I hate peanut butter

I used to hate peanut butter – didn’t  like the smell or the looks of it, so no question of tasting it. Like many other things in my life, this hatred didn’t survive my marriage 🙂 My wife, Priya Raju, made a peanut butter jelly (a.k.a PBJ) sandwich and forced me to eat it. With great reluctance, I obeyed the boss’ orders. Lo and behold, it tasted so good that I was hooked. PBJ  is a regular fixture at the breakfast table to this day.

My tryst with beer was a bit different. The first time I tasted beer was, when I had just started working at my first job in Mumbai. While my colleagues seemed to be enjoying their beer, I didn’t quite like it. One of my colleagues looked at me and said “I can see you don’t like the beer. you have to cultivate a taste for it man.” Exactly as my colleague pointed out, I did start enjoying my beer over time, al though my wife still insists that it tastes like piss 🙂

At this time, you are well within your rights to wonder where I am going with peanut butter and beer. I have been having a series of discussions about motivation with some of my mentees and this post is a result of those discussions. They unearthed a ton of material around motivation – Extrinsic, Intrinsic, Maslow’s theory, ABC theory, 7 Habits, Purpose, Passion, Learning, Helping Others….  While all these points were accurate, I wanted a radically simpler way of understanding motivation and here is my attempt at that.

Before you start in a job, you have a mental picture of it, mostly drawn from what others say, because you don’t have  first hand experience yet. My first project was a maintenance project and I was very unhappy about it because everyone around me said that I should try to work in a development project and that maintenance projects were boring. With great reluctance I joined my project and much like my Peanut Butter moment, I enjoyed my project a lot after I started working in the project for a few weeks. I learnt a lot about good & bad design, good & bad coding etc. To fix a bug was like cracking a puzzle. To fix a bug and not introduce more bugs was a big challenge. I loved my job.

During my time as a developer, I formed a mental model of a manager as someone that is not very useful – just an unnecessary overhead, I thought. And so I concluded that I never wanted to be a manager. With great reluctance I became a manager because of the organization’s policies. I didn’t like the job of manager at all. And given my mental model of the manager, I sucked at this job. At some point, my work as a leader had become so stressful, that I had lost 10 pounds and was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. After some deep soul searching and with help from my wife and others, I reinvented myself. I started doing better and better as a leader and guess what, I started loving the job of a manager/leader – the Beer moment.

My hatred for exercise is another example of where I moved from hatred to love. So when we succumb to the usual advice that is trotted out – do what you love – we fail to consider the fact that the job we don’t like today could be our Beer moment – we may have to cultivate a taste for it. In other words, it is not necessary that the things that we don’t like today will forever remain that way.  

I found one more signal that our brain gives when we don’t like some aspect of our job (or even the whole job),  we procrastinate. If we focus on what we procrastinate and try to motivate ourselves, we can eliminate our hatred for it. One way is to use Tiny Changes.

There is one more strategy I learnt in my first job. Remember I hated maintenance at first – my maintenance project was at a leading hospital in Mumbai. One of the doctors came to my desk and said she had found a bug and it had to be fixed urgently. Perhaps she sensed my disinterest and gave me a challenge – “fix the bug in one hour and I will buy you lunch”.  That got me going and I fixed the bug in 45 minutes flat. In other words, create a challenge for yourself in a job that you don’t like to do. It could work wonders, like it did for me.

Are there other strategies that you use to game your own brain and get you to do things you don’t like? Please chime away in the comments section.

P.S. A few people had requested me to write a guest post on Meenaks’ blog on C2. I took them up on that request. This post was shared on Meenaks’ C2 blog which is internal to Cognizant today morning. Thanks Meenaks.




  1. Quote
    Lakshmi (subscribed) said October 17, 2014, 3:36 pm:

    Nice one Sukumar !!! I cannot think how people cultivate a taste for beer though.. it tastes like so bitter.. and I am a person who loves bittergourd.

  2. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 17, 2014, 3:38 pm:

    Thanks Lakshmi. Yeah probably beer is a tough one, judging from my wife’s and your reactions. What about bittergourd? Didn’t you have to cultivate a taste for it?

  3. Quote
    Lakshmi (subscribed) said October 17, 2014, 3:42 pm:

    True Sukumar.. one question… how does one increase from 2 to 50? I missed that part in the Tiny Steps blog… Should I add one for each day… it inspired me, I am going to start walking from tomorrow and see if I can adopt this strategy..

  4. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 17, 2014, 3:47 pm:

    Thanks Lakshmi. At first I added a 2 or 3 at a time every 15-20 days or so and reached 20 in 6 months. After that I added 5 at a time every month and reached 50 in under a year. I think the way to add would be based on the activity you are doing. Push Ups are very hard to do and hence adding 2 or 3 at a time makes most sense. For walking you could easily add 500 (which takes 5-7 min typically) every week. Hope that helps?

  5. Quote
    Prakash (subscribed) said October 18, 2014, 2:24 am:

    Thanks Sukumar for those wonderful examples! many such we can relate from our life. I never used to like the smell and taste of Cilantro, but once I moved out from my hometown to Pune and had to survive many night on a shared bhel puri with friends, I had to develop a taste and now it became something I can’t think of not part of most of what I eat!!

    From my personal experience, you force liking things in another way too – that you have no other options. So, another way of motivating oneself!

  6. Quote

    Good post . On a lighter note as Danush tells in a movie to a girl -“Engalai ellam patha oodaney pudikadhu pakka pakka dhaan pudikum” 🙂 English translation -“You wont like us at first sight but only by looking again and again.”

  7. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 18, 2014, 9:05 am:

    Thanks Prakash. Good one. Forcing yourself to like what you are getting is a good strategy as well.

  8. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said October 18, 2014, 9:05 am:

    Thanks Kumaran. Yeah I remember that dialog. Hadn’t connected this to that.

  9. Quote
    Kavitha (subscribed) said November 8, 2014, 4:26 am:

    Hi Sukumar….Firstly great to see your blogs again externally 🙂 Great examples that anyone can take up and follow.

    Consistency for me seems to be a challenge…for example exercise….not that I dont like it I dont have any complaints doing it but my mind refuses to schedule the time everyday on a specific time for fitness….so its like a sine curve…..Am trying to work on this challenge for now..

    But this itself was an awakening moment for me that there is no thing as I like it and I dont like it !!!

    THanks and keep blogging….

  10. Quote
    Sukumar (subscribed) said November 9, 2014, 1:56 pm:

    Thanks Kavitha. The fact that you are procrastinating with your exercise routine is an indicator that you don’t like it. That is what I pointed out in my post. Because we are not that open to admitting to ourselves what we don’t like, the brain has a way of making us procrastinate, giving us a hint.

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