Your best listeners are your best people

The best people listen with empathy. Start by keeping a mindful watch on how you feel at the end of each conversation. Did you feel heard?

Gave undivided attention

This is a no brainer. The foremost thing is to offer their time. By showing that they are fully present in the conversation they set the mood. They convey that there is nothing else more important. It encourages conversations to flow in directions that otherwise would not.

Did not trivialize issues

Conversations should not repeatedly feel like a “my issues are worse than yours” competition. We have all been in those conversations where one party is trying to hog attention. Empathetic listeners are patient, they are happy to let you drive the conversation and know when to do the talking. If you find yourself in conversations where you are doing most of the talking and the other party is happy to let you, it’s an indication that you are being a bad listener. Unless they’re being paid to listen, never assume that the other party has nothing to say. It’s more likely that you have not brought the conversation to a point where they are feeling comfortable expressing.

Did not rush their points in

Oftentimes we are in conversations where the other party is just waiting for you to finish so they can get their point in. They are trying to listen actively but in their head they’re going over what they want to say as soon as you’re done talking. They are just waiting because it’s rude to interrupt. It gives the impression that they are listening. Look for people who take time to structure their thoughts after you’re done talking.

Did not try to get a rise out of you

Even the introverts and loners need some degree of human interaction. Watch for people who are trying to entertain themselves by evoking emotional responses. They are not mindful about topics that you may be sensitive towards. They prey on your insecurities and make you feel small. There is a constructive way to talk about someone’s insecurities, if done the right way it builds character and nourishes them.

Assured their understanding

The obvious cues are nodding, maintaining eye contact, the hmms. Unfortunately, these are the easiest to feign. The best listeners show their understanding even after the conversation has ended. They reference things you said in previous conversations. They show it in their actions somehow. You hear from them something along the lines of “You were talking about whatever, here’s something I came across that I thought might interest you”. Your conversations have a long arc and a short arc.

Bet on people who bet on you

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with

You may have heard this before. Your mind may be rushing to list who the five people in your life are. I want to talk about how to choose the five people you spend your time with. We should be mindful of the predicate function that is selecting who to spend time with. I don’t know if there is a winning formula, but there could certainly be a framework that helps us hone our predicate function.

I believe the quickest way to weed out noise is by identifying people who bet on you; and betting on them in return. This may sound obvious. But we (me included) don’t always follow this strictly. We sometimes get stuck on wanting to be a part of an existing group; wanting someone’s time, attention, etc. Also, it’s not easy to identify who is genuinely betting on you. How do we then decide?

Pay close attention to their actions

Disregard what people say. We live in a generation that is afraid to handle emotions. People don’t want to deal with other people. We would rather pretend nice than resolve conflicts face to face in a non violent manner. If someone’s word is their bond, it’s an added bonus. But, you base your judgement heavily on their actions.

This indirectly reveals if someone has a long term mindset. And that’s the key. People with short term mindset tend to evade the messier problems and pretend nice. Their strategy for life, as observed by you, is a series of optimizations for the present. It does not cost much to only say nice words and not put money where one’s mouth is. People who just talk are not thinking that they will need to play with you in the long term. It’s like the prisoner’s dilemma. If it’s a one turn game, then of course you would want to screw your partner over. However, if you have to be around for several turns, you will cooperate.

The trouble with dealing with people who think it’s a one turn game (short term mindset) is that your association never compounds. It’s like a tennis player playing his first game for the tenth time. You want to be a player who is playing his tenth game for the first time. And that only happens with history, with context. You want people to stick around long term. You want people to bet on you.

Do not forget the cost of time

In compounding associations, I believe the payoff comes in larger quantities towards the end. You and your people are growing over the years anyway.

Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you


Is Akash lying?

Akash is a talented piano player. But the main character in this film has a bigger talent. He understands probabilities and risks. He lives in a rent controlled building in a nice locality. He is able bodied and it would be bad if he is found out. But, what are the odds? Once he meets Sophie, he stops wearing contacts to appear blind. He continues acting blind just wearing sunglasses. It would be bad if he is found out. But, what are the odds? There’s plenty of evidence for this risk taking behavior throughout the story. In one of the scenes he’s shown sitting flipping a coin. He thinks he is smarter than the average Joe, he thinks he can take the average Joe for a ride.

The story of the film actually begins at the end.

It’s a long story, coffee?

This line appears towards the end when Sophie accidentally (for the second time) meets Akash in Poland in 2020. Think of the entire story as Akash convincing Sophie how he’s a blind Pianist in 2020.

Akash thinks he’s smarter than the average Joe. Akash thinks he’s smarter than Sophie. Sophie finds out his secret when he was living in India. He can come clean the second time, but he won’t. Akash will play the odds and thinks he can beat Sophie this time around. From his perspective, he used to be a blind pianist, only Sophie finds out, now he is a blind pianist again, and only Sophie needs to be convinced he’s blind. So he weaves a story off the cuff. When the film ends, Sophie is convinced. Akash wins the skirmish.

Compulsive risk takers hate playing safe. They like flirting with danger and push close to getting caught. Akash’s story is riddled with inconsistencies. Some of the smaller ones appear early in his narration. He has a his and her coffee cup. In the scenes where Simi is visiting him, the coffee cups in his tray keep swapping. There are two wine glasses by his bed when Sophie walks in. His police statement reads 2017. But the narration is happening two years later in 2020. The bigger ones appear towards the end. Most people have noticed the tree frame. The doctor and him drive way past the first time. But, when he recaps the story, Simi overpowers the doctor by the tree.

Also pay attention to how the shot is framed between first and second time. Initially the camera is closer to Akash’s face in the car. The next time it’s positioned such that the doctor is closer to the viewer. He is talking mostly, he is convincing why Akash should go for the deal. Little elements like this make this a fun film. Another example is where Murali is convincing Sakku that stealing both kidneys is wrong. While wearing a t shirt that says wrong spelt wrong. Very early in the film, Pramod sees a comment on YouTube from someone in Denmark. To which Simi makes a Hamlet reference. In the story several characters die. Like Hamlet. It’s even implied that Manohar gets injured/dies from ricocheted bullet in the elevator.

But the standout inconsistency to me is this one. They are supposed to be driving towards Mumbai airport. But the signpost that rabbit sits by… reads Pune. They are driving towards Pune. When Simi takes the wheel and turns around to run Akash over, she is driving towards Mumbai. When was the last time you heard of a Rabbit causing a car to lose control and end up in a fatal crash. That makes no sense, he shouldn’t be leaving those breadcrumbs. May be inspired by The Usual Suspects, he chooses to weave a rabbit in his story. There is correlation between his cane and rabbit saving his life. There is no causal ordering. It could very well be the other way. Sophie should catch these sloppy bits in his narrative. But, what are the odds?

His objective is to convince Sophie. Take a step back, did he actually lose his vision and then either got his vision back from Simi, or Murali, or someone else? Did he lose his vision at all? He is living the life of a blind pianist in a new place, the only person he needs to make his story consistent with is Sophie. He needs to tell her a story explaining how he’s blind again. That’s it. It’s us, the viewers that are extending it to, he actually went blind and somehow regained vision. Occam’s Razor my friends.

Some things are best left unfinished


Growing up in middle class India, I remember people only buying new clothes for an occasion. It’s mostly for the main festivals (5 ish per year?), your birthday and probably to attend weddings of close relatives. With accessibility and technology, shopping for clothes has taken off like never before. Dressing well boosts your confidence, new garments give you a temporary dose of happiness.

The human brain is a wonderful organ, but it comes with its fair share of heuristics/biases. Ever wondered why good looking, well groomed people often get away with a lot of things, or relatively easily persuade people to do things for them? It’s called the Halo Effect and we are all susceptible to it. While it’s hard to improve one’s looks (outside of going under a knife), focusing on presentation goes a long way in influencing other people’s heuristics in your favor.

Here’s what I have thought in the last few years, I do not think I am an authority on men’s fashion. I still want to pen my thoughts for posterity.

Steer clear of Fast Fashion

Your self confidence should not have to ride on under age or under compensated laborers working in poor conditions. Pay attention to the brands you shop at. Fast Fashion brands have business models that are ecologically unsustainable. They constantly make you feel you are behind the latest trend, that’s how they make money. The clothes you throw away end in land fills. Donating your clothes does not absolve you, your fast fashion clothes ultimately end up in landfills down the line.

You may think your fashion sense is all you, but fast fashion brands are in the business of influencing what you think is currently fashionable.

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis. You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world.” – Chuck Palahniuk

You are all singing, all dancing crap of the world. Indeed.

Be cognizant of the number of wears you get out of each item you are purchasing. Most often more expensive items return a higher number of wears (keeping cost per wear same as or below cheaper alternatives). Your mind tricks you into buying the cheaper alternative, but you end up tossing it sooner.

Your body is not advertisement real estate

I avoid items with conspicuous logos or branding. This is another delicate matter. You want people to think you are well dressed, but a lot of people are conditioned to associate certain brands with some notion of well dressed. Nudge your friends and family to get out of the brand name mentality. You should not be paying good money to buy an apparel and also provide free publicity to the brand. It’s tacky. It’s not always possible to avoid brand labels, I am okay wearing those items from brands that are not fast fashion or at least have ecologically sustainable business practices.

Seek to understand

Now you know you are susceptible to cognitive biases. Before you judge someone based on their presentation, seek to understand what their point of view is. Some people just don’t care how they present themselves. Some people may be trying to avoid Ego Depletion and putting on the same grey t shirt each morning. Of course, a grey t shirt is out of place in a formal setting. How a person chooses to dress to work is not the complete story of one’s dressing sense at all. However, if the said person shows up in tracks, athletic sneakers and a hoody to work you are welcome to judge.

But what goes with what

After a certain age, graphic printed t shirts, music band t shirts and sports jerseys don’t go a lot of places. If you are wondering how to pair colors, just google for primary/secondary color chart and you will find plenty of results. It’s not rocket science.

There’s something beyond just apparel

Wrist watch

Wear a good time piece, do not look at your phone or computer to tell the time. Designer wrist watches are not good time pieces. They’re the fast fashion equivalent.


Carry two clean handkerchiefs always. One for you, and one for the lady. Always place the handkerchief back in the same pocket it came from. Always offer the clean handkerchief to others. Never ask for your handkerchief back. It’s mildly satisfying to offer a clean handkerchief to someone in need of one.

And lastly

Wear a smile and keep your wits close at hand.

Life is an FPS death match

Two players have fifteen minutes to score the highest number of kills. That’s death match format in first person shooter (specifically Unreal Tournament 2004) games, described in one sentence. Simple, right? You kill your opponent more times than he kills you.


Sometimes your opponent is quicker, sometimes you are. More often than not, this becomes a game of chance. That’s how most beginners approach the game. What sets expert players apart is they approach the game with an economics slant. How do you starve your opponents from utilizing resources available in the playing arena. Guns, ammunition, health packs, vials, shields are replenished periodically at various locations. If your opponent has no weapon to shoot with, or if your opponent runs low on health points, he is disadvantaged. The aim of the game is to not shoot at your opponent quicker than, but to starve the opponent. This was such a fundamental paradigm shift that it blew my mind the first time I understood it.

You should know where each item is on the map, and track when you picked up an item. Everything gets replenished in periods of multiples of 27.5 seconds. Now, you are tracking several items and when they come back next. Some you picked up, some the opponent picked up. Some items are replenished in cycles of 27.5 seconds, some items are replenished in cycles of 55 seconds, and so on. And in between, you actually have to shoot at your opponent to rack up the kill count.

Oh and when you do shoot, you subtract health points from your opponent each time a shot lands. You have a near accurate idea on your opponent’s health count because you have been listening to the items he has picked up. When you land a shot with the lightning gun, for example, you caused a 90 hit point damage. With a shock rifle 45, and so on. Some weapons cause hit scan damage, meaning they have to land on your opponent’s body. Some weapons cause splash damage, meaning if they land close enough to your opponent they cause damage. Every weapon has a primary and secondary mode of usage. Of course one needs several other skills such as tracking spawn points, tracking your opponent’s position by foot steps, etc. You get the idea. A fifteen minute game can be exhausting with several variables to track while requiring you to be real sharp with your response times.

In Counter Strike, sometimes you throw away a round to save up money for the next round. You are prepared to lose a round to better your prospects in the subsequent rounds. This is called the “eco” round. I don’t think I ever looked up what it is short for, I am guessing economize? Sometimes you spray a wall with bullets hoping it hits an opponent on the other side. Decision making is equal part strategy and execution with a healthy dose of randomness.

What they call first principles

Thinking about things from their most basic components up is what they call first principles. This style of thinking transfers very easily to several things in life. Academic, work related, or personal life. Arguably, a player who has the map locked down for the longest duration has a significant advantage, and should go on to win. Time is the most crucial resource invented by humans.

Think about your strategy and how you allocate time to execute it. Of course more variables come into play when it involves other people. Be clear on the metric you are using to evaluate strategies. Be clear on whether you are debating strategies or its style of execution.

You are a completely unfair job scheduler

You are a human job scheduler. Like the one in your computer’s operating system. Your strategy dictates which jobs get scheduled and how you spend your time. And there is an absorbent barrier at the end. Death. In Unreal Tournament you have a timer counting down. You know the absorbent barrier is at fifteen minutes. In real life you do not know how far out your absorbent barrier is. Life is indeed short, but your strategies should not be short term. You might go on a spree (hot hand) because of the randomness I mentioned above. I guess this is the trickiest idea to wrap one’s head around. Sure, it doesn’t sound like a lot of fun when you are running around picking up weapons and various items. In life, the unknowns and sheer number of variables biases your scheduler towards short term, immediate feedback type jobs. If you adopt the right metrics to evaluate your strategies, and realize it is important to go on “eco” rounds some times, you have significantly upped your probability of leading a fulfilling life.

That means you are only taking safe and boring decisions

Not all risks are created equal. It is essential to separate ability based risks and lottery based risks. Every time you encounter your opponent, there’s an amount of lottery based risk on who lands a shot. By turning the game into one of territorial control, you have bolstered your competence/ability. And therefore you are in position to take more ability based risks. When lottery based luck kicks in, you are shooting at your opponent with a lightning gun causing 90 hit point damage, where as your opponent is probably causing you single digit hit point damage. Long term thinking is crucial to amass abilities/competence. And ability based risks are the most rewarding when they pay off (they usually will). Now tell me, is it really possible to accumulate abilities/competence in short term?

The Checklist Manifesto

Notes from the book

  • Chapter 1
    • Humans have to deal with information overload
    • Ignorance – not knowing something
    • Ineptitude – inability to apply something correctly. Incompetence hurts more
  • Chapter 2

    • Checklists help
    • When a new type of plane was introduced (B17) even the most experienced pilot made errors. Can be remedied with checklists
    • Gaining experience and mastery is one dimension. Retaining knowledge/being diligent is not same as becoming good.
    • Checklists fill the gap

    Chapter 3

    • Single master expert who tracks and makes decisions on several specialized verticals no longer works
    • Communication and tracking between specialists helps in making decisions as a group.
    • Checklists help in scheduling communication between specialists and also tracking ground up

    Chapter 4

    • Use checklists as a means to validate something has been done right. An example – Van Halen had a lengthy checklist for venues where they would go to perform. Sneak in a trivial but easy to verify item on the checklist (A bowl of M&Ms with no brown candies). If it has been carried out, you gain some confidence. Use it as a measure to determine thoroughness of verification necessary

    Chapter 5

    • Bad checklists don’t work
    • Precise and concise checklists work
    • Short checklists are useless
    • Long checklists result in people taking shortcuts
    • Checklists are not detailed how to guides

    Chapter 6

    • Make checklists for rare situations
      • READ-DO checklists that are recipes to follow
    • Make checklists for regular situations

      • DO-CONFIRM checklists for checkpointing

    Chapter 7

    • Make following checklists non optional (in a non authoritarian way)
    • Checklists need tweaking depending on environment or other factors even if accomplishing the same goal
      • Tailor checklists to target users

    Chapter 8

    • Checklists work across domains
    • Even experts are not spared from mistakes
    • Checklists are additional safety nets to ensure the obvious has not been overlooked
    • Develop the discipline to adhere to good checklists

    Chapter 9

    • Checklists help

In defense of iPhone 8

iPhone 8 is out and almost every tech reviewer has written it off. The question everyone’s asking is “Why did Apple launch an obsolete phone?”. The answer to that may be supply chain/manufacturing constraints. But here’s my question to Apple fans: if Apple’s strength lies not in being first to market but providing the best implementation of something, shouldn’t you also just buy the best iteration of a product? iPhone 8 is the best iteration in iPhone 6 form factor. Similarly, iPhone SE was the best iteration in the iPhone 5 form factor.

We’ve seen it happen before with first gen Touch ID. We might see it happen again with Face ID. Bendgate with plus form factor is another example. First iteration products aren’t usually the best. Apps may not be updated for the new screen size. If you buy Apple because it always just works and it is the best implementation of some technology, you should be buying the iPhone 8.

Stop following the news

It’s been a few years since I stopped reading news. Of course I know what’s happening around me in general because sometimes I go on twitter or it comes up in public. But otherwise, there is no reason a regular person should be chasing news every day.

Many years ago Doordarshan used to air daily news for 15 minutes at 7 in the evening. My father used to catch it every evening. It was a ritual for him. He would read the papers each morning too. And some time later Doordarshan decided to increase the duration of daily news program to 30 minutes and I remember thinking how can they find twice the amount of news suddenly? Why weren’t they telling us whatever extra they have now to tell, before? Fast forward some years, we have multiple 24 hour news channels. Whatever extra news there is for you to know now, and quickly at that thanks to technology, you have very little use for. There is next to nothing you can do to influence its outcome or improve a situation.

We all already know that news channels need to sensationalize every single thing to keep viewers hooked. They need to turn up the scale of sensationalization ever so slightly with each passing day, else people will stop showing up. I don’t know what it is but it’s not news any more. Definitely not useful news. Also one can’t put any real thought behind the writing when on the clock to come up with catchy bites. Adding to the problem is the fact that most people writing news aren’t experts in the fields they’re writing news. Their expertise lies in making something sound catchy. But at some point they cross over to being experts on the subject itself.

If there’s something you should know, that news will trickle down to you. It’s hard to miss it in today’s world.

Morning rituals for night owls

I’m sure many of us have heard of the 5 am club. Wake up early, get more done when the world is sleeping. We are told it is the one true key to success (among many other true keys to success). Except, is it? If you see daily routines of famous people, you are bound to find examples that don’t always corroborate the claim. Also, after reading Taleb, I’m even convinced that our need to attribute traits to successful people stems from our inability to deal with randomness.

Have I tried waking up early before? Yes. Have I succeeded consistently? No. First of all, notice that the people who are advocating such “keys to success” usually have a book or workshop to sell at the end.  We always fall into this trap of “I’ll wake up early tomorrow and do xyz”. Because xyz is what I want to do and doing it at 5 am is how I become successful.

Rule 1 – Ignore the 5 am advice.

But the 5 am rule isn’t all bogus. The essence of it is to find an uninterrupted block of time and do your xyz. Here comes the real problem. Present you always wants to screw future you. You’re always putting off your xyz to the next morning which is spent snoring. Since our sleeping patterns may be genetically predetermined, we should instead change the problem statement to “how to screw future you with minimal loss?”.

Rule 2 – Wake up and be ready to rush through the door.

The idea is to give yourself a 30 minute head start to the day. Get to work a half hour before you are required to be in the first meeting (or whatever commitment). Use this time to collect your thoughts so you don’t feel like you’re playing catch up the rest of the day. And every time you catch yourself thinking “I’ll do xyz tomorrow”, start doing it right then. Force current you to screw future you. The next morning you can feel bad about waking up late but at least you will have done xyz.

Rule 3 – Go to bed at the same time every day.

Even if it is 3 am. Even on weekends. In fact, it would be beneficial to have a 3 am bedtime if you end up staying out late during weekends. And never skimp on sleep.

But what about breakfast? The other key for success. The most important meal of the day. Except, is it? That’s for another post.



Cold Showers

Numerous articles and YouTube videos encourage people to start taking cold showers. Most of them ask you to try it as a 30 day challenge. Cold showers supposedly make you more active, healthy, increase your will power and make you Batman. So, obviously I decided to try (mostly to become Batman).

Almost 4 months later, here’s what I think. Of course I can’t say with certainty if it has made me more active, healthy or any of those other things. It might have. But I can say for sure that I am not Batman (yet). Even though it didn’t open my eyes to a whole new world that was hiding in plain sight, I still continue to take cold showers every morning.

You are in the shower much shorter

Since you won’t be spending more than 3 minutes showering you are ready for work quickly.

What is cold?

It has reset my internal measure of what is cold. The first few days of committing to cold showers involved me standing outside a running shower for minutes before jumping in. Today I jump in without any hesitation. You no longer feel that initial shock when you step outside each day. On a recent trip, one of the hotels we stayed in did not have hot water in the shower. Except it did. Only the hot and cold ends were swapped (oh you fallible human brain). And it made no difference to me.

Here’s what I don’t like about short cold showers. I desire longer showers on some days. Also, it helps you let your subconscious mind think about problems from earlier in the day or from days before. On those days, I take a longer shower in the evenings.