Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Iterative and Incremental Living

Iterative and Incremental Living

By Dr Shoab Khan

Iterative and incremental living helps you to remain positive and assertive all your life. Depression and negativity are two major mental states that are to be countered for executing excellence in a professional setting. They affect a person’s creativity and cause a dark shadow in his personality. A depressed and negative person is looked down by his peers and people around him start avoiding his company and would even not like to engage with him in any technical arguments and discussions no matter how intelligent and smart he is. Such a person looses respect in the eyes of his peers and gradually finds himself in isolation. This further aggravates his negativity and makes him sourer in dealings. It is therefore very important for professionals to learn to counter negativity.
It is critical for us to know the ultimate objective of life like an objective function in an optimization problem. I am not against setting high worldly goals but for us the Muslims the highest weight in this objective function must go to life hereafter. Whatever we do, should be constrained and driven by this ultimate objective of pleasing Allah and winning heaven. This objective must reflect in our professional life as it will then ease our decision making ability.

To me the life has always been a highly non linear problem to solve that depends on many random and chaotic variables. A person’s life is invariably controlled by these variables and many a times a person’s set objectives would simply not meet no matter how hard he tries. There are always few variables that are not in his control and are very chaotic in nature. They can cause major upsets in his set goals. A person who sets high goals is very assertive and usually is self centered. Any little perturbation that makes him suspect of losing his objective makes him reactive.  To counter the disturbances he strives harder to balance them out. If he tends to fail, he gets depressed. The negativity clings to his personality and makes him very unpleasant for people to deal with.  

It is important to learn how to counter depression and negativity in professional life. Like any non linear problem in engineering the issue should be solved by making non-linearity in life piecewise linear on smaller duration. This incremental linearity helps a person to counter upsets that usually results in negativity. This incremental way of living also makes you focus more on problems in hand. It will also help you to live a life rather than waiting for a tomorrow to come. I have seen ambitious people always waiting for something to happen in their life in future. They seem to me like people on transit at the airports just waiting for the time for their next flight while changing terminals. They are very itchy and uneasy. These people would wait to get good grades in high schools to get in a good engineering or science program, then they are waiting to become engineers or scientists to get good jobs and this waiting makes them always wait for something higher in their life. In this waiting, they keep losing the precious time and pleasures of life, they don’t live rather they are always waiting for a better tomorrow to live. And in this cycle they become machines rather than sensitive human beings. In this process though they may get professional success, earn fortune, get citizenship of some advanced country, own big houses, but once they look back, they don’t find if they have lived a life. They will find themselves still waiting for something of even greater value to happen in their life. For these people, if something other then what they are striving for happened, they get depressed. It is therefore always good to live an incremental life, like an adaptive iterative algorithm with a small step size. These algorithms are slow but they always converge and adapts to the current situation. More ambitious people always try to take a bigger jump. It is like increasing the step size in an adaptive algorithm; if luck is on their side they get to the destination otherwise most probably they hit divergence that may never bring them back to their desired course of objectives.  

Now the question remains that what is meant by incremental living? To me it simply means living in today where we are not eagerly waiting for future to come.

For students in professional schools it implies that they should not eagerly wait to become an engineer or scientist as they would ultimately become one in due course of time.  I would rather say that don’t even think about this once you are in a professional school. Think about what you need to do today for tomorrow and day after tomorrow. The assignment you need to complete today for tomorrow’s submission deadline.  Live in that assignment, enjoy it, and just think whole purpose of professional excellence is to complete that assignment.  Better prepare yourself for a surprise quiz that may surprise you tomorrow. If there are extracurricular activities in your school then actively participate in them but don’t compromise on your studies. Live your life, believe me this is the best time of your life, and enjoy it. Enjoy your studies, your classes, the money you don’t have that you don’t spend, the food from the chabba hotel, the travel in public van and chinkis, affection and love of your friends, the little fights you have among yourselves, the little sacrifices you give for others.  Look how smart you look in the second hand clothes someone bought for you from landa bazaar. This is the life you are going to miss for rest of your life.  This incremental hard work and local focus will also make you gain more and in this process you will not only live a satisfied life but shall also become more significant as time goes by. It will always keep you positive and pleasant for people to deal with.  

Remember for us the Muslims, we must not stop striving or retire on any set destination. We need to keep our objectives in perspective while working with devotion and dedication. We need to strive harder and harder. Iqbal has beautifully reflected this in one of his poems.

‎‎تو رہ نوردشوق ھے ، منزل نہ کر قبول
لیلی بھی ہمنشیں ہو، تو محمل نہ کر قبول
اے جو‎‏‎ۓ آب بڑھ کے ہو دریا‏ۓ تندوتیز
ساحل تجھے عطا ہو، تو ساحل نہ کر قبول

We must never set any such destination that stops us from striving in life; a janoon must drive us to work harder and harder. We must not accept any destination no matter how valuable it is.  We must ignore it, and must always keep striving and in this processes we will become very assertive. This transformation would be like few drops of water changing to a fast flowing river. The river once it gets to the sea, its water must also not accept to remain closer to the shoreline.   

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