10 Questions For Better Decision Making

published on 04 July 2023
Asking questions is powerful. Asking right questions is a superpower.
Asking questions is powerful. Asking right questions is a superpower.

181/365 days of 2023 are gone. Today's email is to help you propel into what's left of this year.

I have compiled a list of questions that I collected over the years that have helped me make better decision. I used to outsource this activity and then regret. No one teaches us to think for ourselves but it is the most important building block of a life well lived. 

Let's get into it.

What would it look like if it was easy?

I would like to run a half marathon in 6 months.

I run 1 km thrice a week and add 1 km every single week. 

I want to buy the new Mahindra Scorpio N next year.

I save 25k every month and will have enough for a down payment in a year.

I want to write a children’s novel, one day.

I write for an hour everyday after breakfast

The first is a goal. The second is a system. What’s the difference?

"If you do something every day, its a system. If you're waiting to achieve it someday in the future, it's a goal." - Scott Adams.

When you design systems around your goal, your direct your efforts in the right direction. Much easier than having a wishy-washy fantasy.

What to do more of and what to do less of?

This is an annual exercise I do and learnt from Tim Ferriss. Instead of setting new year goals he advices to do an annual audit of the year gone by instead. It’s more effective.

Some time in the month of December I will review my hits and misses of the year, places traveled, people met, books read, content shared so on and so on. Since I use Notion and Evernote to organise my days / weeks / months I can quickly see what I did on what day with whom.

What I am looking for are experiences that either enrich my life or they don’t.

As you can imagine, going to the mountains with my group is the highlight every year and no wonder it has been an activity we religiously repeat. The other two recurring plans are a family trip to our small little studio in Mussoorie and another family trip to my tentmate Abhishek’s home in Hyderabad every November.

This annual audit has over the years helped me to say no to a lot of plans that were not my cup of tea. This makes space for plans that are. On average we have 4000 weeks allotted at birth. Use it wisely. 

Why is this bothering me?

Words are powerful. If you’ve been in an intense argument with your spouse, close friend or a colleague you know how easily the subject changes when one party throws something personal that is unrelated.

Once the dust settles down, that single line still keeps punching you in the face over and over. It's worth asking if what was said is really true or not? Only you would know the answer.

We bullshit ourselves all the time. At times, others call us out. It comes out at the most awkward moments but that doesn't change the facts.

Then again, not everything throw at you has to stick. If you don't believe what was said to you is correct, stick to that.

An unbiased review is a good litmus test.

What would I do even if it was a complete failure?

The question is derived from Scott Adams book “How To Fail At Almost Everything And Still Win Big”. Scott recommends that one should look for projects where even if the outcome is not positive the journey or the process adds a lot of value.

I had been following this principle even before I read about it but once I did it all made sense why I was doing what I was doing!

5 years ago, I started a podcast called “Souls Of Nagpur”. I would identify interesting people in my city and go talk to them. Podcasting wasn’t a thing back then in India like it is now. The goal was simple. To do something outside of my comfort zone and see if I enjoyed it. It was a test to see if I actually enjoy talking to people, learning from them, document my learnings and share it with other OR is it just a phase. I talked to venture capitalists, entrepreneurs, social activists, nutritionists, mountaineers, ultra marathon runners and loved it.

After 12 episodes of the podcast, even though to the outside world it seemed like a failure (it never made any money) I got out with more than I asked for. I met a dozen folks who I did not know before and are now friends. I learnt about a wide variety of things from them - books, mindset hacks, psychology - and kept adding these learnings to my arsenal.

It proved my desire to be an interviewer one day. It also helped me build a network that I still nurture to this day. Win.

What did I strongly believe in that is not serving me anymore?

Unlike other questions, this one works well only in hindsight. You have to be open to challenging your own assumptions in order to make changes. The goal is to become a better individual, if that means modifying what we once believed was true then so be it. Do you want to be right or do you want to be better?

Let’s go over a few personal experiences over the year or so.

I used to think yoga and meditation is something you do once you are over a certain age. 60 is what I had in mind. Boy was I wrong. I have experimented with both few years back but due to a lack of inconsistency, the benefits never appeared. I’m much better now but nowhere close to what I can do. Also, it is difficult to measure the direct benefits from these two practices. What changed?

Instead of viewing meditation as a way to achieve peace or happiness, I started viewing it as a tool that allows me to think clearer. If I can think better, I can write better. I approach it as an activity where my thoughts are like the multiple windows opened in a browser and when I close one I reduce the overall load on the CPU. I only want the most important windows open for optimal system functioning. Same thing with yoga. I don’t view it as a tool to align my chakras, improve digestion, manage stress etc. I view it as a drill that stretches my body and reduces lower back or other pains coming from the hard lifting done previous day by running or doing weighted stairs.

Another assumption I had for a very long time is that I cannot survive without food. My morning routine was an egg within 30 minutes of waking up. Although that is proven to be healthy for fat loss, it was a limiting belief. During the Kang Yatse II climb last year I had an episode of hallucinations coming down. We had been running on empty for 18 hours and I felt the effects. I decided then that for the next climb I will practice fasting to somewhat replicate the ordeal. Turns out, I don’t need food after waking up at all. Moreover, I have more energy when I don’t eat for a long period of time. The mind is more aware as it thinks it’s in danger. The body is chewing away fat as it doesn’t have carbs to turn into energy and has to keep the engine running. For a month now, I have been fasting anywhere between 16-18 hours and I don’t think I will ever go back to having a breakfast again.

What piece can I remove to make the whole better?

It was December 31st 2021, I was sitting at my desk putting a workout plan together to train for Kang Yatse II later in August 2022. It was a Friday and I knew I would be getting smashed later at night with friends to celebrate the upcoming year. The plan was to party on Friday, deal with the hangover on Saturday and then start training from Sunday, January 2nd.

One thought kept nagging me. I could do so much better if I stop drinking for few months. Later that evening while scrolling the internet I came across a post on Twitter talking about 75HARD. I immediately knew I had found something amazing.

In short, the challenge states that for 75 days you cannot drink alcohol / smoke / eat junk, workout twice a day one of them has to be outside, drink 3L of water, read 10 pages. I enjoy a challenge, the harder the more appealing it is to me. This one was perfect.

I partied that night guilt free. On Saturday I read more about the rules and other people’s experiences. I bought the app to be more accountable and hit the ground running Sunday morning.

That challenge helped me climb KYII. It removed substances I was using to deal with stress, anxiety or to just kill time. My sleep improved. But the biggest win was over the mind.

I use the challenge whenever I am getting soft or training for an expedition. Occasionally I use a shorter 30 day version of this to torture myself and others around me. Monk mode over christmas and new years is hell! 

What am I running away from?

I don't enjoy running. I love running away from my problems. As if with time they will disappear. Turns out the issue at hand usually compounds when given time.

I constantly remind myself and others around me the conversation Shri Amitabh Bachchan had with his father. He asked him, why is my life filled with struggle? To which his father famously replied "As long as there is life, there will be struggle."

When I internalised that line, a switch turned on.

Being alive is a privilege and it comes with struggles baked in. Sooner I accept this fact, the better.

Now instead of blindly running away from problems, I atleast make an effort of identifying what am I running away from and put a plan in place to deal with the ordeal.

How would xyz behave in this situation?

Jealousy is inevitable. We are constantly comparing ourselves with others. Humans are a competitive species and I’m sure even monks who have been practicing spirituality for years get bothered by a monk wiser than them.

Does it serve any purpose? Yes it does. To an extent.

But instead of sitting in envy twiddling my thumbs, it works even better if I ask myself what would that person do if they were me in this situation.

Let me give you an example.

For years I’ve been an active listener of podcasts. I listen to Tim FerrissJoe RoganJocko. These men have influenced me more than my teachers and I kept dreaming of someday having my own podcast / youtube channel. But first, I had to battle self-doubt.

Who would listen to me? Is there Indian market even ready for a long form podcast?

Then, one day as I was consuming content and not creating I saw a youtube video of Ranveer Allahbadia. Young dude interviewing an interesting guest and that set my pants on fire. I was jealous, angry and in denial for a long time. How could someone beat me to it? This is something I wanted to do!

As time continued I realised that the anger was self-directed. I was upset with myself that I had not executed on my vision and someone had acted on theirs. We don’t even have the same interests or the same genre of people to interview so the jealousy was pointless.

When things calmed down I asked myself what would Ranveer do?

Asking that question instead of dodging his content in envy has put me on a path of creation and not just consumption of content.

Why am I about to do this thing?

Taking a pause before committing to anything is wise. The biggest mistakes I’ve made are when I did something to please others. Here’s the problem with that.

Let’s say I become a doctor because my parents have been dreaming about it since I was a child. It would be a field of respect and pay well. I dedicate the next 10 years to fulfill my parents wishes and become a successful cardiologist. But, this is not what I wanted. I wanted to be a tennis player. If I could become a successful cardiologist without being passionate about it I surely would have been a successful tennis player. Only if I had listened to myself and not …

Let’s say I fail as a doctor. Who do you think I will end up blaming? I surely would have been a successful tennis player. Only if I had listened to myself and not …

You live, make mistakes, learn.

Now, before starting anything I ask myself -

Is it to satisfy my parents, siblings, spouse?

Am I driven by jealousy?

Is this a way to nurture my ego?

I will only commit if it's none of the above and only for personal preference. Take responsibility for your own actions. It relieves the pressure of meeting others expectations.

What long term game can I play?

The three most important decisions we make in our lives are -

a) where do you live b) who do you marry c) what do you work on.

I am now settled in Nagpur where I was born and spent the first 16 years so it’s nice to be back to my roots. I like the moderate pace, access to my family, childhood friends, no traffic and the freedom my family business provides. Check.

I’ve been married for a decade and have a loving and supportive partner. Check.

When I was thinking about starting something ‘of my own’ I thought to myself what unique strengths do I have and who would find them valuable. In the simplest form, that is what economics is. Supply and demand.

I also thought about who do I want to be around. Business school teaches you to build a product and then find your target audience. I took the opposite route. I wanted to make sure that I truly enjoy being around my target audience and worry about the product and services later. Yes, I’m lucky to fall back on my family business and I count my stars everyday.

As it turns out, I enjoy being around YOU the most. People who have a strong inclination towards spending time in the nature, who talk / read / watch content on personal development, who take out time from their busy lives to pursue their hobbies. You are my people, my tribe.

So it was decided that I will play the long game of serving the outdoors community through the written word and keep building services and products for you. Check.

While writing today’s newsletter, I was constantly reminded that I am lucky to have the freedom to even ask these questions and look for answers. Not everyone has this opportunity. I didn’t either but instead of blaming circumstances or destiny, I worked hard to design a life I wanted to lead. It took me 5 years to get started on this journey of writing everyday and building Trek Library. If you don’t see light at the end of the tunnel simply means you are not there yet. Keep pushing.

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