Cooking at Home

“Cooking is not about convenience and it’s not about shortcuts. Our hunger for the twenty-minute gourmet meal, for one-pot ease and prewashed, precut ingredients has severed our lifeline to the satisfactions of cooking. Take your time. Take a long time. Move slowly and deliberately and with great attention.” – T. Keller

When I was growing up, eating out was considered a rare treat. As a family we probably never ate out more than once every two months. My parents come from a background where eating out was either not preferred or not possible. Despite the emphasis on home cooked food growing up, I did not see the importance of learning how to cook for a long time. Perhaps this was because I had mom during my school days, hostel food and the odd takeaway during my initial university years and mom again during the holiday breaks. When began renting my first apartment, I had to start thinking more about where my food was going to come from. What first came to mind were a number of take out, delivery and other ‘easy food’ options.

Stretching your budget and health

When thinking about cooking on my own for the first time, I created a mental argument that I could stick to cheap take out meals. The advantages that shaped my argument were saving money on food and having to spend minimal time cooking. This reasoning was flawed because it only held true if I ate a lot of the same substandard unhealthy food. ‘Healthy take outs’ or better prepared restaurant meals usually cost more. As Adam Sinicki from HealthGuidance mentions, these higher costs come from “paying for the service, for the location, for the effort cooking and then allowing the establishment to make a profit out of it all. If you cook for yourself you buy ingredients so the chain is much shorter, and at the same time you can get a lot of use out of these ingredients.”  We might still be able to get away from the effects of eating unhealthy fast food for sometime (and save money). However, what happens if you persist with this habit into your late 20’s or 30’s and beyond? In my case I never reached a point where my vital signs went pear shaped but I did notice other issues. I generally felt more sluggish and worn out, eating out became a chore and at some point it felt like all that fast food was stuck in my throat.

Some factors which may have impacted my health related to the mystery around food preparation. Ultimately we do not see what ingredients go into a take out or restaurant meal. Did they put too much oil? Was the oil being reused? How much salt, sugar and fat is going into our food? Research has shown that the average serving size of a meal has been going up over the years. So by eating out we are perhaps eating worse and more than we should be.

When I started shifting towards cooking at home I noticed a few changes in terms of my health and budget. I began to think more carefully about what I wanted to eat and what it would cost me to prepare that meal. This in turn gave me a better idea of what portion of my budget was going to be used on food items. Things were not always perfect with this approach. My initial mindset to cooking at home was as limited as buying frozen foods that I could put into the oven. It took time to refine and expand my concept of cooking at home but even in a short time a lot of expensive, unhealthy and impulse purchases started falling away. This reflected in how in how I felt better and spent less on food over the course of a month.

Cooking Relationships

One of the things that put me off from cooking at home was the idea of just cooking for myself. To me it seemed like a lot of effort to benefit one person. Andrew Kobylarz from Aloha mentions that cooking is “something ingrained in who we are as humans. You break bread with people who are important to you—whether it’s family, friends, or a significant other. You, me, everyone cooks and eats with one another.” I also feel that there is a different joy to cooking a good meal for people you care about and watching them enjoy it and having a decent conversation.

I’ve felt this social bonding taking place whether it is some family or friends that have come over or even if its just my wife and I making a simple meal. The atmosphere at home is more relaxed and easy going. There is also a shared learning experience. We share knowledge about the dishes we make, provide suggestions and help each other during the process. Added benefits we could relate to are cost savings. Essentially it is far more cost effective for my friends and I to prepare food at home versus eating out at a restaurant. In addition the cost of drinks (wine, beer etc.) is far cheaper when we buy at a grocery store and bring home.

Its becoming an increasingly busier world, where we have less time to have meaningful interactions with everyone we care about. Cooking with loved ones or simply inviting them over for a home meal presents an effective way to reconnect with people and build new relationships.

A happier you

Depending on which values enhance our feelings of happiness and contentment, cooking can play a role in adhering to these values. For example, we may strongly value our independent nature in everything we do. By cooking at home, we adhere to this value by being less dependent on take outs, restaurants and others to nourish us. Clay Routledge from Psychology Today mentions that “cooking healthy can make you feel like you have more control over your health. And feeling that you are autonomous or able to make your own decisions promotes a sense of meaning in life as well as greater self-esteem and well-being”.

I have found that after coming home from work, cooking is a way I can focus my mind on something else. I will usually take a bit of time thinking about what I want to prepare, the ingredients required, the quantity and how I would like to present the meal to my spouse (or family and friends).This process makes me experience a sense of purpose, control and satisfaction. I also find this in contrast to a take out meal where there is a sense of instant gratification. However, any satisfaction derived is dulled over the long run.

Eating Out in the right way

Most of us enjoy trying out different restaurants, take out places, bars etc. I would not suggest that anyone should avoid going out for a meal. Instead a mindset change is needed where we think more carefully about why we want to go out.

Firstly, consider eating out more sparingly to enjoy the contrast from home food (or usual diet). Since I seldom ate out when growing up, those occasions I did ended up going out being a real treat. This is in contrast to the period where I was having take out meals so often that I stopped enjoying the taste, didn’t feel well and was wasting a lot of money.

Secondly, look at eating out as a way to socialise in a different setting. Eating out can also become a way to to experience unique cuisines and the ambiance of a location. This will not always be possible (e.g. after a very late night at work) but where possible we can strive for a greater experience when eating out.

Start the home cooking journey

Turning cooking at home into a habit, may appear to be a daunting task. I don’t have enough time. I don’t like to wash dishes. Cooking is difficult. I can find cheap takeout meals. These and other excuses may derail our intentions unless we take a few aspects into consideration. The most important thing to do is to create a mindset that wants to cook more at home. Consider the values that are important to you as a person. Forgetting any impediments, think about why you would want to cook at home. What are the benefits? How it would it make you a happier person? Its important to establish a basic level of motivation and drive before doing anything else.

Secondly, consider how you are going to acquire or supplement your existing cooking skills. These days we can find numerous articles, books, blogs, YouTube videos and cooking shows that can help us enhance our cooking skills. When I started cooking on my own, my first source for help was a phone call to my mother. Often my wife and I play around with ideas on what to cook and how to improve recipes we have got a basic grasp on. So there are both external references and usually a social circle we can draw on to improve our cooking skills.

Thirdly, cooking is considered both an art and science by many people. What helped someone like me was applying the science part more. When designing software system requirements at work, I have to provide detailed instructions to a group of developers on what I want a piece of software or code to do. Often I’ve applied the same principles to cooking. I use a tool like Google Keep to keep recipes for dishes that I have learned more about. These recipes give me the exact steps to follow even when I am cooking something I’m not as familiar with. Another thing my wife and I do is keep a two week plan of what we want to make every evening. This creates more certainty around what we are going to eat everyday, helps us with our grocery shopping plan and gives us a better idea of whether we are eating the right kinds of food.

Lastly, don’t feel overwhelmed at the beginning of your journey. Most of us are not required to cook up a Michelin starred restaurant meal. The meals we prepare should taste good, be reasonably healthy and filling. Start with a simple foundation and build up from there. Coming from an Indian background, I found that a lot of dishes had similar cooking steps. These included sauteing onions well at the start and using the right combinations of certain spices and other ingredients. When I switched between different recipes (e.g from rajma to paneer), I found that I could reuse certain steps and techniques I was already familiar with. I imagine the same might be true for other types of cuisines. There are also some dishes which are much easier to make and a good starting point. Typical examples include pasta, omelette, pan fried chicken breasts etc.  A basic Google search will bring up numerous other options. As your expertise and perhaps interest increases, experiment more and strive to produce different and better meals.

REFERENCES

Hamm, T. (2014, July). Don’t Eat Out as Often (188/365)

Kobylarz, A. (2015, July). Why We Should Cook and Eat at Home More Often

McFarland, A. (2010, Nov). What’s the True Cost of Eating Out?

Routledge, C (2014, Nov). Finding Meaning in a Meal

Scotti, D (2015, Jul). People Who Cook For Themselves Are Richer, Happier And More Independent

Sinicki, A (2016, Jan). 10 Reasons to Stop Eating Out

Spinks, D. (2014, Mar). How Anyone (Yes, Even You) Can Learn to Cook

Thomson, J. (2014, Nov). 15 Reasons You Need To Learn How To Cook, Seriously

Wilson, J. (2013, Mar). 4 reasons you should really learn to cook

 

Dressing Well Matters

“It is both delusional and stupid to think that clothes don’t really matter and we should all wear whatever we want. Most people don’t take clothing seriously enough, but whether we should or not, clothes do talk to us and we make decisions based on people’s appearances.” – G. Bruce Boyer

It would be startling to live in a world where people met you for the first time and reserved judgment till they knew you well enough. Imagine a world where success in your profession was based solely on your competency. However, the world we live in is defined by perceptions. We are bombarded with information, time is limited and people need to make a judgement on the little information they have. Its therefore important to pay attention to the factors which build up our image, both real and perceived. Dressing well is one of the factors that require further exploration.

The psychology behind dressing well

The girl looking at you from across the cafe, the interview panel seeing you walk into the room and the CEO that is riding in the elevator with you all have something in common. They are making conscious and unconscious judgments about you. Their brain is combining experiences, knowledge and other subconscious factors in trying to build a basic picture of you. In a short span of time, they may or may not find you to be an attractive person. This becomes especially important when we consider that a number of research articles have shown that attractive people are more successful in life. When it comes to securing a job, a life partner, greater wealth, or success in general, there tends to be a positive correlation between attractiveness and success. Most of us won’t have the genetic make up of Adonis and are probably unable to afford an extreme makeover. There are however aspects of our life that we could look at to improve our attractiveness. These include areas such as our character, fitness and how we conduct ourselves in our day to day lives. How we dress is another area to consider.

Those first impressions people have of us are difficult to undo, especially when we make a negative impression. When I first got to know my wife, I did not make a great first impression especially in terms how I dress. Luckily my dressing sense improved with time and there were other aspects that contributed towards my attractiveness that she stuck with me! However, the longer we don’t do anything about our appearance, the longer we are neglecting an aspect of our attractiveness, the more likely we are to lose out on something that is important to us.

The inward benefits

The purpose of dressing better is not limited to only looking good for others. In my article on values, I mentioned that certain things will be of importance to us. Some of us try cultivate a habit of being particular about certain things. Whether its the way we ensure our car is in good working order, our finances are healthy or how we are not wasteful with food.  Dressing well is perhaps an extension of this ‘caring’ habit that makes us feel more positive and satisfied with how we are living our daily lives.

Another important association with dressing well is confidence. In her book Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of FashionProf. Karen J. Pine mentions that “When we put on a piece of clothing we cannot help but adopt some of the characteristics associated with it, even if we are unaware of it.” This in turn can affect how we feel in a situation. If I’m attending an interview or meeting, I like to be dressed well. I feel better about the way I look and that positive feeling increases my confidence tackling whatever situation may come up. At the same time, the people I am meeting are more likely to have a positive perception of me.

Whats stopping you?

We have identified several reasons to dress well. So what is stopping everyone from dressing better? There are a few things holding most of us back. Firstly, we don’t know where to start. Since we don’t know where to start, we begin to make assumptions about what dressing better entails. The best dressed people on TV and other mass media usually represent big brands and are often celebrities. This may create the impression that we need to buy expensive suits, the latest fashion items and basically spend a massive amount before getting anywhere. Lets say we buy all those expensive clothes, its still going to be quite a pain to discard all our old clothes and have to think properly about what to wear in different situations. Is it not far less stressful and less effort to continue wearing what we always do?

Secondly, some of us begin to experience feelings of anxiety and shame if we start to dress better. This happens because to an extent all of us are conditioned to behave in a certain way. What we eat, who we date, the job we hold and our other attributes (including how we dress) elicit different responses from society. These positive and negative responses will affect each of us differently but they will to a large extent shape our identity. Our behaviour will support this identity because it allows us to stay in a comfort zone. Sean Cooper from Shyness Social Anxiety provides a simple example of this behaviour within the context of clothing: “Imagine if an unpopular guy suddenly got an attractive shirt that made him stand out. He’s been conditioned that he has low social value, so the shirt makes him feel like he’s going against what other people really think of him.” Again we are perhaps more comfortable not making any change at all.

Lastly, we perhaps just don’t care. This could be because we don’t fully appreciate the benefits of dressing better. Or perhaps the circumstances we live in mean that dressing well is not a priority for us. My parents grew up in families that sometimes used to struggle financially. The focus was more on basic necessities rather then dressing well. Similarly I have memories of speaking to people and even relatives in rural India. I remember an old gentleman looking so satisfied with life on a farm with a big family. Perhaps he was living according to his values and was completely happy. Dressing better in his situation would not make him any more successful or happier.

Start the change

Each of us will have different reasons on why we want to dress better and different obstacles on this journey.  Keeping certain things in mind make this journey possible and easier. Firstly, there is no point in trying to dress better if you don’t have a good motivation to. All of us need to have a reason to do something. There must be something we are trying to achieve?  My driving motivation is the need to make a positive first impression on people and reinforce this every time I encounter them again. I also find that dressing better is one of the factors which increase my confidence.

Secondly, start with smaller changes. This eases us away from the social conditioning we are used to (in terms of how we dress) and places a lesser burden on our wallets. A simple way for men to easily improve their look is to wear a polo shirt as opposed to a t-shirt. My wife improved her image at work by switching from a jeans and top combination to trousers a blouse and blazer. This was done through a combination of smart purchases and reusing existing clothes. These incremental changes allow us to ease into the process of dressing better and at the same time we are able to experiment in terms of what looks good on us.

Thirdly, purchase clothing with a view of them as investments. Yes, you might spend more upfront but these clothing items should look great on you and last for a long time. Antonio Centeno suggests using a style pyramid when deciding on what clothes to buy. “If something doesn’t fit, stop there. If it fits, but it seems cheaply made, skip it. And if it fits and is of good quality, but doesn’t feel right for your style, wait for something more suited to your tastes. When all three intersect — then it’s time to buy.”

Lastly, be aware of the situation and adapt your dressing accordingly. When going to a fancy restaurant, on a hike or to work, we need to dress appropriately. There are numerous articles, books and videos that can help with improving your dressing sense (some of these links are provided below under references). In fact there is more information and support available over the internet then ever before. Depending on your perspective dressing well is not a complicated process. Its about adhering to certain principles over a period of time.

REFERENCES

Alpert, J. (2013, Oct). Fearless Self Image: How You Dress Matters

Centeno, A. (2013, April). Save Money and Shop Smart: Know the Style Pyramid

Centeno, A. (2016, Sep). Why Give a Damn About Appearance

Cooper, S. (2012, Jan). Why Shy People Are Afraid To Wear Cool Clothes

Dion, E. (2013, Aug). Dressing Well and Why it Should Matter to You

Ferguson, JL. (2016, Feb). How Clothing Choices Affect and Reflect Your Self-Image

Pine, KJ. (2014, May). Mind What You Wear: The Psychology of Fashion

Tervooren, T. (2014, Mar). The Psychology of Dressing Well (And Why You Must To Get Anywhere In Life)

Williams, DK. (2013, Aug). First Impressions Count: The Business Value Of Dressing For Success

Developing a Producer Mindset

“We’re consumers. We are by-products of a lifestyle obsession. Murder, crime, poverty, these things don’t concern me. What concerns me are celebrity magazines, television with 500 channels, some guy’s name on my underwear. Rogaine, Viagra, Olestra…” ― Chuck Palahniuk

As newly established professionals, we perhaps for the first time in our lives have the ability to earn a decent income and spend it with freedom. What we do with this new found freedom is mostly up to us. However, we live in a world that is relentlessly trying to drown us with the latest advert, gadget, series, movie, fashion, mobile game and a million other things. Should we consider a life lived endlessly consuming what others produce as meaningful? Ten, twenty or thirty years down the line, will we truly be happy with the life we have lived and the person we have become?

The Consumerist Bubble

Most of us over time will begin to fall into a particular pattern of living. We will spend most of our time at work helping our employer produce something that is of value to others. From the income we get, we will end up buying clothes, cars and other items we like. Other times we will watch movies and go out with friends. Activities such as these bring us entertainment, enjoyment and relaxation and usually do not take much effort. We live like this day after day, week after week, month after month and soon the years begin to roll by.

There is a major drawback to living life in such a manner. Lifesquared suggests that we could get trapped within a “consumerist bubble that will mould our entire worldviews – our aspirations, views, lifestyles and many other things”. Like a junkie that is only satisfied once he gets his next fix, we keep consuming different forms of entertainment to stay happy. Each time we want something better and something greater. We sometimes forget that there are now more platforms to learn, pursue our talents and develop something from scratch than ever before. By devoting most of our energy to consuming what others produce, we do not explore our potential to produce something to the best of our abilities.

Think like a producer

A producer is someone that exhibits behaviours significantly different to the consumer described earlier. A producer often tries to do things more efficiently. Increased efficiency provides them with more time to do the things they enjoy. Producers are less likely to get bored and move from one entertainment fix to another. Instead, they will exhibit the mindset of someone who is looking to explore opportunities, learn and make things better for themselves and those they care about.

In a previous post on values, I mentioned the importance of driving our decision-making based on what is important to us. Most of us will differ in what matters most to us. I would like to believe that all of us will hold at least one value that is aligned with the idea of producing something that will benefit others.

Start Producing

Developing a producer mindset does not necessarily require us to take a bold leap of faith. We can make gradual changes in our thinking and behaviour. Rather than always look for things to keep us entertained, let’s instead start to ask the questions the producer we defined earlier would. We can also try cut down on behaviours that lack focus and purpose. Some initial ideas that will help us to get going:

– Save more money for specific goals, purposes and needs as opposed to compulsive spending
– Look to travel, meet and understand different cultures
– Read books and articles which educate and inform us, rather than just entertain
– Look out for new hobbies and ideas to explore
– Look to develop and expand an existing talent or hobby

How we go further in this process will depend on what we find interesting and what is important to us. For those of us more entrepreneurially minded, we might look to expand on business ideas. This may lead to an opportunity to provide goods and services we care about. By providing value directly to consumers, we (not an employer) will reap the full benefits of producing. Others might want to take something they enjoy and try to develop it through additional platforms. For example, I enjoy writing and would like to develop it further through a blog and maybe a book someday. I know a friend who enjoys building wooden furniture items in his free time.

Once we are producing something (however simple), we can look at ways to use what we are producing and help or create value for others. If we expand on the examples provided, I could say I am trying to use my writing to share ideas and thoughts that will hopefully be of help to young professionals. My friend, who builds wooden furniture on the odd occasion, could look to develop it into a full-time business or even touch others his craft.

By applying a producer mindset at this early stage of our lives, we are more likely to see things from a different perspective. Most people will be looking to get through their work, go home and relax. We have the opportunity to get ahead of the crowd and also feel satisfied that we are creating something of value for others. Developing a producer mindset is not difficult but it requires us to make a conscious effort to examine our behaviours and actions. A producer mindset does not imply that we should give up on all the things we enjoy doing. Instead, such a mindset advocates that we balance our consumption with activities that are more productive and will provide us with longer-term feelings of happiness and fulfilment.

REFERENCES

Becker, J. (2014, Jan). 9 Intentional Ways to Challenge Consumerism in Your Life

Derrent, N. (2014, Nov). How To Produce More By Making The Shift From ‘Consumer’ To ‘Producer’ Mindset

Glossinger, J. (2015, Jan). Are You A Consumer Or Producer?

Isaac. (2015, Oct). Are you a producer or consumer? | Make the shift

Johnson, C. (2015, Jan). Start Every Day as a Producer, Not a Consumer

Life Squared. (1999). The problem with consumerism

Nastor, J. (2015, Oct). Move From Consumer to Producer

Nelson, S. (2013, Jul). Be A Producer, Not A Consumer

 

 

A Life Defined by Values

“Authentic values are those by which a life can be lived, which can form a people that produces great deeds and thoughts.” – Allan Bloom

As we enter a phase of striving to be successful, we need to realise that at various points along the way we will need to make a decision. The impact of these decisions will vary, but they will affect our success, happiness and feelings of self-fulfillment. We do not have unlimited time to make these decisions and there is perhaps no clear guide to help us either. How then do we go about making decisions in a consistent and proactive manner that brings us long term satisfaction? What we need is a structure that will help us define our intentions and actions.

What are values?

Anne Loehr defines values as that “what is important to us, what we value, and what gives us purpose.” This is a simple definition but for many people its hard to pin down what those important things are. What we could do is look at few points of reference. Think about the things which give you a sense of purpose. What do you strongly believe in and would stand up for? What kind of things do you do that make you feel happy and fulfilled?

The realisation of what is important to us and what gives us purpose comes from a number of sources. We may have had a religious upbringing. Our parents might have had a particular approach to dealing with difficult situations in life. Perhaps we grew up surrounded by friends who encouraged us to be adventurous. Our need to achieve could be driven by a competitive schooling system or society.

One of the values I believe my father holds closely is preparedness. As an expat from India, he would get fixed-term contracts to work in different countries. This would usually be for a few years at a time and there was no guarantee of another job or income stream. During this period, he planned and saved wisely. His actions ensured that we (his family) were never in financial trouble, could afford a decent standard of living and were never dependent on anyone else. By acting this way my father felt a sense of inner peace and fulfilment. I’m still in the process of fully understanding my values. As I’ve gone through the different life event, certain aspects of my life have become more important than others. Fairness,modesty, lifelong learning, helping others reach their potential are some of the core values I try to live by. One of the main reasons I started this blog was to better align to my value of helping people.

Values and Young professionals

Now that we have some concept of values, let’s think about how they relate to us as young professionals. During this more independent and uncertain phase of our lives, we have to make a choice. We could continue living our lives based on the values we always grew up with. This could be a safe option but we are unlikely to grow as a person, fully understand ourselves or reach our true potential. We could discard the idea of living based on values and instead, adapt our actions to a situation based on achieving some goal (e.g financial, sexual etc.). I feel that this kind of living may provide satisfaction and a sense of achievement in the short term. However, in the long run, our misalignment with our values will prevent long term self-fulfillment and happiness. The best choice I believe we can make is to use our new found independence and freedom to redefine our values. We must think deeply about what matters to us and keep those values which are still meaningful and redefine or discard those which are not as relevant anymore.

It’s worth mentioning a few key benefits of living a life based on values. One benefit is that our thoughts and actions will be a better reflection of our true self. This will allow us to build deeper connections with people because they will be able to trust our intentions and actions. As a consultant, I found that acting in a consistent manner allowed our clients to trust us more. Though there might have been short-term conflicts, by sticking to our values as a company we engaged in long-term relationships with clients who we really wanted to work with and vice versa.

When it comes to making important decisions like who to marry, we need to think carefully and decide whether our values and that of our potential spouse will be compatible over the long term. It is not difficult to find similar hobbies or activities to do (e.g. watching movies, going to the beach, travelling etc.). It is a far bigger issue if you fundamentally differ on something (e.g. You believe in living life as per a strict religious code and your spouse is an atheist).

Living a life aligned with values means that we should be doing the things that matter most to us. If we as young professionals are doing this, we will probably be more energised and willing to produce something of greater value. If we are able to reach our greater potential then we can contribute more to society. If for example my work provides me with the opportunity to mentor new employees, I would expend more energy into this role as it aligns to my value of helping people reach their potential.

The road is not easy

It is not always easy to live a life based on values. Many of us will find it easier to stick to our everyday life pattern, rather than make a strong effort to be better. Some of us grew up under the overly strong influence of our family and now live our lives based on their expectations and goals rather than ours. Sometimes it is easier for us to react to a situation in a way that seems to please everyone than make a stand and stick to our beliefs. It’s also important to recognise that values will evolve over time. As we move through different phases in life, certain values may become more important than others.  For example, we may be career driven in our early working years but become more family driven as we get married and have kids. It is up to us to rethink and redefine how we live periodically. We need to keep thinking about how we can make decisions that bring the best out of us over the long term.

References

Brunner, T. (2012, March). A Values-Based Life Focus: the yellow brick road to growth and prosperity.

Clear, J. (2014, May). Let Your Values Drive Your Choices.

Loehr, A (2014, May). How to Live With Purpose, Identify Your Values and Improve Your Leadership. 

Mind Tools Editorial Team. (2014, March). What Are Your Values? Deciding What’s Most Important in Life.

Pavlina, S. (2004, December). Living your Values.

Tomlinson, I. (2015, April). Values Based Living. How to Connect To What’s Important.