The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia

“It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.” – Ally Condie

Nostalgia. It was something I heard grown-ups talk about a lot when I was a kid. I couldn’t grasp what it meant at the time, and I didn’t give much thought to it. As time has passed though, I find myself torn between active wool-gathering and passive longing for the past. I’m either making up grand futures in my mind, or I’m replaying moments that have already passed. Somehow I do get my things done, so that’s good, I guess.

While we’re still on the topic of nostalgia, I’d like to mention my ambivalence towards nostalgia. Nostalgia can be a powerful tool. On one hand, it can rescue us from moments of self-doubt and sadness. By replaying those key moments, we rediscover all the trials and tribulations we have successfully overcome in the past. It gives us the strength to face the current challenges; nostalgia reminds us that we have it in ourselves to beat those challenges. Continue reading “The Slippery Slope That Is Nostalgia”


A Sceptic Tries Meditation

It is common knowledge that we do not exist solely in space but across time as well. This temporal existence is much closer to us than we would think. Physically we occupy space. But in our minds, we exist as a temporal slice of our actual whole. The process we call ‘thought’ exists in time and it deals with time; we have memories of events from the past and we have assumptions about how the future could turn out. Eric Frank Russell put it more succinctly than I ever could:

“Your body moves always in the present, the dividing line between the past and the future. But your mind is more free. It can think, and is in the present. It can remember, and at once is in the past. It can imagine, and at once is in the future, in its own choice of all the possible futures. Your mind can travel through time!”

While this temporal existence in itself does not cause us any stress, living in today’s world, in the present can be stressful indeed. There is so much work to be done, so many events to attend, so many people to meet and talk with, so many places to visit, books to read, movies to watch, podcasts to listen to and shows to binge on. If you are not moving ahead in every area of your life, you are essentially falling behind the curve. At least that is what popular culture tells us. We worship productivity tips, we cram in more and more tasks in our daily lives and keep charging ahead, if only not to be sidelined.

Continue reading “A Sceptic Tries Meditation”

Using A Pomodoro Timer To Get Things Done

Using A Pomodoro Timer To Get Things Done

Time management. Nothing fills dread into the hearts of people quite like time management. It is the prime weapon in our arsenal in our never-ending quest to be more productive and ensure zero-wastage of time. And for what? To fill our day with even more tasks that require completion and more activities that seem to make us better. The goal of time management has been corrupted, from being a way of managing our time to cramming in increasing number of tasks and completing them in ever decreasing amounts of time.

That doesn’t make us productive. It just makes us inefficient at what we do. As we try to complete every single task at hand, within the impending deadline, we just end up doing the task sloppily. Quantity over quality is the motto of Productivity™ now. And it’s not only the quality of the work that drops. As we cram more and more tasks into our physical (or virtual) to-do lists, the stress makes itself visible. We are driven by this constant pressure to strike off all the tasks, lest we are deemed unproductive.

When I write, I find that my internal editor butts in at every opportunity. Thus, every single writing session devolves into an editing session, where I’m not writing, but editing every single word and sentence before it even has a chance to be part of a narrative. The most reliable solution I’ve found to this quandary is the Pomodoro technique. I’ve written before about how I use a Pomodoro timer when I’m writing. 25 minutes of unfiltered writing, with no editing. Having a set time in which I write helps me in getting my thoughts down in words.

Structure, narrative coherence, and syntax, all part of my internal editor, take a back seat when I write with a running Pomodoro timer. What’s important is to get to the goal within the allotted time. You can spend a whole week editing an essay, making sure every sentence of it golden and magical, but unless you have written the words down, the essay doesn’t exist. That’s why free writing is so important, to get the story out of you, without letting your internal editor hamper your progress.

That being said, I’ve never given much thought to the ‘how’ of the Pomodoro technique. I just assumed it would work, and it did, but I did not analyse it. The concept of breaking your work into chunks and then singularly focusing on them for a short period of time is based on Parkinson’s Law.

“Work occupies to fill the time that is available for its completion.”

I’d been aware of Parkinson’s Law for quite some time, especially the paradox it gives rise to, namely,

“If you wait until the last minute, it only takes a minute to do.”

The observation above is based on the fact that work expands or shrinks depending on how much time is available. Putting ourselves in a situation with a small task, to be completed in a short amount of time gets the engine going and the creative juices flowing. Where I once took close to 2 days to get the first draft of a post ready, I was now churning them out in 25 minutes flat. But why?

Contrary to what we think, having too much time on your hand can actually cause procrastination. Sanjay, over at The Polymath Ideal, explains this effect and how Parkinson’s Law plays a part in it. He also goes on to explain how the eight-hour workday strangely makes us inefficient.

Instead of trying to be productive all eight hours of the day, which is impossible by human standards, the best course of action would be to block a short amount of time- preferably an hour- void of distractions and tackle set goals. The one-hour deadline looms over you, pushing you to get into the mindset required to complete said task. But the time isn’t so long that you feel drained once the hour is up. In short, one hour of quality work is better than eight hours of half-assed work.

Unbeknownst to me, this is exactly what I was doing with the Pomodoro technique. 25 minutes of quality work, with no distractions. Because I wasn’t setting deadlines earlier, in theory, I had infinite time to write my post. This fueled my already active procrastination and put me in a spot where I had no motivation. Setting deadlines, especially deadlines that are close, can put you in a fight-or-flight situation, where your brain goes into overdrive and you’re done with the work even before you know it. But don’t take my word for it; I’m not a biologist. However, what you can take away from this is that the Pomodoro technique works.

This, I believe, is the whole concept of time management. Time management is not about completing your tasks so you can move on to the next one. It is about arranging your life in a way that helps you complete the truly important tasks, without letting it take over your leisure time. In our pursuit of a productive life, we often forget this, so it’s good to remind ourselves once in a while. Break down your tasks into small chunks, and then devote time to tackle that task, and nothing else. If you still aren’t convinced, this whole post was written with a 25 minute Pomodoro timer running. Yeah, I can be productive too. Who knew?

Also, do check out The Polymath Ideal, where Sanjay shares his book recommendations, great podcasts he’s listening to and discusses methods of improving yourself, one step at a time. I hope you have as much fun reading his blog as I do.

If I haven’t put you to sleep yet with my incessant and dare I say, perfectly worded ramblings, please consider liking my Facebook page. You won’t find any wholesome memes, but you will find occasional updates and links to my posts. And bad jokes.
Photo by Dustin Lee on Unsplash

The Right (And Wrong) Way To Travel

As the remains of what I ate lurched around in my stomach, I couldn’t help but wonder. Maybe this is how I finally die; cold, alone and with brutal irony.

So this happened, kind of. Travelling the world with no defining goal in mind is great. Travelling the world with a singular, all-encompassing objective isn’t better by any stretch, for sure. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?

October saw me making two separate 400+ kilometre trips, in the span of two weeks. Over the course of these trips, I saw both extremes, interspersed with moments of glaring stupidity— entirely by me— as well as resourceful planning and moments of awe-inspiring ingenuity, mostly by my companions. For obvious reasons, that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Continue reading “The Right (And Wrong) Way To Travel”

Looking For Life In Alderaan Places

Looking For Life In Alderaan Places

A Star Wars pun. So original, I know. Couldn’t resist. Please tolerate me.

When news about the discovery of a new exoplanet pops up, it is usually followed by massive speculation. Is it in the Goldilocks zone? Does it have a protective atmosphere? Is there water on the planet?

That last bit always irks me to no end.

Continue reading “Looking For Life In Alderaan Places”

A Primer On Death Part 2

Before you begin, read Part 1 here.

Socrates believed that death was a passage to another life. This would explain his calmness when he was sentenced to death. But Epicurus, born about sixty years after the death of Socrates, outright rejected the concept of an afterlife. He did not see death as being good or bad in itself. Being a materialist philosopher, death was just the end of sensation to him. Consider this thought by Epicurus:

“Death is nothing to us, for that which has been dissolved into its elements experiences no sensations, and that which has no sensation is nothing to us.”

What he meant was that, on dying, we stop feeling. Our senses stop working and the abstract concept that is “you” or “me”, the person, ceases to exist. From this point on, we feel nothing, so we don’t feel death at all.

I think that the concept of an afterlife or an eternal heaven is, in reality, a means of sating our fear of death. We want to believe that death is not the end. So if death is not the big bad thing that we thought it was, then that leaves us to our devices with nothing to fear. But that leaves us with a quandary. What to do with the time that we are alive?

You can spend your life in a way that minimizes your suffering. This is what The Buddha strived for. In Buddhist philosophy, it is not death that is the big bad thing. It is the endless cycle of rebirths and lives spent suffering that is to be avoided. It is not necessary to believe in this concept of reincarnations, but you can see the appeal of living a life with no suffering. Over in the world of Western philosophy, Epicurus and his school of philosophy called Epicureanism, also tried to live a life free of pain and suffering, with friends who would always stick by you.

So not only were there thousands of people thinking about death long before you and I, they were also thinking about the most basic of questions: how to lead a good life? The simply answer to that would be, while you are awaiting death, lead a life with deeds that make it a good life. Or as the Stoics would call it, a virtuous life. What they meant by the term ‘virtuous’ is quite different from what the word would mean to us. A virtuous life was a life that was lived in accordance and in tune with nature and its flow. Not surprising, considering that they thought of the Universe as an all-encompassing God.

It is here that Stoicism diverged from Epicureanism and moves closer to Buddhism, in its total indifference to the events that happen in your life. Nothing that happens in your life is good or bad. By practising a strong detachment from everything, as in Buddhism, the Stoics were able to remove emotional reactions from all events and view them as objective actions. The goal was not to be a rock without feelings, it was to treat every situation with the same calm and to experience happiness from any situation.

More than anything, Stoicism is a philosophy teaching us to be strong enough to endure anything and still be tranquil. As Lary Wallace writes,

“Joy and grief are still there, along with all the other emotions, but they are tempered – and, in their temperance, they are less tyrannical.”

This is a good way of living life, according to Stoics, because it acknowledges that life is not always a bed of roses and that there are events that might be labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but you decide to look at them as just events.

But this does not mean that we simply while away our time detached from everything. It is about leading a life in accordance with nature, as the original Stoics said. That would need updating for our times, but it simply means that you go about your life, doing good deeds, and an indifference that would amaze mere mortals.

But what is a good deed? What separates it from a bad deed? What meaning or value, if any, does a good life hold? What meaning or value does our existence have? A discussion on that, next week.

Check in next week, for part 3 of this little meditation on life, death and everything in between. If I haven’t put you to sleep with my ramblings, please like my Facebook page. If you’re one of the cool kids who don’t use Facebook, follow this blog via email. You won’t have to worry about spam, because I’m inconsistent like that.

How Not To Search For A Job

I’m on the hunt. I’m hunting. For a job.

You know, that style worked much better in Hot Fuzz. Like thousands of other fresh graduates, I’m currently in the market, job-hunting. Sure, the fact that the national economy is in a downturn and 1.5 million jobs have been lost held no weight in my head at the time. It’s been a little over a month since I graduated. In that time period, though I have done nothing more than sit on my ass and eat all day, every day, I don’t want the world to think I’m lazy. Wait a minute!

Continue reading “How Not To Search For A Job”