The Importance of Discipline

I’ve never been a fan of discipline. I think it is a major constraint and hinders creativity, and puts too many walls within which you need to live your life. Despite constant exhortations by my father, I never wanted to join the army. Hell, I tried my best (successfully) in order to even avoid NCC when I was at IIT. I pride myself on being some sort of a free spirit who isn’t held back by any arbitrary rules that I create for myself to live my life by.

A really nice article that I read today, however, makes me think twice about this stand. So this article is about “decision fatigue” and is not very dissimilar to what I’d read a long time back (again in the NYT) about the Law of Conservation of Willpower. So this article talks about how every time you need to make a decision it consumes some part of your mental energy. Irrespective of the size of the decision that is to be made, there is some willpower that is lost, and that causes you to be suboptimal in your decision making as the day progresses.

The article really struck a chord with me, and I realize I’m also heavily prone to decision fatigue. Sometimes the smallest decisions take away so much energy from me that I simply put NED. And yeah, on a related note, I’ve got the wife upset innumerable times solely because of my indecisiveness, a part of which can be attributed to decision fatigue. I even remember not going to a wedding reception some three years back because I couldn’t decide which shirt to wear! And no, I’m not making this up.

So on that note, here’s where I think discipline has a part to play in life. By putting certain constraints on your life, you are reducing the number of decisions that you have to make. And that implies your willpower and mental energy will be reserved for those things where it’s really important that you decide carefully. By making a schedule for yourself, you are outsourcing to you-the-planner all the trivial decisions of your life. Yes, you might feel constrained at times. But it saves you so much energy by way of saving you from several trivial decisions.

Of course, feeling constrained can also affect your mental energy in a negative way, and prevent you from giving your best. Nevertheless, this decision fatigue thingy implies that discipline may not be all that bad. Or maybe I need to think about it some more.

Live Music at Wedding Receptions

The problem with live music at wedding receptions is with the volume. If you keep the volume too low, the musicians find it offensive. If you keep the volume high, on the other hand, people can’t hear each other talk and get irritated. And I’ve never really attended a wedding reception where the live music has had the “right volume”.

Hence, at my wedding reception, we dispensed with live music and instead carefully put together a set of trance numbers which were to be played over a CD-speaker system. And two hours before the reception is to begin, we find that there was no music player in the hall, and no one had bothered arranging for one. Thankfully the photographer, who I’d fought with for the duration of the wedding, agreed to arrange for a music system at quick notice. And then, when the reception was about to begin, it turned out that the uncle who had the CDs had gone home to get dressed.

Ultimately, I think they played the music that we’d carefully put together. I don’t know really because it wasn’t audible on stage, but we’re told by a few people it was quite good (they even asked for and “borrowed” the CDs). If you attended my wedding reception, please to be telling me how the music was.

So before my wedding, when I sent the invite to Mammo, he replied asking who was performing at the reception. When I told him my reasons for not having live music at the reception, he explained that performing at a wedding was a good chance for musicians to experiment, and in some ways it was a “paid rehearsal”. And that it really helps in the development of musicians.

On the other hand, I remember, some fifteen years back, my violin teacher being furious that he’d been called to play at a wedding, and there was no one listening to him, and his volume was turned out to be quite low, and he had a really bad experience.

So I don’t know. I still think the best thing to do would be to put recorded instrumental music that isn’t too intrusive. What do you think?

Shoe Shopping

I went with the significant other last weekend while she bought shoes. And realized that the way girls buy shoes is completely different from boys’ decision process. Yeah, I know you’ll be thinking I’m just stating the obvious, and I might be doing that. And again, this post is based on two data points – myself and the significant other. I conveniently extrapolate.

Fundamental theorem of shoes: The number of pairs of shoes a boy owns is small compared to the number of pairs of shoes a girl of the similar age/socio-economic stratum owns.

I don’t think I need to give any explanation for that. The rest of this post is a corollary.

Corollary 1: The amount of time a boy spends in buying one pair of shoes is significantly larger than the corresponding amount of time a girl spends.

Yeah, this might sound counterintuitive, which is why I’m writing this post. So I think there are several reasons for this, but they all follow from the fundamental theorem of shoes
1. If you have one pair of shoes of a certain kind, you can’t afford to make a mistake buying them. You need to go through a careful decision process, evaluating various pros and cons, before deciding on your perfect shoe.
2. Boys’ shoes need to multitask. For example, you will wear the same pair of black leather shoes to office, and to that random wedding reception. The same sneakers you wear to play football might be worn for a casual evening out. So each pair of shoes needs to serve several different purposes, so the search space comes down accordingly
3. The cost of going wrong is too high – if you have a policy to own a limited number of shoes, and you buy an ill-fitting shoe, you have to live with that (or throw with extreme guilt) for a very long time. ┬áThis happened with my earlier pair of sneakers, with the unintended consequence that I went to the gym much less often than I’d planned to
4. The amount of time a boy spends in a particular shoe is much more than the amount of time a girl spends in a particular shoe. So it is important for boys that each and every shoe is absolutely comfortable and fits perfectly. Again increases search time.

Recently when I had to buy a pair of formal shoes for my engagement I drove Priyanka mad with the amount of time I took to decide. I visited several shops, tried out lots of shoes, walked around, walked out, visited more shops and so forth. And all this after I had decided I wanted a pair of brown shoes without laces.

Corollary 2: The average cost of a boy’s shoe “wardrobe” is comparable to the average cost of a girl’s shoe “wardrobe”

Yeah, unintuitive again I guess. But backed up by data. My shoes, on average, cost well over a thousand rupees. Priyanka’s shoes, on average, cost well under that. It’s a vicious cycle, and I don’t know where it starts. I want my shoes to last longer, so I want to buy shoes of better quality, so I end up spending more on them. Or it could be like I wanted my shoes to last longer precisely because they are expensive. But I’ll stick my neck out and say that all this stems from the fundamental decision of not wanting to wear too many pairs of shoes.

For a girl, the cost of going wrong with a shoe purchase is low, given the frequency with which she wears a particular shoe. Also her shoes don’t multitask, so she can afford to have a few pairs which are not exactly perfect fits, as long as they serve the purpose. She has this urge to shop for shoes, and with her monthly budget in mind she is naturally conditioned to not splurge on them.

So I was kinda horrified (not exactly, since this had happened a couple of times before) last weekend when Priyanka walked into a shop, picked up a pair of chappals from the shelf, dropped them to the floor, stepped into them for a few seconds and decided to buy them. They didn’t cost too much, so I guess the cost of going wrong was small, but I would’ve never done something like that.

An Inquiry Into Queue Lengths At Wedding Receptions

So last night once again I was at a wedding reception where there was a long queue for getting on stage, wishing the couple, giving gift and getting photo taken. In fact, last night, the queue literally extended to outside the hall (maybe the non-standard orientation of the hall – more breadth than length – contributed to this) – probably the first time I was seeing such a thing. Thankfully the wedding hall entrance was deep inside the building compound, else there might have been the unsavoury sight of the queue extending all the way on to the road.

This has been a problem that has been bugging me for a long time now – regarding queue length at wedding receptions. Apart from a handful, most wedding receptions that I’ve attended in the last 3-4 years have had this issue. You get to the hall and finding a long queue to get on stage, immediately go and plonk yourself at the end of it. By the time you get to the stage and do your business, you are hungry so off you go to the dining hall to probably stand in another queue. And before you know it, the reception is over and all the networking opportunity that you had been thinking of is now lost.

Udupa has a simple solution to this – introduce a token system like they have at commercial banks. Upon entry, you get a token with a number on it and you go take your seat or go around networking. And when your number gets flashed on a screen close to the stage, you go join what will be a very short queue, and you have done your business without really wasting much time. I’m told that this is the system that they had introduced at Tirupati in order to prevent time wastage at queues. However, it is doubtful if such a solution is practicable for the wedding case – people might get offended, people might get too busy to see their token number flashing, and all such.

A while back, I had raised this issue with my mom, and had casually mentioned to her about Udupa’s solution. She said that the whole problem lay with girls’ fascination for make-up nowadays, and that 99% of the problem would get solved if the reception were to start on time. This was never a problem during her time, she mentioned, when makeup was lesser and girls took less time to dress. And she also mentioned that the number of guests hasn’t gone up as significantly as one might expect.

Another solution that my mom suggested was to get the couple to stand at floor level, thus reducing the “distance” between them and the crowd, and making them more accessible. Apparently, she and my dad did that at their wedding – abandoned the stage in favour of the musicians and stood on one side at floor level, and this, she says, made crowds move faster. In fact, even at Katsa’s wedding last weekend, the couple were not at a great height off ground level, and this made them more accessible, and somehow prevented a queue from building up.

Next, we will need to look at the various processes that go into the “proceedings”. So you meet the couple. One of the couple introduces you to the spouse. You make small talk for a couple of minutes. You handover the gift. Then, you stand with the couple and wait for the photographer to make sure everything is ready, and then get your snap taken. And then put exit and head for the grub. So we need to figure out which part of this whole process needs to be reduced, or even done away with.

Gift-giving takes minimal time, so it stays. Introduction is the reason you are there at the wedding, so that also stays. Yesterday’s wedding, they took photos side-on while we were putting small talk. And that still did nothing for queue length. But still, I think that’s a good start – too much time is wasted anyways in organizing gumbals for photos. And the closer gumbals can wait for beyond grubtime.

Small talk? Is there any way that can be reduced? Two weddings recently, the couple has promised to put small talk post-reception but reception has carried on for too long making us put NED before the talk. People kept streaming in even after 10pm. Will the couple abruptly getting off stage at the closing time help? People who come later can seek out the couple wherever they are, and in the meantime they can put the small talk. And this promise means that they don’t have to put small talk when there aer 100 people waiting in the queue?

Any other bright ideas? This is a common problem. Only thing is no one party will pay you enough to come up with a brilliant solution for this – benefits of this are far too distributed. Anyways, your thoughts on this, please.