Am just not able to focus. What to do?

How many times have we experienced the “aaj mann ni lag raha h” (oh no, am not into it, today) feeling!? Well, I know I have to do it. But, somehow, the mind is not into it. We end up either wasting time forcing ourselves to do it where our productivity falls due to lack of concentration. Or, we just do something else. When I know I must do it, and I think that I am interested, why can’t I still concentrate on what I need to do?

The answer to this interesting question lies in the essence of execution. Your goal is clear. You have a plan. But, you are unable to execute. How to execute well? What do natural executors do?

I maintained an excel sheet where I used to put the topic and number of hours completed. I used to tell myself that my progress depends on the number of hours I see in that xls. If 100 hours is the goal, whenever I touch 25, I used to be very happy. I celebrated by sharing on social media and with my friends. I get to 50, I again share. This does two things: 1) It pushes me to achieve it because I like the feeling when I share it. 2) It brings a fear of shame that if I do not finish, what will my friends think of me. This worked like a charm. I consistently finished the planned hours. I never cheated. But, this may not work for everyone. It depends on your nature.

Another technique that usually works is to convert the goal of “studying DLD” to the task of “writing notes for DLD” task. This task shows progress. At least, you can see the number of filled pages increasing. When there is a sense of progress, our brain is more motivated to do the task. Just reading pages after pages, or solving problem after problem, we get bored. This is because, there is no way to visibly feel the progress, especially when you do not have the big picture.

If these principles based on pride, fear of shame, and sense of progress fail, you may try transcendental approach. This approach makes a commitment to almighty or your mother that, if you do not complete this, let that girl whom I love be married to someone else. Now, at any cost, I want to finish this because, I don’t want to leave that girl to chance. What if, just in case, God really exists and what if the loss of that girl was due to my breach of promise.

At the end, this post will be incomplete if I don’t tell you one important thing. Do not force yourself too much. Sometimes, your mind know what is right for you. If nothing works, just relax, take your time to find something that works for you. As they say it, “Successful people maintain a positive focus in life no matter what is going on around them”. Good luck.

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Things not going your way? Feeling depressed?

When the goals are shallow, depression is a typical consequence. Define success in such a way that it keeps you occupied for life. Do not keep a deadline for success.

Let me elaborate. Ask yourself, what is that you want to achieve in life. Look around. Understand the problem that attracts you. You come from financially deprived family. You perhaps want to eradicate poverty, or at least ensure that there are no more youth like you who is suffering for wrong reasons. Start thinking what you could do to solve this issue. It is a journey. It is not one step that you need to take. Commit your life for one such goal. In the meanwhile, you need to do a variety of things. You need to sustain yourself first. You need a job. You need a family. You need to keep your family safe and happy. You need good friends. For this to happen, you need to be mentally and physically strong. So, invest your time in all these things. You will quickly realize that getting a job is a small piece of a much bigger problem. The nature of the job only matters if it is somehow connected to the problem you want to solve.

Alright, having a goal for life and the pursuit to achieve it will keep us away from depression. It will keep us busy. It will bring joy and prosperity. But, this is not all. We need to deal with the intermediate small problems. The problem at hand is to find a job that helps you to stay healthy and reasonably wealthy. The mantra here is to be a good thinker, actor and producer.

Let me elaborate again. The common mistake we do when we look out for jobs is to see where the crowd is moving towards. Everyone is going to a call center does not mean that is the only place available for work. For example, consider teaching in a small school. It will pay you at least 20k and will help you lead a good life. It will force you to be a good communicator. It will keep you active by standing and walking for most parts of your day. There are many such jobs – administrative jobs in colleges and companies are another option. We have been trained to stop thinking from our early school days. For example, one of my teachers used to reprimand me for asking questions. She does not like anybody to ask question. So, gradually, students became 1) memorization machines and 2) follow-the-crowd ants. Get out of this mode. Find the right job. Do not spoil your life to get into one wrong job which is not working for you. Thinking deserves at least two more pages of writing. But, let us now move towards acting. I do not mean the cinama kind of acting. This is to “work”. Act. Put effort. Everyday, make a small plan on how you want to progress towards a goal. Execute that plan. Without thinking, acting will only waste your time in the wrong direction. This is what is happening with you in your UPSC and GATE preparations. You need counselling on how to prepare. Stop cramming all topics and memorizing formulae. Stop studing everything in the world. Other members here can give tips on how to study. Same applies to interviews. Write a great resume, apply to the right places and know how to ace interviews. With the commitment to work hard, there is nothing we cannot achieve. Finally, just thinking and acting is insufficient to a happy life. Start producing results. If you are not producing results, make smaller objectives (towards the same big or intermediate goal). Try to achieve them. If you still cannot, make it even smaller. If you cannot achieve anything, there is something wrong with you. Go back to the first step. Think.

We have one life. One opportunity to experience. Your situation is unique. Your experience will be unique. Make it useful, not only to yourself but to everyone around. Cheers and good luck.

PhD Life

PhD life is like a train that takes you to a new station every day. You look through the window in anxiety for whether you will find something new, something novel as we say it! Moreover, the taste of the same tea but from different hands in different stations, is so different! This is what happens to us when we find the same solution for the same problem through a different route.

How to study?

Some notes on student success:

  • Someone’s got to tell you money is not extremely important, at least for now.
  • Success repeats.
  • There is one quality in all achievers, “Gratitude”!
  • Success is not bought. It is built, little by little.
  • Phased repetition is more important than one time slog.
  • Focus. Have a direction and stick to it.
  • First 15 hours or so of study gives you an idea, does not make you an expert.
  • After the first 100 hours of preparation, you will know that you know nothing. Keep patience and confidence. Stick to your direction.
  • Practice makes you perfect. There is this 10 year rule. Listen to Angela Lee Duckworth.
  • Mind works at a different speed. Writing perhaps slows you down enough to give your mind the time to think. So, write down important things. Revise.
  • When you can no longer think, stop reading. Take a break. Aptitude is what you are training for. Not, memory.
  • Most key events such as exams happen in the morning hours. So, keep your body cycle such that you are at your best during these hours.
  • Find pleasure in the process of achievement, and not in the achievement itself. That way, you will have many hours of satisfaction instead of just a few moments.

231 Pages – Cover to Cover – Read in one sitting – 1.5 hours! You can also do it.

Today, I read the book, “How to read better and faster” (author: Norman Lewis) in one sitting, within almost one and half hours. I have always believed that I am a slow reader and I need to increase my reading speed. This book caught my eye at my college library. Today was a peaceful day with almost entire college taking off. So, decided to have a go at it, today.
The comfort of my lab and a purpose to read gave me the initial fuel necessary for speed reading. I looked for central ideas on speed reading. I felt that I sync’ed up with author’s style of writing very quickly, perhaps in the first chapter itself. Thankfully, the author kept to the same writing style and used very lucid vocabulary. The beginning of each chapter summarized the earlier chapters and gave hints at what to expect in that chapter. Clear titles and sub-titles made the speed reading easier. I picked up the concept of “no regression” from this book. This refers to the practice of not going back to re-read something that I believe to have missed. Further, I picked up the concept of “varying the pace” of my reading. I read the initial summary a little slower than the middle of the book. I saw the author cajoling, threatening and providing lots of evidences whenever he made some point. I was least interested in this part. So, I skimmed through the middle of chapters and slowed down in areas where some concepts were emphasized.
When my purpose was clear, I noticed that I did not perform “lip movements” or “hearing the words“, that the author claims as deterrent habits of speed reading. Whenever I felt that I have lost the author, I saw this happening. In this book, there very hardly one or two occasions in which I had such problems. But, it is not uncommon for me, with other books (novels, etc). Perhaps, the point is, as soon as we can sync up with the author’s writing style, vocabulary and get a basic idea of the topic, we should be good to read better and faster. If I feel that I do too much of lip movements and hearing of words, I should just stop and think, what’s wrong or missing in my understanding instead of forcing myself to complete the reading.
A key point that the author emphasized was on comprehension. There is no point in wasting our time on reading something that does not add any value to us or that which cannot extend our knowledge. To this context, it is important to mix the above techniques appropriately. Always read with a purpose. Decide what to gain and what to leave. Know if you are reading for pleasure or business.
Author also emphasized on practice. From my experience, I know that I am a slow learner. I always take time to learn. I excel in my second attempt. In my undergrad days, I used to wonder how my brilliant class-mates could understand the material in first attempt! Now, I realize, it is just my nature. I must skim first, get the idea. I should read again and again to master the thoughts. However, I understand that it takes fewer iterations for me to get the real mastery over the subject. My comprehension came a long way to help me with my current study/research rigor of PhD. I realize that what matters is not how much we can learn in a short while, rather, how much can we retain for a long while! Iterations of learning help much better than read-forget cycle, which unfortunately is heavily supported by our educational system in schools.
For someone of my kind, whose daily life includes massive amount of reading, it is important to structure the reading behavior. Time is of course, limited and we want to ensure that we make the most of every minute spent reading. I will strongly recommend anyone who feels that their reading habits are not efficient, to read this book titled “How to read better and faster”. Happy reading!

Just get one element correct for success in life

Do you wish to be a great researcher, an awesome speaker, charming actor, sharp businessman, elite athlete or exhibit any such greatness? Well it is easy. All you need to know is one simple thing, “Focus”. Focus is a very easy quality to understand but a very hard quality to practice. How many times have you sat in a class and just lost everything and entered your dreams in the first 45 minutes? How many times have you started writing a paper and ended up with a different story? We wish to do something that is important. We start with it. Somehow, after a few minutes, we just lose it. Lack of concentration or focus! How to control our mind to maintain focus? How to be alert? If you are a chess player, you will quickly understand all this. We work with multiple priorities and we chose wrong options many times, because of lack of focus. Success and greatness follows those people who have the highest element of focus. For instance, consider, the great cricketer, Tendulkar and the chess champion, Vishwanathan Anand. These players could have excelled only because they picked up one thing and stuck to it for life. No distractions. Ultimate focus. Nothing is impossible to achieve. Everything needs focus.

Learn to focus and enjoy success in life.

Don’t miss this awesome read.