What we should ‘not’ learn from religions about goal setting.

I have a real problem with religions (Not just one. I have many. But I am just mentioning one here)

A lot of them operate in ‘donts’. Don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t eat this. don’t drink that. Don’t dress like this, don’t talk like that.

One of the dialogues from my favourite movie of all times sums it up.

“I can give you the ten commandments in ten words: Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t.” – The Man from Earth

"DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover" by TBA. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Ten Commandments (1956 film) via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpg#mediaviewer/File:DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover.jpg
“DeMilleTenCommandmentsDVDcover” by TBA. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of The Ten Commandments (1956 film) via Wikipedia –

May be it’s the influence from these religions, a lot of us have a similar attitude when it comes to setting goals and behaviours. We set negative goals.

“ I will not eat chocolates and ice-cream”

“ I will not be late again”

“I will not procrastinate”

This is a pretty bad strategy. I will explain it with a story I read a long time ago. I am not a spiritual man as such, but this is one story from Osho that I always remember.

A man was riding a bicycle, and he saw a big pot hole on the road. He saw it from a distance, and he kept telling himself. “I will not fall into that, I will not fall into that, I will not fall into that.”.

You can guess what happened.

He fell right into it

The same is with all of us. When we set ourselves a goal that focuses on not failing, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

Think of the top athletes you know of. Usain Bolt does not go into a race thinking that he will not lose. Instead, he focuses on winning. The same with Michael Phelps, or Michael Schumacher, or any other top athlete you can think of.

Think of your goals in positives.

Instead of “ I will not eat chocolates and ice-cream”, try “I will eat more fruits and vegetables”

Instead of “I will not be late ever again”, try “I will always reach on time”

Instead of “ I will not procrastinate”, try “I will finish tasks well ahead of time”

It makes a lot of sense physiologically too. Our brains are wired to better understand what we should do than what we should not.

Set positive goals, and you will have an easier time achieving them.

And about religions.

I like the ones that tell me

Be good, be kind. Love everyone. Make friends.

That works much better.


Tiny habits – A simple, yet extremely powerful approach for you to build better habits

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

I did a program last week. It’s called tiny habits. (http://tinyhabits.com/ by BJ Fogg)

It’s a simple, yet extremely powerful idea to drive behavioral change and build habits.

It’s a 5 day program, where you have to choose three tiny habits, and do them for five days. Your tiny habits should have these three parts.

  1. An anchor
  2. An action and
  3. A celebration

The anchor:

The anchor is a habit that is already completely established, or things you do on a regular basis. For example, brushing your teeth, removing your shoes, opening your laptop, or picking up a call.

The tiny habits approach has a very simple idea at its core. Let the new habit piggyback on an existing habit. You already brush every day. Just drink water right after that. Or hang the keys on the wall, right after you remove your shoes.

The action:

The action has to be ridiculously simple (I mean it. Ridiculously). Some of the examples that BJ Fogg gives include, just flossing one tooth at time, or meditating for just 30 seconds). You might say that you don’t want to floss just one tooth, you want to floss all of them, or that you want to meditate for 30 minutes, not 30 seconds. But trust me (or trust BJ Fogg), you will get there. Well practiced tiny habits, will pave the way for stickier bigger habits. The key here is to keep it so small that the limbic system in our brain does not offer any resistance at all. (Read my elephant, foot soldier analogy if you want to understand this better). The 30 second meditation can move to 60 seconds in a week, and to 2 minutes, 5 minutes and so on.


Celebration is a key part of the tiny habits approach. Celebration lets your brain know that you had a win, and it will start craving for more such wins. The celebration has to be immediate. Right then and there. A yaay, or ‘That’s great’, or wow! or “I am awesome” would do for celebration. But celebrate for sure.

These were my tiny habits for last week

Habit Anchor Celebration
1 I will drink 2 gulps of water immediately after I open the car door A big smile at the mirror 🙂
2 I will do 10 pushups immediately after I wake up Play music
3 I will hang the keys on the wall immediately after I remove my shoes “Yaay”


But you might ask, “What if I don’t remember.What if I don’t remember to the hang the keys after I remove the shoes?” BJ Fogg has a simple solution. Repeat the routine a number of times. For eg, for my third habit, I wore the shoe, went out of the door, came back in, removed it and then the put the key on the hanger. I repeated this routine about 5 times, and haven’t forgotten it since.

I am completely bought on the power of tiny habits to build sticky habits.  Because for me, it covers all the basic principles of habit formation.They are:

Keep it small and simple

Piggy back, and

Celebrate the small win.

You can read more about these three in 4 war habits to build better habits.

And I wholeheartedly recommend you to head to http://tinyhabits.com/, and set your tiny habits for the week. The next program starts on Monday. Trust me. You won’t be disappointed with the results.

Why I totally trashed my productivity plan. And why you should too.

I had a pretty interesting productivity plan. Till about a year ago. This 4 step plan looked something like this.

Step 1: Get super frustrated with the mess. Both physical and mental

Step 2: Clean up the room, look at the long to-do list, and create an infallible super plan to get things done.

Step 3. Follow the infallible super plan for a few days till, almost inevitably, the infallible plan crashes like the Titanic. (Mostly within a week)

Step 4: Go back to step 1. Repeat for years and years.

And then it happened. One day, I trashed it forever.

waste basket

Picture courtesy: http://www.freeimages.com/profile/nkzs

Almost 6 months ago, I read a book called “The power of habit –  Why we do what we do in life and business” (Almost by accident. Greeshma (my partner) ordered it for herself.) The book got me started on the idea of habits, and I got hooked. I started reading up anything on habits that I could get my browser to. I read zen habits, BJ Fogg, Gretchen Rubin, and so on.

And then I realized that there was a better path to productivity.


You see, habits are brain’s way of automating. How many times have you taken the turn towards office, when you were actually going somewhere else? Do you put in the right leg first into your trousers or the left leg? Always the same one? These are habits at work.

So, how were habits going to help me be more productive?

To answer this, let me first list out the productivity issues I tried to tackle with a productivity plan.

  1. I wasn’t getting things done.
  2. I was unhealthy – Joint pains, low energy etc
  3. My work space and home were in chaos
  4. I wanted to write, but I couldn’t find the time nor the energy.
  5. I was sleeping way too late.

With a productivity plan, what I used to do was to plan a day which will take care of all these issues. It looked like this.

Wake up at 6, exercise, then write and have breakfast. Work (finish all the tasks on the to-do list), come home, spend time with friends and family, have dinner, clean up, make a to-do list, and go to bed. (I am sure it looks similar for most of you). The problem, like I stated before, was that this was not sustainable.

With the habits plan, I had a different approach. I could build a few habits that will take care of these issues, and then my brain will automate those behaviors. For example, if I have a habit of creating a schedule for the next day (I will write later about why a schedule and not a to-do list), it would, to an extent, take care of my problems with getting things done. If I have a habit of waking up at 6 every day, I would have the time to write. If I have a habit of exercising for 30 minutes a day, it will almost take care of my health (With the bonus that I will fall asleep easier). If I have a habit of cleaning up my house every night, I would be living in a clean, peaceful place.

A habits approach requires more patience and persistence than a simple getting-things-done approach. As I have already written in the article “4 war strategies to build better habits,” you can’t build new habits all at one time. You will have to work on one at a time. So, a complete transformation of your day isn’t possible in a week, or even a month, or two. It will require persistence for a longer period. May be a year.

On the other hand, if you are willing to persist, a habit plan can be truly rewarding. If you can build 4-5 key sticky habits a year, those habits will stay with you for a life time. Imagine yourself as a person who always wakes up at 6, exercises, writes/reads, gets your things done consistently, and sleeps and wakes up on time. Motivating? What’s all the more motivating is that you will stay that way for a long long time. (Maybe even your entire life)

A habits approach is about deciding what kind of a person you want to be and building the right habits to be that person.

I want to be the kind of person who wakes up at six every day, exercises, writes, reads, spends enough time with the family and achieves most of his life goals. So, in the last 6 months, I have managed to build 2 major habits..

  1. I write a schedule every night for the next day – this has hugely improved my productivity. I have gotten more done in the last 6 months than I have in over 3 years.
  2. I wake up at 7 almost without an alarm: My target is to wake up at 6, but I have taken baby steps, and have started waking up at 7 consistently (it used to be 8:30). In the next 2-3 months, I hope to be able to wake up at 6 regularly. (There are those odd days, when I oversleep, but I don’t kill myself over them). This has given me time to write regularly.

Over the next year, I will add the other three habits (Exercise, clean, wake up at 6) to my life, and then, I would consider myself truly productive.

And yes, I am not saying that habits and habits alone make me productive. They form the foundation on which I apply other principles. I believe that should work for you too.

So, have I convinced you about habits, and how they can be great for you? If not let me invite someone else. Someone who is an undeniable expert. The Greek guru – Aristotle. In his words.

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

Long term goals – How not to let them die short term

Estimated reading time: 8 min.

I want to learn 4 new languages by December 2016. That’s my latest long term plan. I actually set this about a month ago, followed it up for the next 4 days by taking Portuguese lessons on Duolingo and then forgot all about it.

This is not the first time that a long term goal of mine has had a short term death. It has happened multiple times. And I am sure it has happened with most of you too.

So, what is it that makes long term goals more difficult to achieve than the short term ones. Actually, just the fact that it is long term. Like I had mentioned earlier in article 5 (4 War strategies to build better habits), our brains prefer the pleasure of achievement now to the pleasure of achievement a year later.

So, are there strategies to make long term goals more attainable? Of course yes. Most of you have heard of setting SMART goals. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time bound goals. I am not going to talk about them here. (If you have not heard of SMART goals and would like to read more about it, you can follow this link). The SMART goals strategy works for both long term and short term goals. Instead, I am going to talk about 5 strategies that will help you specifically with long term goals.

1. Find the why?

Why do you want to lose those 10 kilos or why do you want to learn a new language?

The why is the most important part of a goal, short-term or long-term. It is much more relevant for long term goals because without a concrete emotional why, you will not be able to sustain the motivation required for any long term goal.

The why for a long term goal has to be both concrete and emotional. For eg, don’t say that you want to lose 10 Kgs to be healthy. To be healthy is a very abstract concept, and your brain won’t be able to visually store “to be healthy”. Instead, say that you want to lose 10 kgs so that you can play 4 games of badminton without huffing and puffing. Now, that’s a concrete image that your brain can store. The image of you playing badminton.

By emotional, I mean that it has relate to something close to your heart. Something that you love. If for the same example of you losing 10 kgs, you think that you want to be able to play with your kid or your nieces or nephews, the brain can connect to the emotion related to it.


2. Believe in them

A couple of my long term goals have gone unattained because I didn’t believe in them completely. For eg: I wanted to open 3 branches of my institute in 3 different cities by the end of the 5th year. It didn’t happen. There were many reasons, but the major one was that I wasn’t sure about it. I wasn’t sure that it was the right path to take.

My ambivalence was even more damaging because despite the lack of complete conviction, I still tried taking the goal ahead and failed. In the process I also lost valuable time which I could have otherwise used for another goal.

Ambivalence can be a real goal killer. Long term goals demand from us complete dedication, and complete clarity and belief. Even the tiniest amount of lack of conviction can derail them.

The next time you set a long term goal, take some time to address the concerns upfront. Ask yourself if you completely believe in it. If not, you might want to rethink the goal. The chances of goal completion increase manifold with absolute belief.

3. Take an action every day till you internalize the goals.

You have definitely experienced that rush every time you set a long term goal. You were excited. You were energized. Till the end of the day, all you could think of was the exciting goal that you were going to achieve. Fast forward 30 days, or 60 days. Were you still that excited, still that energized. Most of the times no.

Most long time goals die an untimely death. Most within the first 30 or 60 days, or even less. Long term goals are like new-borns, they need constant feeding in the first month or two of their lives. Without that they will grow weak, and if ignored, will die an untimely death.

The way to nourish a long term goal in their infant hood is to act on them. Every day. Take a tiny step towards it. Even if the goal is a year away, or two years away, take a step today, and take a step every day for at least 30 days. This will help sustain it. This will plant the goal firmly in your brain and the brain will start building it a permanent home inside.

4. Set mini goals to add up to the big goal.

Like I already said, the brain prefers pleasure now, to pleasure 1 year later, and therefore it makes it easier for it to work on super short term goals than long term goals. So, set super short term goals which will ultimately lead to the long term goal. For eg: The long term goal for me for this blog is to write 100 articles in 1 year. But I very rarely think about the number 100. I don’t want to scare my brain with such a big number. Instead, I think about 2. I focus on publishing just two articles a week, and thereby reach 104 articles in 52 weeks.

5. Track:

I like seeing those numbers. I bet everyone does. 10 push ups yesterday. 15 today. 30 clients last month, 45 this month.

Tracking is an extremely effective strategy that will help you achieve long term goals. They act the same way mini goals do. They give you concrete evidence of progress or even regress. They are visual representations of your goals.

I prefer tracking week to week. You might like it month to month or day to day. Whatever the frequency, make sure you track. By tracking you automatically increase the chances of achieving the goal.

So, go ahead. Set the next long term goal. Try these strategies and let me know if they work for you.

Can’t find your passion? Here’s one thing that will help.

Estimated reading time: 3.5 minutes.

I am a language trainer. I love training. I can say that training is my passion. It fires me up.

But I didn’t plan on being a trainer. Actually I was against being one. It happened by an accident. And I am happy it did.

So, is there a trick? can you also make the accident happen?

I would say yes.

Before we come back to that question, let me ask you another one.

How will you know that playing a guitar is your passion if you have never played one? Or clay painting, or cricket commentary, or writing?

Or from another angle, what are the chances of finding your perfect partner if you have never met or spoken to him or her. And what are the chances of finding him/her if you only know only a dozen people your entire life? I would say ‘very low’

Finding your passion is also a little like that.

If all you do are 3 or 4 things that you keep repeating day after day, month after month, and year after year, you might just end up never finding that one thing you love to your core.

And if you are one of those who think it is worth finding your passion, you have to be ready to do one thing.

Explore new things.

This is exactly what worked in my case. As a 22 year old, I was something like the character of Jim Carrey in the movie Yes Man. Say yes to everything. University politics – Yes. New language – Yes. Part-time projects – Yes. I kept saying yes to anything that came my way. It is one of those Yeses that first took me in front of a group of students as a trainer. There was no looking back from there.

I am not asking you to be a Yes Man. I am asking another thing.

Explore new things.

I found my passion because I was open to new things. If I hadn’t taken up that project, I would have never realized that I was a good trainer. I would have never realized that I love being in front of an audience.

If you are serious about finding your passion, this is one things you have to do. Explore new things.

Make it a habit to explore/ do new things. Join that guitar class you have been thinking of. Or start learning the new language you always wanted to, or take that trip you have always wanted to take. If one doesn’t work, try another, if not, yet another. Keep going at it.

Keep exploring. Discover new paths. You might just meet your passion at the next turn.

And it’s worth it.

NB: If you already know what your passion is, then you might also know that you can have more than one passion.