Women who run wild

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As you know sometimes, when I have no particular agenda, I talk about or present to you excerpts from books I am currently working my way through. The one I am in the middle of right now is called ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. The purpose of the book, if self-proclaimed, it to help us in “contacting the power of the wild woman.” As you can probably tell from the title, the target audience of this book is, well, women. But that shouldn’t stop you from picking this book up, no matter where you fall on the gender spectrum. The author talks mostly to women, about women-centric issues, but honestly, I can see how reading this would benefit everyone. I usually make my way through books quite quickly but I have been spending some time on this, and I’ll tell you why.

The Author says we should

Yup. That is correct. How often does it happen that you pick up a book and the author has told you, in very exact terms, how the book should be read? Maybe it does happen a lot and I am just new to the space, but I have never felt such literary intimacy with the creator of a work. And I really liked it. Before you start reading this book, make sure you skip to the end. There, Estes talks about what led her to write this book, what inspired her, why she chose the format she did, and how we should read her book. She says the book is a product of many years of hard labour. It took many attempts to get to the end of the book, and there were a lot of gaps, of varying sizes, in the middle of it. And so, in the spirit in which it was written, the author recommends that we keep coming back to the book to discover different parts of it. It wasn’t completed in one go, and we shouldn’t attempt to make our way through it in one go either. There are different parts of the book that talk to different parts of our psyche, and are addressed to us in different parts of our lives, and so there really isn’t any need for continuity in the ways in which we are accustomed to it.

The Format

I used to be a purist when it came to books. In my younger days, I didn’t really like reading books that didn’t follow the already set rules of prose writing. But I have since tried to expand my horizons. I have made my way through books that don’t have any punctuation, books that have inconstant margins, books that have been written in a single sentence and what not. So much so that now I almost look out for these unusual formats when I buy books. Like a book I read sometime ago. It is called ‘Minor Detail‘. I want to try and explain to you what the format of Minor Detail was but I know I won’t do a good job so I’m just going to ask all of you to check it out if you have the time. But anyway, back to the wolves. In this book, every chapter starts off with an introduction which tells us about the particular culture we will be borrowing a folk tale from for the purposes of that chapter. Then the folk tale. This, I have to say, is my favorite part of the entire book. The stories that have been brought to me. And after every story, the author breaks it down in parts and walks us through these parts, all the time giving us invaluable and free therapy for our souls.

Let me give you an example

By therapy I mean of course the absolutely heart warming things she writes. The kind of things that you wouldn’t miss in your life at all till someone said it, and then you’d wonder how you made your way through life without having come across this thought before. I’m not saying this is all chapters, but some of them definitely make you look twice. Here is something I liked:

Although I caution you, the exact placement of the aperture to home changes from time to time, so its location may be different this month than last. Rereading passages of books and single poems that have touched the,. Spending even a few minutes near a river, a stream, a creek. Lying on the ground in dappled light. Being with a loved one without kids around. Sitting on the porch shelling something, knitting something, peeling something. Walking or driving for an hour, any direction, then returning. Boarding any bus, destination unknown. Making drums while listening to music. Greeting sunrise. Driving out to where the city lights do not interfere with the night sky. Praying. A special friend. Sitting on a bridge with legs dangling over. Holding an infant. Sitting by a window in a café and writing. Sitting in a circle of trees. Drying hair in the sun. Putting hands in a rain barrel. Plotting plants, being sure to get hands very muddy. Beholding beauty, grace, the touching frailty of human beings.”

Now read through that again and tell me it doesn’t feel like the home we all want to get to but find difficult to describe.

Self-awareness to prevent burnout?

I read an article today sent by my employer as a part of a larger series the company is doing on emotional intelligence. They like to do these things once in a while. I work in an industry which has extremely high attrition rates, and so instead of fixing the things that are making people quit in the first place (toxic superiors, unnecessarily long hours, extensive client demands and not enough time to do anything else in your life), they send us videos on how to improve our emotional intelligence by doing breathing exercises. Yeah, true story.

The article is titled, ‘Developing Self-Awareness Helped me prevent Lawyer Burnout‘ and has been written by Ed Andrew. It talks about his journey into building self-awareness – which is allegedly one of the best tools you can possess as a professional in any field, but more specifically this field – after he was diagnosed with cancer. Andrew starts off by talking about how, “the nature of legal practice, which involved long hours, pressure to excel, competition to rise to the top, dismay at repetitive work, fear of failure, and peer pressure is a potential melting pot for stress to build.” Then he goes on to give us a couple of shocking stories about toxic bosses, to highlight how real of an issue burnout is. There are a few helpful pointers in the article on identifying what is causing you stress in the first place and what not, but the article ends with some advice I want to talk about.

Basically, according to this piece, extreme stress is a part of my job and industry and since any real top-down change is unlikely, I had best learn to regulate my own mind and emotions. Some helpful tips on this? Breathing exercises. Again.

I’m not against breathing exercises in the least, don’t get me wrong. But the article has a defeatist tone to it I don’t enjoy. This is something I hear a lot in my industry, that “there isn’t going to be any real change, so you might as well learn to live with it”. Which I do. Because I have no other choice. But I’m uncomfortable with letting the bosses off so easy as well. There are tons of things that could be changed in my workplace (and honestly I think in all workplaces) without negatively impacting the bottom line (which is really, the only thing people are concerned about).

For example, working from home. There have been endless articles on how working from home allows people to work better, be more productive, while also enjoying some semblance of balance. For some reason, a lot of people in the legal industry are against this practice continuing indefinitely. Why? Who knows. Maybe they think we slack off at home. Maybe they think we might get the chance to start side ventures and eventually quit work if we stay at home. Or maybe, they just like the culture of depressing offices brainlessly filled by people at all hours because people are too afraid to leave the place before someone else does (even though the work is done).

Another thing? Working on the weekend. I understand that I work in an industry where people pay a lot of money for our services and so expect to get commensurate output. But I also genuinely believe there is no work that cannot wait till Monday morning. For some reason everyone has gotten into a bad habit of passing work onto their juniors at the end of the week, expecting to see it “first thing Monday morning” so they can “assess it with a fresh pair of eyes” and get it off their schedule. Expecting to see something on a Monday morning means you expect someone to work on it over the weekend, which in most cases, is completely unnecessary.

Punching in and out of the workplace. There is a lot of debate on the continued usefulness of the “billable hour”. If you’re not a legal practitioner, I am afraid I am going to lose you for a bit, but I really want to talk about it. Most law firms work on the idea that you have to bill a certain minimum number of hours in a year, and if you don’t meet this target, they tend to take it out of your pay. People, most of them way smarter than me, have often spoken about how ridiculously high this number is, and how useless the concept is as a whole. But because we are a “traditional” industry, we still insist on it. What does this mean? You have to spend a certain number of hours on your desk even when you don’t have any work to show you are meeting the targets. Which means people waste time they don’t need to on their desks, inventing work they haven’t done to meet their goals.

These are just a few examples of things I can think of that can change to make our lives less stressful. It isn’t as easy to implement as sending out an article on breathing exercises to your employees every once in a while, but I think it might be the slightest bit more effective.

Sticking with it

There is a lot of debate going on about certain comments Prince Harry made on what is being dubbed as the “great resignation”. He said he’s quite happy people have quit jobs that make them unhappy or negatively affect their mental health. He said, and I quote, “Many people around the world have been stuck in jobs that didn’t bring them joy, and now they’re putting their mental health and happiness first. This is something to be celebrated.”

While some people have come forward and said they agree with the statement made, a lot more have (understandably) come out against it. I am the first person to tell people to leave a job (or really, any situation) that makes them unhappy, but the difference here is I only advice people who are on the same level (usually) as me, in terms of their socio-economic standing. I do not pretend to know the lot of people less fortunate than me, and so I keep my mouth shut. This advice is, standalone, not bad advice. If something makes you unhappy, you should do your best to get away from it. You should always try your best to improve your lot. This is a no-brainer. But when such truisms come from the mouths of trust fund babies (such as Prince Harry) who haven’t any idea what it means to hold down a job for survival; people who have no idea what it means to exist in this world without the security of having a multi-million dollar safety net, it becomes a little prickly.

I think I can speak from some experience here. I had a job most would consider a good job (read – high-paying), then I left it because it was stressing me out and I wanted to try out some other things in life, and then I had to come back to it because things didn’t exactly end up going my way. So, I have been a part of the great resignation. And now I am back to work. And let me be categorical when I say that if you have a job, you’re lucky. And if you have a job you love, you are almost mythical.

But more often than not, most of us will have jobs we don’t like. And we will continue to do them (or as in my case, to come back to them) because we need them. I wish there was another way, but for many of us there isn’t. Despite this I think that a lot of us try our best to make our circumstances the happiest they can be. I think a while ago I spoke about the things that make me happy; new habits I have picked up to make my life slightly better. I’m going to talk about a few more resolutions I have taken, re-entering a job I don’t particularly like, in the hopes that it might resonate with some of you. Because regardless of what tone deaf rich people might scream down at us once in a while, many of us can’t afford to let go of our jobs.

Buy cute stationary

The first time I started working I told myself it was going to be a temporary thing. I wasn’t going to be around for a long time. So, I never really felt like spending time on decorating my desk. I’m determined to do it differently this time. I don’t know how long I will be in this job. I have some plans, but you know what they say about plans; man plans and god laughs. So, till the time I am in this job, I am going to treat is as a permanent thing. The first thing I will do is make my desk as cute and homely as possible. Last time around, I didn’t allow myself to buy any of the cute office stationary I would constantly fantasize about. This time, the first thing on my list is a pink colored keyboard. Maybe baby pink. Something that cheers me up whenever I see it. I know some people scoff at this, but there is a lot of value in making your environment as cheerful as possible.

Spend my money

I know that the point above this also had to do with spending money. But this is a little more generalized than buying stationary. In my previous stint as an employed person, I didn’t spend any of the money I made. Because my parents had kindly let me live in their house, I didn’t even need to spend any money on rent. So, while I would slog away at my job, the money would sit pretty in my bank account. This is an extremely privileged position to be in I know, but it also had the effect of making me feel like none of it was worth it. It made me feel like I was working way too hard and enjoying the benefits of it way too little. This time, I am determined to buy myself things I enjoy. Which aren’t too many. Books mainly. And maybe some other things.

Learn to invest

This is another habit I want to get into. This is something I have wanted to do for a while, but I think with money starting to flow in again, it has given me an additional push to learn to manage my personal finances. I often wondered at why we were never taught important things like managing our finances when we were in school. Then I read somewhere that the sole purpose of designing the curriculum in the way that it was designed, was to prevent average citizens (people like you and me) from learning how to do anything practical, so that we stay hooked to bad jobs that make us live paycheck to paycheck. So, it wasn’t so much an oversight on the part of the school not to teach us about financial management as a conscious decision. I plan to change this about my life. I don’t hope to become any sort of financial whiz kid, but I do want to be able to generate a secondary source of income by learning how to invest well. Also, I have recently learnt that one of the worst things you can do with your money is letting it sit in the bank. So, for those of us who have the opportunity to save a percentage of our earnings (i.e., if all our earnings do not go into providing basic necessities) then we should definitely try and invest it in something or the other. Watch ‘The Inside Job‘ if you’re not convinced about the villainy of the banking system.

So, yes, if I had to take a position on the whole Prince Harry x The Great Resignation debate, I would say I’m against his benign advice to quit our jobs, because for most of us the decision isn’t that easy. If I need to, I will definitely hold on to the job I get and try to work our way around this job-related-misery in whatever tiny ways I can.

The Blind Artist

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Olivia Laing has opened up a whole new world for me. I thought I knew something about the art world. Not a lot I’ll admit. But a little something. Enough for me to know I didn’t know enough, and that I wanted to know more. The first book of Laing’s I read was The Lonely City. I can’t describe fully how I felt once I finished the book. It was like being in the living room of all the artists she spoke about, watching them create. She doesn’t just talk about the art they make – she somehow knows how to talk about what they must have been thinking when they make art. Side note, if you have some time, check out this video of her home. It is truly one of the best things I have seen in a while.

I find that so fascinating. I paint sometimes. I’m not any sort of a great artist, but I can talk about the things I think about when I make a painting. It isn’t much to be honest. Most of the times I repeat dialogues from movies I’ve seen recently. Or I talk to myself in third person. Sometimes I describe the scene as a narrator would. This last thing is a little bit like an out of body experience. I talk about how I think I would look like if I was in a movie. The introductory scene of a movie. I probably don’t have enough meat in my painting sittings for it to be an integral part of the movie. It would definitely only be a light hearted opening sequence. Nothing more than that. Sometimes I will describe the painting to myself as I am making it. It is like an ongoing commentary on the painting, most of it criticism. In all these actions, I put myself at the centre of it all. I’ve always felt a little silly doing it, but I didn’t know how to express what I was feeling till I heard Laing talking about it. She says art is selfish. It is a wholly singular experience and you have to be sure of yourself, to be able to defend your art against against not only other people, but also against yourself. Things like self-doubt. Or in my case, complacency. I think it is selfish too.

I just finished another one of her books. It is called ‘Funny Weather‘. It talks about why we need art in these times of emergency. Unlike the only other book of hers I have read, this one isn’t just about visual artists. It has many forms of prose (essays, interviews and diary entries) about many different kinds of artists – authors, poets, filmmakers and every one in between.

One of the artists she talks about is Sargy Mann. And the most fascinating thing about this artist is that his best works (arguably) came after he lost his vision. Before he went blind, he was constrained by what he knew to be the true representation of things. After he could no longer see, this ceased to be a consideration. That is when he really started painting.

I think it is a great metaphor for life too. One encounters it a lot if you think about it. Being limited by what we know to be true or think we know to be true. Like when you try and manifest things, you’re always told to get rid of your “limiting beliefs”. The reason many of us can’t get to what we want in life or out of life is because we simply don’t think it is possible. If you have already experienced something, you know it is possible and so you have no limiting beliefs about it. For many young lawyers out there, for example, working in a big law firm might not seem possible because they have never worked in one, so they don’t know what it is like, so it never settles into their psyche. For someone who has worked in one, they know it can be done, so they don’t have limiting beliefs about it. They may have it for something else though. They may never be able to fathom how a happy relationship is possible because they may never have seen one. And as long as you operate within the bounds of these limiting beliefs, you will never really know what you are capable of.

Sargy Mann didn’t know it either. Till he went blind. And then, all his limitations were forcefully taken away from him.

Building a personal narrative

This is something I read in online. There is some value to building a personal narrative. It is called a “personal narrative vision” exercise. There might be things you want in life, but you are too scared to say them out loud. And because you are too scared to verbalise them you forget to visualise them. If you don’t visualise something, how will it stay in your mind space?

I want to take some time out from my day, a little bit everyday, to build a personal narrative.

What does this mean?

You talk to yourself. More than that you tell yourself a story about how you want your life to turn out. It is a manifestation technique. I think more than that, even if your life does not turn out exactly the way you write it down, it is also a calming technique.

It feels corny to write it down. Even now, when I am only talking about it, and not actually doing the exercise, it feels a little silly. What good will writing down an imagined version of your best life do? On the other hand, what possible harm could it do.

I think the idea is not to write in terms of what you want. I mean you should be writing about the kind of life you want, but you should try not to begin sentences with “I want”. I think the idea is to write as if there is no possibility of your life turning out any other way.

I read an article where a man had written down his own personal narrative. Here is an excerpt:

My online courses are managed and continuously improved by a dedicated team of remote collaborators, who take total ownership for their success and know how to leverage me and my skills when needed. Thousands of people take my courses each month, breaking through limiting paradigms, creating groundbreaking new projects, products, and businesses, and becoming leaders in the movement to transform people’s relationship to their work. Everything I know is open-sourced and available to help people create more freedom, pleasure, and impact in their work and lives, whether they ever buy from me or not.”

I admire how honest he was, especially since I don’t think I could ever have the nerve to say these things out loud. He writes things down very specifically, complete with details of the people he wants around him when he achieves something and the timeline by which he has to. I like the way he writes; it is like writing down a story in the future tense. Like a prediction.

I already journal religiously. I think it would be fun to write this down too – to build a personal narrative. I think every Friday or so should do it.

Alone time

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I think I have written about how I don’t enjoy talking to a lot of people anymore. This might not seem like a big deal to many people. Especially the quieter ones. Like my sister for example. She rarely talks to other people. You really have to draw her out into having a conversation and even when you manage to do that you get the distinct sense that she is participating only to please you. For me though, it has been a massive change.

I can barely stand to make conversation with most people nowadays. And it isn’t because I don’t like them. Most of these people are close friends, they are people I genuinely adore. But somehow, I just don’t have any interest in the things they have to say. Every single time I get pulled into a conversation I have to force myself to go through the motions – it really isn’t an enjoyable experience for me anymore.

Alone time has become precious currency for me.

Once I started enjoying the time I spent alone, away from people and their incessant problems (which I’m sure mean a lot to them but very little to me, as selfish as that sounds), and really started enjoying my own company, I was more or less spoilt for others. There are not many spaces of my existence left in which I want to let people in. I don’t mind enjoying them from a distance or enjoying the idea of them.

And the thing is – I’m not depressed. I don’t mean any of this in a sad girl-done with life way. I feel so happy to be left alone. For the first time in months, I feel emotionally stable. And it turns out, I never even get bored. I make great conversation in my head. I have tons of interests in common with myself. And I never disagree with my own movie choice, so that is sorted too.

I remember a couple of years ago – when I was just starting out on being alone, truly alone, for the first time – one of my closest friends told me he is scared of spending too much time alone, because what if he starts to enjoy it too much and then never wants to make an effort to spend time with anyone else ever again? I see what he meant now. I really can’t imagine anyone’s company being more enjoyable than my own. I hope someone out there can prove me wrong, but it doesn’t seem likely to occur in the near future. I read somewhere that the term ‘alone’ is used differently to show different states of being. You say loneliness when being alone is a negative feeling for you and solitude when it is positive. It definitely is positive for me.

And also when you’re alone and doing things you enjoy you stop worrying about what everyone else is doing. You stop caring who hasn’t invited you to which event, you stop caring about the things people are getting upto – new jobs, new partners, new stresses – none of these things matter. At the risk of sounding preachy, I genuinely think I have reached some inner well of peacefulness. It may be temporary, sure, but so be it.

Forming a habit

One of the things I love to do is watch videos on productivity. I love YouTubers that talk about ways in which one can improve one’s life. I love TED Talks (even the ones I don’t necessarily agree with entirely). I am not a very productive person. None of this comes naturally to me. I am inherently lazy and I hate doing anything that makes me uncomfortable. I am trying to change that though. I think I said sometime before – when I was talking about the Butterfly Man – how the biggest favour you can do to yourself is picking something and committing to it. Don’t get distracted, cut out the white noise and focus on what is important to you. From all my informational and motivational video binging I think I have something else to add to this. Summed up, the trick also involves consistency.

I just got done with watching James Clear give a talk on how we should strive to be “1% better everyday.” For those of you who know, this is also, broadly, the central theme of the wildly successful book called ‘Atomic Habits’. If you didn’t know, and this is the first time you are hearing this title, I suggest you check it out. It makes a lot of extremely valid points. Anyway, back to Mr. Clear.

The talk is centred on habit formation – and how we can trick ourselves (maybe trick isn’t the right word) into forming good ones. There are apparently four stages to habit formation; (1) noticing, (2) wanting, (3) doing and (4) liking.

In order to form a habit you need to first notice that you need a change. You will never want to get into the habit of working out if you do not think there is anything wrong with your lifestyle. If you do not notice something that needs changing, it will never be changed. Bit of a no-brainer. A habit I want to change? My drinking habit. I want to cut alcohol out of my life entirely at this point. But for me to get to this point of wanting to form a habit of sobriety, I had to first notice there is something wrong with my life as it stands now.

The next stage is wanting. Just to be clear this is not the same as wanting to make a change in your life, or wanting to transform your life, or wanting to become extremely rich. Let us face it, most of us want to change in some way or the other. No, wanting here means wanting to indulge in the habit in the first place. For example – the idea is not to want to be fitter. The idea is to focus on wanting to work out. Being focused on the end goal is a recipe for disaster from what I gathered. I want to build a library. This is the end goal. The habit that will lead me to build up a library is making a list of 5-10 books I want to read every month and purchasing them at the beginning of the month.

Then there is the ‘doing’ bit. This is pretty self-explanatory too. You have to keep it up. Clear says a very interesting thing in his talk. The reason so many of us form bad habits so quickly is because the ‘reward’ is immediate and the ‘cost’ is delayed; as opposed to good habits where the ‘cost’ is immediate and the ‘reward’ is delayed. There are days when I don’t feel like keeping up with my reading habit. There is no immediate reward there. The cost is obvious – it takes up time, effort and some form of energy (if you can call lying on your ass all day that). The reward is far removed. I may, at some point in the future, at some party, get to sound marginally wittier than the people around me. On the other hand, spending the whole day watching YouTube videos (which ironically is all I have done today) has the immediate reward of stimulation (I think) but a delayed cost of having wasted many days doing this instead of something productive. You get my point.

The last stage I think is to actually like the process. Why would you want to form a habit if you are not enjoying either the process of the habit formation or the end result? Makes no sense.

There is also this really good YouTuber who spoke about her version of incorporating these steps into your life (it is also sometimes referred to as the “billionaire algorithm”). At the end of the talk though, Clear specifies that simply watching a ton of motivational stuff won’t get you anywhere, you have to be willing to actually take the steps and make the changes. That is the stage I am currently on, so we will see how it goes. The watching motivational videos stage that is, not the making changes stage.

We all have a pattern

I am sure we have a lot of patterns. I want to talk about the one all of us have in common. The pattern we all follow, and that eventually makes us feel like we are stuck, that we won’t ever be able to do anything new or anything worthwhile.

I don’t usually start my day with such depressing thoughts, but I stumbled upon an article while I was drinking my morning coffee. Oh, side note, morning coffee is a whole thing with me now. When I was working I would drink coffee only for sustenance. To keep myself awake. I would drink anything that had coffee in it – and honestly, I have had some pretty unappetising variations of the beverage as a result of this attitude. But now, I really take an interest in my coffee. I try to look up the different brands of coffee. I have even gone to the extent of exploring buying coffee beans and making the entire drink from scratch. I look up recipes for the kinds of coffee I can have – sometimes moving by geography (I’ll tell you about these recipes someday). This newfound attitude about coffee has made the whole experience so much more enjoyable. I guess this is what people mean when they say we need to romanticise the mundane. Like should look like a studio Ghibli film. But back to the topic at hand.

The article said there is a reason – a pattern all of us follow – that makes most of us fail at whatever we start. There are stages to this process of failing.

The first stage is the beginning. Everything looks good at the beginning, and who doesn’t get excited to start something new? Like the excitement I felt when I started researching options for my masters education. Every programme looked better than the last one. I would get excited just looking at pictures of students smiling in sunny avenues (no doubt fake pictures) and imagining all the fun I will have once I get into this school, or get into that programme.

The second stage is when you start to see progress. Checked this box too. Say, every time I start a painting, my favourite part is over-lining the pencil sketch with a black marker / black paint. It makes the painting come alive, while at the same time enough of it remains unfinished that you can imagine how pretty it will look once it has been finished (it rarely ever looks that good once it is genuinely completed). Progress excites me, because now I can imagine how the end result might look without actually having put in the effort.

Progress makes us happy, and this leads to the third stage of becoming cocky. If you start from zero everything is going to be an achievement. It is much harder to stay on the course and stay consistent. This is where the real hard work starts. I know they all say that starting is half the job done, but I disagree with that. I think starting is about 30% of the job and the rest is to keep the momentum going. This is when things start to slow down, and stuff gets boring. I think this is also where a lot of people give up. I know I certainly do – for a lot of the projects I start. If you saw how many unfinished paintings sit in my studio, you’d know. There is something thankless about this stage of progress, and I think it takes a lot of internal conviction to keep going. This is where we lost motivation, and that eventually leads to the end of that project.

The thing then to do is to figure out the why of any project you may pick up. Apparently the worst reasons for doing anything are fame and money. We all know this internally, yes, but it does get hard to stay focused on other things. Like with this blog. The reason I started this blog was because I was lonely and I had a lot of things to talk about but I didn’t want to disturb my friends with it. I love to consume media – but I did not want to be a passive consumer anymore; I wanted to think about the things I was consuming and talk about them constructively. Lastly, I wanted to become more comfortable with putting myself out there, and improve my writing style in the process, if possible. I think that is possibly why this project has gone on longer than most of my other projects. So, maybe that is good advice.

I haven’t summarised the whole article, but here is the original one in case you are interested.

The Butterfly Man

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There is a hill. It is hard to find and even when you come upon it, you won’t think it is anything special at first. You would have to wait for a couple of days to know why so many people travel such large distances to come see this hill. Or you could ask a local. If you can find one. They’re all over the hill, but they rarely, if ever, make themselves available to outsiders. Kind of like tigers in a forest. There is a famous hunter of man-eating tigers by the name of Jim Corbett. He wrote a bunch of books about his adventures. One of the things he wrote about tigers that has stuck with me is how if you ever go to a forest / national park / wildlife sanctuary with the intention of spotting a tiger, know that the tiger has probably seen you a hundred times before you ever lay eyes on one. They step out into the light only when they have decided you are harmless.

Because I already know why the hill is famous (I have made the arduous journey and done my time on the hill) and because I like all of you, my readers, I will tell you why people travel so much to see this mound. It is the butterflies. The hill is home to thousands and thousands of butterflies, and if you make the trek and reach the right spots on the hill, you will see something bizarre. There are so many butterflies at one spot, you feel as if you’re surrounded. They follow you around. The flit about all over the place. You can see hundreds of them sitting at one spot, lazing around, taking a nap or even drinking water! I’ll be honest with you; I had never considered the fact that butterflies too need to drink and eat. I thought they just were. Apparently not. Obviously not. They sit down on the side of streams to take in their daily dose of nourishment, and this is perhaps the only place where I have seen butterflies in anything other than a state of panicked flight.

And here is the thing. The butterflies, as magnificent as they were (I think more so because I have never seen so many of them at the same spot before) were not the highlight of the trek. On the trek I met a man. He works a job that doesn’t pay him too much – by some of our standards we might think he doesn’t get paid enough – but damn if he wasn’t the happiest man around. He lives near the hill and his side job is his one true passion in life – you guessed it – butterflies. Well, to be fair, it is photographing butterflies. The man had some photography gear he was quite proud of. He told me he spent almost four years’ worth of his salary on the gear. And he carries it around like his child. He has photographed most of the butterfly breeds (or is it species) on the hill – and even discovered eight new ones! Apparently, he is a record holder in this. Photographing butterflies. Isn’t that so cool? Here is a man who doesn’t care about many things, but the thing he cares about, he does so deeply. And that is all he needs to be happy. This is probably an extreme example, and many of us need more than one thing to keep us happy. We can’t all be crazy obsessed with one thing and make it the sustenance of our lives. Many of us can’t afford to live on a mountain doing only what we love (he couldn’t afford it either technically). I think, in more moderate terms, the thing that keeps him going and makes him happy is commitment.

Months ago, when I was deliberating whether or not to quit my job, I had a friend simplify it for me. He told me; it doesn’t really matter what you do. All you have to do is make sure it is something you can commit to and stick it out. Remember when we were kids, people would tell us to build our lives by laying bricks vertically and not horizontally. Metaphor for focusing on and committing to one or two major goals of your life (a purpose) and not flailing about without a clue. I’m not an expert, but the man seemed to have done just this. He picked a thing and he stuck to it. Sometimes I think the availability of too many options makes us sad and dissatisfied. You pick your option, but you can still see all the other options. You won’t usually see the people who have taken these other options and failed, you will only see the successes (although, what is success even). And that makes you unhappy about the choice you’ve made. At least, this is what happens to me. The only stretch of time I have truly been happy in, has been stretches of isolation. Where I look at no one else and do what I need to do.

Trying to sleep

Photo by Aphiwat chuangchoem on Pexels.com

I’ve always had great sleep hygiene. Growing up, and in fact, till about a couple of months ago, I could fall asleep within seconds. Once asleep, I could sleep uninterrupted for hours at a stretch. Even when I worked a corporate job and hardly had time for anything apart from my work, I slept pretty well. Whenever I had the chance, that is.

In the last couple of months however, my sleep hygiene has gone down the drain. I have trouble falling asleep. I stay up till 2-3 am almost every night. Once I do fall asleep, I usually experience sleep paralysis. This is a pretty common form of sleep disorder, and I think about 1 in 10 people experience it at some point in their lives. Be that as it may, for anyone who has experienced it, you know how scary it can be. Before I found out what sleep paralysis was, I genuinely used to think I’m going to die every time I experienced it. It has an interesting history too. Back in the day, people would associate it with demonic possession – and the fact that sleep paralysis is often accompanied by auditory and/or visual hallucinations didn’t help. And because I’ve started going to bed at progressively later hours, and have terrible interruptions in the middle, the overall low-quality of my sleep means I have started waking up later than usual too.

Now, I’m not sure why this shift has taken place, but I also know there are some things I could be doing (and should be doing) to improve the quality of my sleep. If you want better sleep, you should, ideally, not drink any sort of stimulant (coffee or tea) after 5 pm (earlier if your bedtime is earlier than 10 pm). Your phone should not be the last thing you look at every night. In fact, you should keep away from and stop using all electronics at least an hour before you want to fall asleep. Someone even suggested that I keep no clocks / watches in the room I intend to sleep in if I want a good night’s rest.

And if I’m being honest, I have only been (barely) able to cut out the second step. I try not to look at any electronic devices before falling asleep. But that hasn’t helped too much. So, recently, I have started listening to podcasts before I fall asleep. I know this has been around for some time now, and a lot of people have been doing this to fall asleep. But since I’m new to the sleepless brigade, I’m new to this too.

A couple of nights ago, while trying to fall asleep, I tuned into Tom Bilyeu’s chat with Mel Robbins. He has a channel where he discusses ‘impact theory’. I don’t know if this is a scientific term of or if this is just something he calls his own channel. But I love the guy. He is a great interviewer and unlike a lot of people out there who invite guests onto their shows, this guy actually likes hearing his guests speak. I find it irritating when people bring experts on to their shows but keep butting in when their guests are talking just to seem relevant (or make it seem like they too have a valuable opinion on every subject). Tom never does that. Admittedly, his interviews are slightly long as a result of this, but all the more enjoyable for it. I hadn’t really heard of Mel Robbins before last night, but the show was an hour long and that is usually as long as it takes me to doze off to something, so I tuned in. Here is what I liked about the things she said.

Motivation is a farce

Right at the beginning of the interview, Robbins declares that she hates being called a ‘motivational speaker’ because she thinks motivation is a farce. It isn’t real, and the idea that we have to be motivated to do something is often what stops us from going after the things we want. As humans, we are conditioned to take the path of least resistance. It makes no evolutionary sense for us to put ourselves in any sort of discomfort. And often, the things we want in life – a good career, good relationships, impacting out community in positive ways – is at the other side of discomfort. So, to tell yourself that you’ll go after something if you’re ‘motivated’ enough is, according to Robbins, a bad self-narrative. You’re not going to be motivated to do a lot of the things that you need to do, in order to have a fulfilling life. The thing to aim for then, is consistency. If you have an end goal in mind, you should forget about motivation. Regardless of whether or not you feel motivated to do something, just show up.

Personally, I sort of agree with this approach. For years I wanted to write, and to start a blog, but I never got around to do it because I kept waiting for the motivation to strike me. If never did. So, I just started. I have a personal goal of blogging every day and on most days, I don’t feel like doing it (I have tons of ideas on what to write, but I always get lazy when it comes to putting in effort). But I’ve just stopped thinking about it. I treat it as a non-negotiable. Doesn’t matter if I feel like it, I just get out here.

You are a single decision away, always

Which brings us to the next thing she said that stuck with me. I’m sure you’ve all heard the phrase ‘you’re one decision away from the life you want’. I wasn’t a fan of this brand of motivational quotes till last night. To me, it seemed like the kind of thing people just say. It didn’t really mean anything if I’m being honest. But, as it turns out, it doesn’t mean what I think it meant. According to Robbins, every day you take a bunch of decisions on how to live your life. We aren’t talking about huge decisions – should I quit my job, should I marry this person, should I get out of this relationship – no. What she means is the tiny decisions we take every day when deciding the basics of life. For example, you could choose to wake up on time, or sleep in. Then you might choose to grab breakfast or skip it. If you feel disrespected in a conversation, you might choose to let it slide just the once. Except it doesn’t really stop there. Once you start taking decisions in a certain way, your brain apparently gets used to it. And if it is the path of least resistance (which it usually is) then it becomes harder to rewire yourself to take better decisions.

Try the 5-second rule

Having said that, it isn’t impossible to rewire yourself. You can do it. And the method Robbins suggests is the 5-second rule. Apparently, whenever your brain is making a decision, and you don’t really want to continue to make that decision, you can slow your brain down and rewire it by counting down from 5 to 0. Say you want to wake up every day at 7 am. But every time your alarm goes off you hit snooze. Now, your brain has more or less conditioned your body not to wake up when the alarm goes off. If you want to get out of this, whenever your alarm goes off, you can undercut your own brain by taking a breath and counting down from 5 before you hit snooze. Robbins on the show said it’s a proven psychological technique that is widely used. Like when we were kids in school, and someone wanted a whole bunch of us to quiet down, they would start counting down. You give your brain something to do when it is about to make a decision you don’t want it to make, and you can successfully trick yourself.

The day after listening to this podcast, I managed to wake up with the alarm. But that was just the one day. I hope, that in the future, I can incorporate these things into my life successfully and consistently.