for a corporate event and a day-long lecture on packaged foods for Bhoomi college. I came up with a new online workshop titled "Design your Lifestyle" and received a lot of positive feedback from participants, but couldn't continue it after March. Hoping to get back to online workshops next year.

On Health & Fitness,

The effort I invested towards my health in the past few years started to reflect in my annual health checkup reports. I managed to reverse PCOD in 2021. Wrote a detailed post on the same. Thanks to the regular brisk walks, my Vitamin D levels increased and my cholesterol levels came to a normal range in 2021 (was on the borderline in early 2020).

Given the stressful situation at home, there were a few aspects that didn't go well in the second half of 2021.

As K and I were analyzing our expenses for the year, what surprised us the most was this category "Eating out" and how it has turned out to be a big number as compared to the previous year (which was almost 0). As more people were at home and I was handling caregiving responsibilities along with other tasks, it is no surprise that we ended up ordering takeaways multiple times. No guilt or regrets though. 

As far as physical activity goes, regular walking on the terrace continued almost throughout the year. But Yoga practice got hit the most. Let's just say, the number of days I practiced Yoga was lesser than the number of days I didn't. The same trend continued for meditation practice as well.

On travel,

we did a short 3 day trip to Mysore in Dec. That's about it. And a few day-trips too - Mandaragiri, Pyramid Valley, Ghati Subramanya temple.

I have no plans, resolutions, or intentions for 2022. Just gonna embrace life as it comes. I firmly believe the Universe will guide me in the right direction.

Wishing you all a very happy, healthy, and peaceful 2022!

Dec 26, 2021

The angels of 2021



That's how the cat population in our home changed this year. Our pet cat W adopted us in 2014. Since then, she has been living with us. She's an indoor cat for most of the day, loves to take long naps throughout the day and sometimes during her hunts, would bring home a mouse, a squirrel, or a pigeon as gifts for us🙂

This all changed in 2020 when a mom cat named Judy brought her 4 kittens to our apartment complex. Detailed story shared here.

Consider this post as part 2.

All of Judy's kittens became pregnant one after another. The last one to get pregnant was Scady, the grey fearless cat. Sometime in Jan this year, she started coming to our balcony often. We knew she was pregnant and was looking for a place to deliver. We didn't want her to deliver in our home, as we feared our pet cat W might harm the babies. But Scady was relentless and kept coming inside our home often. It was clear that she wanted to deliver in our home, as her three sisters had already delivered in ground floor balconies. We placed a box on our balcony, lined up with a few old towels.

One evening, she came home and sat on our sofa. She was full term. Both D and I had a conversation with Scady - "Scady kutti, don't worry. You can safely deliver in our balcony. We will take care of you and your babies. W won't attack them". We showed her the box and went to sleep that night. The next morning, she delivered 4 tiny kittens. D was thrilled to see the newborns. We were all super excited to see them - eyes yet to open, looked like tiny mice. They didn't have any resemblance to cat family🙂

D is crazy about cats and she named the four kittens - George, Octi, Caleco, and Georgina. As days passed by, we got to experience the life stages of these four cutie pies. First, they opened their eyes, then their ears started to grow, then slowly started to walk, tripped multiple times, slowly started to jump out of the box. In all these stages, Scady mommy was super protective of her babies. She would let us pet her babies but she would be fully on the guard. She nursed them on demand, disciplined them whenever they became mischievous, and would go out only when she was sure that we are baby sitting😉

The kittens grew faster. We got them a litter tray and they started using it immediately. We got their vaccinations done and to our surprise, the vet informed us that all four of them were female and needed to be neutered. Day by day, the mischiefs increased, they would jump out of the balcony and go into the common corridor. Scady would get so angry and sometimes helpless when she wasn't able to bring them back. She would demand that we bring the kittens back into the box🙂

They started running around everywhere, doing pretend fights with their siblings and then cuddling together with mommy during afternoon nap times. We had to consciously keep W away from Scady and her babies. And that's how our Feb-Apr passed.

After raising her babies for 3 months, one morning, Scady went out and never returned. It was all of a sudden for us, but the kittens seem to have adapted. By then, the kittens had started eating solid foods. The real challenge started for us after Scady left. Kittens became more mischievous and they started climbing up to other floors, getting caught in neighbors' balconies, and would shout for help. It was such a huge challenge to rescue them. Since this started happening repeatedly, frustrating the neighbors, we decided to keep them indoors by giving them a room and letting them out to the balcony only when one of us can supervise them. And this is the same time when Covid second wave was at its peak, Appa fell critically ill and we had to admit him to the hospital for a couple of weeks. I was completely stressed out during this time, BUT thanks to these little kittens, D had company at home, playing with them and taking care of them.

There were multiple times from May-Sept when we felt we should find an alternate home or shelter for them. Yes, there were also times of frustration when we felt like abandoning them somewhere, but then immediately felt so guilty to have thought this way.

We got them all neutered one after another. My brother was also visiting us during this time. Appa and his caretaker stayed in one room, kittens occupied one more time and D would take her online classes in the third room. Both my brother and my husband would sit either in the living room or on the balcony to attend their office calls.

Amidst this challenging situation, we somehow managed to convince D that it's high time we put these cats for adoption. I reached out to a cat lovers group and placed the ad, BUT didn't get a single enquiry. It was really sad to see so many pics of "cats need home" ads in the WhatsApp group every single day.

By God's grace, a friend referred a couple who came forward to adopt two of our cats (they were 7 months old now). It was a tough decision to pick two of them and we decided to give George and Caleco. The next few days were tough for us as well as the new family, since both the cats were scared to be in a new place and we missed them terribly. Thankfully, they settled down after a week.

We didn't pursue our adoption search further for Georgina and Octi as we have become attached to them (so are they). W has also accepted the presence of them but keeps her distance.

As our family went through an emergency crisis due to Appa's health this year, these kittens helped us ride the storm in so many ways. They brought us joy and a smile at the end of long, tiring days. When times are challenging, God sends us angels to help us. And these cats - Scady and her babies were those angels that we needed.

From a 1-cat family, we are now a 3-cat family at the end of 2021.

Dec 17, 2021

Notes on Desire

 I came across this insightful article this morning - How to know what you really want . It talks about how our desires get formed. I could resonate with it so much. And at multiple points, I paused and reflected upon why a certain point makes so much sense. This post is just a collation of those reflections with examples.

"Desire (as opposed to need) is an intellectual appetite for things that you perceive to be good, but that you have no physical, instinctual basis for wanting"

Such an interesting take on connecting our desires to Intellectual Appetite! Someone desiring a high-end smartphone *intellectually* perceives that a superior configuration is better.

"Desire is a social process - it is mimetic. Mimetic desires are the desires that we mimic from the people and culture around us. If I perceive some career or lifestyle or vacation as good, it’s because someone else has modeled it in such a way that it appears good to me."

This is such a powerful truth. It is imperative to understand the sources of our desires. Our lives are pervaded by the constant updates from social media - posts, images, videos, and vlogs that play on our subconscious minds and create new desires as though they are coming from our deep needs, but in reality, influenced by others.

For eg, a few months back, I started following many bookstagrammers to rekindle my reading habit. Ever since I've observed that my desire to buy new books has substantially gone up. My Amazon wishlist is growing longer.

I have also observed a similar pattern when my favorite vloggers were showcasing sarees from boutique stores around the times of Navaratri/Diwali. My desire to buy sarees went up briefly during this time.

It is not only about material things, but also the kind of lifestyles/routines we observe in people whom we follow on social media, thereby leading to mimetic desire.

Inspiration is different from plain mimetic desire. What's shared as lifestyle doesn't show the complete picture. Attempting to copy or mimic someone else's lifestyle is just not possible or even worth it, however aspiring it seems like, from the lens of social media.

"Know where your desires came from. Your desires have a history. You can’t know what a ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ desire is unless you understand where it came from"

"Are any of us authors of our own desires? Yes, we can be. You might not be the sole author of your desires, but you can certainly take ownership and put your mark of authorship on them through your creative freedom."

My desire to buy and read more books has a history behind it. I wanted to read books apart from textbooks back in my school days. It wasn't financially viable back then. As soon as I started working, the very first purchase I made was a book. Since then, the majority of my expenses towards my desires per se has been towards books. And that culminated in a small home library, which I cherish a lot.

"To be anti-mimetic is to be free from the unintentional following of desires without knowing where they came from; it’s freedom from the herd mentality; freedom from the ‘default’ mode that causes us to pursue things without examining why."

Questioning ourselves on every desire before we pursue them gives us the much-needed pause and insight. And as the author of this article states, it is freedom. 

"Social media is a mimetic machine. What we typically call ‘social media’ is really social mediation – the mediation of desires. All day, every day, desires are being modelled to us through people we barely know. Mimetic desire is the hidden engine of these platforms."

And this point hits the nail right on the head. How desires are being carefully curated and mediated to us in subtle ways! I often wonder about this fact - earlier we would only know about what's happening in the lives of our neighbors, but now because of the vlogging trend, we get to know about the lives of total strangers - their shopping hauls, their life updates, their travel plans and much more. The fact that such vlogs have the potential to shape our desires is something to be watchful about!

If you have read this far, I'm sure you'd love the article. Do check it out.

Dec 8, 2021

Book Review: Badass: Making users awesome by Kathy Sierra

I came across this book sometime in 2015. I quickly brushed through the soft copy from Safari and jotted down a few points that were relevant to my work then.

As I kickstarted a new work engagement couple of weeks back, I knew I needed to revisit this book in much more depth and so ordered a hard copy.

It might seem like a not-so-serious book, given the style of writing and the imagery. But amidst the fun narrative lies a lot more insightful and relevant pointers for product managers and UX designers.

Kathy Sierra's Badass Making users awesome makes a compelling case of why it is important to enable users to become awesome in the compelling context for which they use our product/service. Most of the time, we market loudly on why our product is awesome with all the amazing, cool features. But the real success and meaning come when we help our users become awesome in a particular skill. Our product becomes an enabler towards this outcome.

Instead of competing on the quality of our product, it makes more sense to compete on the quality of the user's results with our product.

"Our users don't bask in the glow of our awesome product.

Our product basks in the glow of our users' results with it"

As users become awesome by experiencing results, they become what Kathy refers to as "badass" users. Badass users become more skillful, more knowledgeable, develop the ability to experience the context at a high resolution, and develop an enhanced perception towards appreciating quality.

"Don't just upgrade your product, upgrade your users"

"Don't build a better camera, build better photographers"

She then takes us in-depth on the user journey and the aspects to focus on, that will help our users become badass in the corresponding context.

Some of the ideas that are discussed are

  • Deliberate practice - break down a skill into finer-grained sub-skills
  • Perceptual exposure, leading to perceptual knowledge
  • Fixing the gaps that prevent users from moving forward
  • Setting up a performance path map
  • Reducing cognitive drain

If you are a startup founder, product manager, or designer working on skill-building or solving problems related to adoption/activation/engagement, then this book is a super useful read.

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