Why Have I Started To Read Books Again?

“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” – Charles W.Elio-

There was a time in my childhood when reading books was not only my hobby, but also one of my deadliest passions.  But in the process of growing up, the beauty of technology overwhelmed me, my love for computers increased exponentially and as a result, I became way more comfortable with ‘Google’ than with the pages of a paperback.

But just about 7 to 8 months back, I suddenly felt a ‘moment of realization’. In order to fit into this society, to please people around me, to get a foreign degree or a job, to make my parents proud and so on, I had actually forgotten to live life in my own terms. So, I hit the ‘pause’ button of my life for few days. As the chaos started to fade away, I finally got the time to introspect my life, my own values, my goals and dreams. This realization was surreal. Even though, I still do not intend to leave all of my responsibilities and run away to Himalayas, I have found ways to keep me content as well as make me a more responsible human being on this earth. However, the goal of this blog post is not to discuss about all those findings (that is definitely one of my future blog ideas) but to stay focused as I talk about the importance of reading books.

In that period of calmness, I took up random books to read. In the beginning, it was very difficult to hold my patience that long but as I forced myself to go to a coffee shop without a laptop, switched off internet in my mobile,eventually it started getting easier. In the past few months, I have explored many different types of books starting from the inspirational biographies of the leaders to the inner stories of human cells.I must say, this one habit gave me a whole new direction of life. Here, I thought of listing out some of the major advantages of reading a paperback for all of you.

  1. Explore the new world:
    Through reading, we expose ourselves to new things, new information, new ways to solve a problem, and new ways to achieve one thing. I do not believe that any type of school or college education can give us that amount of knowledge that we can understand how this universe works. Reading books from all possible domain can only be a strong start of this big journey.
  2. Self Improvement:
    Reading made me a better ‘me’. As I started to understand the world more, I started to understand a lot about myself too. My self confidence, tolerance power, the skill of communication, thinking and understanding have got better and I believe it is just a start.
  3. “Literature is Freedom”:
    The more you read, the more you would feel the urge to write (that is why I started thing blog at the first place) and the more you write, the more you would be able to share your knowledge with the world and the more you share, the more you would feel the bliss of freedom and happiness.
  4. Filling the Gaps”:
    “Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.”- Stephen Hawkin
    This is one of my most favorite quotes for reading or learning new things. I know that it’s impossible to learn everything in one lifetime. Knowledge is endless. But my goal is to try to fill up the gaps that my traditional school education did not give me in order to see the world beyond the viewpoints of most common people.

    Below is the list of books that I intend to finish very soon.

  1. “Creativity”  by John Brockman
    2. “Powers- Testing the Psychic and Supernatural” by Dan Korem
    3. “The reality of Physics” by Jeff Lee
    4. “The Sciences of the Artificial” by Herbert Simon
    5. “Steve Jobs – The man who thought Different”
    6. “The pleasure of Finding things out” by R. Feynman
    7. “Why do you care what other people think?” By R. Feynman
    8. “Science and Anti-Science” by Gerald Holton
    9. “Internet Dreams” by M. Stefik
    10. “God Does Not Play Dice” by David Shiang
    11. “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
    12. “The world as I see it” by Albert Einstein
    13. “The Art of Deception” by Kevin Mitnick
    14. “Mein Kamph” by Adolph Hitler
    15. “The Theory of Everything ” by Stephen Hawking

    I would like to end this post by quoting some of my most favorite lines about reading:

    1. “By reading the writings of the most interesting minds in history, we meditate with our own minds and theirs as well. This to me is a miracle”. – Kurt Vonnegut
    2. “For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.” -Eudora Welty
    3. “If one reads enough books one has a fighting chance. Or better, one’s chances of survival increase with each book one reads” – Sherman Alexie
    4. “I owe everything I am and everything I will ever be  to books.” – Gary Paulsen
    5. “Read. Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You’ll find what you need to find. Just Read” – Neil Gaiman

      Thank you for reading. 🙂

Advertisements

Get Rid of your Bad Habits and Acquire the Good ones

Hello Everyone,

First of all, I would like to apologize for the delay in writing a new post (was really busy with some other important tasks). But anyway, I am back and today I am going to write about a very interesting topic called ‘Habit Change’. Do you have a habit you want to change? Maybe you want to quit smoking,
stop eating unhealthy foods or turn around negative thoughts. Do you have a habit
you want to create? Changing our habits to improve what we are can be a painful process. It must be motivated by a higher purpose, and by the willingness to subordinate what you think you want now for
what you know you want later.

    “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” -Aristotle

In the past few days, I was reading some articles and books about habit changes and was really surprised to see that simple habits that we are so used to perform in our day-to-day lives determine not only our characters but also our success level as well. No matter how small the habits are, how insignificant those might look, we need to have a closer look on the things we repeatedly do and on the words we frequently say. Habit changing is nothing but a skill and like every other skill, it can be learned with sufficient practice and enough determination. Here I am going to discuss two tactics that I found in common among all the success stories that I have read so far.

1. The famous ’30 day trial’:

The first push, which makes up 99% of the total energy you will put into creating a permanent habit takes place in the first month. If done successfully, after the first month the new habit will be a reflex, requiring only a little bit of energy to handle changes in situations. Even if you eventually let the habit slip after several months, the real source of the problem usually occurred somewhere in the first month.

The first thirty days are much like an hour when an axeman is sharpening his blade before actually cutting down the trees. They may seem insignificant when you keep a habit for months or years, but they account for most of your results. Doing same thing repeatedly for 30 days creates new neural pathways in our brains which eventually forms a new habit. There would definitely be some uncomfortable or restless feelings in this period but trust me, those are normal and would go away after a certain period.

I have had difficulties in working out regularly and discarding some of the junk/unhealthy foods from my daily diet in the past, but following this trial and also by showing a strong determination, I was able to overcome those to a great extent and offcourse, I feel GREAT about that.

2. Triggers/Cues/Rituals:

Trigger is simply understanding and reinforcing the cue that starts your habit. It is nothing more than the first link in the chain of a habit. By controlling the first few links in the chain we can eventually control the entire output.

The cue is a piece of stimulus that precedes your habit, like the bell for Pavlov’s dogs.The best cues are external (time of day, alarm clock, after tasks, work, etc.) but when there aren’t any consistent external cues for when you should perform your habit, you need to look for internal cues. Internal cues are harder to make triggers,but they will work.

The most important part of your trigger is your ritual. This should be a concise set of actions no more than fifteen minutes long, and often it can be as little as a few seconds. Your ritual needs to be strongly associated with your habit, so it should be done every time in the same fashion.The most important part of your ritual is that it is consistent.  If you don’t use your ritual every time you run your habit it loses power. The benefit of using a ritual is that you use it every time.

Finally, in a more cognitive way, creating a new neural pathway is never easy. This is because old neural pathways are very greedy, and don’t like to give up any of their brain real estate. They fight to keep that real estate from other intruding neurons. New activities that are trying to create new neural pathways have to compete for this brain real estate with old neural pathways (old activities).This is why breaking an old habit is so hard. and the sight of a simple piece of chocolate can break all your healthy routine.There is a brain real estate war waging inside our heads when we introduce new habits. Each habit you add to your life has a cumulative effect. They are like an investment in your success. Over time these success habits move you closer and closer to achieving success in life. The more good daily success habits you add over time, the closer you get to success. And wealth will eventually follow.

5 Productivity Hacks – Take control of your time

 “We don’t manage time, we can only manage ourselves”

Few weeks back, on one fine morning I had a pile of work to do, and I felt the panic building, the moment I woke up and started thinking about all that work.I felt helpless and watched the anxiety. My mind was racing and my heart was beating fast. Unfortunately, this happens to me from time to time — I feel like I have so much to do, and I start to worry. However, I believe this happens not only with me but with many of us and in order to find a solution,I started to read books, blogs and websites extensively. Today, through this post, I intend to share a little bit about my findings.

There are literally tons of resources available on internet to address this ‘Productivity’ issue. Some of them are really good ones. I would specifically recommend to follow Zenhabits, The Effective Engineer, Productive Flourishing and offcourse, my personal favorite Scott Young’s blog. After going through a considerable number of posts from each of the blog, I finally realized that the act of staying productive is a simple yet organized and focused process. Here are my 5 productivity hacks.

Productivity Hack #1: Eat Your Frogs First

Finish the toughest or the heaviest work first in the morning. Yes, put no second thought on that. It would drastically lessen the level of stress and frustration for the rest of your day .

Productivity Hack #2: Avoid Unnecessary work and learning to say ‘NO’

If we just do any work that comes our way, we can be cranking out the tasks, but not be productive at all. We are only productive if we are doing the work that moves us towards a certain goal.Eliminate non-essential tasks from your to-do lists, and start to say no to new requests that are non-essential. Working hard sometimes is not enough, working smart is all that we need.

Productivity Hack #3: Use technology wisely

These days there are a proliferation of digital tools we use for productivity, for time management, for communication, for social networking, for keeping track of our lives, online and offline. I extensively use apps and features like Gmail, GCal, Google Docs,Twitter, Bookmarks, Text/Voice/Video Chatting, Social Media Feed, RSS Feeds, Offline gmail feature to keep me on track with this dynamic world. However, excessive use of these can become counter productive as well. Hence, set aside a particular time of the day when you can make the very best use of these technologies available.

Productivity Hack #4: Maintain a Daily/Weekly Journal

This one is my favorite and I cant say enough how helpful this has been for me. The principle behind maintaining a Daily/Weekly Journal is simple. At the end of the week, write a list containing everything you want to get accomplished in the coming week and similarly, at the end of the day, write a list containing what parts of that weekly list you want to be finished tomorrow.

Next day, focus ONLY on your Daily goals. After you finish your daily list, you stop. Don’t work on more projects or tasks. You have the rest of the day to relax. And after you finish the weekly list, you’re done for the week. The advantage is two fold. First, you get to enjoy a guilt-free relaxing time when you know you have achieved your daily goals and secondly, it would give you a clear idea on your short term and long term goals.

Productivity Hack #5: Decide 3 Most Important Things (MIT) for the day

Your Most Important Things for the day — the things you most need to accomplish that day — should take priority over everything else. Before you check email or blogs or do anything else in the morning, plan out your day and start on your first MIT. Don’t let yourself be distracted by anything else, and work all the way until you finish that first MIT. Now you’ve gotten at least one important thing done. Take a 10-minute break, and if you can stand it, get started on your next MIT. But please don’t try to do more than 4 MITs each day.
You can also extend this concept by picking 3 things for a month in an area where you want to make progress and focus to finish them one by one.

One final point. Staying productive is keenly related to how you set your goals or priorities in your life. I plan to write my next post on goal settings and its importance. Till then, I hope you found this post helpful.

Stay calm and stay productive. 🙂

Further materials on “How to Learn”

So, as promised, I am going to list here 10 of my personal favorite resources that I found very useful and worth following.

1. Inquiring Minds podcast:
Inquiring Minds brings in-depth podcast exploration of the places where science, politics, and society         collide.

2. Brainfacts.org:
A wonderful collection of fascinating facts and articles about the brain.

3. Big Think:
A website of important, interesting, practical and actionable ideas.

4. Annie Murphy Paul:
She is an independent writer and journalist who is fascinated by how people learn.

5. Cal Newport and Study Hacks:
Cal Newport’s “Study Hacks” website long focused on student learning, but has more recently grown to     encompass great discussions and ideas about how to live an interesting and meaningful life.

6. Kalid Azad and his mathematics:
Kalid’s approach to teaching concepts related to mathematics is excellent!

7. Scott Young:
Scott is the ultimate adventurer in learning–he’s compressed the entire 4-year MIT curriculum for   computer science into one year of independent learning; and is more recently wrapping up a year’s   travel, learning four different languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, and Korean) through total immersion in each of the countries. As a modern intellectual Marco Polo of learning, Scott’s insights are always worth following!

8.  Marty Nemko – the career coach:
Marty has terrific practical insights on learning and how it relates to careers and the workplace.

9. Benny – the Irish Polygot:
If you’re trying to learn a new language, you’ll find Benny’s hints and help invaluable.

10. Talks at Google:
The Talks at Google program brings authors, musicians, innovators, and speakers from everywhere to Google for talks centering on their recently published books. These talks are longer than TED talks.

Other than the above, there are plenty of other good research papers and books that are worth time speeding with. I would be happy to know if you have any specific suggestion. Happy learning. 🙂

Learning How to Learn Effectively

Human brains have always been a fascinating topic for me. I have always wondered (well, still I do) how is it possible that our brains can learn so many things in a short period, process so much of information at a given time and also help us to take countless major decisions throughout our lifetimes. As a part of this search, recently I came across an online course on coursera titled “Learning how to learn” taught by two distinguished professors Dr.Barbara Oakley and Dr.Terry Sejnowski from UC San Diego. I am extremely glad that I took that course as it did answer a lot of my important queries.

The course was very well structured from the beginning. Both the instructors started from scratch and gradually built up advanced ideas in layers. I was easily able to grasp some of the basic concepts about learning new things, memory management, chunking or procrastination.In order to add more flavor to it, they were also several complementary short interviews of successful people like Benny the Irish Polygot, Stanfod’s Keith Devlin, Scott YoungKalid Azad and so on who talked about their strategy to gain success and learn more in their lives.

Okay, so the course was divided into four parts as discussed below:

1. Focused vs Diffused Thinking:

Here, we got to learn about two main thinking modes of human brain i.e Focused and Diffused. Focused mode is more like a ‘concentrated’ mode that uses all of our working memory (which is usually able to store 4-7 different items at once) and helps us to create new neural pattern. On the other hand, diffused mode is more of a ‘relaxed’ mode of thinking which works even when we are dreaming, taking a shower or a nap. Dr. Oakley gave us examples of Salvador Dali and Thomas Edison who used to use diffused mode of thinking more often than focused mode in order to get creative ideas. When we are learning something new, we should go back and forth between these two modes to embed those ideas in our mind for a long period of time. Also, revisiting previously learned concepts periodically is a very good way of forming strong and permanent neural pattern.

2. Chunking:

Chunking involves creating something more meaningful—and therefore memorable—from seemingly random bits of information. Chunks can become bigger and more complex as the time passes. However, it eventually becomes easy to access that particular piece of memory as its more relevant to us. We need focused attention, a good understanding of the concept and frequent practice to make the neural pattern fixed in our memory for a longer period of time. Recalling a particular idea without seeing the book and sitting outside our usual study environment also boost up the chunking process. And most importantly, making mistakes are always a good thing in the process of learning.

3. Procrastination and Memory:

I was extremely interested particularly in this particular section as I had found myself, in many occasions procrastinating on many important stuff and I wanted to rectify it badly. Some of the tactics that were discussed to handle procrastination are:
– keeping a planner journal that list out all the tasks
– committing ourselves to certain routine and tasks each day
– rewarding ourselves whenever a particular job is done in order to relish that momentarily feeling of success
– watching out for the cues that force us to procrastinate something
– finishing up the most heavy and important work first in the day
– using the pomodoro technique i.e 25mins of focused attention followed by a short break.

This section also discussed about memories in our brains  i.e long term and short term/working memory. We can not build any long term memory over night. It needs frequent practice to set that particular neural pattern in our brain. But working memory is a volatile one and can not hold much of information together for a longer period of time.

4. Renaissance Learning and Unlocking Your Potential:

This part was a concluding section of the course. It talked about how we can change our lives by changing our thoughts, how we can get rid of genius envy and impostor syndrome, the value of teamwork and lastly, some helpful tips on how to take the tests.

That would be all for the time being.
Thank you professors and also coursera for taking us to this beautiful learning adventure of knowing a bit of what is actually going on inside our neural-hood. I am definitely looking forward to more of these courses. Happy learning..:)

P.S:
Fellas, the registration for the next offering of this course is now open. Please go ahead and sign up. It would definitely be a fun ride. However, In my next post, I will share some of the important resources about learning that I got to explore during this course period. I believe those would be extremely beneficial to many of you.

UPDATE:
I just found out Dr. Barb speaking at TED here.