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The Future of Work

During this past week, I had the privilege of being one of the 100 people invited to the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland to discuss the Future of Work. The event is an intimate gathering of roughly 600 people: leaders of tomorrow and leaders of today including billionaire entrepreneurs, world leaders, and cutting edge researchers, and brilliant thinkers.

To qualify for this all expenses trip, more than 1,300 people wrote an essay. I was one of the 100 whose essay and ideas were picked. I wanted to share this essay that discusses what the future of work will be.

I was trying to answer how I plan on being economically relevant in the future as computers increasingly take over the work of so many humans. Here’s my essay below.

Why a tribe is the solution to so many of our problems today

Tribe was on my to-read list for a while, and it only took me 2 days to finish it. It’s a very short, sparse 130 pages. Here are some of the most interesting quotes from the book with a few thoughts near the end.

“I know what coming back to America from a war zone is like because I’ve done it so many times. First, there’s a kind of shock at the comfort and affluence that we enjoy, but that is followed by the dismal realization that we live in a society that is basically at war with itself. People speak with incredible contempt about, depending on their views: the rich, the poor, the educated, the foreign born, the President, or the entire US government. It is a level of contempt that is usually reserved for enemies in wartime except that now it is applied to our fellow citizens. Unlike criticism, contempt is particularly toxic because it assumes a moral superiority in the speaker. Contempt is often directed at people who have been excluded from a group or declared unworthy its benefits. Contempt is often used by governments to provide rhetorical cover for torture or abuse. Contempt is one of four behaviors that, statistically, can predict divorce in married couples. People who speak with contempt for one another will probably not remain united for long.”

“If you want to make a society work, then you don’t keep underscoring the places where you’re different—you underscore your shared humanity,”

“As affluence and urbanization rise in a society, rates of depression and suicide tend to go up rather than down.”

“It may be worth considering whether middle-class American life—for all its material good fortune—has lost some essential sense of unity that might otherwise discourage alienated men from turning apocalyptically violent.”

“What would you risk dying for—and for whom—is perhaps the most profound question a person can ask themselves. The vast majority of people in modern society are able to pass their whole lives without ever having to answer that question, which is both an enormous blessing and a significant loss.”

“How do you become an adult in a society that doesn’t ask for sacrifice? How do you become a man in a world that doesn’t require courage?”

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

“Human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.”

This book with full of insights on why we have evolved to essentially to live in tribes, and what we’ve lost from abandoning that model. Contempt and superiority of one side compared to another has really overtaken any sense of coming together. Parents will find it interesting to learn we isolate our babies right from the first few months of birth, which is so contrary to our design. Whereas in tribal societies, we were held 90%> of the time, in today’s age of separate rooms and trying to imbue a false sense of independence (instead of interdependence) in babies, no wonder we are creating a generation of anxious, stressed out, depressed young people.

What we need today is a greater sense of unity and tribal community (Ubuntu) than ever before. Not only does it restore us to our more natural evolutionary past, but also restores happiness and security into our lives. This is not about a false sense of tribe that social media provides us,

The world needs it in large doses. The book also does a great job exploring why so many of us feel so distant with our neighbours, our friends, and ourselves.

Media Fast – 30 Days of Distraction Free Living

It’s high time we all consider a media fast. Mental illness is at an all time high (although one can argue it is just reported for the first time). So is a feeling of helplessness and lack of control over one’s life.

Perhaps you end your day having spent hours surfing reddit, random blogs, social media, or news websites, and you wonder what you even got done that day. Maybe you feel very pessimistic about life given current events. These moments train our mind that we are pretty much helpless in controlling the destiny of our lives.

I’ve already written a lot about quitting social media here. The purpose of this series is to go one step further. I am going to write about my experience quitting ALL media for the next 30 days. This includes TV shows, movies and documentaries, YouTube series, magazines, newspapers, and blogs.

Just to be clear, this does not mean I will stop watching videos or reading information on the Internet or in print. Rather, I mean to consume information consciously: I must have a purpose before I open another tab, and start watching that video, reading that post, or listening to that podcast.

This is in contrast to the mindless nature of browsing the net to keep myself occupied, distracted, entertained, or informed. My method will be to consume media that serves my goals. That’s it.

10 Reasons We Need A Media Fast

  1. Reclaim your mental sanity.
    We spend so much time prescribing therapy and drugs to people with mental health issues: be it depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, and a whole lot more, but don’t bother to focus on a major contributing factor for all this: the media. TV shows, movies, internet articles about tech billionaires, and the constant barrage of click-bait celebrity gossip does tremendous harm. It creates the expectations reinforced daily of our inadequacies, our failures for not being fit/healthy/sexy/rich/successful/young enough.
  2. Have more time.
    If you feel constantly stressed, overworked, and wonder at how achievers get stuff done, this is how! Quit all this mindless consumption and get on a media fast and you will discover a tremendous amount of time you didn’t even know you had. Your mind will fight to binge on this kind of stuff again. Resist it. Breath. Meditate. It will go away. After the first few days, you will discover time that you did not know you had.
  3. Feel more in control.
    A lot of us feel out of control in our lives. I credit much of this to the constant attack of negativity from the news and social media. I am not claiming that  ignorance or sticking your head in the sand is a good strategy to live life. Rather, it’s the idea about getting very selective about what we consume.
    In The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, the author asks, “Out of the ­10,000 news stories you may have read in the last 12 months, did even one allow you to make a better decision about a serious matter in your life?” You can find a quick summary of the affect of news and our out-of-control feelings from this article: News is bad for you–and giving up reading it will make you happier.
  4. Live Purposefully.
    When the mind clears up from all the noise, noise, noise of TV shows, Internet, magazines, etc, you will get space to create life a lot more purposefully. Our consumption of media becomes directed in the service of the life we want, not away from the life we’re living (and we’re not happy with). When we subtract out the unnecessary, what’s life is the necessary that makes a big difference.
  5. Feel freedom.
    Additionally, we actually feel the freedom that comes from having a lot more time. We feel the freedom to live purposefully. This is a crucial distinction from points 2 & 4. While we may physically have more time to live a better life, this reality is useless unless we actually believe that is the case. The barrage of what we consume is so endless that we feel the opposite: that there isn’t enough time and space for our lives. Ironically, this is just not true.

    When we drink water from a fire hose, no wonder we feel overwhelmed.

    When we do a media fast, we actually end up feeling that we do. This new belief will be one of the key factors is helping us take control and live purposefully.

  6. Build discipline.
    It feels wonderful to set goals and accomplish them! And this goal is tremendously powerful because it is an internal goal: something where we fight our minds and work to overcome our own mental scripts. I wrote about the potent power of such goals in my previous post about goal setting. If you’re struggling to figure out what sort of goal to set that will challenge your mind, this 30 day media fast is a great one to get started. It will build discipline that will permeate into all other parts of your life.
  7. Mindful growth.
    Our growth is often driven by necessity. We don’t have money in the bank, so we work on getting a job and earning a buck. But when we get rid of distractions, we are free to pursue goals that matter deeply to us. Additionally, when we choose to consume media mindfully, we have to force ourselves to pick the things that we want to be informed about/consume. This type of mindful growth will be a lot more powerful.
  8. Be happier.
    Next, we become a whole lot happier when we don’t surround ourselves with negativity. For example, you might think watching How I Met Your Mother or the latest Superhero movie doesn’t affect you in any way. Now this is just not true! Product placements remind us that we can be a lot more sexier/stronger/heroic if we owned the same products. The body shapes we see give us an immense sense of dissatisfaction with our own bodies. I’ve talked about this in the past that this won’t help us get into exercising, so this negativity isn’t helpful. And finally, the dramatic story lines and character lives just do not exist in real life.
    We are deeply dissatisfied with our lives because we think life is supposed to be like these fictional stories. We may not know it, but it is affecting us in a very deep and primal way. But what makes a good story doesn’t make a good model for our life. For more, read this.
  9. Make a positive difference in the world.
    Ironically, when we give up reading the news and feeling helpless, we actually have the freedom to actually go out in the world and make a difference. Volunteer, help someone in the community, get informed about the few things you care deeply about, and take action! You will feel powerful and in control of your life and the lives of others. This happens when you don’t let the 24/7 media channel run your mind 24/7.
  10. Just to see if you can!
    Last, just do this to see if you can! Make it into a fun challenge with your mind. Explore this theme and see what difference it can make. Treat is as a 30 day experiment.

So that’s it for this post! I would be curious to hear about your experiences with the negativity of the media. Please also let me know if you’d like to join me in taking on a media fast together!

Leave a comment below or message me privately to let me know!

Goal Setting: The Right One Makes All The Difference

When it comes to goal setting, there are tons of books, seminars, and courses out there. Everyone has a different take on how to set goals.

Most experts will tell you to set goals for your business, career, relationships, health, spirituality, and contributions in the community. They will tell you that without goals, you will not succeed.

They will tell you that people who write down their goals are much more likely to succeed with them. Write your goal in the present tense, they say, as if you have already achieved it! It tricks your mind into thinking you already have the goal.

Others promote setting SMART goals. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. As an example, “my goal is to make $5,000 more than I make right now, by July 31st of this year by working a part time job close to home.” Very smart.

These are all great tactics for goal setting, and experts are probably right that writing out your goal and reminding yourself about it everyday helps in attaining them.

Brian Tracy and Tony Robbins are great if you’d like to learn more about goal setting.

The Problem

The biggest issue with these tactics is that they ignore the real problem: even when we achieve most of our goals, we are still as unhappy as before.

I saw a fantastic video the other day from some contemporary celebrities who talk about this:

You may not care about these people, but their lesson still stands. When we set external goals, we grow externally, but remain unfulfilled within.

Of course there is nothing wrong with setting a goal to get that great career, or lose your weight, or anything like that. The problem is the motivation behind it is half-baked. We think we’ll be happy when we achieve this goal. From the experience of millions of people throughout history (including some people in the video above), you probably won’t.

A Different Goal

Throughout my life, I’ve been lucky enough to surround myself with amazing people. The most important two figures have been Pramukh Swami Maharaj, and Mahant Swami Maharaj. Sadly, they have been mostly unheard of by people in the Western world, but their wisdom and impact has touched the lives of millions including presidents, scientists, artists, community activities, teachers, business tycoons, and regular folk.

Aside: You can read more about my story here.

They have taught me that life is a cycle of ups and downs. Sometimes, we win, and sometimes we lose. We must remain stable throughout it all. How can we hold onto something that constantly changes for happiness? Our happiness also becomes temporary when we do that!

That which is temporary is not real, and that which is real is not temporary.

It is much better to centre our lives on that which is permanent. To that which does not change.

What can that one thing be?

Goal Setting in Reality

If we commit to goal setting in the world of reality (that which is permanent), we must set the direction of life to conquer our own minds. Every external achievement is accomplished by honing the mind. We experience all the ups and downs of life in the mind. So, if we work on conquering the mind, we can accomplish wonders.

This is the goal that will give us happiness. This is the goal that will help us be our best selves. Peace and stability will be found in making self-mastery the goal.

The external stuff will change. Identify with that which is unchanging, and we will win the game of life.

Be A Guest In Your Own Home: Letting Go of Attachment

There’s a beauty in being a guest at a friend’s home. We feel comfortable and we love the company. There is no attachment to their home. There’s also an unspoken expectation at the end of the trip:

When it comes time to leave, we can drop our attachment to that place and move on. We are happy when we are there, but it doesn’t cause us suffering when we have to go.

It’s even easy to get into action with chores. How much easier it is to do the dishes, or tidy up the place when we’re a guest at someone else’s home!

Yet, when it comes to our own home, we feel very differently. In our own homes, we are often miserable sitting alone. We work endlessly to change things up. Dishes remain undone in the kitchen sink. Our attachment to our home causes suffering, and it also serves as a shell to retreat from the challenges of life.

The whole place can become a sty and we put up with it, unless of course we’re having guests over as well! Then we tidy the place up.

But what would happen if we could be a guest in our own home?

And what if we could be a guest in our own lives?

A Guest In Our Body

Western thought puts emphasis on my house, my job, my body, my looks, my my my. Eat, breathe, and sleep with your goals. Burn yourself up to make sure you get there!

But what if we saw ourselves as guests in this body visiting only for 70–80 years?

We would live our lives with a lot more grace, a lot more compassion, and indeed, it would be easier to get into action without the pain and suffering. The drama of our lives would be enjoyable, without the misery.

This is one of the deepest teachings of yoga. In my lifetime of studying yoga, this was one of the first lessons I learned at the age of 5.

We mistakenly think yoga is all about twisting ourselves into crazy shapes. But the main texts on the subject have almost no mention of these poses, or asanas.

Instead, it teaches us the secret to living. It teaches us to cultivate non-attachment to the temporary. It teaches us ways to engage with the world more fully without the pain of “I” and “mine.” It teaches us, in short, to be a guest in our own homes. In our own lives.

Today, when you get back to “your” home, just for one night, see yourself as a guest. See what happens and leave a comment below.

Why Digital Health Apps Won’t Save Us

A Digital Health App Won’t Help You Get Fitter, Live Longer, and Sleep Better

Touted as the ultimate fitness app, the Fitbit is a marriage of digital health with wearable technology. The device and app sold by the millions. Turns out that Fitbit‘s heart rate tracking is dangerously inaccurate.  Fitbit is meant to help you track sleep, measure activity throughout the day, give you notifications to workout, etc.

This is an emerging trend. I closely follow Rock Health, a venture fund dedicated to digital health. Each week, its newsletter mentions funding deals in the digital health space. Massive amounts of capital are allocated to companies where technology trumps common sense.

The premise behind these companies is that digital technologies will help us fix our health. However, I would like to argue that this is not the case. If Peter Thiel were to ask me his contrarian question, “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?“, I would say that the premise behind most digital health companies is misguided. Technology will not help us save ourselves (at least in this case).

Why?

I’ve spent the last 3 years reading hundreds of medical journals in my spare time, and trying to make sense of how we can live longer, healthier, and fuller lives. I’ve spoken with hundreds of doctors, nutritionists, public health officials, and professors in related fields. I started writing in this space late last year, and got a lot more involved in this field by leading the Outreach team at NutritionFacts.org this year.

What has come up repeatedly is the importance of education, and people carefully curating their social, emotional, and mental lives to support their growth. Health is a game of changing the mindset of people, and apps are not designed to change mindsets. They’re designed to be addictive. Tracking sleep is pretty useless unless we address what’s keeping us up at night.

When a technology tool helps us reconnect to that old-fashioned sense of curating our lives, then we can change. Otherwise, a Fitbit used to make you fit makes as much sense as a Californian touting their environmentalism by driving an electric car, but using a dryer for their clothes instead of drying it in the sun: a useful illusion.

We tend to use shopping as a means of relieving the anxiety in our lives. For many of us, shopping in a traditional mall has replaced shopping technology products. And if they’re “personal development” oriented, hey, it’s a good thing, right? Sadly not.

Life changes begin with a change in mind-set. There is no gadget or app that will accomplish this for you. There is hard work involved. It means quitting mindless consumption of media designed to keep you complacent. It means taking charge.

Markets and consumers live on the hype and bust cycle (yes, I know it’s called boom-and-bust cycle you Keynesians!). And while technology companies in this space can be highly valued, I do not agree with their worth. They may have the market caps, the sales, etc. But does it change a person’s life, even incrementally? Would the fittest Fitbit users have achieved their level of health even without the device and app? I would argue yes.

I would bet that an infinitesimally small number of companies in the digital health space actually create products that matter. Ginger.io and Omada Health comes to mind. Most on the other hand, are focused on allowing technology to trump common sense. Many will undoubtedly sell well and make their investors a tidy return, but by tapping into the public’s need to consume away their anxiety for health, giving them an illusion of better control.

What’s the alternative? The alternative is to change what we consume (for our bodies and our minds). The return on that investment will be astronomically higher.

This is somewhat ironic for me to write, as a person deeply interested in figuring out how digital health can change the world. In my recent grad school application, I wrote about this in depth. It seems like I’m criticizing an industry which I wish to impact.

Not so. I was mistaken a few years back when I wrote this post. I too fell into the trap of pursuing value from the market’s perspective compared to value in terms of how lives can be affected. Since 2013, my viewpoint has changed substantially. Ideas of space exploration, and rubbing shoulders with billionaires and celebrities had a glamour attached to it, but was far too superficial.

Instead, this decision to work in digital health is much different. I’m in it for the long haul: a lifetime. I see my work as tackling the harder problem of changing mindset, perception, and motivation by using technology. I dare say this work may be less profitable than marketing a “magic” app, but I will be satisfied with the value I create.

Ideas in 2015

I had originally decided to write this as a post with the best books I read in 2015, but ideas are a lot more general and books are not always the best place to get ideas. I hope these ideas serve you as well:

1. The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson

This book was a game-changer for me. Everywhere around us, the stories that rise to the top are stories of people who had massive success. We hear about stories of Zuckerberg, Gates, Warren Buffet, et al. We hear about companies such as Instagram and Uber which are creating or transforming entire industries. Seeing all this, I used to get down on myself. I would wonder why others were succeeding while I was not. Perhaps something was wrong with me. The ones who made it are just more special or more worthy than me to have made such quantum jumps.

Not so. The Slight Edge talks about the incredible power of changing the definition of success to taking any action towards a worthwhile ideal. The book also has the idea that success is easy if the practice of success happens over time.

Consider the idea of losing weight. You know that drinking soda will not help you in that area. However, if you’re with friends you realize that drinking that can of soda in that moment will not make you gain weight. But you also know that NOT drinking that can of soda will not help you lose weight. And that’s where we fail. It is easy to say no at that moment to that soda, but it also easy to say yes. Yet, compound decisions like that over a long enough period of time and we are not able to succeed with our weight goals.

You can apply this to all areas of your life: schooling, fitness, relationships, business, etc. In fact, I ended up listening to this book 3-4 times this year. I found it to be absolutely powerful and I highly recommend it. The book helps you really understand the idea of the slight edge and how it can be applied to all parts of your life. It really is the secret between success and failure in life.

As a result of this, I ended up taking and following through on an online course by the University of Berkeley and edx: The Beauty and Joy of Computing.

While it may not have an immediate benefit in my life, I understand that getting more skills under my belt that interest me will undoubtedly pay off in the long run. [for more on that, read Scott Adams’ highly fun book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.] There were more areas that I applied the slight edge in, which I will get into below.

2. Giving > Getting

This idea was profound and was inspiring by a few books: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg, Become An Idea Machine by Claudia Altucher, and Choose Yourself by James Altucher, Charlie Hoehn (whom you should definitely follow), and the work I’ve done with BAPS Charities.

The goal of the list above isn’t to name drop, but to share the tremendous commonality of this idea to success and happiness that people have found again and again in all walks of life.

The idea is simple: the best way to have a fulfilling career, relationships, health, etc is to give first. James and Claudia Altucher propose the idea of giving out great ideas to people and companies. Coding, production, etc can all be outsourced, but good ideas cannot. The goal is to exercise the idea muscle (which is a muscle like any other part of your body) and give give and give the best away to people who can use it. This leads to conversations and conversations lead to opportunities to contribute. I have literally emailed founders at companies with ideas and gotten a positive reaction.

Textbooks for Change, Akira.MD, Ginger.io, and OpenCare  have been a few companies I’ve done this with in the last 2 months alone and have been blown away by how much I have learned about them, but also how appreciate they have been with my insights and ideas. In one instance, I have had a chance to become an adviser to the company.

Bob Burg and Charlie Hoehn mention that giving out ideas, but also connections, and opportunities will lead to more exciting career fulfillment. This is something that I plan to dive very deeply into in 2016. I find this method of forging a career to be a lot more rewarding than the apply via a cover letter and CV to jobs and move ahead. By giving with any expectation of getting anything back before any real tangible opportunity, we are much more likely to get a positive response back.

This technique above helped me make new friends as I’ve reached out to people I’ve admired and shared ideas that they may like.

3. Education != Schooling

 

John Taylor Gatto is a revelation. I first stumbled across his 5 hour interview titled The Ultimate History Lesson. As New York State’s teacher of the year, and New York City’s teacher of the year many times over, he had had enough and had to quit.

Gatto goes deep into the history of schooling and goes on to outline with startling clarity how modern schools are not designed to educate citizens, but rather designed to create a class of workers. These workers are conditioned over at least 12,000 hours of forced schooling to base their intellectual and emotional value and worth in external approval, have others set the agenda for their lives. The system is designed to enforce hierarchy and class structure so that most do not deviate from it.

He goes on to highlight alternative methods of education, which should develop the…

  1. Ability to define problems without a guide.
  2. Ability to ask questions that challenge common assumptions.
  3. Ability to work without guidance.
  4. Ability to work absolutely alone.
  5. Ability to persuade others that yours is the right course.
  6. Ability to debate issues and techniques in public.
  7. Ability to re-organize information into new patterns.
  8. Ability to discard irrelevant information.
  9. Ability to think dialectically.
  10. Ability to think inductively, deductively, and heuristically.

If you are short on time, at least carve out 1 hour to listen to his lecture titled “The Seven Lesson School Teacher: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

If you are more interested, there are many interesting ways to follow-up. Gatto’s book titled Weapons of Mass Instruction come to mind. There is also a massive open-sourced learning community that untethers education from schooling and encourage people of all ages to take control of their education. These ideas make it very clear that fixing schools won’t do it. For a real revolution, we must learn to educate ourselves. We must learn to take control of our own lives and not wait for the power-that-be to grant us the golden ticket of our destiny.

I know this all sounds very conspiratorial, but after doing your own independent reading and listening to the story that’s laid out, you cannot help but get how true the story presented above is.

Understanding these ideas helped me understand many of the feelings of general helplessness, loneliness, and poor self-image I have often experienced (or keep experiencing at times). Understanding the role of schooling in my life has given me such a large portion of my power back. It has helped me be bolder in my thinking in actions, fear less, and find happiness and self-worth in my own self.

4. Move!

Spark! The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey at the Harvard Medical School convinced me beyond a shred of doubt that daily exercise is a great lifetime practice not just for my body but also for my brain. As a nerd, it was the brain talk that convinced me to start exercising daily.

Aerobic exercise changes the brain completely and significantly impacts its ability to learn, manage stress, ward off and treat ADHD, depression, and addiction. The opening chapter alone is worth the price of admission as Dr. Ratey highlights the impact of exercise on a school population with an absolutely staggering impact.

I’ve been almost pretty disciplined since this summer to have kept a regular exercise habit going. Exercise has become a mainstay in my life and without it, I have a hard time thinking and functioning well. My body gets antsy after a while if I haven’t exercised. I highly recommend this book for those who do not take exercise seriously because it presents ideas on how the brain itself is impacted.

Credit goes to the incredible Special Ops trainer Mark Lauren for writing You Are Your Own Gym to help me devise a High-Intensity Interval Training program.

That was 2015 in a set of ideas. I’ve tried to present the most life-changing ideas above. I hope some of them were useful to you. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or clarifications you would like and I would be happy to go into them.