The Five Things We Cannot Change

Lessons from the book “The Five Things We Cannot Change“:

1. Everything changes and ends.
2. Things do not always go according to plan.
3. Life is not always fair.
4. Pain is part of life.
5. People are not loving and loyal all the time.

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Keep a Gratitude Journal

One of the most common behaviour of people is to keep on pointing (to themselves and to others) the things that they are missing in life or that they wish they had more in their life.

A few days ago, I realized that if anyone wants to increase satisfaction with his/her life, one of the best ways is to keep a gratitude journal. Every day (or whenever you feel low), write down one to five things that you are grateful for, or that you appreciate. It need not be too deep or philosophical. It could even be the smile that your neighbor gave you, or something good that your spouse said about you today morning.

In the long run, this method of counting your blessings will improve your health, increase your energy and motivation, and will make you a positive thinker.

Schedule time for worrying

If a particular aspect of our lives, such as career, relationship, or health is worrisome, we sometimes worry about it all the time until it becomes a perpetual thought in the back of our mind. The downside to this behavior is that it becomes a part of our otherwise pleasant personality. While it might be reasonable to worry all the time about something critical, but for most of our worries the following trick is helpful.

Instead of worrying 24/7, schedule two 30-minute periods (or at least one) each day to allow yourself to worry about things on your mind. If something bothers you during the day, write it down to think about during your next worry-time. Also schedule this time for evening, if possible (but definitely not for just before going to bed). During this session, in addition to thinking about the problems, do active problem solving by writing down options, possibilities and solutions.

Give up TV

I had been thinking about giving up television since a long time. Many people have spoken about the ill-effects at places such as here, here and comments here. But I really decided to go for it when I realized that when I am gone from this world, people who know me will remember me for my actions and for my knowledge, and not for how many reality shows I watched. Moreover, with time, my life will continue to grow complex. So it is better that I develop good time-saving habits early on.

Similar to what Steve mentions, I asked myself: if I do not watch TV, what else would I do during that time, for my health, relationships, family, work, education, etc? I also wondered why do I watch TV in the first place? Is it simply a habit? Why does watching my favorite shows (some reruns) extend into switching channels or continue watching even after the shows are over?

I realized I watched TV in the first place because I had not scheduled that time for anything else. So I reserved time for activities (social, physical, educational) to take care of that. It was definitely much more productive use of my time than watching reality shows or the reruns of Seinfeld.

Sure, TV does have good programs on Discovery channel, PBS etc. But then, once the “switching of channels” kicked in, it was difficult for me to stop. It was too much reliance on self-discipline to watch only a given show and then switch off. As for watching sports, I thought it was better for me to visit a friend for a selected few games rather than watching every game that the channels dished out.

Before giving up TV, I also feared about withdrawal symptoms. So instead of throwing away the “idiot box”, I reduced slowly, taking it down one notch at a time. But eventually, I gave it up almost completely (DVD rentals are still fine, though). And surprisingly, I do not miss it much.

I realized the following changes by watching less (or almost no) television:

— Reducing TV made me want to enjoy other forms of entertainment. I planned more outings. I started going more frequently for running or evening walks.

— I started becoming more social. I called up friends more often, attended more of social events and professional club gatherings. My wife and I started spending more time together.

— Having dinner without TV turned on in the background (or in front of us) made me focus on what I was eating, how much I was eating and on having valuable discussions with my wife.

— When I watched TV while visiting friends, I realized that those broadcast shows are not as funny as they seemed to me earlier. They are just “okay” entertainment.

— After about 10-days of this experiment, whenever I turned on TV at my home, I sensed a certain level of guilt in me. I felt I was wasting my time. Also my wife did not like the “noise” it created.

— I found myself thinking more about the world around me: my career, family life, social circle. I became more involved with my own reality show.

Overall, I am happy to give up TV completely. I believe that in the long run, this newly acquired habit (or rather getting rid of a habit) will provide higher productivity, better relationships and greater energy levels.

Character

Recently came across a quote from Goethe: “Men show their characters in nothing more clearly than in what they think laughable.”

This is very true in various contexts. I have seen some people talk mostly about other people and laugh at petty things such as “did you see how Emma was talking at the party?” or “did you know that John goes to graduate school at age 40..how funny!” Or people who wish for and laugh at the misery of others. All of us have seen such people, at least in movies if not in real life. What do we think about their character? Do we like them for what they are? Do we want to be like them?

Will keep this excellent quote in mind as one of the basic dimensions to have a first guess at someone’s true character.

Live for yourself

How many times do we perform actions because of other people? It happens so often that for some, living for others becomes a nature and a way of life. Here are some examples:

1. You cannot go and attend a pottery or dance class because you fear what would people start thinking about you if you do.
2. You have to buy that new plasma TV because the Sanders family just got one.
3. You have to watch the latest movies because if you don’t, you are not cool in others’ eyes.
4. You cannot forgive people for their actions because they should be made to realize what they have done to you.

The list can go on and on and almost every person can identify with at least one of those. At times, it starts to feel like a chain tied around your ankles and wrists that prevents you from doing things that you do (or should not do, in some cases). Not just that, keeping up with this state of mind is an uphill task, because the more people you interact with, more will be the variety of their expectations and judgements about you. You end up practically being a slave of others.

There is definitely a way out, and it may not seem easy at first. Stop and think again when you face any of the above-mentioned situations. Ask yourself: “How much does this matter to me? Is it more important for me to save for my kids’ education or should I spend on the plasma TV only to keep up with others?” If you really want to keep with others, you can try giving your kids a chance to be better than those of Sanders by offering your kids better education. Decide what is really worth your hard-earned money.

If someone (not your near and dear one) hurts you, ask yourself: “how much does this person matter to me?” You have so many things to occupy your mind with and projects to undertake for yourself, family and friends that you cannot keep thinking about the situation in the back of your mind. Deal with it, immediately. Either forgive or forget. You have things to do and you want to move on.

If you want to attend something fun such as a pottery or Latin dance class, stop worrying about what others will think. Instead ask how you would feel about yourself once you get done with it? Will you feel good? Will you be impressed by yourself?

People will think about your actions only for a moment because they too have a life of their own. But if all they do is talk about you amongst themselves to judge you, then they are not worth your concern. Either way, there is no reason to live for “people”. Live for your family, for your real friends, and most importantly, for yourself.

Be a Vegetarian

I was preparing for my Toastmasters speech last week, and found out that being a vegetarian is one of the best things you can do to your body, especially in the United States. Here is the complete text of my speech to explain why:

Fellow Toastmasters,

Let me tell you something about myself. I am 100% vegetarian. I have never, ever tasted meat of any kind in my life. I don’t know what it tastes like or feels like. I am a vegetarian by birth, not by choice. I never gave a serious thought about the reasons behind this fact, until I came to this country.

Shortly after I landed in US, I started going out to lunches/dinners with local people. On seeing what I was eating, people were amazed and started asking me questions like “are you allergic to chicken, how can you survive without any meat, how do you get your nutrition or umm..so what do you eat..only salad?” To them, I was like a person from another planet.

After getting bombarded with questions like these, I asked myself this for the first time: why am I vegetarian? Why should I be a vegetarian? Sure there are ethical reasons, and religious ones too, and Indian food tastes so good with vegetables and spices, but is there something scientific and tangible behind it? I did some research and found out a lot of facts in favor of vegetarianism, some of which I will share with you today.

Overall it is a consensus that being vegetarian is good for you and the benefits fall in 3 groups: environmental, ethical and health.

The Environment

Eating animals wouldn’t harm the environment if it were done on a much smaller scale. But modern meat production involves intensive use–and often misuse–of grain, water, energy, and grazing areas and contributes heavily to all sorts of pollution and soil erosion.

For example, Thirty million tons of methane–a gas that contributes to global warming–come from manure in sewage ponds or heaps.

One third of original U.S. cropland has been permanently removed from production due to excessive soil erosion.

Livestock production is the largest polluter of water in the US, topping all other industries that produce toxic wastes. A farm in Milford, Utah, which raises 2.5 million pigs every year, creates more waste than the entire city of Los Angeles.

Raising animals for food is an extremely inefficient way to feed a growing human population. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, but just 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat. It takes 15 pounds of feed to get one pound of meat. But if the grain were given directly to people, there would be enough food to feed the entire planet.

The world’s cattle – excluding pigs and chickens – consume quantity of food the equivalent to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people. That’s nearly double the entire population of the world today. This is a very inefficient way to produce food.

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Ethics

Animals suffer from pain and fear just as much as we do. They spend their last hours locked in a truck, packed into a cage with hundreds of other terrified animals and then cruelly pushed into a blood soaked death chamber. Their body parts are even fed to other animals. Cruelty to such animals in captivity is a serious ethical issue and should make one repeal the ways of modern factory farming.

Pigs and sheep are far more intelligent than 6-week old children, which is something to think about.

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Health

On the health front, there are plenty of studies conducted and the consumption of animal products has been conclusively linked with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and osteoporosis. The EPA estimates that nearly 95 percent of pesticide residue in our diet comes from meat, fish and dairy products. 15 million pounds of antibiotics are used in animal production every year- These drugs end up in your milk and meat.

Meat-eating and a lack of dietary fiber are linked to colon cancer. Only plant foods contain fiber.

By reducing your consumption of meat, dairy products and eggs by 50%, you reduce your risk of a heart attack by 45%. By following a pure vegetarian diet (no animal products at all) you reduce your risk by 90%.

Also if one thinks practically, a sausage can contain ground up intestines. How can anyone be sure that the intestines are empty when they are ground up? Do you really want to eat the content of a pig’s intestines? Also, have you ever heard of cabbage flu or mad carrot disease? No, only bird flu or mad cow disease.

Including animal products in your diet is like playing Russian roulette with your life.

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Personal finance

– Being healthier from a vegetarian diet means spending less on health care.
– Vegetarian food tends to cost less than meat-based items.
– Replacing meat, chicken and fish with vegetables and fruits is estimated to cut food bills by an average of $4,000 a year.

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Well, since coming to US, things have certainly changed in this country. Vegetarian societies are coming up, famous celebrities are going meatless and voicing their opinions. As for myself, I now know that even though I accidentally am vegetarian by birth, it is for all the good reasons.

Luxuries

“No matter what you can afford, save great wine for special occasions…a silk blouse a special treat…it’s a way to make sure that you can continue to experience pleasure.” – Barry Schwartz in his recent book, The Paradox of Choice.

That is right, a luxury is no longer a luxury when you experience it often.

Meeting the right people

“I used to think of all the billions of people in the world, and of all those people, how was I going to meet the right ones? The right ones to be my friends, the right one to be my husband. Now I just believe you meet the people you’re supposed to meet.” – Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, The Quest, 1995

Perception and expectation for achievements

Others perceive you based on what you have done until now, whereas you perceive yourself based on what you think you can do. And the farther away in past your biggest accomplishments are, the greater could be the difference between the two perceptions.

Solution…one simply has to keep doing bigger and better things.

Note: If you accomplish something good, you set higher level of expectation for others for the next time. More you achieve, the better and bigger feats you are expected to perform each time. But by then you also expect yourself to achieve greater heights every time, and that is good. Also, many a times one needs to prove himself more than once.

Thanks to my wife for discussing this thought with me.

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