10 habits that changed me in the past 10 months
Exactly 12 months ago, I went through a breakup from my sole relationship and in which I was deeply engaged in. That left me shattered from the inside and I went through a few months of depression which involved binge-watching television series and eating anything (literally) the whole day, just to get done with the day. I had no hope for my future and no willingness to get up in the morning. And today, it’s hard for me to believe that all of it was just a year back, which reiterates the fact that we can change our lives in a year — that’s all it takes.
I was fiddling with issues of self-esteem, trust, hope, desire, fulfillment, goals, relationships, and practically any emotion that one can think of, back then. However, howsoever bad my day went, I tried to make sure that I invested 2 hours every morning into 3 activities that have now become a major part of my life — meditation, exercising & reading books — even if I don’t do anything else the whole day. I don’t know how that wisdom came to me during that time, but I’m thankful that it did because those little acts each day, combined with a few other practices, have made me a much happier person today who is always overwhelmed by this miracle, which we call life.
As mentioned in the book Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy by Jaggi Vasudev (better known as Sadhguru), the common person today has a lot more luxury than what the richest person could afford just 30 years back. Although we have more comfort than what all our previous generations ever had from the outside, are we any happier? Not really. We have more cases of depression, suicides, etc. than ever before, we attach our happiness to getting the latest version of the iPhone or buying more things than we can ever have the space to keep. Add to that the final ingredient — social media. So many people nowadays have lost the human element from their lives. They’d prefer to spend their time looking down at a 5-inch screen than to actually converse with people whom they intended to hang-out with. In such a world where everyone is trying to show how awesome their lives are, it can become hard to choose to be vulnerable to others. However, I now realize that actually putting myself out there — choosing to be vulnerable — was one of the best things I did and that aided my recovery a lot. So, that’s the motivation behind this post — to share my end of the story of how certain well-known practices affected my life and to call out a few rarely mentioned ones. If anyone is going through a rough phase, I just want to say that it’s OKAY to be sad, “this too shall pass” and the habits I mention here might speed up the process of recovery.
I started meditation the day after my breakup. The only motivation I had was — I need to remain sane, I really need to remain sane. That started a year-long journey where I tried various techniques to see what suits my needs and found homage in the famous guided meditation app, Headspace. It’s hard to describe how much setting aside just 10 minutes of our day for this can profoundly impact our lives. Headspace has a few free sessions initially, but requires you to upgrade after that. At this point, some might say, “but it’s too expensive” — skip a weekend of drinking and use that money here. Take my word that it’s worth every penny. Taking up packs on managing anxiety, mindful eating, self-esteem, prioritization and learning techniques like visualization and noting have helped me deal with the most difficult parts of my older self. I rarely become anxious now or suffer from lack of self-esteem and have managed to eliminate most of the problems that used to bother me an year back. If you had to add just one habit among all the others mentioned here, let it be Meditation.
2. Reading Books
Once you learn to read, you will be forever free
- Frederick Douglass
Books have become a non-detachable part of me today. I carry my Kindle everywhere I go and always keep different types of books downloaded there. It’s my favorite pass time in which I can step into the boots of the author and see the world through their lens, rather than the default ones: mine. Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author (or the subject) and won’t you like to have a chat with Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Tony Robbins and Robin Sharma?
I hope you get what I want to convey. There are many questions that we all have, many things that we all want to do, but we might not have access to people who can guide us towards them. Books are the way to gain access to the minds of people who we really admire and look up to. The books that have massively influenced my life are:
- Think and Grow Rich (by Napoleon Hill)
- 7 habits of highly effective people (by Stephen Covey)
- Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of Spacex and Tesla is Shaping Our Future (by Ashley Vance) and
- Steve Jobs (by Walter Issacson).
There are various benefits of reading and I won’t elaborate on them. The most profound impact that reading has had on me was realizing the importance of communication and just being open to different possibilities rather than being confined to the limitations created by my limited experience in my lifetime till now.
3. Valuing Relationships
It took for me to be away from my friends and family both, to realize just how important each of them are to me. I thrive on building deep meaningful relationships with the people I meet and everything that makes a successful life for me, has a major role assigned to both my family and friends. We, as a generation today, have truly lost the importance of this aspect of our lives and that makes me sad. But once we realize this importance and start appreciating the fact that we have people to love and people to love us back, life seems so much brighter. I had this fancy notion of what an ideal city would be for me to live in, but I realized that your dream city is made by the people who live there rather than the place itself. Talking to my mom is the most important thing for me each day and hearing the voice of my brother reminds me constantly of where I belong. Friends are nothing more than an extension of your family and among friends, you are really YOU.
Of myself and everyone around me. I had this persona of what the right person should be like and the immature part was trying to force everyone around me to fit that persona for me to want to be with them. But it took a breakup, a few months of depression and a lot of interaction to realize that we all have our own personas and mine will never be the same as yours. Rather than put so much effort in trying to change that, it’s much more beautiful to instead appreciate that difference. Things that make me happy and things that make you happy might be completely different and even non-overlapping. Rather than trying to critique that, I now try to understand why. The greatest impact it has had on me has been to relieve me from the monstrous effort I used to put in to change the person. Be comfortable in my own skin and let others be comfortable in theirs. There’s a beautiful line in the song “Let it go” by James Bay:
C’mon let it go
Just let it be
Why don’t you be you
And I’ll be me?
Most of us have a hundred things to complain about what’s going wrong in our lives and how it sucks. But if we did a simple exercise of just asking ourselves, “What would have I thought 2 years ago if someone told me that I’ll have all that I have now”, we’ll realize how far we have come. It’s very important to have goals for ourselves, but it’s equally important to not let those goals dictate our happiness and contentment. If we do that and “seek” happiness, we’ll never be happy. We can be happy today. Now. Being grateful for everything we have today, and appreciating every little thing that we possess now is such a big factor to leading a fulfilled life. A major reason for my breakup was that I was not grateful enough for what I had. Once it was gone, I realized just how much it meant to me. Think about the future. Be thankful for what you have today. You won’t need to seek someone to make you happy anymore.
At this moment, you might be thinking, “Listening? We do that every day right?”. The truth is that what most of us do every day is “hearing”, which simply means the act of perceiving sound by the ear. “Listening”, on the other hand, is something that we choose to do. If you pay attention, we rarely listen to anyone. The sad part is that most of us listen to respond. Once the other person starts speaking, we already start thinking of the reply without even putting the effort into actually understanding what the speaker intends to convey. Active listening is a key component in building deep meaningful relationships where you actually step into the shoes of the other person and try to understand their side of the story. It also opens up a completely new dimension in your thinking and drives engaging conversations. Think about it. You might just be hearing. Try to listen for a change. One of the habits mentioned in the book “7 habits of highly effective people” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”.
This one might be totally personality dependent. As briefly touched upon before, most of us are trying to show how awesome our lives are but rarely do people open up about their vulnerabilities. Choosing to be vulnerable is not easy, I admit. There is a risk of acceptance and being judged by other people. But for me, the more openly I’ve talked about my not-so-awesome aspects, the more I’ve become comfortable living with them. They are a part of me now and accepting that liberates me. And to my surprise, it rarely makes people uncomfortable around me. In fact, knowing my sensitive parts has allowed other people to share their stories with me as well. And I love “listening” to a story. Any story. Recently, I asked a very close friend of mine whether this behavior of mine projects an image that I might not want to convey to people I meet, and his answer was something that I’ll carry with me throughout my life. I can put an effort to show myself differently, but I’ll the remain the same at my root. And if I were to connect deeply with someone, that part of me will eventually come out and if they can’t accept it, I’m better off not having them in my life. This ensures that people I value have accepted me for the way I truly am and that only the right people stay close to me.
Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like an armor. And it can never be used to hurt you.— Tyrion Lannister
8. Giving back
In vain have you acquired knowledge
if you have not imparted it to others.
- Deuteronomy Rabbah
Prior to this year, my interaction had been limited to people I used to meet on a regular basis which were primarily my batch-mates when I was in IIT Guwahati. However, due to some good fortune, a few of my juniors started seeking advice from me on topics that I’d been working on. One thing leading to another, I started a study group focused on learning Artificial Intelligence in my campus along with two of my juniors. Through that platform, I got to interact with a lot of extremely smart people who had an ambition for themselves and also got the opportunity to be one of the bridges in their journey. Also, that is what encouraged me to start blogging on Medium, sharing How-Tos, interview experiences and a bunch of technical content. Not only has this sharpened my understanding of my area of focus, it has given me a sense of fulfillment to be able to positively contribute in someone else’s life without the need for them to give something back in return. I’m indebted to my seniors and other people who guided me, even hand-held me during various walks of my life and having the fortune to be able to do that for my juniors has made me feel extremely satisfied in my everyday life.
I am the kind of person who likes to have many more things on his plate than the plate can ever accommodate. While that keeps me busy, it becomes a major distraction as whenever I’m working on one of those things, the others would pop up in my head and say, “you need to give us time too”. This has lead me to try doing many things at the same time and ending up doing a mediocre job in each of them in the past. However, by interacting with many awesome people, some of whom I can say are my mentors now, I’ve realized just how important choosing what to work on and going all-in towards it, is. I can’t let the Fear of Missing out (FOMO) drive my decisions and I have to accept that there are always going to be things that I’ll be missing out on as I prioritized something else over them. Also, I might not even have to miss them, just delay them. Coming straight out of college, I carried on the mindset of running in a race, but I’ve realized that although it’s a race, it’s not a sprint, never a sprint, but a marathon. Doing 2 (at max) things at once but doing them well is far more valuable than doing 5 things at the same time but with severe quality compromise.
Last, but certainly not the least, being able to clearly articulate my thoughts on a platform and sharing it with the world has had a profound impact on my life. It has helped me encompass multiple things mentioned above — reflect on my life more frequently, acknowledge what went well, be grateful to people who chose to help me and in general, become more aware about myself. Apart from this, I’ve started seeing the importance of the art of storytelling and the power of the written word. Two of my blog posts got a decent level of attention from my juniors and other awesome people on Medium. Getting an appreciative note from someone across the globe makes me feel connected to them, overcoming the physical barriers of distance. Also, it provides me with the independence to put forward my thoughts on topics that I care about the most and maybe, spark a fruitful conversation around it too. Not worrying too much about what someone would think, having the feeling of conversing with so many people at the same time and understanding more deeply what I felt I already know, have been the best takeaways from this exercise. I would highly recommend anyone to just start writing. Something. Anything. Just start. The world would be a better place by actually having known your stories rather than them being trapped in your mind.
This was a long read and if you’ve made it this far, I really appreciate the fact that you considered my learning to be of any significance to you. Again, the motive of this post was to emphasize the fact that whatever phase of life you are in now, it’s not going to be like this forever and that YOU can do so much more to lead the life that you want to. Time to come out of the victim mindset. I hope that this read was worth your time. That you go back with a smile on your face and optimism in your heart.
Whatever you do, whatever area you get into, even if you’re the best of the best, there’s always a chance of failure. So I think it’s important that you really like whatever you’re doing. If you don’t like it, life’s too short. If you like what you’re doing, you think about it even when you’re not working. It’s something that your mind is drawn to, and if you don’t like it, you just can’t make it work.
- Elon Musk