There’s some thing strange about waking up at 5am every day. It’s an hour where you’re truly alone. A daily opportunity to not speak and allow the routine turbulence of thoughts to clear out.
A long time ago, I started waking up at 5am out of necessity. I was in the Pacific timezone and I’d recently signed up on a project that required interaction with a team back in New Delhi, India. Due to time zone differences, I’d wake up early work on the project and then go on to my day job at 9am. I did this for about three months. The morning project would go on to become bookeazy.com, a venture that changed my life forever.
Back then, it was easy getting up early. I was single and was absolutely electrified by the idea of creating a service that would go on to change how movie-goers would buy movie tickets.
Now I get up early in the morning because I believe it’s a great way to work on things that have the promise to be transformational. If you don’t have a side project, you get to choose if you want to work on your health, wealth or anything else that you have in mind. I like to think of this as the ‘abnormal gear’, a mode that you can rely on to break out of routine quickly.
It’s also an opportunity to plan and prepare. I find my world to have many activities that beg for time with the promise of no return. Spotting them isn’t easy if you don’t plan. It’s easier to decide what you want from your day and then spotting distractions and side-stepping them is easy.
It’s difficult, but trust me on this one – 5am is where you have a say in what change begins and sticks.
On my way back from work last week, I paused my car at an T-shaped intersection. As I waited for the heavy traffic to thin out, another car drove around me from the right and aggressively attempted merge. Not having much space to maneuver, the driver’s turning radius got tighter and he merged only after scraping my front fender. I’d been stationary all this time and his move took me by surprise. After a short pursuit, I caught up with him, tried to make my case and he had the cheek to deny scraping me at all. Having failed to secure his insurance information, I left.
That incident didn’t leave my thoughts for some time after that. Thoughts perpetuating themselves have always been a common situation for me. I imagine more so than for others, as I still think of myself as obsessive by nature. Sure, I felt the injustice and lack of civility in the event, but it was over and I had no business furthering my agenda mentally. Something had to be done!
Much like the driver I’d had the bad fortune of meeting, some old habits give you little room to maneuver and work out different, better responses. They perpetuate mediocre, or even less desirable outcomes until the point where you’ll find yourself thinking in exasperation “How did this happen?” Our goal would then be to deny following the habit, get a better feel for what’s going on and respond differently.
To show you how difficult this can be, I was part of a small experiment where the speaker would call out a color. The idea of the experiment is to not think of the color called out. Most participants found it hard to not imagine the color popping up in their minds every time the speaker called out that color and its variants. I’d encourage you to try this out with someone else calling out the color.
Other tests with a similar principle are the selective attention test, and the attentional blink test. What these tests show is that on constructing a complete idea, the conscious mind loses its capacity to process new stimuli and reevaluate the evolving state of everything, including your own internal state from where intuition originates*. If habitual responses are really complete ideas stemming from the compression of the stimuli-response gap to negligible time, then what we need to do is grow that gap. We’ll need to cue ourselves. Put another way, we’ll need to devise a new habit to disrupt the old one.
This isn’t knowledge relegated to meditation practitioners. Digital marketers also employ cues to drive desirable behaviors and develop habits at the subliminal level**. So, if you want to break an old habit, start with a self-cue. A face with an attention-grabbing expression, say a lovely smile will work well. You might want to experiment with this a bit, think face-piles if you must. Now all you need to do is practice raising that image when faced with the trigger situation.
There’s no lengths to which you can take this. I’ve experienced it work well with starting something new and dealing with procrastination. I’ve been seeking professional opportunities in my industry and I’ve known myself to be tempted by the first opportunity that comes my way without paying enough attention to first determining if it meets the objectives I want to uphold. This usually leads onto hesitation when making hearty commitments and much disappointment at having let myself down. To help grasp the bigger picture, I push myself to ask- is the opportunity *the* blue sky I’ve always imagined? If not, then what would make it so? This is a process that takes time to perfect, and the inquiry can take days. On the flip side, it has helped me make firm commitments when I know they’re closer to where I’m headed.
* These ideas are explained in depth in Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers and personal growth pioneer. Meng uses a happiness, science-driven stance and offers methods for enhancing mindfulness and emotional intelligence in everything you do. You can get the book with Flipkart, India, or from Amazon on your kindle.
** Skinner Marketing- We’re the Rats and Facebook Likes are the Reward. Our internet handlers are using operant conditioning to modify our behavior.
The current generation above 60 years of age have plenty of reason to feel betrayed and let down. Having brought up their kids into a new India where jobs pay better, opportunities are so much more – the parents are now left to fend off a significant jump in the cost of living, healthcare and isolation. Social structures are constantly changing, change that has brought both difficulty and an opportunity.
This excellent piece of journalism by India Ink (NY Times in India) points out that the problem is indeed both deep and wide. I don’t know how many seniors out there face this problem, but I don’t have to look too far to understand how this can upset the elderly.
“The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.” – Nassim Taleb
— Santosh Dawara (@santoshdawara) October 25, 2010
I tweeted that and endorsed an extreme position some time ago. Since then, I’ve had plenty of time and experience to think through both sides of having a steady income. I’ve looked at it from the perspective of growing up, having a steady job and later as an entrepreneur by self-choice. I’ve lived both avatars, the locomotive kid* and the 25-yr old who’s plugging away on his venture from his parent’s basement (they’re my Angel Investors!). A steady income has significant upsides. It will help you save regularly, smoothen out sudden spikes in expenses, qualify you for borrowing from institutions and get you ready for your retirement.
On the other hand, the total absence of the ups and downs that is life encourages complacency, over-reliance and self-indulgence. Who can tell? Perhaps the nest-egg we’ve put away today still won’t make the cut tomorrow. In the words of Nassim Taleb who author of the Black Swan, the total absence, or insulation from even the minor shocks leaves your earning potential vulnerable to the bigger and more infrequent shocks.
In any case those who are unfortunately disenfranchised from mainstream jobs include recent Mothers who chose to stay longer hours at home, and as in this case Senior citizens. They all need better awareness of opportunities for work and encouragement. While retirement planning helps – it helps better to nurture the ability to locate opportunities, deliver and get paid at any age or stage. Not having a steady income begs a more evolved survival mindset. The confidence that comes from going out there and learning to make a dollar is worth so much more. As you can imagine, I never want to have to think that I’ve retired. I’d prefer to be working away and creating happiness throughout my journey. In a nutshell, I want the notion of ikigai – “the reason for which we wake up in the morning” or, “the reason for being” to pervade my entire life.
Tony Hsieh’s childhood mail order business comes to mind. He describes it vividly in his book Delivering Happiness. In fact, Tony handed it down to his younger siblings before he left home for college so that they might continue to run it and reap the benefits. A wonderful gift! The opportunity to drive a business that transforms effort into a cheque can spark confidence in the inner-knowedge that the future is yours to create. Now armed with this confidence, will you need great effort in securing your future?
Of late, I’m working on making it a habit to ask myself – how do I want all of my efforts to take shape? This thinking comes with commitments to absorbing effectual reasoning and an attitude of ‘always produce‘. For instance, this blog has always been a work of passion for as far back as I can remember. If I could keep the essence of it, and yet to be able to realize the value it creates. I think that’d be a step in the right direction. Now when I write, I consciously link via an Amazon affiliate link which pays if someone were to buy. I wish to think up more ideas like this. Simple actions and commitments, even if they don’t yield significant or immediate results can directly address any financial pressure and encourage clear thinking that something can be done.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not railing against a steady income – that’d be truly hypocritical at this point. The comfort that you’ll know from pro-actively creating a better financial future with your single income is a blessing. If you think too seriously about supplementing that income, you risk stress and losing the happiness and freedom that comes with it. On the other hand, if you want to think entrepreneurially – then ask yourself why stop there? The whole point of realization of wealth should be the same as say committing to life-long learning, or instinctively listening to an audio book while you wait in traffic for the light to turn green. Find meaningful investments.
I’d look to learn as much as I can from blogs such as getrichslowly.org and by observing other entrepreneurs with the midas touch about both aspects of wealth – how it is realized, as well as making it work for you. If you want to stop having to think about money, ignoring it is the worst policy. Work at it diligently and it’ll take it’s place at the back of your mind on it’s own.
*Locomotive Kids – First read of it in the New Yorker, “They are the locomotive kids, pulling their whole family behind them” when referring to some of those with Stanford fellowships.