Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Success V.2.0

I have always been a gullible fan of self help unaware of the dangers associated with the type of mindset created by reading such material. I realize now that self help is somewhat similar to marijuana or drinking, which gives a momentary high but in the end leaves you in an even worse condition.

My journey with self help started when i probably first got hold of a free internet connection. Carol Dweck, who is a psychology professor at Stanford, states that children who are told that that they are geniuses suffer in the long run than children who are praised for their hardwork. Unfortunately i was always told i was a genius, since i happened to be the bright one in a family of four, which isn't really a lot of competition. I never really did very well in school although i was an above average student. I had to carry this burden associated with being a genius and had to constantly prove my self. Whenever i felt i couldn't really pull it off, i would stop working, which made the posteriori justification of my failure easy without denting my belief in the genius of my abilities. I must admit that i secretly worked hard and always tried to hide it which was one of the few reasons that a few impressively productive people did mention and praise my intellect and genius. I was able to fool a few people into believing in my genius when in fact it was grueling hard work. I wish i had been more open about the fact that i struggled with grasping things just like a normal person, at least i would have gone an extra mile this way without feeling ashamed even if i failed in the end. I was a typical "fixed mindset" (Carol Dweck).

I can roughly divide my life into two phases when it comes to work. With the above mentioned "fixed mindset", i balked at the first real challenge in life. I did not know how to work but always thought i was a genius, and this would eventually completely crash me. I got a real good job, and this time the incentives and disincentives were real. It wasn't school, where it would be fun to get even bad grades. There was a real shame associated with the fact that i was the weakest link. Being the weakest link and being a genius got me all messed up in my head and i eventually quit this job by not showing up. My family members were completely shocked, since i was the bright one, and i had to justify my failure by making excuses. I convinced them that my riches lay else where and they believed me because they thought that i could do it.

After spending the most miserable few months of my life i eventually got a job as a teacher in a remote college. Everything was pathetic about the job, the pay, the work environment, i had to live in the worst living conditions imaginable...everthing. This is precisely where i first encountered self help literature like Paulo Coelho's "alchemist" or Stephen Covey. Paulo Coelho was probably the one who got me in this mess in the first place and during this time i actually thought that i was the kid in the novelette. Stephen Covey forced me into making a constitution which now seems utterly ridiculous. I made a neat constitution which had all my passions listed, the do's and the don'ts, every imaginable crap i could think of. It was some brain washing technique to fool your brain into believing stuff. I also fell in love at this time, and love has a strangely energizing influence. My depression about the hell hole i was stuck in soon gave way to this marvelously amazing emotion. Energized by self help and love, i started working my ass off....literally. I took on an impressive work load without ever sleeping. People were amazed with my abilities. In phase one of my life, i was obsessed with my genius, but in this second phase, i got convinced that i wasn't a genius and therefore i had to work my ass off. I worked hard to prove something to my family and friends who had finally started thinking of me as a failure which was an extremely liberating feeling personally. Being called a complete loser helped me the most and i am till this day truly grateful for everyone who treated me like one.

I stopped sleeping and worked late night and i did achieve a lot in a year. But then, some strange things started happening. I started to loose my motivation, the self help book, especially "the alchemist" stopped working. I slowly got weary of working hard, and it became difficult to wake up in the mornings. In simple words i was burning out. The fuel in the motivation tank was running low. The love started feeling more like a burden and a responsibility. I dint feel energized, because honestly a girl isn't your motivational speaker, in fact i did start to blame her for not feeling energized which was kind of ridiculous.

I kept my grueling schedule though, as i exactly knew what would happen if i didn't (failure lesson No.1). I worked harder, woke up early and slept late. Always full of anxiety about my performance. I couldn't work at work and most of the time stared blankly at the computer screen. My productivity kept on decreasing and what previously worked for me simply stopped working. I focused on nothing but my work. No movies, no television, no going out, no literature, no philosphy etc etc. My life was becoming ridiculously boring. I focused on one thing which all the self help books told me to. In the end my productivity fell so low that i had to stop going to work since there was no point going there. I was a nervous wreck, i had more on my plate then i could ever consume. I started hating work, the work which i thought i was passionate about. I started reading philosophies like Alain De Botton's on work and the pleasures and sorrows associated with it. I started reading Nassim Taleb and started owning his disgust for work. I honestly started believe that work was slavery. My relationship with work deteriorated to the point that i was about to quit again, but this time the reasons were different. I knew there must be a solution, but the self help books and my relationship did not provide a solution. I was completely burned out. I listened to TED and BIGTHINK lectures about slowing down and work life balance but these principles were contradicting the self help crap that i was reading. I was living in a world of contradiction when amazingly i read a blog written by a post doc from MIT. Now here's a guy from MIT where people work to death and this guy is talking about working less. I finally found my case study for a paradigm shit. Nassim Taleb said that he was a flaneur who loved wasting time and then sometimes would work intensely for one hour. It wasn't very believable for me, because the details were missing. Success for me was synonymous with extreme hardwork. Cal Newport (MIT post doc) presented a very detailed picture of work which is compatible with a healthy and fun life style. I quickly read recommended books like the "four hour work week" and similar blogs about having fun and working less. Newport talked about chasing multiple passions. He had already written 3 books, and 7 publications during his Phd which is an achievement in itself, and he never worked after 5:30. He probably, by his own admission worked 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening and stressed on intensity. I had to follow this magic formula as my last hope. I had read about the "state of flow" in carol dweck's book which is a state in which enormous amounts of work is accomplished with complete singular focus on the task at hand. Feynman was famous for doing his physics in a strip club so he could avoid disturbance and enter in this strange magical world of perfect work. Well, since i had stopped working all together mostly due to anxiety and depression about my work, i therefore thought of giving this idea a try. So, one day, i chose a perfectly beautiful spot (not my cubicle) and decided to work intensely for 40 minutes. I cut away all the distraction believing that i could live without all the distraction for at least that long. I soon started typing away a program, and the magic happened. In a few minutes i was in a flow and started chipping away a program that i wanted to write for months. The whole program looked as if it was writing itself and i was a mere spectator in this magical experience. After 1 hour i quit and took a break and loitered around without the slightest sense of guilt. I browsed a library and got myself a really excellent classic novel, a passion i had given up years ago. I worked for 1 more hour the same day and i was amazed at what i had achieved by simply working intensely in short bursts. It was the most amazing anxiety free and relaxing day as i had the remaining 22 hours to catchup on my sleep, exercise etc which i probably didn't do because i felt like wasting time which could've been spent working. I walked a lot slowly and enjoyed the beauty around me. Previously i was walking really fast to save time, which was mostly wasted by constantly staring at a blank computer screen. The whole transformation was brilliant. With all the exercise i felt less fat and much better about my self.

I am now well into my third week and i have hardly worked more than 2 hours a day, although i am planning to increase my work to 4 hours. I have almost completed my novel and i have written this entire post in just 40 minutes which is an amazing feat and can only be accomplished if you are completely immersed in the flow state. I am hardly distracted while writing this and the words just type themselves out. I am about to quit and take a break where i am going to roam around, breathe the fresh air, enjoy the sun and relax.

So Chaoo!!!

link to Cal Newport's blog:

link to Carol Dweck's blog:

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