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An Anatomy Of Grey

Celebrating anniversaries are fun. You’ve probably been best friends with someone for the last ten years, or you’ve slogged at work bravely for five long years, or built your dream home 2 years ago, and maybe if you’re lucky, you’ve been waking up every morning with the love of your life by your side for an entire year now. All of these make a great cause for celebration. There are a bunch of people who celebrate anniversaries of even the small things in life as it gives them a reason to appreciate and reminisce the good times. Sometimes, people celebrate anniversaries of events just to gain a sense of accomplishment. And it’s all good.

As it happens, about a month ago, I too completed an entire year of something and was extremely proud of myself for having been committed to it for that long. One consistent year of a lifestyle change seemed to be an anniversary worthy of acknowledgement. It had been a year of having adopted a “Monochromatic Lifestyle”. Quite a fancy jargon for a lifestyle that is anything but fancy. While the words may begin to make sense to some, for those of you who are still clueless, let me help you out.

Have you ever wondered why you always picture Steve Jobs in the same black turtleneck and a pair of Levis 501? Have you ever noticed that Mark Zuckerberg always wears the same grey t-shirt? Now that you know what I am getting at, let’s dive in right away. Monochromatic lifestyle, in its broadest sense, would mean a wardrobe choice where a person would choose to consistently adhere to a particular choice of clothing every single day. It did seem boring and dull to stick to the same colour, but what intrigued me was why two extremely successful individuals who changed and are still changing the world as we know it, adopted a similar way of life. There had to be some inherent logic. So, I looked deeper into this seemingly mundane fashion protocol. There were a lot of perspectives about the psychological and social effects of adopting a monochromatic lifestyle. I too decided to try it out, and if not anything else, I could call it a social experiment and get away with it.

Let me tell you, before I went monochrome, I had a conspicuous and retarded sense of fashion. I would wear bright chinos trousers, colours of the likes of leaf green, orange, yellow, blue, and at one point, even coral pink. I packed all of those bright colours and stuffed them at the back of my wardrobe, and went out to buy denims of evidently dull colours and a bunch of identical charcoal grey polo-neck t-shirts. And thus, I embarked a journey I did not know would stick around with me for long. For someone as commitment-phobic as me, the thought of investing a great deal of money to something that I might not even hold on to for long made me hesitant about it all the more. Yet, the desire to experiment and experience something new was strong enough to tide over hesitations and gave me strength to make a decision that completely changed my life.

The after effects of embracing this lifestyle came in different shades of grey. The initial few days went by, with me excitedly explaining to people that I did own multiple grey shirts and that I washed them. Then, as a fortnight passed, my excitement was replaced by fatigue; fatigue from having to tell every person that I did not get bored with wearing the same clothes. The one question I was expected to know the answer to, but I didn’t, was “why” I took on the monochromatic lifestyle. I didn’t know the answer then, but as time passed, I slowly understood why, and now I like to think I have more than just a vague idea.

The adoption of the monochrome was primarily, an attempt to optimize my daily life by removing all possible redundancies. And this encompassed a whole lot more than just my clothes. For starters, restricting my choices for clothing – in my case, having no options – would automatically cut down on the average time I would spend choosing the clothes I’d wear on a day to day basis. And not just time; the equation of clothing involves so many variables, especially when your wardrobe looks more like a disorganized heap than a well organized stack. This added more complexity and hindered me from being able to make a quick decision. Here’s an analogy that could help you see my point: A part of our subconscious mind is allotted purely to make a decision on our clothing since it is a daily affair, just as most frequently used information for computations in the ALU are stored on the higher levels of cache. At this point, the monochromatic lifestyle was a way to reroute my circuits by effecting a permanent decision on aspects that practically had no relevance or impact on my daily life instead of consciously spending energy and time to make an informed decision every time, and that could potentially free up the brain power for anything relatively more useful.

The affairs of grey followed through on these lines for about three months. My semester exams came to an end, and on that very day, I attended a job interview with Siemens Healthineers for the position of an intern. Few minutes before the HR round, when a few of us were sitting outside the interview hall discussing, a friend of a friend went on to tell me that humanizing and sharing experiences with your interviewer, especially during the HR round has a lot of impact on how they see you as a person. With having nothing to lose, I went on to tell my interviewer about my newly adopted lifestyle. Even to this day, I do not know how much of an impact it actually had on my interview, but I got the job, and those two months of internship gave me a new perspective into myself and the world around me.

In the period that I interned, I still followed what I like to call the grey code. Wearing the same clothes at college was an attempt to save time and use time and resources for making more important decisions. At work, the uniformity of attire gave me an added sense of discipline. And in the time that I was given to adjust to the new environment, I tried many new things, like following to a strict breakfast and lunch and coffee schedule, maintaining a steady diet plan till the point that I’d literally eat the same dish for every meal. The uniformity, the order, and the discipline yielded fruits because I had been more focused on work and learning than before. But it all made me seem weird to my colleagues, especially once the grey shirt didn’t go unnoticed. And then, a new tale began.

It was a new set of people at the internship. No one I knew from before was interning along with me. So, after the initial ice-breaking period of three weeks, the topic popped up again. This time, I was more prepared. I did tell them my experiences so far and why I feel satisfied with bringing order into my life. Although I was mocked and given the nickname of “Mark Z” by my colleagues, and they started associating the colour grey with me, I soon realized that the monochromatic lifestyle had escalated from being a simple lifestyle choice to a way of life that psychologically optimized my capabilities. However, towards the end of my work term, something else happened that further strengthened my resolve to sustain it further.

I had just purchased a cycle to commute to college during my semester. It soon made sense to continue wearing the grey t-shirts. I perspire a lot and travelling to college everyday wearing a plain grey t-shirt would mean the damage to other shirts and colours would be mitigated. I have been cycling for over a semester now, and it does feel extremely convenient to having maintained a constant wardrobe.

But, as the year passed, I felt that the positive psychological effects such as a larger attention span, more organization, discipline, balanced routine, punctuality and a few others slowly began to wear off, as though I had developed some sort of mental immunity to it. I was surprised that the symptoms surfaced in a short span of less than a year. But when another psychological experiment failed about a month ago, I took time to reflect on the why.

For the last few semesters, I would keep listening to music, especially a particular song on loop while I studied a particular subject. This way, I began to associate all the content with the song, its music, lyrics, rhythm patterns and tempo. And I have tested this theory in exams too, and it worked wonderfully for a while. If I forgot the content of any topic at any point in an exam, I would simply hum the song mentally, and I would soon have a full recollection of the subject. But during one of the tests in this semester, it didn’t work. A similar effect took place on my Monochromatic lifestyle. All that gave results stopped working. It in fact had an adverse effect on my mind in that I slowly lost the ability to make decisions when needed. Avoiding decisiveness for trivial matters slowly rendered me indecisive even for many important life choices that I should have made. I decided to let go of this way of life, but I couldn’t abandon the grey t-shirts, at least till I cycled. In the meanwhile, I toned down the rigour I implemented in my life and let more things happen based on instinct and gut feeling rather than calculated decisions. The entire exercise made me realize, that as animals, we can be trained to control our reflexes and the way we process and optimize our lives. However, as a species that has evolved through time to emerge at the top of the survival race today, we humans can overcome our conditioning when the results of the conditioning begin to appear redundant or ineffective, and the mind utilizes this feedback to help us unlearn our conditioning, and this is one of the reasons why the capabilities of the human mind will remain unexplored for a long time.

Giving this phenomenon a lot of thought, I went over the entirety of last year, mentally making note of how my life changed in the smallest or the most insignificant ways, when a strikingly strong theory got framed in my mind. The theory was based off one word: Entropy. Now you might wonder why I’d bring up the painful notion of Thermodynamics while discussing a lifestyle choice. To me, Entropy is its most basic definition: disorder. The second law of thermodynamics says, “Entropy of the universe is non-decreasing”. From the moment I adopted the Monochromatic Lifestyle, I subconsciously tried to bring an order to my existence, thus bringing down the entropy. As I enforced more order with passing time, I believe that in some crooked manner, the universe tried to resist this orderliness and is still trying to restore balance by increasing disorder in my life. And I think that it was a result of this that my life turned around in so many different ways, it’s impossible to even explain it. For a large part of last year, life travelled down the lane like the Nile, one straight path to its destination.

All of a sudden, from the beginning of this year, life split into so many different tributaries that for an outsider, it looked like chaos. Yet, I revelled in this chaos. The chaos that brought itself into my life, probably because I attempted to bring order into it has made me realize that I have more potential than I thought I did. The grey intrigued people about my character, and that led to people see the kind of person that I am. It brought in friends, humour and faith back into my life. It brought in a new sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that I never had before.

Maybe that is why, while a lot of people have associated the colour grey to sadness, dullness and monotony, for me, it is the colour that taught me to stand strong, to have faith in myself. And no matter how things are going on in life right now, deep within, I know I am honest when I tell people I’m happy.

Karthik K R

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