Last month I finally upgraded my trusty old iPhone 6 to a shiny new XR. Unremarkable except for the epiphany this triggered. 

It dawned on me that we routinely upgrade the things in our life- our wardrobe, car, appliances, and more so electronics like phones and laptops. But how many of us consciously try to upgrade ourselves? A new phone brings better hardware- faster, with more storage, a better display or camera. It also comes with a new version of the software which fixes earlier bugs, improves performance and adds lots of new features. What is the human analogue of these?

Better hardware means a more capable body. Science is showing that with the right diet, exercise and lifestyle, aging can be slowed dramatically and even reversed. We are what we eat. And exercise may be the single most important determinant of our mental and physical health. And what about our internal software? This feels more complex, more subtle. One part of our software upgrade is learning new things.

What skill will you acquire this year? What new activity will you start? Perhaps learning to play a new instrument, going on an adventure or taking on a new role- anything that causes you to move out of your comfort zone and allow new neural connections to form. Another dimension is working on your mindset. An old Jewish proverb says, ‘nothing is as it is; everything is as we are”. Our mindset then is the lens through which we view the world. The psychologist Carol Dweck has written a superb book (“Changing the Way you Think to fulfill your Potential”) about how a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset determines much of what happens to us. What we achieve professionally, the quality of our relationships and ultimately our capacity for happiness spring from a positive, growth mindset.  

A final dimension of our software is “character” which are the moral guard-rails of our behavior. Whether we give in to temptations or are able to resist them, our will power, the way we see and treat others, our ability to work on our weaknesses and improve, our ability to deal productively with setbacks, all these things and much more come from our character. We are our software.

So as we start the New Year, a time for making new resolutions, it’s worth thinking about your plan to upgrade your own hardware and software. New Year resolutions are notoriously hard to keep but it isn’t perfection that matters but simply staying with them. . A modest improvement every year will make a dramatic difference when sustained over decades. The New York Times has some good tips for this

Wishing you a very Happy Healthy Impactful New Year.

By: Ravi Venkatesan