Saturday, March 5, 2016

TEDxUCincinnati 2016

I have been a huge fan of TED talks (Technology, Entertainment and Design) and find myself fortunate to have the opportunity to attend the conference in person today. There was TEDx conference today at the University of Cincinnati (TEDxUCincinnati) and in this blog post I wish to share some of the points that I remember from the very profound talks given by an amazing line of speakers. 

I would also like to state clearly that this post may not capture each and every idea of  even a single talk; let alone a summary of all the talks today. While it was a brilliant event, but that also means that there was a lot to absorb and take in. Through this post, I'm only able to share my understanding of the points that I could remember and walked out with today.

TEDxUCincinnati, 2016
The theme of today's conference was - Cosmopolitan. When I heard about it for the first time, my view of the term was the following - to be willing to embrace any differences instead of seeing them as conflicts. The differences can be of any type - cultural, religious practices, traditions, societal and so on

I would say that today's talks broadened my understanding. The idea is not only limited to being open to differences but also seeking ways on actively engaging (and hence taking action) with other people irrespective of any biases. As one of the speakers said in defining cosmopolitan, "To be you is to interconnect with others". If we find ourselves privileged to be receiving certain opportunities in life, then asking ourselves on how we can pass it on to others in the community. How can we make a positive influence in others lives that goes beyond our families and near and dear ones. 

One of the talks really hit upon a common behavior that most of us follow. When we notice any form of discrimination, we tend to ignore it  by stating that we are not the one who is discriminating. It is the society as a whole or someone else. In essence, what we are doing is actually giving an excuse to our bias. We are shedding the responsibility onto others and turning a blind eye. In our quest to becoming more cosmopolitan, what we need to do instead is - inspect our institutions invisible biases. 

What may seem ironical at this point is that we indeed are talking a lot about globalization today. Then are we not becoming cosmopolitan? As an answer to this question, think about the unrest going on in the world - be it in terms of wars or national and international rules, regulations and policies.  So, where are we missing the point? Why do we seem to be moving farther from our goal despite the globalization which should in fact be uniting us? Here are some potential insights.

First, in this age of big data, what we forget about is that ultimately it is about people. And even more - making a personal connection with people.  Secondly, we need to work on our existing mindset where we look at the world as a group of nations. Even within a single country, we sometimes create 
Universal Truths of Humanity
Our shared values and goals 
cultural divides. We create stereotypes in our minds towards people which only serve to cloud our judgments and thinking about them. One of the ideas shared by the speaker was the following - when we see differences, we should also remind ourselves of the same goals and values we share in life. This would breed empathy. 

What I find particularly fascinating about these talks is the presentation and sharing of the science behind ideas, new perspective of looking at the same things that I often come across or experience, to be able to look at the grand scheme of things in life, learn about other people's struggles only to make me stop whining and start looking at the bright side of things and situations in life. To feel grateful for all that I have and how I tend to take them for granted sometimes. One of the talks addressed the challenges faced by people living in slums in India. Some people live on $1.25 per day! 

Before I conclude this post, I would recall two points captured from two different talks today.

1. We would need to give up something on this journey of serving communities. As an example, it can be giving up on few hours of sleep to make time for working on your community effort, or giving up on a certain plan of yours to save money that you can direct towards this direction. Ask ourselves what are we willing to give up. 
2. When we work towards making a difference to the community, there will be times when our efforts may not seem enough to make any difference. But through consistent and persistence efforts and as long as we enjoy the process, our small pushes will count and eventually give results. 

We often measure our lives, base our happiness and success on milestones, achievements, and results. But what we miss is that in between these goals, the process it takes to get to them also matters. We need to respect the process as well since the joy of accomplishment and results are mere flashes of existence.

I very much enjoyed the conference today and glad to have written this post right away.

-- Dippy

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Gratefulness and confidence

"Our lives are filled with large and small gifts but most of them do not come to us wrapped with a bow" - By Wendy Meg Siegel

That's a quote on the first page of my journal. The hidden blessings. I had started writing a gratitude journal in the last few months. The intention was to write before I go to bed every night. But I will be honest that I did not follow the practice wholeheartedly. Sometimes I did record my feelings but not every day. I got back on track in the last few days. Having a clear understanding of what the feeling of gratitude can do strengthens my resolve to follow it seriously. 

I always heard and did understand the relevance of feeling grateful in your everyday lives, to acknowledge what you have versus what's missing or not yet there. But it wasn't until recently when I realized the relationship between gratitude and the confidence that it engenders. 

Here's how it works - if we think about the times when we run low in confidence, one thing that is common in those situations is a feeling of missing something. This *something* can be missing on your plans, negative thoughts where you look down upon yourself, your abilities etc. Given, all that's there at that point in time, here's what the habit of cultivating gratitude does. It helps you recognize and acknowledge the presence of all good things that also happened in this same time frame. It pulls your mind away from the negative spiral, opens your mind to view things in a different perspective and more optimistically. The only way that you can accomplish this is by being aware of good things that are happening as well.

Here's another way to look at it. Given the list of things that already did not work out according to your expectations, think about - what if even those good things that did happen (no matter how small) had also turned the opposite way.  The act of recording them by writing or just closing your eyes and visiting them at the end of your day or each morning amplifies your awareness of all the good things in your life. It makes you look beyond your struggles or unmet expectations.

Another perk - when you go back to your journal and read what you wrote, I'm sure it will bring a smile and who knows, you may read one of these pages on a day when you just need that sense of satisfaction, happiness, and support. 

-- Dippy

Friday, September 11, 2015

Enjoying simple things

It's 2:53 pm as I have started writing this post and it is just about small things that make me happy. I came to university in the afternoon today after having my lunch at home. Did some work in the morning but lots more to do.

I had to stop by at the bank (on-campus) and there's a bookstore next to it. Campus bookstore. I love spending time there. Whenever I need a break and if I am closeby to the bookstore, I just stop by. It's usually just for 15-20 minutes since I never buy anything from there. I get lot of good ideas there (not about my research but shopping ideas!). If I like some book, I note down its title and then go home and check it out on amazon. Quite often, the same book that costs about $15 at the bookstore can come at $4 or less from amazon including shipping. So, pretty good deal. Recently I saw some ideas for journals which were so cool. I absolutely loved them but as you would imagine, did not buy yet. They are on my list though! Here's a link to one of the journals if you are curious what I'm talking about. 

Who said, bookstore is just about books!

Next, as I stepped out of the bookstore and walked outside student center, this was what was happening - Food trucks on campus!

It was a fun site. It really cheers me up to see the energy and enthusiasm on campus. Only to realize in the next few minutes, that I need to get away from there and be in the library to work on my stuff. I should graduate!

On another note, sometimes it helps to notice that I do recognize these activities on campus and they bring a smile on my face. Life is not just about big moments but probably also about finding happiness in day to day life. 

The irony is that although I understand this fact but it becomes hard to apply sometimes. Glad that today was one of the days where I could feel its prescence!

- Dippy

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Hard Work and Destiny - complementary?

What works ultimately - hard work or destiny? People who believe in one or the other can provide ample examples of the side that they follow or advocate. And each of those examples would make sense. When you hear stories about people who truly succeeded by working on themselves, hard work wins. These are stories of same people who clearly faced hard situations. Situations where even a strong person may give up. They worked hard towards achieving something but failed numerous times before they were finally greeted by success. I'm reading a book 'Mastery' by Robert Greene these days and actually it's the second time I am going over it (mostly with my markings from the first reading though). It offers several examples from real stories of great scientists and explorers such as Charles Darwin, Michael Faraday, Benjamin Franklin to name a few, who received the success and recognition by which we have always known them, only after several hardships and lessons learned along the way. It becomes clear from reading their stories that the thought they benefited from their connections or the families they were born in (or any other reasons that we think of when talking about successes of such people) is a myth. They succeeded only out of sheer determination, inner drive to excellence and dedication. 

That's one side of the story. The other side is the 'luck factor'. While success by hard work is clearly measurable by reading life histories of people, I think the believers of luck find it hard to convince people of their side of the story. They may find themselves being labelled as superstitious or lazy who are living with a sort of illusion. I have hit this question very often in my life - do these two factors enjoy equal footing? Is luck totally a myth? My mind brings stories in front of me where I do not have a clear explanation. 

The way I see it now is a hybrid of the two school of thoughts. I do not completely deny the existence of luck factor but I've learned by reading biographies and stories of great achievers and the fact that I can relate some of their situations to my everyday life makes me a strong proponent of focusing solely on the combination of hard work and perseverance. I think this philosophy works in several ways:
1. Considering that luck factor exists, we should also realize that it is still beyond our control. It is better and motivating to channelize our energies in our present and future. 
2. As we work persistently and wholeheartedly towards a goal, as a worst case - even if we do not achieve that particular thing that we are seeking at that time, because we put our soul and mind into it, we would have learned and acquired tremendous skills. The experiences we had along the way prepared us for future but only if we look at our failures from that perspective. 

I was watching a documentary from National Geographic Channel this evening. It came out this year and explained the Titanic mystery. Here's the link if you are interested in watching it. The point from that feature that is relevant to this article is the following: - Titanic sank in 1912. Scientists found the answers this year - 2015. More than a century later. Was this hard work? Luck that they found evidence this time? I would call it a hybrid of three - hard work, perseverance and luck. Hard work clearly stands out. Luck? Probably yes. The areas that scientists explored in this expedition were never looked upon before. But had they given up on their efforts, neither hard work, nor luck would have made any difference. So, according to me the winner is - Perseverance.

In those situations where I run low in confidence and questions such as - Am I going to succeed despite of all my hard work or creating explanations based on luck for other people situations; when such thoughts cloud my mind, I remind myself of the following:
"Sometimes hard work and good timing intersect. Sometimes they don't. But they likely at some point and when they'll be ready" - By Katie Couric in one of her books

- Dippy
P.S. If you like this post, please do let me know by commenting instead of clicking on the 'like' button. Google does not allow me to see who liked the post. Thanks!


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Is Every Advice Useful?

Nowadays, we can get advice from anywhere and everywhere. It need not be from meeting someone in person but the digital world offers numerous other sources as well - blogs, videos, articles, forums. I myself read a lot of articles and I'm very fond of watching interviews. Over the course of time, I have found that while some set of advice may be absolute in nature in terms of whether it applies universally to every person regardless of his or her current situation. Guiding someone on the importance of honesty or being kind to others. This is the behavior that each one of us would like to conform with.

The question that I raised in my post here is in the context of another set - which may work for some people but not for everyone. The same advice of following your heart and choosing a career that you you feel passionate about may not be possible for someone who is really trying to make ends meet and so on. As another example - we all understand and read about the importance of perseverance. Keep trying, don't give up and eventually you'll succeed. But Albert Einstein also said: "Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid". 

So, right there, we saw an example of two pieces of advice. Each of them accurate in their own respect but if you place them next to each other, it makes you wonder. The first one is telling you not to quit until you succeed while the later also calls for paying attention to the feasibility of the goal in terms of your capacity and abilities. The second one may seem to be more practical, but the way I look at this is the following: If I only concentrate on the later one, the chances of quitting and giving up will become higher because mind does creates a sense of fear in struggling times. Confronted with some tough situation, we can easily create self-deflating thoughts and feelings of self-doubt. We can begin questioning ourselves about our abilities. 

I agree with both bits of advice. But to answer and respond to the sense of conflict, I try to balance them off. I have started to realize that everyone's capacity is different. A quality or habit may come naturally to someone while for some other people it may require significant amount of effort to cultivate it. If someone is really disturbed or hurt, the same advice that he or she would have nodded to may not be that easy to accept. Things can differ based on person's life's circumstances. 

My take on whether every bit of advice is useful and accurate is that in an ideal situation, yes it is. But that's not how life goes - ideal! So, I would think that as long as we are honest to ourselves, it is not wise to beat ourselves too hard in following some principle or advice only because at the core, we may know that it IS actually right but you do not have the capacity at the current moment at least to adopt it. Give yourself some time, decide which pieces to pick up at the current moment, make sure to revisit the ideas with a calm mindset and you will be able to resolve the conflicts in your mind clearly.

I wonder if you are going to buy my advice here?! :) Look at it as my opinion and I'd be happy to know yours. 

- Dippy

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Self-discipline - Art of overriding our minds

You have set some goals and are determined to pursue them. Started to work towards them. Got success one day and feel super motivated to work harder and keep going. But then, on another fine day, something happens and you don't feel like doing it. May be you are tired or running low on confidence in your abilities. Your feelings at that moment offer enough reasons to allow yourself to digress from what you had once decided. You choose to go with how you are feeling and put off the task for sometime telling yourself that you will come back to it. What just happened? I would say the race between self-discipline vs. motivation has just begun. 

Self-Discipline involves giving higher importance to what you think or have once decided is important and not how you feel about it in the moment. 

Now one may wonder that if someone is not motivated or passionate about working on something, then how can you push yourself. You will do it halfheartedly and then results will not pan out. Yes and no. I think motivation is the main factor when you are in the goal setting phase. Asking yourself if it is worth doing? Why do you want to do it. What if things do not go exactly the way you expect. Are you ready to still take the risk? Answers to all these questions will come through the level of motivation. However, motivation is fleeting. It will come and go once you start working towards your goals based on your current situation. But self-discipline is sustainable.

You will face challenges. They will vary in degree for different people. But what is important to remember is that during these hard times, it is the self-discipline that will pull us through that phase. Self-discipline is when you do not let your feelings at a particular moment in time dominate your vision. Motivation fails to help at those low points in life. Our self talk tends to be weak. But the principles we had made at the first place and our dedication to stick to them is what is going to make all the difference. 

How to cultivate this trait? Whenever I find my self-discipline being tested, this is what I repeat to my myself: - When one gets success, anyone will feel motivated to do more and keep going. Practicing discipline may seem hard at this point but I will feel good and empowered afterwards. So, sometimes it does becomes important to tell our mind to just shut up!

I hope you enjoyed the post. 

- Dippy

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ordinary..yet special

Came across this scene today morning.  Found it very beautiful.

Pedestrians have right of way!

As I saw them from a distance, slowed down the car and stopped. The way all of them were moving at their own pace and  cars from both directions stopped to yield way - I just smiled looking at them and then quickly took this picture. 

There wasn't anything spectacular I guess? But somehow I found that moment of waiting for them and watching them cross the road very amusing and thought of sharing!

- Dippy