What you need to know to help you take lasting action in the new year (and a list of books/podcast/videos)

Reading Time: 4 minutes

As I sat down to write the second last post of this year I started thinking about the expectation and hope that we have from what life has to offer us in the new year.

However, what also bothered me was this.

Why is it that...

there are so many people who make promises to themselves at the very beginning of the year with the best of intentions but are rarely able to fulfil them?

some people struggle so much to take action while others keep moving forward and leave them far behind?

In the end, I decided to write 2 posts on this topic as we head into the new year. The first one is all about taking action while the second one is about motivating yourself to make changes in your life and then learn ways to sustain them. 
(I have shared with you some resources like podcasts, youtube videos and books at the end that covers topics like taking action, accepting responsibility and self motivation)
What is that stops so many us from taking steps to move towards our goals?
To create something that we love?
To move forward?
To become better at what we do and reach our goals?

The voice in our head

The thing to remember here is that ALL of us struggle with self doubt and procrastinate from time to time. It becomes a problem only when it stops us from taking action and producing the results that we want in life. We are often unaware of the voice in our heads (our thoughts) which can discourage us and stop us from taking action. In fact, if we are not aware of its presence, we end up believing many of the negative stories that it tells us.  

 

Have you ever said to yourself?

“I dont have the time”

“I am too busy”

 “It would take too much time” 

 “It’s all their fault”

 “The time is’nt right”

I certainly have! Many times as a matter of fact and I still do from time to time. The good news is that I have become better and better at catching these thoughts and becoming aware of the stories I tell myself. As a result, I have been able to make decisions and take action steps which are intentional and fruitful. 

Stuck in passive action 

Many of us can get stuck in the passive action phase and never be able to move forward. While it is certainly important to gather information before starting anything whether it is through courses, classes and qualifications like degrees, we need to be able to apply it in our lives. It is indeed very difficult to produce any worthwhile results without taking any risks and/or dealing with failure and discomfort.
In other words, by getting stuck in the passive action phase, we can become unable to "produce" any tangible results. This has a bearing on both our personal and professional lives. We remain stuck in painful relationships, jobs and situations which no longer serve us. And rather than putting in the effort to take action steps to make some much needed changes in our lives, we choose to stay put. 
Knowing your mind

Too often we allow negative (instead of positive) emotions to drive our need to do something. A classic example is that of people who try to lose weight by starving and depriving themselves of proper nutrition; this is not sustainable in the long run and usually backfires in terms of health outcomes. 

At the end of the day, we need to be really clear about what we actually want to produce before we start working on something and know what it will look like. If you are cooking something for the first time and not sure about what it is you are cooking or what it will look like, it becomes much more difficult for you to do so, isn’t it?

Taking responsibility for our life

Many people believe that life happens "to" them and much of what happens is beyond their control. They give up even before they try anything out properly since they believe there is not much they can do about changing the outcome. In fact, this limiting belief is very commonly used to justify why someone is unable to take any action. As a result, many remain stuck in the same painful relationship/life situation/ work for years unable to move forward. They are simply unaware that they are in control of their own response to a situation and have the power to choose one thought over another. 

They simply allow their feelings, emotions, circumstances and other people’s agenda to determine their own course of action and as a result their entire life. As a result, inspite having the best of intentions, they end up NOT focussing on the very things that matter to them or bring meaning to their life. 

Infact I have written an entire post about this topic and you can read it HERE.

Imperfect action is better than perfect inaction

And last but not the least, very often we get stuck on taking action only when we are certain of getting “perfect” results. Our fear of failure holds us back. As a result, we do not even try to produce the results we want or give up easily if it is too hard. We forget that is is only time and repeated action through practice which helps us to develop the skills required to produce results at the highest level. 

I leave you with some amazing resources which have changed the way I think about this topic and inspired me to take action no matter how hard it seems. This is a collection of podcasts, books and videos which have truly enriched my life.

These 5 books will help you realign with yourself

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Reading is a practice that contributes immensely to our mental, emotional wellbeing both of which are intricately connected to our physical health. However, there are too many of us who are not taking advantage of this amazing source of information and collective wisdom. In this post, I have encapsulated a collection of books that have personally contributed tremendously to my own personal growth and wellbeing especially in terms of bringing clarity to what gives my life meaning and what is important to me.

Those who know me well know that I am a voracious reader. I truly believe that reading is an extremely effective way of gaining insight into other people's experiences and wisdom. We can be inspired and motivated by others who have led a rich and meaningful life on their own terms. This post, in particular, is about books which will help you to realign with yourself and your purpose. With that, given below are five books that you can pick up today that will change your life in one way or the other.

(This is the first in a series of posts that I will be writing every month or so on books and resources that you will likely benefit from)

The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

This book is a powerful guide to finding meaning in our lives. It gives a different perspective on what we know about happiness. Social scientists are now proving what philosophers have known all along; that the pursuit of happiness actually makes people unhappy. Emily Esfahani Smith identifies four pillars upon which meaning rests: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling and Transcendence.

In this book, the author gives an insight into what determines a life lived purposefully. She stresses on the fact each of us has different strengths, abilities, insights and talents and we will need to be aware of these and have knowledge about ourselves to live a life filled with purpose. She goes on to show that those of us who have a purpose in life, contribute towards the goal that we set for ourselves, ultimately lead lives which are more satisfying and meaningful. A must read for anyone who is looking to find ways to incorporate purpose, belonging as well as happiness in their lives. The Power of Meaning  by Emily Esfahani Smith (October 2017)

 

 

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

This book is one of the books that I tend to read again and again. This is the book which first brought awareness to the fact that rather than focussing on how we can do more and more, we need to focus on doing the right things. So rather than trying to fit everything in our to-do list and our life and suffering from overwhelm, overscheduling and stress we can learn how to say "no" to things that are not important and start focussing on the right things.

In this book, the author writes about the staggering choices that we are forced to confront on a daily basis which keep us stuck as we battle decision fatigue. The information overload in the digital age and the myth that "you can have it all"  is contributing to the stress in our modern life. As an alternative, the author shows us ways to apply more selective criteria to understand what is truly Essential and saying "no" to what is not.

Personally, this book has helped me to revaluate the decisions that I make on a daily basis and helped me to focus on what is really important in my life. This book will help you to discover your priorities and provide you with a template to "do less, but better." Essentialism by Greg McKeown (April 2014)

 

 

The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware

This book was initially written as a blog post by a palliative nurse taking care of terminally ill patients. After working with such patients her life was transformed. She wrote about it in a blog post which encapsulated the most common regrets of those whom she had cared for at the very end of their lives. This struck a chord with people all over the world and it was read by over three million people.

This encouraged her to write her own personal story as well as the top five regrets of those at the end of their lives. At the end of the day, this book is not so much about dying but about how to actually live a life with peace, clarity and purpose. Read this book to gain an insight into finding out what truly matters to you, what you want from life and how to garner the courage to walk your own path.

This book has brought immense clarity to my own life and has taught me just how precious my life truly is. While the writing style may be a bit difficult for some of you, do continue with this book and read it to gain an insight into how you can live a life that is well lived and worthwhile. The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware (May 2017)

 

 

Mindset by Carol Dweck

This book is written by a professor of psychology at Stanford University and is the book on "growth mindset". The author and her colleagues did a groundbreaking experiment with a group of students which showed that contrary to popular belief, their mindset played a key role in their achievements and motivation levels. They also found that by changing their mindset they were actually able to improve the outcomes.

This research showed the way in terms of how success in school, work, arts, sports and many other areas in life can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our skills and abilities. This book can help us to change the way we think about failure, foster resiliency and transform our life.

This book has helped me to change the way I think about effort, failure and my own abilities. I have been able to apply these principles in different areas of my life including parenting, work, business and relationships and have seen firsthand it's transformative power.

Read this book to learn more about "fixed" vs "growth" mindset and how you can work on your own mindset and build the right mindset in children in particular.  Mindset by Carol Dweck (January 2017)

 

Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Fransesc Miralles

Ikigai is a word that is used to describe our reason for "being." I came across the word"Ikigai" a couple of years back and it has stayed with me ever since. It is a Japanese word/concept which means "a reason for being" and has a profound effect on longevity and the quality of life.

Our Ikigai may be different for each of us, but we are all searching for something that gives meaning to our life. Knowing that what we are doing with our life is at the intersection of our values, our passion and contribution to society give us the strength and the conviction to carry on even during difficult and uncertain times.

I am truly blessed to be one those fortunate few who is in the centre of this convergence in my own life and I urge you to make an effort to work towards your own beautiful whole. Read this book to find begin your search for and discover your own "Ikigai". Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector Garcia and Fransesc Millares (September 2017)

 

These are the 5 books that I would like to leave you with at this time. I will be sharing such books and resources on various topics which will contribute either directly or indirectly to your health and wellbeing. Books are a major part of my life and help me to learn and grow in more ways than I can count. I hope that you will take advantage of what I have shared and give yourself the "gift" of reading.

As someone had said wisely..

A book is a gift you can open again and again

5 simple morning habits for a calmer, brighter day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

This is the THIRD in a series of 6 weekly posts that I am writing about self care- if you have not done so already you can check out the first part "Do you know your WHY?" and the second part "Rocks, pebbles and sand...the key to knowing what is important in your life".

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

-Mary Oliver (from the poem "The summer day")

Take some and reflect upon your answers to the following questions

What do I want from life?

What am I doing that really counts?

What would I do if I knew I would not fail?

What is the unique gift that I can share with the world so that I can contribute and make a difference?

For many of us, somewhere deep inside we have this niggling feeling that what we are doing is not contributing to what really matters to us and what is important in our lives. Taking the time out to reflect on the questions shared in all the three posts should give you some clarity and inspire you to think about what you need to change in order to move towards your goals and focus on what is important to you. As you do this, you will be able to take out the time to listen more, spend quality time with family and friends, enjoy and indulge in your hobbies, relax more and get to know yourself through meditation and self reflection. It would then be much easier to identify those areas of your life that need an overhaul or some tweaking in order to become the best version of yourself.

However, sometimes even when we have the clarity and the inclination to make changes in our lives, the external world can get in the way. Without realising it, we can start and end our day on autopilot merely reacting to circumstances and people, fulfilling their agendas and not ours. For many of us, as soon as the alarm wakes us up, our habitual thoughts take over and our mental playlist of activities, worries and to-do list fill our every waking moment. Each day turns into a month, then months turn into years and pretty soon we have lost decades of our lives simply by remaining on autopilot. We may also feel that because of our circumstances- financial, personal, professional we do not really have any choice but to live like this on autopilot.

This is simply not true

At each moment we have a choice. You chose to read this article today. You choose the clothes you wear, the foods you eat, the activities that you indulge in. You choose to be angry or to forgive people. You choose to be happy or to remain sad. You choose to be grateful for what you have or to focus on the things you lack in your life. You choose all these things and much more. BUT what you need to keep in mind is that this power to choose resides only in this present moment. In time, it is what we do every single day that matters much more than the profound decisions that we may make once in a while.

Once we are clear about what we need to do, we need to rise above excuses and do what is important and needs to be done. And one of the best things that we can do to increase productivity and get things done is to have a well thought out morning routine. Having a consistent morning routine is infact a common and recurring theme amongst many successful people. It helps to counteract the pull of distractions and overcome daily obstacles that can and do pop up. You can and should harness the power of an empowering morning routine as well. And in time, it can literally transform your life.

Whether it is the Olympic winner Michael Phelps, Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Soni, Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata, Indira Nooyi or countless other successful people, crafting a sacred space in the morning has made all the difference in their productivity and achieving their dreams. It has enabled them to start their day with intention and set a positive tone for the rest of the day. In other words, an empowering morning can set you up for 'wins' and motivate you to keep going with a calm and productive frame of mind.

Now that the power of morning routines is clear, let us see what it would look like for you. The first thing to note is that it is NOT and SHOULD NOT be the same for everyone. It is not about waking up at a particular time OR doing the same things that everyone else is doing. It is about finding, creating and then sticking to a routine that is right for YOU.

Remember, your mornings are a blank slate and it is up to you to fill it in with what work for you

What is a morning routine?

It is a set of activities that you do upon waking up in the morning. It can and does vary from person to person and includes activities like exercise, meditation, brushing teeth, prayer, journaling, writing and reading.

Take some time today and think about how you usually start your day. Simply start by making a list of all the things that you do upon waking up. The next step would be to identify what is important right now. (This becomes easier if you have already reflected upon this as I have mentioned in my earlier post) Once you know that you are doing the RIGHT thing you can get started crafting out a routine that works for YOU.

In this post, I have shared with you 5 simple habits that you can intentionally develop for a calmer and brighter morning

(It is up to you to incorporate as many of these that you want in your own routine)

Setting intention

Set the tone for the day by finding out what your intention is. The questions below can help you bring some clarity as you think about your activities for the day and set an intention-

How can I show up today that is in line with what I want to achieve today?

What do I want to see more of today? (good news, wonder, acts of kindness, joy)

What is my heart's desire at this moment?

How do I want to feel?

A few examples are "Today I will take care of myself better, show compassion to others and myself, remain calm, be more open to joy".

Journaling, meditation and reflection 

Prayer, meditation and journaling are all beautiful ways that you can use to ground and connect with yourself. There is no one right way to meditate or write in a journal, you simply need to find what works for you.

If writing free form is difficult, you can use the prompts given below (from the book "The Mindful Day by Laurie Cameron")

What I appreciate most in my life right now is....

 I am at my best when I am....

What brings me alive is.....

What I really need right now is....

What gets in the way of me being present is....

My next best action is.... 

Even if you do not have a formal meditation practice, the simple act of paying attention or being more mindful in how you start your day can have a profound effect. The beauty is that you can be more mindful with regards to any activity that you do already. The simple act of paying attention while having a cup of tea, brushing your teeth, showering, exercise will help you to bring awareness to that particular moment and replenish and rejuvenate you.

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Reading

Another way of connecting with yourself and the world in the morning is to read a book (and I don't mean the news). This will be different for each of us as we choose to read something that inspires and motivates us. I find that I prefer to read about other people whom I respect and who inspire me to grow and live a better life. Books like The four things that matter most by Dr Ira Byock, First things first by Stephen Covey, Essentialism by Greg Mckeown, The power of habit by Charles Duhigg, Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, Mindset By Carol Dweck, The Go Giver by Bob Burg and John Mann are just some of the books I have read over time.

Spending time with family

Spending time with your family is one of the best ways to start your day. It helps to connect with what is truly important for each of us on a daily basis. Whether it is 10 minutes or an hour, it is the quality of the time spent that matters more than how much time you actually get to spend with your family in the morning.

Since there is always a rush in the morning during school days (I have two school going children), I try and wake my children up around 10 minutes earlier and spend some time with them, giving them a hug or a cuddle and sometimes switching on their favourite music to get them started on the right note. My husband and I also make sure that we savour our quiet time together over our cup of tea and newspaper before we start preparing for our day.

Exercise and mindful movement

Research shows us that moving our bodies first thing in the morning whether it is through exercise (cardio, aerobic, strength training etc) or mindful movements like tai chi and yoga have a profound beneficial and positive effect on our health and how we deal with the rest of our day. By doing this first thing in the morning we have the opportunity to harness the benefits of exercise and movement throughout the remainder of our day. Schedule a workout or activity that you like doing already and then stick to it.

However, the key to having a successful and consistent routine is to PLAN for it and REMOVE anything that might get in the way

A few things that ensure that I stick to my routine are

  • preparing the night before by keeping my journal, workout clothes ready; preferably somewhere I can see them immediately as I wake up
  • using an app to make sure that I cannot access my emails and social media first thing in the morning (I will be covering this topic in details in one of my later posts)
  • having a simple structure that I can follow in terms of activities and time for the first couple of hours
  • setting an intention for the day; sometimes I set one for the entire week
  • complete my workout in the morning so that unexpected work or family issues do not come in the way later during the day
  • lastly, creating an environment that is conducive to self reflection and gives a peaceful start to my day; I love playing music and lighting incense to awaken my senses

My own routine is very much a work-in-progress and is not something that you need to emulate as is. The whole point is to find what works for YOU and then stick to it. It should be something that you enjoy doing and feel good about doing on a regular basis.

So take a pen and paper and start creating an empowering morning routine for yourself. Every day that you stick to it treat as a small "win". It is only when we pause to celebrate each step that we take in the right direction that we can stick to it and achieve what we set out to do no matter how long it takes.

Finally, take this magical time to connect with your body, breath and spirit to give yourself the best possible start to your day and to your life

As Marcus Aurelius said, "When you arise in the morning, think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive, to breathe, to think, to enjoy, to love" 

(As you go through these posts I suggest that you keep a journal handy so that you can reflect upon and write down the questions that I ask along the way. You may end up getting to know yourself better and even surprise yourself with your answers. And of course, I would simply love it if you would share with your experience of going on this journey of self-exploration with me)

 

Book review- “Hold on to your kids- Why parents need to matter more than peers

Reading Time: 5 minutes

I read a TON of books on various subjects including parenting for both professional and personal reasons. But very rarely does a book grab my attention the way that this book has. As the name itself suggests, this book is about parenting but it differs from the other books I have read on this topic in a very important way. It brought to my notice a phenomenon many of our children (especially in the urban areas) are facing today but mostly goes unnoticed and under the radar by their parents. It is the phenomenon of "peer orientation".

Before I delve briefly on what "peer orientation" is about I would like to highlight a few of the other points that the authors make in this book. Parental influence has always been well established over generations and is considered indisputable and irreplaceable, but sadly that is no longer true in many ways in today's world. The problems that our children face today has reached epic proportions both in terms of mental and physical health. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety, lack of self control, bullying, suicide, loss of resiliency, stress have increased exponentially. If these issues had not been there and our children were well adjusted, settled and positively grounded and content we would not need to worry much, but that is not the case in many societies across the globe. Parents have as much love, concern and good intentions for their children as did the preceding generations and there is a lot of parenting literature to help them. Inspite of this, something has shifted fundamentally and this book should serve as a wake-up call for you are much as it did for me.

As the authors have pointed out, the entire context in which parenting takes place has changed. As a result, the role of the parent is being undermined by forces that most parents are not aware of and are not ready to deal with. The critically important attachment relationship between parents and their children which is at the foundation of parenting is in danger. The authors put forward powerful reasons why this is so and show in this book why the main and the most damaging reason is the competing attachments that children today are developing with their peers.

The authors call this "peer orientation". This competing attachment is undermining parental authority and also diminishing the attachment that the child needs to have with the parent as long as the child needs to be parented.

The book brings about a few critical points about "peer orientation"  and some of the important ones are

  • children like any other warm blooded mammals have a natural instinct for orientation; they need to be guided and nurtured by someone
  • children cannot be oriented both towards adults and their peers at the same time; they must necessarily CHOOSE between the two
  • even though this phenomenon is now becoming "normal", it is not "natural" or "healthy" and has negative consequences in the long run

We need to become conscious of this need for attachment that all humans have (adults and children). This is what creates communities, families and keeps us all connected emotionally, psychologically, behaviorally and physically with each other. This connection could be taken for granted in many ways in the preceding generations. But that no longer holds true for us today.

The book describes in details the six different ways of attaching- senses, sameness, belonging and loyalty, significance, feeling and being known. If these bonds of attachment are strong and development is healthy, these facets are interwoven closely into a strong bond and children will find ways of staying close and holding on even when physically apart from their parents. However, peer oriented children live in a world filled with severely limited and superficial attachments driven by the least vulnerable way of attaching- sameness. This explains their need to resemble one another in look, behaviour, thoughts, tastes and values.

The other disturbing revelation for me was the false independence that a peer oriented child portrays and which seems to be a good thing. On the contrary, they are still dependent but now they depend on their peers for guidance - a set of people who are NOT truly dependable, mature, appropriate, responsible or compassionate. 

Many parents do intuitively know and sense that something is just not right with their relationship with their children but may not know what is exactly wrong. Beneath many parent's anger and frustration of failing to connect and parent their children lies a sense of hurt and betrayal. This intuitive feeling is usually ignored and pushed under the carpet by relegating this to "normal teenage issues" or some other such cause. This works for many parents till it stops working at all. In an extreme situation, this can end with a teen committing suicide as she is unable cope with or has problems getting along with her peers. Usually though, this plays out in the forms of rude behaviour, name calling, increased aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality all of which are discussed in details in this book.

Collecting and reclaiming our children

The good news is, however, that this book also discusses in details how to "reclaim our children". For those children who are not very far down the roads with peers can be "collected" and the attachment relationship can be strengthened in four simple ways- get in the child's face or space in a friendly way, provide something for the child to hold on to, invite independence and act as the child's compass point.

For those children who are too insulated by peer attachments will need additional efforts which are explained in the chapters towards the end of the book-

Preserve the ties that empower

Discipline that does not divide

Don't court the competition

Recreate the attachment village

The last chapter also deals with the role that technology plays in our children's lives and in the parent- child relationship. I am very wary not about the digital revolution per se but about the negative impact it has on children who are too young to handle it. Timing is everything and it is as true in the case of digital gadgets or video games as it is in the case of alcohol or sex with regards to children.

I love this quote from the last chapter

"We want children to be fulfilled with what they truly need before they have access to that which would spoil their appetite for what they truly need"

I hope this book review has opened your eyes to the issues that you may be facing yourself with your children or some other family you know may be facing. Let this serve as a wake up call for you (as it has for me) and also give you HOPE that there is a lot that can be done to undo the damage. We need to be aware of this if we are to raise children who mature into compassionate, genuinely independent, resilient adults who go on to lead purposeful lives and contribute to society.

I had written about raising children who are resilient in my earlier post "To Raise Resilient Kids, Be a Resilient Parent" and you can read it HERE.

Book review-The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith

Reading Time: 2 minutesThe book “The Power of Meaning” by Emily Esfahani Smith stands out for me as a powerful guide to finding meaning in our lives. It gives a different perspective to what we know about happiness. Social scientists are now proving what philosophers have known all along; that the pursuit of happiness actually makes people unhappy. Emily Esfahani Smith identifies four pillars upon which meaning rests: Belonging, Purpose, Storytelling and Transcendence.

The book talks about how social scientists are now showing that the more effort we put into building something, the more we value it. We knew and learned this as children while trying out new sports and hobbies but we tend to forget this lesson as adults- “only by facing challenges head on can we truly find meaning in our lives”.

The author gives an insight to what determines a life lived purposefully through a few examples but they highlight the same thing. Each of us have different strengths, abilities, insights and talents and we will need to be aware of these and have knowledge about ourselves to live a life filled with purpose. She goes on to show that those of us who have a purpose in life, contribute towards the goal that we set for ourselves, ultimately lead lives which are more satisfying and meaningful. She shows that by reaching out and helping others helps us connect to something bigger than ourselves and ultimately makes us feel as if we are connected to everyone and makes us a part of a bigger whole.

Through stories and examples, she gives a roadmap to those who want to craft a meaningful life. At the end, love is the tie that binds all the points she makes in this book as we learn how to find meaning in our everyday lives and in the mundane.