Information Lifecycle, Peer Comparisons, and Motivation vs. Discipline

The High Five - Edition #7

Hello all,

A warm welcome to all the new subscribers. I am very thrilled that every week, more people are reading ‘The High Five’ and are subscribing to it. And thank you for sharing your comments and feedback, through multiple channels.

My discoveries this week are mostly around reframing our thinking and I would say they all have one thing in common - our self-awareness. Read on.

Cognition: Information Lifecycle - The 3 filters that shape our mind and worldview

One of the best blogs I came across recently is The author of this blog - Lawrence, distils some of the amazing concepts of life, culture, the human mind, and presents them through very lucid articulation and sketch illustrations. In this particular post, Lawrence explains the difference between facts, data, information and perspective, and the filters that transform each of these elements. A random fact about something might grab your attention when you have an innate curiosity about it. And once you chose to consume that factoid, it becomes a data (not yet information). And information is generated depending on what you choose to do with that data. The author says that data becomes information only when you engage with it, process it at an intellectual level or emotional level (depending on our cognitive abilities). We all casually toss around the phrase 'information overload', essentially implying that there is a ton of stuff out there being thrown at us through the internet and hence we experience some sort of cognitive burden to take it all. But what we are in effect saying is that we have endless opportunities to react to data. And once the processed data, that is information, resonates with our beliefs, values, worldview, biases, our identity (and our communication skills) shapes that information to form a perspective. Perhaps this illustration from the post gives you a broad idea of what's going on in the mind, all in a matter of a few seconds.

Curiosity is the starting point of course, for everything we consume. But every other filter requires some kind of conscious intervention from us if we really want to objectively form perspectives. If open awareness filter wide, we end up consuming too much data. If we react too much to every piece of data, we end up with too much information in our mind. Interpreting information is more an act of diligence than curiosity. And the way we react to data or information is dependent more on the strength of our capabilities. The reason we experience a cognitive burden is that technology has made this whole process super fast and also discreet, with all sorts of attractive packaging. Today, technology makes it easier to find someone online who thinks like us - algorithms are all tuned to show things, people, stories, news, that are hinged on the aspect of "like-mindedness". And when we are clearly able to see "stuff like us", the converse is also true, that we can see "stuff that is NOT like us". Our reactions to these, imposed by our identities, are what further perpetuates our biases because they confirm and align to our identity - which is what we hold on to, very dearly. The author ends on a very thoughtful note - "The less we need to rely on our identities to make sense of information, the more we can learn about the world, and uncover our true place within it."

This post, I think, is a fascinating peek into human psychology, in the context of information consumption, worldview and identities. Read it and let me know what you think.

Career: Are you stressed about falling behind your peers?

This is probably a very sensitive topic that people rarely even talk about. Because, everyone at the workplace wants to hold their cards (about their feelings, weaknesses, anxieties etc.) close to their chest. Fair enough. And there is enough good samaritan wisdom out there telling us - "Do not to compare with anyone else. Focus only on yourself, and compete only with yourself". Wise. But in reality, it doesn't happen that way. More so today when the successes of every peer in our network, almost immediately flash on our mobile screens.

Shutting out isn't an option. But dealing with it, in a more mature way certainly is. This HBR article lists out 5 strategies that help us navigate such moments:

  1. Track your triggers: The obvious first step is reflecting deeply on what exactly is triggering the comparison. what exactly is provoking a subtle-anxiety?

  2. Shift from reactive rumination to purposeful reframing: This is about detaching ourselves a bit from the trigger, getting some distance and objectively researching on what exactly counted in someone's success and what are some lessons to learn from that.

  3. Exhibit a personal strength: Whenever we have a bout of self-doubt and insecurity, it is the right took to take stock of our strengths and small wins in recent past (writing them down is a good way to internalize and reinforce) and explore ways to double them. Many times, we discover some adjacent strengths (strengths not related to core job) that could be used to great advantage to add or amplify our credibility on certain matters. It acts as a great reinforcement to ourselves and also to our colleagues.

  4. Redefine your peer set and create a new field of play: A very important observation - that comparing ourselves with a fixed set of peers is vain because we end up engaging in a zero-sum game. It is extremely critical to network outside this fixed set of peers to cultivate a different understanding of success and accordingly recalibrate our own measures of success.

  5. Shake free of internalized expectations: This is about our locus of identity - is it internal or external? As long as we chase goals that are heavily correlated to the goals/desires of others, we are always going to switch swim lanes without making much progress in a single swim lane which we wanted to conquer.

Comparisons are inevitable - we all are human after all. But how we react to it plays a big role in charting out our path of success. Allowing anxiety to control us will only make us disillusioned. A better way is to deal with it on our own terms, strengths and optimism.

A perspective that reframed my thinking: Motivation vs. Discipline

Recently, I came across a recommendation to read a book - ‘The Motivation Myth’. I am yet to try that out but I came across this interesting article on why motivation is actually a myopic view to look at the drivers for accomplishing any goal. It makes a fair argument that we define motivation as some sort of a hyper-inspired state of mind to do a certain task. But when we say "state of mind", it is essentially a feeling. And if motivation is a feeling, then why we do need to rely on feelings, for a task that we have anyway resolved to do? Feelings, especially involving tasks (if not people), are transient because they are very much dependent on moods, priorities etc. The author of this article puts it rightly - "If action is conditional on feelings, waiting for the right mood becomes a particularly insidious form of procrastination". And that's true because we then wait for the right mood and we also tend to tell ourselves that we should do that task only when we feel like or when we are in the right mood for it. And this self-conversation is just another way of procrastination. And it now goes like: "I have decided to do this task. But now, how do I make myself feel like doing it so that I end up doing it?". Counter-productive, isn't it?

The point here is: once your rational mind has decided to do the task anyway, it is better to cut off the feelings and do the task. Instead of waiting for that magic motivation to arrive, you just go ahead and do the task, which gives you the dopamine rush and THAT is the feeling of "motivated". In other words, Motivation isn't the precondition but it is the result. And that result feeds into your thought that you need to do a better job, at the task, next time. The post makes a compelling case for replacing motivation with discipline. Motivation is bout of internal rush that you whip up using all sorts of external forces whereas discipline is a system that you establish once and it feeds itself, through small results adding up incrementally over a period of time. Motivation happens in bouts whereas discipline is a perpetual system. To give an example: Motivation is searching for the preconditions (searching a good music playlist, choosing good track pants, finding the right fitness tracker/app) to run a mile. Discipline is just running that damn mile and then paying attention to what you feel about the accomplishment.

It is a great way to reframe our approach to a lot of things that we decide to do but end up complicating unnecessarily with all the paraphernalia. After all, small success leads to some motivation, which then paves the way to the next wave of successes. What do you think?

A quote that resonated with me this week: “Sometimes, taking time is actually a short-cut” - Haruki Murakami.

A question I pondered about this week: When any change comes along unannounced in your life, do you internalize it more solidly without friction?

This post was written while listening to this compilation of Mitsuko Uchida’s performances. Have a great weekend!