Author: Tulika

Of Exams and Results

Of Exams and Results

Imagine your favourite person in the whole world in a boxing match. It’s an important bout and you’ve tried to prepare him the best you can — got the best trainers, the best gloves, directed him to the best resources; done everything you could possibly do.

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Of painting nails and learning to focus

Of painting nails and learning to focus

Last Sunday morning, after making the public announcement that everyone was to fend for their breakfast on their own, I found myself happily free.

I thought some self-care was in order and I fished out the bottle of nail paint bought a month ago waiting to be inaugurated. Now, I could do a whole post on how I paint my nails but I’ll quickly sum it up here: 

  • First, I clean my nails. 
  • Then I apply nail paint. 
  • I end up painting my cuticles and the entire area around my nail 
  • I clean up as best as I can with an earbud
  • I hope I can scrub away the rest in the next day’s bath.

It’s a longish process. 

So I set up Netflix and browsed for something I could watch/listen to while I painted my nails and chanced upon an interesting docu-series titled The Mind Explained. The episode I happened to pick (I swear it was utterly random) was called How to Focus.

Less than five minutes into the episode as I was struggling to keep the nail paint within the confines of my nail I heard the narrator pronounce: 

‘We are not wired to multitask’

I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention had it not been so ironic. The VoiceOver went on to say that humans cannot multitask. When we try to do two (or more) things at a time, we switch from one task to the other and each time we do that, we lose a little bit of our cognitive self. 

Another podcast I heard went on to quantify this saying we function at 40 per cent of our capacity when we multitask.

That boggled my brain.

Here’s another interesting bit:

According to studies, our ability to pay attention hasn’t changed since the 1800s, so all talk of our attention spans having declined over the years is rubbish.

Low attention spans have less to do with what is happening around us and more about what’s going on in our heads.

When I was working in a newspaper office, I could find my focus despite the din. We had open workstations with no privacy whatsoever. People would be talking to each other, multiple phone conversations would be in progress, someone would be asking the canteen boy for tea, some days the TV would be on too and yet I could turn out my piece.

Now, even when I shut myself inside a room, each tiny sound distracts me. I can vaguely hear the children arguing or looking for stuff, the maid coming and going, the doorbell ringing. Each of these is a distraction breaking my chain of thought, pulling me away from the laptop.

I cannot mentally disconnect from everything that’s happening.

Even if we find the quietest corner of our home, wear top-quality noise-cancelling headphones, shut ourselves in sound-proof rooms it wouldn’t be much use because we are our own distractors 50 per cent of the time. 

The trick is to control the mind

And that comes with practice. Here are some ideas to help you:

  • Practice learning to sit still.
  • Practice focusing on your breath.
  • Meditate.
  • Doing skilled work with your hands also seems to help.

Each time your mind wanders bring it right back.

Strengthening the attention muscle is the key to successfully remaining focused on your work. It works better than getting rid of distractions.

Do make time to watch the series. It’s quite an eye-opener.

Note to self: If I focus solely on applying nail paint I’d probably do a much better job of it.

Does Free Will Really Exist?

Does Free Will Really Exist?

I was reading this piece here on how the author thinks the festival of Karwa Chauth is regressive yet she fasts each year. Perhaps, she reasons in her article, the conditioning is so deep she cannot not keep the fast.

She goes on to say, ‘the bottom line is that it is my choice’.

I found myself agreeing wholeheartedly. As long as the choice is ours, we’re not being regressive.

Then I saw a tweet where someone mentioned he loved the food cooked at home on festivals like Karwa Chauth. He went on to say the women cooked happily, out of ‘choice’.

That irked me. (More perhaps, because it came from a man).

Tell me, does it seem at all logical? Would someone truly enjoy spending much of their day in the kitchen without a sip of water through the day? Even if they otherwise enjoyed cooking?

And yet I know of women who do just that. My mother does it. And that made me rethink this whole thing about ‘choice’ and ‘free will’.

I was reminded of another piece I read on Sudha Murthy. Quoting an excerpt here:

In 1981, (Narayan) Murthy realized his big dream and it was the beginning for Infosys, one of the biggest names in software consulting (In India). But before making any decision, Murthy gave her (Sudha Murthy) the choice. He said that both of them could not be at Infosys together, so he gave her the choice of joining Infosys, but she chose to pull back.

There it was again — the bit about ‘choice’, that made her decision acceptable.

Here’s a question, though — what would have been Narayan Murthy’s choice had Sudha Murthy put this same question to him? Would he have made the choice she did?

Maybe yes. Maybe no. We’ll never know.

It did feel logically wrong that a brilliant woman, who had been a trail-blazer all her life, would choose to stay away from a dream project such as this one.

Unless, she (like many other women) was conditioned to do so.

The two pieces made me wonder if the choices women make, could really be termed ‘free will’ conditioned as we were to act a certain way. When women choose to give up work or education, or to eat after other family members, or to wear head-scarves, is it really out of free will?

It holds for men too, although in a whole different way. For instance, would a man, or let’s say, would most men ‘choose’ to give up careers even if they had the choice to do so? They’re as bound by conditioning as women are.

That brings me to the question: Is there anything like free will at all? Can we ever escape our conditioning?

The answer is NO. We cannot. None of us can ever hope to do that.

However, we can be aware of it and try to rid ourselves of it, interestingly, by conditioning ourselves to do so :-).

As someone brought up by a feminist mother, my mum, modified her fasting and included fruits and juices in her diet while also easing off on the cooking.

As the daughter of a feminist mum, I could give up Karwa Chauth without guilt.

We were both conditioned by our respective mothers to modify traditions to suit our lifestyles.

But this isn’t just about Karwa Chauth. Nor am I saying we’re free of it all. I’m sure there are a hundred ways in which we continue to do things we know we shouldn’t be doing, but cannot give up.

That said the only way to move forward is to condition ourselves and our children to constantly question and to reason, to be open to changing, adjusting, reshaping customs, traditions, our entire thought processes.

Last thought: I am more than aware that when it comes to human behaviour, logic is often tempered by many many factors, conditioning is just one of them.

Different strokes for different folks

Different strokes for different folks

Last week H was down with fever. With Grade 10 prelims less than a month away I watched him struggle to study despite continuous sneezing, a streaming nose and a throbbing head. Being a veteran of epic colds, my heart went out to him.

‘Shall I read to you?’ I offered.

‘No,’ said he, ‘I can’t study orally. I need to read it myself’.

I got that. I too find it hard to comprehend ideas unless I see them written down. Which is why I haven’t taken to audio books and my Audible credits have been piling up.

I am more of a visual learner. I can’t even choose from a menu card at a restaurant if someone reads it out to me. I need to hold it in my hands and read it for myself.

On the other hand there’s N.

She took a while to get comfortable with reading and for years I helped her study orally, reading out entire portions of her syllabus. Spellings were a struggle and that made school life difficult. Mercifully she found compassionate teachers and I shall forever be grateful for that. 

I specifically remember her Grade 4 teacher telling me that spellings would cease to be an issue in times to come as more and more writing would go digital. As an editor and writer, I found that inconceivable. However, coming from someone I respected and trusted, it was the most comforting thing I had heard at that point in time.

Anyway, N continues to score full marks in her aurals. She picks up lyrics to entire songs without even being aware of it, she can tell long complicated stories with ease. 

She has mastered reading but unfamiliar words still give her trouble. That doesn’t stop her. She loves stories and is an avid reader and a decent enough writer with a rich imagination. However, the oral form remains her preference.

Visual and Auditory learners

Photo from Pexels.com

Meanwhile, I read up a lot on learning differences, getting sucked into the Internet rabbit hole of information.

I found that auditory learners like N make up just 30 percent of the population (which is why it took me longer to come to terms with her way of learning) while 65 percent are visual leaners like H. The last 5 percent is made of kinesthetic learners who need to do things in order to learn.

Last week’s episode brought back memories of frustrations of their early learning years. I continue to marvel at how different H and N are despite being twins.

Interestingly, ones preferences remain all though life, right up to adulthood. Some of us learn best through books, while videos and podcasts work better for others.

That said, there’s a whole school of thought that rubbishes this categorising of learning styles.

I’d like to believe that learning styles exist but aren’t watertight. Ultimately it boils down to good communication and understanding what works best for your child. Just like everything else about parenting there really is no cut and dried wat.

5 quick and easy tips to stop being over-available

5 quick and easy tips to stop being over-available

Parenting teens is tricky business.

A few weeks weeks back I was at the orthopaedic clinic with a bad case of frozen shoulder. I’d hoped to be home in time for lunch but what with running around for the Xray and multiple payment points I was still there.

The twins are, of course, more than capable of managing themselves and yet, as I felt my phone vibrate I knew it was one of them.

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On my other blog: Beat About The Book

Seven easy tips to help you read a classic novel

Seven easy tips to help you read a classic novel

Have you started reading a classic and given up midway? Do you find them cumbersome and long winded? Well, here’s help.