The hardest thing about gratitude

The hardest thing about gratitude is remembering to be grateful.

I took our car to the service center yesterday to fix a problem that we thought had already been fixed. I learnt that we needed to replace a part. But, the part was in stock. So, it just took a few hours to complete the job. And, a little bit of inconvenience aside, I was able to drive home at the end of the day.

As I reflected on that this morning, I realized that I almost never thought about it. A whole host of things could have easily gone wrong. The part could have not been in stock. Or, the repair could have taken a few days. And, had that been the case, I would most likely have been thinking about it and perhaps even cursing my luck.

But, since all had worked great, I simply moved on.

Simply moved on. 

How many such things do we simply move on from? And, how many of those things are deserving of our gratitude?

Often, the things we barely notice are the things we need to be paying more attention to.

The content creation consumption balance

I’ve noticed that there’s a fixed upper limit in the amount of content I deal with. This upper limit is split between creation and consumption. It looks something like this –

A practical example – I read about 4 books in January, another couple in February and made progress on a few more. My content consumption level was high. But, once I started the “Notes by Ada” project, I’ve found myself reading very slowly. Writing an in-depth weekly article on technology takes time, energy and requires me to flex a new muscle. So, the amount of bandwidth I have to absorbing new content has gone down significantly. Part of it also ties to the fact that writing requires me to absorb different kinds of content in a deeper way – e.g. a deeper look into technology news than before. But, part of it is just the amount of mental energy I have left.

There are a few interesting lessons from this observation. Here are my top 3 –

  1. It is important to not set goals in isolation. Many of these work together. And, I think there are other such pairs of behaviors or actions that have a fixed upper limit. One such pair is the amount of time you spend on the content of your work versus marketing it. That’s a topic for another day. But, I think there are more.
  2. I learn a ton more when I create content than when I simply consume it – even if I’m taking notes. The difference lies in synthesis.
  3. We learn a lot more when we observe why we do things a certain way rather than simply beat ourselves up for not doing enough.

How we create standards

Every day, we have the opportunity to pick the standard our work will live up to. But, how do we create it?

A friend pointed out that the general misconception here is that it is the standard of the big projects that matter. I can see why that might be the case. It is the end-of-year examinations mindset.

But, standards are created by the smallest actions on our worst days. They are a function of how we treat people when we’re low on energy and hungry, of how much we get done on a slow day and what we do when the stakes are low.

Standards follow character – how we behave when no one is looking. And, we build character by doing the small things with extraordinary love.

In the long run, these small things are the big things.

The stream

We live in a world with a constant stream of data. Thanks to our email, television programming, social media and the news, our feeds and watch list never stop. So, we all learn two truths about it –

First, you can never beat the stream. There’s always more and it always wins. The unread folder doesn’t stay unread for long.

And, second, the stream doesn’t serve you. It just is. And, it is on you to not to serve it.

These truths push us to make a few choices. Three important choices are as follows.

  1. We need to decide which portions of the stream actually contribute to our productivity and, thus, happiness. It is on us to separate the signal from the noise.
  2. We need to build systems to limit or ignore the portions we don’t care about. The wider we spread ourselves, the less value we extract from the portions that matter. Filters matter and should be applied thoughtfully.
  3. Unplugging every once a while helps us get perspectiveDealing with data constantly is exhausting.

Many of us spend huge portions of our life dealing with the stream on our phones, laptops and televisions. Let’s make sure that we’re consciously engaging with it.

Standards we choose

We have a choice this morning – we get to pick the standard that our work will live up to.

We get to decide whether our work is good, average, best-within-the-circumstances or otherwise. Every piece of work either maintains, raises or lowers our standards. And, over a period of time, folks who see us operate just draw a line and extrapolate our usual standard of work.

It is these standards that help build great working relationships and teams. Teams and cultures align around the standard expected of them. They all agree that this is the kind of work they do – whether or not anyone is looking.

In the really long run, our work rarely matters. But, our standards, on the other hand, they are everything.

First, we make them. Then, they make us.

Clean water and the feminist movement

The combination of germ theory and the treatment of water with Chlorine led to a giant leap in public health. Millions upon millions of lives were saved and modern city living was made possible.*

Soon, companies began developing products with Chlorine. However, the rise of the clean industry was due to the wife of a San Francisco entrepreneur who was convinced that a less concentrated Chlorine based bleach could revolutionize home cleaning. She began giving out free samples to her customers and, thus, Clorox was born. Soon, the clean industry became the lynchpin of advertising, thus created the “soap opera.”

The clean revolution had some interesting side effects. Thanks to chlorinated water, we created our first modern swimming pools and the first modern bathing suits followed. Around this time (thanks to this?), basic attitudes toward exposing the female body were reinvented. Of course, many other factors – Hollywood, the feminism movement- contributed. But, very few recognize the role that clean water played in contributing toward this massive societal shift in attitudes toward the freedom of women.

“The other big contribution of the clean movement is the clean rooms that produce today’s microprocessors. They are cleaned by pure H2O that is undrinkable as it is too clean. Irony abounds. :)” | Steven Johnson (paraphrased)


Source and thanks to: How we got to now by Steven Johnson

*Note: Organizations like The Gates Foundation is doing some incredible work in making sure the gains from clean are spread evenly. Half the population still doesn’t have access to clean drinking water. We’ve made a lot of progress since the 1860s but still have a long way to go… 🙂