Sunday, 19 February 2012

Living Consciously

I admire Ayn Rand as the author of 'The Fountainhead' ,'Atlas Shrugged 'and 'We, The Living' .She believed in certain ideals and created heroes around those ideals in her best selling novels .Nathaniel Branden was  twenty- five years her junior , her fan , her apostle and finally her lover. For the next twenty years , they propagated the principle of 'Enlightened Selfishness' together.But then , love turned into hate which tore their  joint movement to pieces.Ayn Rand died on March6,1982 at the age of 77.Nathaniel Branden wrote the memoir"Judgment Day , My Years with Ayn Rand " and got it published in 1989.His  remarkable book "Six Pillars of Self Esteem" was published in 1994." Six Pillars of Self Esteem" has  has been hailed as the ultimate work on psychology of self esteem  by T. George Harris, former editor of The Harvard Business Review, American Health  and Psychology Today .
Here are the six pillars of self esteem propounded by Dr. Branden:
*Living consciously.
*Living purposefully.
*Personal integrity
Dr Branden says:"To live consciously means to seek to be aware of everything that bears on our actions, purposes , values and goals(to the best of our ability ,whatever that ability may be) and to behave in accordance with which we see and know."
                 In this way ,through Ayn Rand and Dr. Branden's works, I came across this practice/mindset called living consciously .I am not sure if Dr. Branden developed this concept after the breakdown of his relationship with Ayn Rand .But I find a great merit in Dr. Branden's concept of living consciously and describing it as the first pillar of self esteem.
                                                Living consciously  has two parts:
1.Seeing and knowing .
2.Acting  and behaving on what we see and know.
Living consciously is both a practice as wall as a mindset.It is on a continuum.We cannot live entirely consciously or unconsciously.We all need to and can expand  our mindset  by living more and more consciously.We are generally  more conscious in certain areas of life than in others .For example , if we are workaholics , we may be more aware of  nuances within our profession but may be less conscious of many of our emotions and personal relationships.This selective consciousness may be because of our parents , upbringing , education and life experiences and many other factors .  
                      There are two dimensions of living consciously .One is to be or live  in the moment, to be present to what one is doing.We must read, write , eat , watch a movie, listen to songs or do work consciously by paying full attention every moment.This is what Eckhart Tolle  has said in "The Power of Now" .This is what Zen Buddhism propounds about   living mindfully or living with with mindfulness.But living consciously is more than being in the moment.It is not only to be in the moment but also to remain connected with the wider context.We should be willing to understand the full context.We should take our decisions based on evidence and reality.
                            We need to override impulses of denial or avoidance due to pain or fear.We must face the facts and accept reality.Facts  should be distinguished from  interpretation or feelings.Dr. Branden says:"Fear and pain should be treated as signals not to close our eyes but to open them wider, not to look away but to look more attentively".If new facts , data or information  that is relevant to what we are doing , comes up , we should pay attention to it.We should maintain an openness to new experience and knowledge.We should keep learning.                                  
                                   We should not only know our outer world but also our inner reality.We should know our needs , feelings , aspirations and motives .We should understand our Self, both our material/physical nature and our spiritual nature.We should know what excites us and what drains us.
While knowing our true nature, we should distinguish our true voice from influences of external agendas as reflected in the voice of a parent or a religious authority.Our voice should be free from the values we have irrationally adopted or uncritically accepted from others.It should be the voice of an autonomous human being.We should take our true feelings into account while acting consciously.Living consciously need  not be  inconsistent with our true feelings.
                                       There is a further complication there .As Dan Ariely has pointed out in his book "Predictably Irrational-the hidden forces that shape our decisions", we are not only irrational in our actions , we are predictably irrational -that our irrationality happens the same way , again and again.Understanding how we are predictably irrational  can help us in improving our decision making and changing the way we live .There is something common between "Bounded Rationality" of Herbert A. Simon and "Predictable irrationality"of Dan Ariely, and we need to factor this deviation from rationality in our actions and behaviour when we start the practice of living consciously.
                            We have our goals , values and priorities.Do we give our prime time to our top priorities or goals or mission?Often we do not .If it is so,it means that  we are not living consciously .Or  we need to have a second look at what our real priorities are.When we say our daily  prayers , we set our goals to know God and to love God by serving humanity .But the whole day passes but we do nothing on these two goals .It shows that we are not living our spirituality consciously.Living consciously requires us to bring ourselves to account every night before we go to sleep.We should live and conduct ourselves in such a way that we get closer to our goals(material and spiritual) with time.We should reflect where we are in relation to our goals , and what we are doing by investment of time , energy and resources to actualise these?We should not set our goal as one thing and do something different .If this happens , we shall never realise our stated goals, and this will lower our self esteem.
                                                        Do we need to be highly conscious in all areas of our life?Dr. Branden appears to say yes .We may need to develop  more awareness in material needs , intellectual development, creativity ,relationships,or spiritual growth , depending upon our present  situation.The first step is to identify the areas of life in which we are least conscious and  to reflect upon why it has been so difficult to focus .Then we have to ask ourselves what we need to do differently in selected  areas to  live consciously in those areas.Are we willing to do those things ?
                                                                               Acting consciously also means taking into account the possible consequences of our actions.We should take feed back and take corrective actions on the basis of that feedback.Living consciously requires us to think and reflect on a continuous basis.We should do nothing mechanically.We should persevere in spite of difficulties , but in case we decide to discontinue , it should be done consciously.

Friday, 10 February 2012

Choosing between "good enough" and " optimum"

When I was Housing Commissioner of Uttar Pradesh (2001-2004), a quote from Lord Chesterfield, a British Statesman(1694-1773) caught my fancy:"Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well"I not only liked it , I became convinced of it intuitively.I got its several copies made, and circulated these to all the employees of UP Housing Board, numbering around 5000 in .
But recently , I came across  a statement  which went  a different way :"There are things that are worth doing but worth doing poorly.We do these things moderately but not superbly.We decide where we excel and where we satisfice".I was  vaguely familiar with the phrase "satisficing' from Herbert A. Simon's "Administrative Behaviour" but I could see the two different approaches to decision making in life .This was further confirmed with  a quote by  Steven Sample from  his book "The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership " as follows:'Anything worth doing at all is worth doing poorly.It may be worth more if it is done well, but it's worth something if it's done poorly"
In your decision making process,do you settle for good enough  in everything , or do you seek the best , the optimum only?
                                                     Herbert A. Simon introduced satisficing in "Models of Man" in 1957 for this behaviour or approach of accepting good enough.He  got Nobel Prize in 1978 for economics .He coined this word satisfice out of satisfy and suffice, and it meant good enough to be acceptable.Satisficing applies to organizations as well as individuals. We satisfice as administrators or managers as well as shoppers on a mall .Simon called it The Theory of Bounded Rationality. He went on to say: “Because he treats the world as rather empty and ignores the interrelatedness of all things (so stupefying to thought and action), administrative man can make decisions with relatively simple rules of thumb that do not make impossible demands upon his capacity for thought.”
                                               Satisficing is a decision making process which enables us to decide a course of action on the basis of what is acceptable to us and satisfies at least our minimum requirements.In this process , we settle on the first alternative that meets our minimum requirements.  For example, when  shopping , we decide to purchase something that we find acceptable, although that may not necessarily be optimal. While  optimising , we set high standards and seek the best ,maximise our  benefit from a particular course of action .In optimising , there is a cost of decision making process.It poses four types of difficulties:
1.We ourselves do not know what is the best choice .The selection of what is the best, is difficult  and subjective.
2.We do not know the relevant probabilities of outcomes.
3.We do not know the precise way of evaluating all outcomes.  We do not get access to all the information required
4.We  tend to give more weight to recent happenings.
Many times , it is not worth it to examine every single option and optimise.As a result  , we prefer to seek  satisficing over optimising.An opimiser throws away real world considerations such as deadlines and implementation.There may be paralysis by analysis.

But there is a downside of satisficing.
1.Satisficing makes us less efficient , less willing and slow to try new tools, new technology and new ways.We throw away  innovation, leaving no room for progress.We choose to stay in our comfort zone and make no effort to stretch of walk an extra mile.There is , I believe, a tendency in all of us to satisfice.This is what Herbert A. Simon called the bounded rationality.
For example , we can manage our documents , notes by using simple software tools that can replace the existing cumbersome solutions .In stead of visiting site after site, of blogs that we choose to follow, we can use RSS feeds.But we do not use RSS feeds out of mental laziness, or our tendency to satisfice.
2.Satisficing has misleading effect on the statistical methods /surveys related to research , especially market research.While filling questionnaires, respondents choose satisficing answers , rather than optimum answers.
3.Satisficing can  encourage us to live beyond our means .Whether it is in using credit cards , buying life insurance policies or car insurance , satisficing can make us careless .It can prompt us to live without a budget.
4.We satisfice all day long without thinking about it.We are in rush, and don't really know how to optimise.In such a scenario, optimising becomes a luxury.

What is the way out ?An important question to ask ourselves is what should be optimised and what should be satisficed?Do we need to maximise/optimise  profit?A close scrutiny will reveal that profit need not be a goal to be maximized .But an organisation needs  to have a minimum profit before it can  realise other goals .In this way , profit becomes a constraint .There needs to be a clarity of our goals before we  decide what should be optimised and what should be satisficed.
                                Satisficing in economic or administrative decisions is easier to understand , accept  and adopt but in decisions involving moral issues,it poses problems.An action is not morally right if it is "good enough".It is morally  right only if it is perfectly optimal  and maximizes the good (aggregate human welfare).However , we do have satisficing consequentialists who advocate "good enough" approach even in moral issues . I do not subscribe to this view. In moral matters , we must call for optimisation and set out to do what is morally right than what is acceptable or convenient .There is very little scope of  compromise on moral issues .
In my views, at the beginning , we should push for optimisation in most of the decisions.We should set high standards in what ever we decide to do.We should get out of our comfort zones and force ourselves to explore new ways.Then we may decide to stop  if the matter in hand does not involve important moral choices.But we must not compromise easily .This is easier said than done .