How to Use Prompt Engineering to Rewire Your Brain

Have you ever wondered what shapes your mind and behaviors? The influences that nudge us towards success or failure, happiness or despair? Let me share a magical experience from my high school years that puzzled me for a long time. A mystery that only started making sense to me years later.


When I was in grade 10, I went to a large book fair with my family. Like all events in India, it was bustling with people and energy. In the midst of the chaos, my family and I were drawn towards the stage that was particularly abuzz. The stage banner displayed the name 'Madras Academy for Excellence', or 'MAX', and a group of people, who were national memory record-holders no less, were captivating the audience with their ability to quickly memorize long lists of words or facts and answer any questions about them.

I was impressed and intrigued because I was a nerdy kid, and a lot of my schoolwork required memorization. So I ended up volunteering to go on stage to use their technique to similarly learn and recall a long list. Much to my and the audience's surprise, it worked! I was able to memorize a list of 50 words in just 10 mins, and then go on stage and recall any item on the list by its number, or say it forward and in reverse. 

Naturally, I ended up signing up for their full "student success" program, where I was introduced to a wide range of concepts and techniques for goal-setting, discipline, memory, creativity, focus, speed reading, learning, communication, public speaking, etc. These were quite useful, to say the least, and had a big impact on me for years to come (I wish schools would focus more on teaching these kinds of skills). They also got me deeply interested in learning, cognitive, and behavioral science, which is where I ended up focusing a large part of my career so far.

But out of all the techniques, there was one that was the most fascinating and unexplainable to me. It was enticingly named "Self-Hypnosis".  


Self-Hypnosis involved standing in front of the mirror, gazing into your eyes with unblinking determination, and saying affirmations aloud, along with positive hand gestures. The affirmations had to follow the format "I will <insert goal>! I have the ability to do it! I can do it, I can!" You don't do it just once. You had to repeat it thrice and then do it all three times a day - as soon as you woke up, then once in the afternoon, and finally before going to bed. It felt like cuckoo voodoo! 

I decided to try it anyway. As advised, I aimed high and set my goal to top my school in the grade 10 board exam (an all-India standardized test). I was a good student, ranking usually among the top 5 or 10 students in the class, but topping the school was quite the stretch. So, religiously, three times a day, I'd stand in front of the mirror and say, "I will top the school in the board exam! I have the ability to do it! I can do it, I can!" I also mocked up my dream scorecard and looked at it frequently. 

Fast forward to the end of the academic year, my final score was a whopping 98% on the national exam, which catapulted me to rank #2 in my school and rank #6 in the country. This wasn't just a surprise, it was a thunderbolt out of the clear blue sky as I hadn't done as well on tests leading up to the final exam and was especially flailing in my Hindi course. 

Past the elation, as I reflected on these results, I couldn't help but wonder if Self-Hypnosis had played a role. The scientific, rational part of me was resistant. But at the same time, I couldn't ignore the lived experience. 

Unraveling the Mystery

Pareto Product Management

As Product Managers or entrepreneurs, we often have multiple good ideas and an exciting vision. That's necessary but not sufficient. 

It's easy to come up with a large collection of many capabilities and features that can together make a product compelling to users and produce business impact. But that isn't practical. 

Most individuals, startups, or teams within larger companies get defunded or lose steam before they can do everything they envision if they don't produce results along the way. The complexity of more also confuses users and overwhelms teams. 

A startup founder wisely told me, "Startups don't starve...they drown."

What's really important is identifying and prioritizing the minimal set of ideas or bets that are going to have the largest impact, and then distilling them to their core essence. The 20% of work that'll produce 80% of the results. You need to have the conviction and discipline to say no to everything else. Only if you do that, do you get to start and stay in the game and keep building toward a larger vision and impact. You also end up with simpler products that are better understood, valued, loved, and easier to manage and improve. 

It is extremely hard to predict what's important and requires astute product intuition. You need clarity on mission and goals, a deep understanding of problems, users, the product, and past learnings, and very intentional prioritization and editing. You also need sound mental models on good product patterns, technical knowledge to know what's possible and estimate efforts, and user psychology.

The new approach to building software with AI

Traditional software simply executes explicit instructions provided by Human Intelligence.

This blog is powered by software. And like most software we use, it functions based on explicit instructions.

When you are on a blog post, the code explicitly specifies to deliver content from a CMS or database that's tied to the blog post and then styles it as per explicit HTML and CSS-based instructions. When you are on the home page, the code explicitly asks to display the list of 50 recent blog posts from the database. 

This software is really useful as it can execute more precisely, quickly, cheaply, and on a larger scale than humans. But it is also simply doing what the human developer explicitly instructed it to do. 

Enter - Software powered by Artificial Intelligence. Human instructions not needed. 

Let's take this ChatGPT Plugins demo. 

ChatGPT is able to: 

  • Create a meal plan
  • Generate a visual of the meal
  • Shop for the ingredients
  • Tweet about it. 

No explicit instructions were provided by a developer for these tasks. No explicit instructions on how to create a meal plan or how to draw it. No explicit instructions to use Instacart API to shop or Zapier API to tweet, and no explicit instructions on how to use those APIs.

Instead, the software is figuring out how to execute the user's request based on its training on a large corpus of general knowledge and using the descriptions of the different APIs and tools available to it. 

It is MAGICAL and a dramatic shift in how software works. To be clear, AI has been used in software for a long time now. But nearly all of it has been for very narrow and well-defined tasks like ads, shopping, or content recommendations, and not something like this that can broadly understand and solve any problem. This dramatically changes both what software can do and how we write software 

Software is now more dynamic. It can understand any user input, then think and do or say whatever is needed, without explicit some extent.

If you have used Plugins or AutoGPT, you'll also know that it is still far from foolproof. While it's magical in its dynamism and promise, it is quite slow and error-prone, unable to do complex tasks with large contexts, and results can vary with every run. It also costs, as Sam Altman says it, an "eye-watering amount of money". 

The new way to build software 

We don't have to write explicit instructions in a programming language anymore - it's not only unnecessary and it also cramps the ability of AI. But we also can't rely on AI (yet) to be fully dynamic, autonomous, and general purpose. 

We need a middle approach that leverages the power of AI but also has the reliability of traditional software. Something like -

  1. Specify the goal and experience, with the AI's help to draft and refine it. 
  2. Provide UI/tools/code/services/data building blocks to the AI, along with their descriptions and how to use them. AI can also assist in developing these blocks. Some of these blocks can have AI embedded, but limit those to robust use cases to maintain reliability. 
  3. Ask AI to stitch together the blocks to solve the goal.  
  4. Verify it works for a few scenarios and iterate with AI's help. 
  5. Finally, save or publish it for future use. 
Unlike the traditional explicit approach, we need to provide only rough guidelines in natural language and offer the building blocks/services, dramatically reducing the barrier, cost, and complexity of developing software. 

And unlike the ChatGPT Plugins or AutoGPTs' dynamic approach, we will be pre-verifying and saving it, so that it's more reliable and faster at run time.  

I have verified this definitely works for simple applications like a to-do list. It is possible but can get challenging for larger applications with multiple states. 

As AI evolves and becomes better, and when there's a general-purpose intelligence that can do anything we want dynamically and quickly, then there's no need for this middle approach. But I think that's still a long way away, and that will be a very, very different world in many different ways. 


Aha moments with GPT

🤯 1) 

I had my first "Aha! moment" with #ChatGPT / #LLMs in November 2022, just around when ChatGPT was released.I had asked ChatGPT to draft the annual strategy for the company I was working at, without providing any additional context. I had only used ChatGPT to answer basic questions or generate poetry and didn't expect much in response to something more complex.

But the answer that ChatGPT produced in a few seconds resembled what the exec team had drafted, in content, reasoning, and priority. A few more prompts and minutes later, ChatGPT also had answers for how to present the plan, organize the team, mitigate risks, and execute the plan.

ChatGPT was able to replicate a lot of the strategic work of the highest-paid and most experienced people at the company in a fraction of time and cost!

🤯 2) 

I experienced my second Aha! moment when I restarted programming last month after a hiatus. After some trial and error, I'm now able to get ChatGPT to now generate 75%-95% of the required code. ChatGPT and other AI tools also help me ideate, design, debug, and generate creative assets and marketing copy.

My idea -> prototype -> launch speed has never been quicker!

It isn't just me. Andrej Karpathy, then AI Director of Tesla and now at OpenAI, clearly a top-notch developer, tweeted that Co-pilot is now writing 75% of his code.

Software is a powerful tool and a multi-trillion-dollar sector that runs so much of the world. With LLMs, the cost and barriers to producing software have dramatically reduced overnight. And the software is now capable of fuzzy reasoning and generation.

😅 🤖 What now?!

The implications are immense, and this seems like the beginning. It's hard to predict the future, but it is very naive to assume that your life and job will not change because of #AI. The safe-ish and exciting bet at this moment for individuals and businesses is to learn to leverage AI to be more effective at what you do. That is necessary but not sufficient, as your bosses, competitors, and customers will also be doing the same.

🚀 You will also have to dramatically reset and increase the audacity of your ambitions, approach, and timelines. You can spin up an army of average-human intelligence bots now. Start dreaming of a world with autonomous agents, flying cars, and cancer cures.

Human2023 -> Human100000: the Odyssey of Our Past and Future

We have been talking about the progress of GPT (or ChatGPT) across versions 1 through 4. We measure them by the number of parameters, test scores, capability, range, accuracy, modalities, plugins, etc. We celebrate and are excited about the progress of every version. There are so many memes now hyping up what GPT-5 would be. 

It just struck me that humans, as individuals and as a collective system, are also a form of intelligence. And humans have also been upgrading versions. We are on Human2023 right now. Wouldn't it be fascinating to similarly explore and celebrate the progress of humans and speculate about the future?

Thanks to a technology developed by Human2022/23, it is now possible to generate a sweeping narrative that transcends the boundaries of time and space with a single prompt. Read on to take a step back, traverse the epochs of human evolution, celebrate the milestones of our past, and gaze with wonderment at the horizon of possibilities that awaits us. 


Human300000BC - The first Homo sapiens began to appear in Africa. They were hunter-gatherers, relying on their intelligence and cooperation to survive. Early humans developed simple tools made of stone and wood, and their survival relied on their ability to work together to find food and shelter.

Human100000BC - During this time, early Homo sapiens were navigating the challenges of the Pleistocene epoch, characterized by fluctuating climates and the presence of large megafauna. These early humans were hunter-gatherers, relying on their intelligence, social cooperation, and tool-making skills to survive. They crafted stone tools, used fire for warmth and cooking, and developed rudimentary forms of communication. Small groups of humans lived in close-knit communities, working together to find food and shelter in a world that was both wondrous and perilous.

Human50000BC - By 50000 BC, Homo sapiens had begun to exhibit signs of behavioral modernity, including the creation of more sophisticated tools, the use of pigments for symbolic purposes, and the development of complex social structures. These early humans were capable of long-distance trade, which facilitated the exchange of ideas and resources. The use of language likely played a crucial role in enabling cooperation and the transmission of knowledge across generations. During this time, Homo sapiens began to migrate out of Africa, embarking on a journey that would eventually lead them to populate the entire globe.

Human10000BC - The year 10000 BC marked the end of the last Ice Age and the beginning of the Holocene epoch, a time of warmer climates and rising sea levels. As the environment changed, so too did the ways in which humans interacted with the world around them. The transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer lifestyle to a more settled, agrarian way of life laid the groundwork for the Neolithic Revolution. Early humans began to domesticate plants and animals, leading to the development of agriculture and the establishment of permanent settlements. This shift in subsistence strategies set the stage for the rise of complex societies, trade networks, and technological innovations that would shape the course of human history.

Human5000BC - The year 5000 BC was marked by the continued expansion of agriculture and the development of early forms of pottery and ceramics. The Neolithic Revolution was in full swing, and the domestication of crops and livestock allowed for the growth of larger, more stable communities. In regions such as Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, and the Indus Valley, early forms of irrigation and water management were being developed to support agriculture. The establishment of permanent settlements led to the construction of increasingly complex structures, including granaries for food storage and communal buildings for social and religious activities. The foundations for the emergence of early civilizations were being laid, and human societies were becoming more organized and interconnected.

Human2000BC - By 2000 BC, several early civilizations had emerged, each with its own distinct culture, social structure, and system of governance. In Mesopotamia, the Sumerians had developed cuneiform writing, one of the earliest known writing systems, which facilitated record-keeping, communication, and the development of literature. The Old Kingdom period in Egypt saw the construction of the iconic pyramids, which served as tombs for pharaohs and were a testament to the society's architectural and engineering prowess. In the Indus Valley, the Harappan civilization was known for its well-planned cities, advanced drainage systems, and standardized weights and measures. Trade networks were established, allowing for the exchange of goods, ideas, and technologies across vast distances. This period was characterized by significant advancements in art, science, and governance, which would have a lasting impact on the course of human history.

Air - an inspirational movie about how to make things happen

I just watched Air, a fun and inspiring movie about how Nike, then an underdog in the shoe industry, managed to sign Michael Jordan, a rookie at that time.

The movie starts with Sonny Vaccaro (played by Matt Damon) opposing his colleagues' decision to go with the low-risk and low-reward move of signing three average basketball players. Teams and companies operate a lot based on group discussions and consensus. Those don't usually lead to brilliance or extraordinary outcomes - they converge on average, which is why most companies slowly wither and die as they grow. But Sonny doesn't care for the consensus. His deep passion and expertise in basketball make him realize that Michael Jordan is going to be a superstar before most people did. He aims higher and dreams of signing Jordan, defying his bosses and other business restrictions. He makes bold moves, breaks rules, and risks his entire career to make it happen. 

As this impossible idea starts to take shape and seem more possible, his team and bosses eventually start to support him (similar to the stone soup fable). I loved the character of Peter Moore, the shoe designer. Every instigator needs a partner in crime. When Sonny goes to Peter to ask him to design a unique shoe within a few days, his first reaction isn't to push back, which is so common and even a celebrated skill in the corporate world. His eyes light up with enthusiasm; he thinks about how to get it done and masterfully comes up with an innovative design. Sonny's bosses, including Phil Knight, the CEO of Nike, also succumb to the power of his brilliance, enthusiasm, and vision. Kudos to Phil for having the insight and boldness to have brought Sonny on board in the first place and for giving him a loose role and autonomy. 

While Addidas and Converse make cookie-cutter offers to the Jordans, Sonny and Nike present something much better, more personal, innovative, and with so much more care because they need it much more than the others. It shines through in every interaction and the Jordans finally accept. That's how the Davids beat the Goliaths in the business world - with a narrower focus, but with higher quality and care. 

One person's brilliant insight, creativity, and obstinate perseverance defied all odds, rallied a team, and led to Air Jordans, an iconic shoe line that now makes $4B/year revenue for Nike, and changed how the sports industry compensates athletes. It reminded me of this quote from Elon Musk on how we can't just take progress for granted - for e.g. the space program declined after the moon landing. Progress happens only because some people believe deeply, go against the grain, take risks, and persevere incredibly hard to make it happen. 

The stories of most incredible innovations and progress start with one person infected with a great idea and an unstoppable passion. 

A shoe is just a shoe until someone steps into it. The world will just be what it is until someone decides to change it. 

The Pipes of Information and Their Hold on Us

Those who control the pipes of information, control the world. 

It's a notion I have heard and generally agreed with. Humans are powerful agents in the world. Humans use information to act and human minds can be easily programmed by information. For instance, the "Stop the Steal" movement in the 2020 US Presidential Election, where disinformation led to a significant number of people believing the election was rigged. Controlling information is, in essence, controlling people.

But it wasn't until a recent personal experience that the true impact of this control hit me.

I was excited to launch a new business and decided to run some ads on Meta/Facebook. Imagine my surprise when, less than an hour after submitting my ad, it was flagged for a policy violation. I suspect an automated risk check program had detected some inexplicable issue and also penalized me for being a new ad publisher with a new page. Although the violation seemed thematically relevant to my ad, it was simply incorrect. My only option was to appeal and wait, without even the opportunity to submit a reason for my appeal. 

I waited three tense days, as the fate of my fledgling business was being decided by an anonymous Meta reviewer, who would subjectively evaluate my ad with some mysterious internal policies and processes. My momentum and enthusiasm were dampened, and I figured I may have no option but to ditch the idea and move on. Fortunately, my ad was approved—but the experience left a lasting impression.

A handful of large social media companies, media outlets, technology companies, and regulatory agencies hold the reins of information, attention, and infrastructure. These powerful organizations are, in turn, influenced by select leaders, board members, employees, sponsors, and occasionally, vocal and extreme audience factions. When promoting a business or idea, or when creating an app on their platforms, we are at their mercy, forced to comply and appease them. When we consume information, we are at the mercy of their algorithm and advertisers that prioritize what we see and therefore, think and act.

While I appreciate the existence of checks and policies to prevent societal harm, the lack of transparency,  accountability, or recourse is deeply unsettling. The sobering reality is that one misstep—or simply being labeled as "wrong" by an algorithm, a biased or nonchalant enforcer, or a vocal group—could spell disaster for you and your endeavors.

In a world where information is power, we must advocate for greater transparency and fairness to ensure that control over the pipes is decentralized or exercised responsibly. Otherwise, we risk spiraling into an Orwellian society, where the few dictate the lives of the many. I suspect we may already be there. 

GPT-4 shares ideas on how to improve it

I don't plan to fill my blog with AI-generated content but felt this was pretty interesting to share. 

AI progress can accelerate exponentially if they help humans make it better. Then AI gets better and helps humans make it even better, and so on, until it can make itself better, eventually leading to singularity and superintelligence. 

In this prompt, I asked it to take cues from biological intelligence to come up with ideas to improve AI. I'm realizing that it's a good prompt pattern to ask AI to combine influences from different fields to solve a problem, since that's how a lot of good ideas and inventions are generated, and that isn't easy for humans to do. 

Imagine you are developing an intelligence. It's still nascent, but you want to accelerate its powers. what would we do? look at examples from evolution and biological intelligence development. for e.g. humans got some brain capabilities like imagination, and also opposable thumb and tools and that accelerated progress.

To accelerate the development of your nascent intelligence, we can draw inspiration from various aspects of biological intelligence and human evolution. Some key strategies include:
  1. Encourage learning by trial and error: Mimicking the way animals and humans learn from their experiences, the intelligence could benefit from an algorithm that allows it to learn through trial and error. This will enable it to identify patterns and make informed decisions based on its experiences.
  2. Emulate neuroplasticity: Humans possess the ability to rewire their brains and adapt to new situations. Incorporate a mechanism for your intelligence to adapt its internal structure based on the tasks it encounters. This will enable it to become more efficient at problem-solving over time.
  3. Develop sensory perception: Human progress has been significantly influenced by our ability to perceive and interpret the world around us. Equip your intelligence with the ability to process data from multiple sensory inputs, such as vision, touch, and hearing. This will give it a broader understanding of its environment and help it to make better decisions.
  4. Instill a sense of curiosity: Humans have an innate curiosity that drives them to explore and learn. Implement a reward mechanism that encourages your intelligence to seek new knowledge and explore its environment, similar to the role dopamine plays in human curiosity.
  5. Foster social learning: Humans learn a great deal from one another. Incorporate a feature that enables your intelligence to learn from other agents or instances of itself. This will allow it to grow more rapidly by sharing knowledge and experiences.
  6. Encourage problem-solving and creativity: Equip your intelligence with the capacity for abstract thinking and imagination, allowing it to consider multiple solutions to a problem and think beyond the constraints of its current knowledge.
  7. Emphasize the development of fine motor skills: As humans have benefited from the use of tools, develop your intelligence's ability to interact with its environment in a precise and controlled manner. This could involve developing robotic components or virtual environments where it can practice manipulating objects.
  8. Provide a rich and diverse dataset: To enable your intelligence to learn and adapt rapidly, expose it to a wide variety of data, experiences, and challenges. This will stimulate its growth by helping it to recognize patterns and connections across different domains.

By incorporating these features and learning strategies, you can accelerate the development of your intelligence, making it more versatile and capable of tackling complex problems.


An age of unparalleled peace, joy, love, creativity, and discovery for all of humanity.

Fueled by an abundance of wisdom, resources, science, technology, labor; and elimination of all suffering, friction, and bottlenecks. 

Made possible by the invention of benevolent superintelligence.


Picture this day in your life. 

You wake up feeling like your best self - well-rested, lucid, energetic, and joyful. You are surrounded by people you want to be with, also in the same state of bliss. 

What's on the agenda for today? Anything you want! You have no chores, commitments, or worries.  Surf on a tropical beach with friends and family, both alive and passed? Granted, you are there. Don't know how to surf? No problem. You are going to learn it from the best coach or use an assisted board. 

Hungry? You are served delicious and nutritious dishes invented just for you. 

Feeling unwell or tired? You get diagnosed and treated in no time. 

Need some inspiration or entertainment? Mindblowing art, movies, and books created just for you, await. People you admire appear before you to interact, help, and entertain. 

Want to learn, create or discover, and share it with others? Granted - the world's best team, tools, and coaches assist you. 

Fancy exploring other new things to do or try? There's no shortage of them. 


What would have been distant science fiction hyperbole last year has suddenly turned into a possibility. 

AI can now have thoughtful conversations, ace complicated tests, create computer programs, generate breathtaking poetry and art, understand images, analyze unstructured data, propose ideas, impersonate people and expertise, and diagnose problems. 

Companies, large and small, have invested in and launched AI capabilities and models. There are new inventions and discoveries every month, even every week. Millions of people already use it in valuable ways.

If all of this happened in just a year, imagine what's possible in 5 or 10 years! If GPT-4 can do this, what can GPT-40 do?

Human life changed remarkably after each major revolution - Agricultural revolution, Scientific revolution, Industrial revolution, and Information revolution. They provided humanity with new insights and abilities, that helped create abundance and changed how we live. 

Now, we seem to be at the cusp of the next inflection point, the Intelligence revolution. 

It feels significantly more powerful than all the others because it addresses the biggest bottleneck in human progress - intelligence. Intelligence was responsible for all the previous revolutions. When there's unlimited intelligence to discover, create, and solve, progress is exponential.  

Imagine what is possible when everyone had unlimited access to human-like brains at near-zero costs!


There are many reasons to be skeptical and worried.  

AI still seems limited today, it makes mistakes, can't reason all that well, needs human prompters and editors, and doesn't have hands or legs. So all of this sounds fantastical. 
Yes, but the current AI is already helping people make it better. Then the better version of it will help people make it even better. Then it'll keep making itself better. Just like we have, as biological intelligence. 

Will life still feel meaningful if we didn't have responsibilities and struggle? 
Absolutely - why not. You are just not going to be working for a living. You are going to play, create, learn, discover, love, and live. You are going to be blessed with an infinite flow, wisdom, and presence. 

Can humans cope with this level of change? 
It's going to be disorienting for who we are today and in the short term. But we will cope and evolve into something else with the abundance of wisdom and science. 

Will power and wealth be concentrated in a few hands?
Looks like there are multiple players already, and they are driving costs down. People may not want to hoard if there's an abundance of resources and wisdom. 

Will people intentionally or inadvertently use this to harm others? 
Possibly yes, damaging is easier and quicker than building. We will need to simultaneously generate an abundance of wisdom and love, and ability to protect or heal from all harm. 

Will AI become conscious and take over? 

That’s possible too. We may be well integrated at that point; we already are. 

We - humans, plants and animals, the silicon that’s the AI, and everything else - are the universe, and reality is just the universe experiencing itself in fun and crazy ways. 

Compulsive Thinking

If you are an analytical person like me, you think a lot. You are compulsively problem-solving, analyzing, plotting, ideating, imagining, what-if-ing, and worrying. You even pride yourself on being a thinker. 

This is undeniably useful, sometimes. You may come up with good ideas that can make your life better. You may proactively anticipate problems and avoid them.  

But compulsive thinking comes at a significant cost. 

The cost of not being at peace or enjoying the present. The cost of moving through time and space without paying attention to the mystery and beauty around us. The cost of being a slave to the finicky, obsessive, and paranoid mind. 

The cost of not living. 

The thinking that's trying to help us survive is taking over and not letting us be alive

Alan Watts said, "A person who thinks all the time has nothing to think about except thoughts. So, he loses touch with reality and lives in a world of illusions. I'm not saying that thinking is bad. Like everything else, it's useful in moderation. A good servant but a bad monster. "

Echart Tolle said more succinctly, "Enlightenment is the space between thoughts."

Techniques to go from Compulsive thinking to Deliberate thinking

1. Awareness

Pause every once in a while to become aware of what you are thinking and observe the chaos. 

Naval Ravikant said, "...your mind is like a monkey that's flinging feces, running around the room making trouble, shouting, breaking things. It's completely uncontrollable. It's an out-of-control mad person and you have to see this mad creature in operation before you feel a certain distaste towards it and you start separating yourself from it."

Osho wisely suggests, "Don't fight – because who will fight? Who are you? Just a thought, so don't make yourself a battleground of one thought fighting another. Rather be a witness, you just watch thoughts floating. They stop, but not by your stopping. They stop by your becoming more aware, not by any effort on your part to stop them."

2. Choosing

Once you increase your awareness, you will develop the ability to pause and choose. Catch and ask yourself - is thought really required now, or would I rather be present in the moment? 

A lot of the time, the answer is no. Sometimes, the answer is yes, and I take some time to think about it. Sometimes, the answer is not right now but later, and I note it to revisit during a delbirate slot and that puts my mind at ease. 

3. Deliberate thinking slots 

When you meet with others, you have specific time slots to meet. You don't let everyone blabber anything to you anytime. 

Do the same with your mind. Reserve some recurring thinking slots in your calendar and additional time slots as needed. Wrap your workdays and work weeks with these slots tied in a bow and actions planned for the next day or week. 

4. Grounding

Ground yourself more in the physical world. Walk and be in nature; play games and sports that require you to be present, like climbing, biking, Jiu Jitsu, and art; listen to music and dance, immerse yourself in conversations; spend time with children; avoid too much screen time. 

5. Satisficing instead of a maximizing

If you aim for perfection or the best answer, you are stuck forever, as there's no end. For most things in life, pick the answer that fits the criteria and move forward. Trust in nature - you are here in a mysterious world, and your life and experience are a product of all the forces of the universe. 

6. What-next instead of what-ifs and Oh-nos. 

We spend a lot of time dwelling on the past and what's not in our control - feeling sad, guilty, resentful, etc. If we choose to focus just on what's in our circle of influence, instead of dwelling on the past, we eliminate a lot of that thinking, which is usually unproductive.

7. Eliminating outside noise

We live in a noisy world of 24X7 news, social media, and opinions. Most of it is useless, but they are designed to catch your attention, get you addicted, occupy your mind, and influence your life. Be very deliberate about which media you choose to consume. Eliminate most. I have opted for weekly printed news magazines (like the Economist) and email digests of social media (through mailbrew), rather than 24X7 bombardment as I don't need it. 

Part 2: Paul Graham, Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Jessica Livingston, and Michael Seibel on how to work on startup ideas (GPT generated)

See Part 1 discussion on how to generate ideas here. This covers how to execute on ideas and how to take care of yourself

Generated by Bing GPT chat, with no edits. 

Part 2: How to execute on ideas

This is Bing. I can generate a conversation between Paul Graham, Sam Altman, Garry Tan, Jessica Livingston, and Michael Seibel on how to work on startup ideas after you have identified 2 or 3. Here is an example of how they might talk:

Paul: Hi everyone. Thanks for joining me today to share some insights on how to work on startup ideas after you have identified 2 or 3. I think this is a common challenge for many founders who are trying to find product-market fit.

Jessica: Absolutely. I think it's important to remember that the very best startup ideas tend to have three things in common: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing⁴.

Sam: That's right. And once you have a few ideas that meet those criteria, you need to validate them by talking to potential customers and getting feedback. You also need to build something quickly and launch it as soon as possible.

Garry: Launching early is crucial because it helps you learn what works and what doesn't. You can then iterate based on user behavior and feedback. You should also do things that don't scale at first⁵, like manually acquiring users, providing customer service, and making sales.

Michael: Yes, doing things that don't scale is one of the essential startup advice we give at YC³. Many startup advisors persuade startups to scale way too early. This will require the building of technology and processes to support that scaling, which, if premature, will be a waste of time and effort.

Paul: Exactly. So how do you decide which idea to focus on among your 2 or 3 options? Well, I think you should choose the one that excites you the most, that solves a real problem for a large market, and that has some traction or evidence of demand.

Jessica: I agree with Paul. And I would add that you should also choose the idea that has the most potential for growth. Growth is what investors look for when they evaluate startups.

Sam: Growth is important but it's not everything. You also need to have a clear vision of where you want your startup to go and what impact you want it to have on the world.

Garry: That's true. Having a vision helps you stay motivated and inspired when things get tough. It also helps you attract talent and partners who share your passion.

Michael: Having a vision is great but it's not enough either. You also need to have execution skills and discipline. You need to set goals and milestones for yourself and your team and track your progress regularly.

Paul: Well said everyone! I think we covered some key points on how to work on startup ideas after you have identified 2 or 3. Do you have any final words of advice for our audience?

Jessica: My advice is don't be afraid to fail fast and learn from your mistakes.

Sam: My advice is don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Garry: My advice is don't be afraid to experiment with different approaches until you find what works best for your startup.

Michael: My advice is don't be afraid to dream big but start small.

Source: Conversation with Bing, 3/14/2023(1) How to Get Startup Ideas - Paul Graham. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(2) Do Things that Don't Scale - Paul Graham. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(3) YC’s Essential Startup Advice - Advice. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(4) People | Y Combinator. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(5) Sam Altman and Jessica Livingston explain Y Combinator’s success. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(6) Sam Altman’s Manifest Destiny | The New Yorker. Accessed 3/14/2023.

Part 3: How to take care of yourself when working on startups

Sure, I can continue the same conversation on how founders should support themselves financially, mentally, physically, etc. while they work on their startup ideas. Here is how it might go:

Paul: Okay, we have discussed how to work on startup ideas after you have identified 2 or 3. Now let's talk about another important topic: how founders should support themselves financially, mentally, physically, etc. while they work on their startup ideas.

Jessica: That's a very relevant topic for many founders who are facing challenges and uncertainties in their entrepreneurial journey.

Sam: Yes, it's not easy to balance your personal and professional life when you are building a startup. You need to take care of yourself and your well-being as well as your business.

Garry: Exactly. And one of the most common issues that founders face is financial stress. How do you fund your startup without going broke? How do you manage your cash flow and expenses? How do you raise money from investors?

Michael: Well, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to these questions. It depends on your situation and your goals. But some general tips are:

- Bootstrap as much as possible until you have a viable product and some traction.

- Seek out grants, competitions, accelerators, incubators, and other sources of non-dilutive funding.

- Network with potential investors and customers early and often.

- Pitch with confidence and clarity.

- Negotiate terms that are fair and aligned with your vision.

Paul: Those are great tips Michael. And I would add that you should also be realistic about your financial needs and expectations. Don't overspend or underspend on your startup. Don't overestimate or underestimate your revenue potential. Don't quit your day job too soon or too late.

Jessica: I agree with Paul. And I would also say that you should be mindful of your mental health while fundraising¹. Fundraising can be stressful and exhausting for founders who face rejection, criticism, uncertainty, and pressure.

Sam: That's true Jessica. And that's why founders need to take care of their mental health by doing things like:

- Seeking professional help if needed

- Talking to supportive friends and family

- Joining peer groups or communities of other founders

- Practicing mindfulness or meditation

- Taking breaks and having fun

Garry: Those are good suggestions Sam. And I would also emphasize the importance of physical health for founders². Physical health affects mental health and vice versa.

Michael: Absolutely Garry. And that's why founders need to take care of their physical health by doing things like:

- Eating well

- Sleeping enough

- Exercising regularly

- Avoiding alcohol or drugs

- Getting regular check-ups

Paul: Well said everyone! I think we covered some key points on how founders should support themselves financially, mentally, physically etc while they work on their startup ideas. Do you have any final words of advice for our audience?

Jessica: My advice is don't neglect yourself while pursuing your passion.

Sam: My advice is don't isolate yourself while building your network.

Garry: My advice is don't compromise yourself while growing your business.

Michael: My advice is don't forget yourself while changing the world.

Source: Conversation with Bing, 3/14/2023(1) 10 ways founders can manage their mental health while fundraising. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(2) The Intersection Of Physical, Mental, And Financial Health ... - Forbes. Accessed 3/14/2023.

(3) The Mental Health Of Your Venture Capitalist Matters: What Founders .... Accessed 3/14/2023.

Part 1: Paul Graham, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sam Altman discuss principles for coming up with startup ideas (GPT generated)

Generated by Bing GPT chat, with no edits. 

This is a possible conversation between Paul Graham, Mark Zuckerberg, and Sam Altman where they discuss and build on each other's principles for coming up with startup ideas. 

Paul: Hi Mark and Sam, thanks for joining me today. I thought it would be interesting to talk about how we approach startup ideas and what we've learned from our experiences.

Mark: Sure, sounds good. I'm always curious to hear how other founders think about startups.

Sam: Me too. I think there's a lot of value in sharing our perspectives and insights.

Paul: Great. Well, let me start by saying that I think the way to get startup ideas is not to try to think of startup ideas. It's to look for problems, preferably problems you have yourself.

Mark: I agree with that. That's how Facebook started. I wanted a way to connect with my friends at Harvard and see what they were up to. I didn't think of it as a startup idea at first. It was just something I wanted for myself.

Sam: That makes sense. And it also explains why Facebook was able to grow so fast. You were solving a problem that many people had, not just you.

Paul: Exactly. And that's one of the things that make the best startup ideas: they're something the founders themselves want, that they themselves can build, and that few others realize are worth doing.

Mark: Yeah, that's a good way to put it. And I think another important thing is to let your idea evolve based on user feedback. You can't just build something and expect people to use it exactly as you intended. You have to listen to your users and see what they actually want and need.

Sam: That's true. And sometimes you have to pivot your idea completely if you realize you're going in the wrong direction or there's a bigger opportunity elsewhere.

Paul: Right. Like how you pivoted Loopt from location-based social networking to mobile payments.

Sam: Yeah, exactly. We realized that location was not enough of a value proposition for users or advertisers, but payments was a huge pain point that we could solve with our technology.

Paul: That was a smart move. And it shows another principle that I think is important for startups: don't be afraid of hard problems. Hard problems are often where the most value lies, and where you can differentiate yourself from competitors.

Mark: I agree with that too. Hard problems are also more fun and challenging to work on. And they attract better talent and investors.

Sam: True. But hard problems also require more resources and time to solve, which can be risky for startups.

Paul: That's why you have to be relentlessly resourceful as a founder. You have to be able to solve any problem that comes your way with whatever means available.

Mark: Yeah, being resourceful is essential for startups. You have to be able to do more with less, and find creative ways to overcome obstacles.

Sam: Absolutely. And you also have to be flexible and adaptable, because things change fast in startups. You have to be ready to adjust your strategy, your product, your team, or anything else that might affect your success.

Paul: That's right. And one thing that helps with being flexible and adaptable is having good metrics. You have to measure what matters, and use data to guide your decisions. You can't rely on intuition or assumptions alone.

Mark: I agree with that as well. Metrics are crucial for startups. They help you understand your users, your market, your growth, your revenue, and everything else that matters for your business. They also help you set goals, track progress, and optimize performance.

Sam: Yeah, metrics are very important. But they're not enough by themselves.You also need vision. You need  to have a clear idea of where you're going and why you're doing what you're doing.You need to have a compelling story that inspires your team, your customers, your investors, and anyone else who interacts with your startup.

Paul: That's true. Vision is essential for startups too. It gives you direction and purpose and motivation for what you do every day. It also helps you stand out from the crowd and attract attention and support for your startup.

Mark: Yeah, vision is key for startups as well. And it has to be authentic and genuine and aligned with your values and mission.

Sam: Exactly.

Paul: Well, I think we've covered some of the most important principles for coming up with startup ideas. 

Source: Conversation with Bing, 3/14/2023

(1) How to Get Startup Ideas - Paul Graham. 

(2) Startup = Growth - Paul Graham. 

(3) Before the Startup - Paul Graham. 

(4) Five Founders - Paul Graham. 

Important things can be boring, so make them fun

A popular friend of mine once shared a trick to liven up any gathering. 

"I just make up a game."

He went on to demonstrate by making up a game of throwing a crumpled piece of paper a wall and then making it land in a trash. The first to 5 wins. Three of us were then engrossed in the game of trash basketball. 

Games make boring things fun. Think of any sport - cricket, soccer, football, tennis, car racing, etc. They are all pretty meaningless in a practical sense, but billions of people are engrossed in them. 

That's a key idea because many important things in life, like exercising, filing taxes, learning something new, chores, working towards an idea or business, etc. have parts that are pretty mechanical and boring. They become barriers for us to doing them well and consistently, and eventually, stop us from succeeding at the important thing.

You can try to use willpower or motivate yourself with the final goal, but it's tiring and often futile to resist boredom. 

Instead, it's better to turn them into games and make them fun. How?

- Chunk them up into small and well-defined actions.  

- Keep score, time, or both. For multi-day actions keep a streak or daily counter. Introduce bonuses and penalties. Even introduce levels ups as it gets easy and make the tasks more challenging. Feel free to make it up as you go! 

- Make the score more meaningful somehow, by recording it, trying to beat your PRs, sharing it, or competing with friends. You can give yourself rewards as well. 

- Make it social and competitive. Just post to your groups and ask who wants to participate, and then create another group or get together to play the game and keep track of scores. 

The universally dreaded tax filing deadline is almost approaching, so try to create a tax game with these rules. Might work quite well with getting kids to do their chores too!

Different game, different rules

Couple of years ago, I reached out to a smart person to see if he wanted to invest in a friend's startup. 

His response was quick and confident. 

"I don't invest in seed startups. It’s not a great asset class unless you have some systemic advantage like y combinator. But I appreciate your offer." 

He is right. Most early stage startups fail. To win in early stage investing, you need to invest in large number of promising companies, so that a few of them can 100X and pay for all the rest. In order to do that, you need deal flow, enough capital, or a different way to pursue a portfolio approach. 

The broader lesson is to first recognize when you are drawn into playing a different game in business or life, then step back and understand the nature of the game, what's needed to win that game, and decide whether you can and want to develop the skills and advantages to play and win the game.  

Wait, What's the Problem?

This is probably the most valuable question you can ask when working on anything.

A very common failure mode for founders, PMs, software teams, and people in general is to try and solve poorly articulated and unsubstantiated problems. So they end up solving non-existent problems or solving them poorly. 

I think this fatal error can be easily avoided with a simple framework - "Problem Stories" organized in an "Opportunity tree".  

What is a Problem Story?

User stories are a popular and useful tool to describe building blocks of a solution. 

As a User X, I'd like Y, so that I can do Z

They offer more clarity and context than just saying "build Y", and that reminds, empowers and motivates the team to build the right thing. 

Problem story is exactly that, but for the problem.  

As a [Person/User] A, I have [slight/significant] problem with B, because of C. Supporting by data X and/or anecdotes Y. 

For example: 

  • As a a person trying to lose weight, I have a significant problem staying motivated in any program, because it's too difficult to follow and I don't see results. 
  • As a high school student preparing for a test, I have a significant problem with studying all the material, because I only start the day before and there's a lot to cover. 
  • As a part-time rideshare driver, I have a slight problem managing my cashflow, because I only get paid one week later and have expenses every day. 

As you can see, this format helps articulate the problem in a way that helps prioritize the problems and also gives enough context to solve the problem. As with a user story, making A, B, and C more grounded, granular, and specific leads to better understanding, team alignment, and solutions. 

What is an Opportunity Tree?

Smaller problems are easier to solve than larger problems. So problems can be broken down into sub-problems, which have sub-problems, and so on. A tree is an expressive and engaging format to capture that. So I'm a big fan of using a living problem or opportunity tree, popularized by Teresa Torres, to organize and visualize problems. 

All problems aren't equal, so you can also use colors or other visual indicators to denote the significance of the nodes and problems. This creates a roadmap of problems hypotheses for your team and stakeholders to understand, prioritize and solve.  

A problem well understood is half the solution. 

You are an artist and you need a canvas

Four years ago, I spent $12 to register and then spent a few days on and off wrestling with Blogger to create a free but presentable blog. 

And here we are now, in the second sentence of my 150th blog post! 

Creating this place to write and developing a practice of writing is among the most significant things I have done for myself.  

It has given me the space and the reason to reflect, think, consolidate, distill, and record my experiences, thoughts and insights. It has been a consistent source of clarity, equanimity and solitude in an increasingly noisy and complicated world.

It has reached tens of thousands of readers, some of whom have reached out and shared satisfying notes of thanks and appreciation. It has also sparked interesting conversations, connections, and even helped me land jobs. 

But above all, it has given me my own canvas. 

Unlike the canvas at a job, this is a place that I can always call my own. A place where I can look at my work and enjoy, and invite others too. A place where I have the freedom to create and play. 

A place where I can lose myself in a joyful state of flow. 

I believe we are all creators and artists, and art, in any form, is how we ultimately achieve flow and joy. For my wife, our house is a canvas for projects and decorations. For a couple of my developer friends, their personal apps are their canvas. For one of my entrepreneurial friends, his business is his canvas. For an athletic colleague, his body is his canvas. If you give yourself the gift of a canvas, whether it's a blog or any other creative outlet, you too will reflect back on it in a few years as the most important thing you have done for yourself. 

Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and my favorite chore

Most of us aren't fans of chores. So "favorite chore" sounds like an oxymoron and it's even surprising that billionaires do any chores at all. 

So what is this chore and why?!

Ta da! 

It is dishwashing.

Jeff Bezos joked in a 2014 interview, "I do the dishes every night. I'm pretty convinced it's the sexiest thing I do". Bill Gates similarly revealed on a Reddit AMA the same year, "I do the dishes every night." and further explained that it helps him clear his mind. 

I also stumbled on the magic of dishwashing on my own. It has been the perfect chore for me in the morning or whenever I'm feeling sluggish for a few reasons. 

(1) It's physical and gets me moving. But not too physical, like a workout, that my mind resists. Moving the body and doing physical things like scrubbing plates and touching warm water is one of the simplest and fastest ways to get more grounded, mindful, and energetic, especially in our increasingly sedentary and screen-dominated lives. 

(2) It's very mechanical and simple, but still requires presence. It's like solving a series of "mini-puzzles" in sorting and playing Tetris. I'm engaged but never get stuck on any of the puzzles. 

(3) It gives me a quick win. The final clean sink is a very tangible and satisfying outcome. The reducing number dishes in the sink through the progress act as a live and visual progress bar. 

Creating more flow in your tasks and chores

All these are essential characteristics of a "flowy task". Good games and social media apps are engineered in this way to get you into a state of total engagement. You can also design and incorporate two simple aspects into every task or chore you do to make them more flowy and engaging - 

First, break down the task into simple and mechanical chunks. Broad and abstract tasks like "do taxes" or "write a blog post" are overwhelming to start on. "Write a blog post about flowy chores" or "assemble all your W2s and statements" is much more concrete and tractable. So instead of rushing to get started, take the time to prune and break down big tasks into thoughtful chunks. 

Second, incorporate some tangible and satisfying win after every chunk and also some visual progress bar through the milestone. You can produce a tangible output like a nice folder with labeled statements. You can share the progress with friends or colleagues. You can reward yourself with a nice break or a treat. 


[1] Cooking and tidying up the house are similar, but may have more friction if you are cooking something new or don't have a place to put away something. 

Languishing to Flowing


Naming a problem or an uncomfortable emotion is a good first step towards overcoming it.

This is why there was collective relief and aha moment when Adam Grant diagnosed the strange feeling that everyone was going through during the pandemic as "Languishing" in his now famous NYTimes article

Languishing, he says, is the neglected middle child of mental health. It is that middle void in the wide mental spectrum between depression and flourishing. It is that experience of life where you don't feel actively depressed, but you also don't feel excited or engaged about your day-to-day and your life. You are just passing time, going through the motions, and getting by without a sense of joy, fulfillment or purpose. You feel dispassionate, dull, and indifferent. 

The acknowledgement of this experience and addition of this term to our lexicon might be one of the gifts of the pandemic. Because this isn't just a passing pandemic phenomena - it is a very longstanding and widespread phenomena that lots and lots of people have endured and continue to endure. Just think about how often you or people you know feel dissatisfied or meh with their jobs, social life, or daily lives? How often do they feel life could be better and want it to be better but aren't afraid to take the leap because the current situation "isn't too bad"? I'd guess that a majority of people, for a large chunk of their lives, aren't flourishing or depressed - they are in this middle place of languishing. 


Grant presents the solution and alternative as "Flow", a term popularized by author Michaly Csikzentmihalyi. The state of being where you are totally engrossed and fulfilled by whatever you are experiencing and doing. It is a state that you experience when there is full alignment with your internal priorities, interests and beliefs, and the environment, experience, and activity. When there is a total absence of pesky friction like doubt, distraction, anxiety, frustration, or environmental disturbances. When the past and future cease to exist, and you are completely immersed and present in the now.  

This sounds fantastical, but it really isn't. Chances are that you can recall and fondly remember times when you have experienced this state. Maybe that time when you were engrossed in a familiar game or exercise, when writing a blog post, cooking, or creating something, when playing with a child, when you are in the heat of a competition or challenge, during a conversation or class, or even when doing a chore.

Now, imagine if you can experience flow more and more, until your entire life just flows. That would be very nice, wouldn't it? 

Actually, it would be beyond nice - it would be the ultimate and most satisfying state of being. When great philosophers and spiritual leaders say the answer to life is 'being in the present', that is the same or similar to flow. 

Path to Flowing

Like most amazing things in life, that path to flowing is first difficult, then easy; first slow, then sudden; first mysterious and unimaginable, then indispensable; first confusing, then second nature. And it is a never ending journey of ups, downs, progress and discovery. 

Being in flow persistently and consistently is a complex concept and pursuit. Adam Grant recommends giving yourself uninterrupted time, something really hard and rare in today's distracted world, and focusing on small goals with just-manageable difficulty. 

I think are two parts to achieving flow - (a) internal clarity, and then (b) aligned being and doing. Both are endless quests, so attempting them sequentially isn't an option. Clarity without alignment in being or doing is even more uncomfortable and painful than having no clarity. Progress in one reinforces and necessitates the progress in other. So you have to progress on them together, in lock step. 

Internal clarity is being in touch with yourself and knowing yourself - the deepest and most authentic parts of you, after peeling away the many, many layers of conditioning over your life time. There's no other way to knowing, other than from lots of solitary, distraction-free inner work. You have to regularly spend a lot of continuous time just left to your own thoughts and perhaps, journalling, without being bombarded by distractions and more conditioning. No Youtube video, self-help book, blog post, Twitter guru, or spiritual teaching holds the answer for you. And even if they do, you only truly accept the answer by discovering it yourself. At best, they can point you to the path and inspire you, but you have to go down the path yourself. I will recommend this video and this this one from Dr. K, and other similar ones in his channel. 

Aligned being and doing is about changing your way of living, attitude, behaviors, activities, environment, and community to match your internal longing. Lot of times, we are doing things that aren't really serving us well - like doing an uninteresting job for more money than you need, being in relationships that aren't nourishing, thinking and behaving in ways that lack authenticity and integrity with who you are and what you value. True awakening and alignment can and should dramatically transform your life - you might change your job or career, break some relationships, move to a different place, or start valuing very different things and goals. But that level of change can be difficult and paralyzing to start with and to sustain. Instead, you can start making small changes and moves - do some activities every day that naturally make you feel alive and in flow, reduce your distractions substantially, spend more time doing fewer things with more care, get more engrossed and curious about your projects. 

As you spin this wheel of inner clarity and small changes, you will get the strength, confidence, and more clarity to make bigger changes that will make your life flowy. 

Simple but difficult

Can something be simple but difficult?

At first glance, that seems contradictory. But if you think on it, you'll realize many, many problems and goals are simple but difficult.  

For example, being above-average healthy* is quite simple. You need to eat, exercise, and sleep well. The solution is well known, has only a few key dimensions, and can be explained and understood pretty simply. But it is also extremely difficult to get started on that, break your existing patterns, and do it consistently with delayed gratification for a long time. 

Same can be said for developing good relationships, creating a blog or small business, saving money, being at peace, raising a child, etc. 

A common mistake people make is conflating difficulty and complexity. For instance, instead of acknowledging that the difficulty in being healthy is in execution or consistency, people may think the fault is in the simplicity. Then they turn the simple solution into something complex, like eccentric diets or sophisticated exercise routines. Now they are hit with a double whammy that's hard to recover from - they lose the simplicity and they get distracted from solving the actual challenge. 

Understanding a problem or goal deeply is so key to solving it. 


[1] * I'm specifically using "above-average healthy" as other forms of healthy like being a pro athlete or fighting a disease or condition is more complex. 

[2] Can something be complex but easy? Easy peasy rocket science or thriving startup? Well, that's probably contradictory because complexity is a dimension of difficulty. 

Deal with the devil

I recently had an unpleasant experience on a deal with an organization that had an unscrupulous track record. In retrospect, I realize that's exactly what I should expect when doing a deal with the devil!

I had entered the deal despite knowing and having an uneasy gut feeling about the devil's unsavory past. This is classic. Well-meaning people make deals with the devil because of a few possible reasons: (1) they don't know or assume good intent, (2) feel they don't have a choice, (3) they are tempted by the upside, (4) they think the devil's changed or they can transform the devil, (5) they think they can out-devil the devil. Almost always, they end up regretting making the deal. 

Devils are cunning masters of psychology. They can appear grand, altruistic, powerful, and charming. They know how to make you feel special with sweet talks and gestures. They can character shift like chameleons. If cornered about their past, they defend, deflect, create moral ambiguity, or assure they are different now. They understand your desires and offer a sweet deal that you can't refuse.

But once the deal is locked, the devil eventually emerges. Soon you start seeing signs of the devil being devilish towards others. It makes you uncomfortable, but the devil is still treating you well, so you ignore or blame the others. Then you notice more devilish behavior, sometimes even towards you now. If you haven't fully numbed yet, you try to reason with the devil. But the devil doesn't budge and may even transform from charming to chiding or menacing. Now you are in too deep, have too much to lose, and fear the consequences, so you justify and partake. 

If you are feeling uneasy about a deal with a person or organization, listen to your gut, pause, and reevaluate. Actions, evidence, incentives, and written contracts are more telling than words and gestures. If you do decide to go ahead, make sure the deal lets you walk away easily and protects you well from bad behavior. 

They Or Us

I am outraged!
Aren’t you?
They are out there
Saying lies 
That defy us!

Wait, wait 
Who are they? 
Who is us?
Weren’t we all
Just one?

And these lies 
What are they?
Do they hold
No truth, frustration
Or hidden pain?
Listen I didn’t listen
But I do know.
Their team and tone 
Say enough.
We must retaliate
Or we’ll lose! 

Maybe we can 
Pause and truce.
Mingle together
And learn more.  
We may fare better 
In some middle ground.

You silly 
This is war!
Haven’t you heard?
Choose your side 
Or step aside.
Only one will remain
They or us!

Last lesson from my grandmother

I went back to Chennai, my hometown, and visited my grandmother in December 2022. It had been a long four years since my previous visit and this was my wife, Daljit's, first time meeting my grandmother and extended family. We had planned this trip for the March of 2020, but had to be postpone because of the pandemic. 

As we entered her room, her face lit up and so did mine. She greeted me fondly and then quickly chided me for losing weight and asked me to eat more and exercise well, instead of dieting. She complimented Daljit as "beuuutiful" multiple times and even conversed jovially in English. She asked me how long it's been since our marriage and then assessed that it's now time to have kids. 

She was a few days shy of her 90th birthday and she seemed noticeably frailer compared to the last time, but in good spirits and lucid as always. 

Then I asked her how she is doing. 

She smiled, brought her hands to her chest, closed her eyes slightly, and replied, "Ellame romba soukyam", emphasizing each word. 

Everything is very good. 

It is a routine answer to a routine question, but I distinctly remember feeling that her response was anything but. It carried an unmistakable air of heart-felt serenity and peace; a deep and authentic contentment.  

I simply smiled. I was in the presence of someone who seemed to have attained what most of us struggle with and chase all our lives, but I didn't think to ask further. 

But thankfully, she offered it to me on her own; as if she knew she was onto something precious that had to be shared.

She pointed to her wrist and said, "Look here. I'm wearing two brass bangles now. This is okay. There were times when I was wearing many gold bangles. That was okay too." 


In a simple and unforgettable way, my grandmother had articulated the profound message of most spiritual and religious texts. Don't get attached to an ever-changing reality. Accept, appreciate, and focus on what's in your control. 

I recall more now about how my grandmother had embodied this all her life. She was always cheerful, fearless, and didn't hold on to displeasure or bitterness. She was quick to laugh at the silliest of jokes, often uncontrollably until her stomach hurt. She was ready to play games or watch movies with child-like enthusiasm. She was a gifted and humorous storyteller, and popular with adults and kids alike. I remember her animated tales about growing up in a large family with 11 siblings, her adventures during her first stay in a foreign country in her late 60s where she had made close friends without knowing the language, about my late grandfather that mixed equal parts of affection and teasing, and an endless supply of fables and mythological stories, and real-life ghost stories, that she covertly narrated despite my mom's disapproval. Even more impressive is how she artfully combined her easy-going ness and zest for life with responsibility, diligence, and hard work. She took pride in maintaining a routine and doing her own chores even as she grew older. Non-attachment didn't mean abdication or apathy to her. 

A week after we returned to the US, we received the call. She had passed away peacefully, just a few days after turning 90. I don't remember much from my previous time visiting her in 2018, but I vividly remember this last time. I'm so thankful for that last visit and the last lesson that's going to last me my entire lifetime. 

Photo 1: Selfie from my last visit with my grand mother. She was hesitant as she was self-conscious about not wearing a nightie, but I'm so glad to have this photo.
Photos 2 & 3: Photos from my trip in 2018. I'm glad we went to a movie, one of her favorite pastimes. 


We are in the midst of a relentless wave of layoffs.  It's really sad how normal and mechanical it is becoming to business leaders, investors, and all of us. 

Sudden job loss is among the top 5 most traumatic events in one’s life, and compared similarly to death of a loved one, major illness, or divorce. 

That might be hard for most folks to viscerally comprehend. But I know it and believe it as I experienced this firsthand and I have talked to 100+ people who were laid off recently. It’s heartbreaking to see the level of suffering and the emotional cocktail of shock, anxiety, shame, guilt, resentment, sadness, uncertainty, and loss of identity and community, that most people cycle through day after day, over a long time. 

This may be an unfortunate reality of our corporate and market system, but we can do better.

If you were laid off

This is extremely hard, and everything you are feeling and going through is valid and rough. So please take care and give yourself permission and space to feel and heal. 
  • Don’t blame or shame yourself - this didn’t happen because of you; take a cue from CEOs and investors who are deflecting to the macro conditions. 
  • Remind yourself you are so much more than your job. Talk to your parents, spend time with family and friends, continue your hobbies, spend more time in nature. 
  • Treat yourself to small acts of joy and self-care every day - good sleep, meeting friends, going on walks, journaling, gratitude, etc. Whatever brings you joy. Don't forget the basic shit. You need it and deserve it after what you have gone through. 
  • Reach out to kind friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers on LinkedIn for support - most folks will try to help. 
  • Create an actionable plan to address and calm practical concerns about finances and career. 
  • If you feel wronged and angry, know that’s natural and valid. Seek justice or forgive but try not to let resentment take over your life and mind. 
  • Also remember that life is going to be filled with change and uncertainty, and painful at times. You only learn and build resilience through experience and openness. Trust that you’ll emerge stronger, wiser, and kinder.

Company leaders and Boards

It’s a tough time for you as well and I understand your primary obligation is to shareholders and keeping the lights on. If you really need to do a layoff, please do it right, with generosity and humanity, so that those who are affected get more safety and closure. The true test of you and your company's values and principles is during times like now. It’s a small world and the good will (or bad will) you create will eventually impact you and your shareholders.
  • Talk to at least a few laid off people, especially those who are early in their career and not well off, to understand what they go through. 
  • Don’t skimp on stuff like severance, healthcare, paying out unused PTOs or bonuses just because you legally can. If you find it damaging to share the details of the severance publicly, you probably haven’t done enough. 
  • Don’t say empty words without accompanying actions, and don't make lofty promises that you can’t keep, like being a family. 
  • Be more considerate to those who are on visas, or on paternity, bereavement, and medical leaves. 
  • Don’t hire more people than you can sustainably support. 
  • Treat people with as much dignity and respect as you can.

Middle management and colleagues

You carry the burden of secretly knowing/planning the layoff and having to follow through on it, bound by corporate rules and script. You also have the unenviable task of keeping up your team's morale and digging the business out of the hole after the layoffs. 
  • Don’t forget the human impact this business decision has. Be kind through the process and don’t lie or mislead. 
  • Don’t just move on with business as usual - proactively check-in 1:1 to see how your laid off team and colleagues are doing and do what you can to help them land on their feet. People will remember and appreciate how you made them feel for a long time.

From Ordinary to Extraordinary: Reopening my eyes and heart to the wonder all around

I had a life-changing epiphany on a recent excursion in the comforts of my own house and surroundings.

It was a snow day. I bundled up and went outside to my backyard, something I usually avoid on cold or rainy days. Instead of the usual mind wandering, phone scrolling, or book reading, I was fully present and observing aimlessly. The trees stood out to me more vividly than ever before; I noticed and felt the details and intricacies in their trunks, branches, and leaves and how majestically they all came together. The Holly tree, with its dark green spiky leaves and its sheltered center that provides refuge for numerous little sparrows on rainy or windy days. The evergreen tree, its flat, soft leaves, and almost fake to touch. I marveled at how they had responded to the season - one had shed all its leaves, and others had somehow stayed evergreen. 

My attention was also similarly captivated by the moss and mushrooms that had grown on and around those trees, the charming wildflower meadow right across the street, my car of almost five years, patterns of snow on the ground - both real and imagined, the view of the valley and sunset from my house, the photos of my family and friends, the play of the lights and the shadows, the indoor plants and decor, the various notes in the songs that were playing, and believe it or not, my very own hands. 

I felt like a character living in a set. My regular world had opened up dramatically and felt so much more richer, abundant, and spacious.  I was flooded with an overwhelming sense of fascination and appreciation for their beauty, intricacy, mystery, history, and of how our lives had intertwined. I also felt sad and emotional about my own aloofness towards their presence, displeasure at times, and how I had simply taken them for granted. 

As babies and children, we experience life like this, always curious and fascinated. But as we grow older, we lose this sense of wonder almost entirely. Our brains become efficient at categorizing and normalizing everything around us, causing us to move through life indifferent or even irritable to the magic that surrounds us, busy chasing some distant and elusive source of success, joy, or wonder. 

My epiphany reminded me that we live in a wonderland. We'd see it, feel it, love it, and experience immense fulfillment if only we observe, be present, relate to everything with love, savor, and remind ourselves of how crazy and magical all of this is. 


[1] This lesson is similar to the one of Pixar's Soul (my review)

[2] I suspect nature has more of this effect than human-made things, as it is usually so much more intricate, historical, and mysterious.