Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Thoughtful learning ...

Learning is a science, an art and a skill that has to be acquired. In my opinion ‘learning to learn’ is probably the most important lesson anybody can have in life. However in my experience I find that most people have not mastered the technique of learning well.

I often see people who are impatient, hurried or mechanical. The process of learning requires complete attention to the act of learning. We must focus on what is being learnt and how our mind and bodies act & react during the process. For e.g. if we are learning to swim we must completely and fully feel every stroke that we make. We must feel our body balance in the water. We must concentrate on our breathing. There is a enormous amount of thought that should accompany the act of swimming. I usually notice people get into the water and mindlessly splash like a pro and get nowhere in the process. Similarly if we are learning to play a musical instrument, say the violin, we must feel the pressure of string below the bow, we must listen carefully to the sound that the bow makes, and our mind must start its own timing mechanism.  If we rush into the process of learning we usually fail. If we fail a couple of times we are really setting ourselves for frustration.

Learning is a slow and deliberate process. Learning is almost like writing a software program where we determine the steps for progress while also taking into consideration how we determine if we are not on the right path.

The process of learning requires a constant feedback which we send to ourselves. We have to completely aware of the continuous feed back that our minds, our bodies send back at every instant and we must be able to adjust in real time. This is extremely critical to making real progress in learning.

Learning a subject, learning to program or learning to paint or all similar. Learning has always to be accompanies by loads of thought. This is what I call “thoughtful learning’.

For my part I am still learning …

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

'Tis more important ...

Our mind can at times be our greatest enemy. It can completely deceive us by either playing the devil’s advocate or by spinning a web of rationalization. We have to tread extremely carefully and ensure that we can find our way through the darkness of our own mind. These are  some of the common modes of self-deception that many of us fall prey to.

‘Tis more important to be kind than correct: Nothing, in my opinion, is more important than kindness. How often have we heard people tell us proudly that they “speak their mind”? In the minds of these people being brutally frank ranks higher than sensitivity and sensibility. You can expect these people to promptly tell somebody that they are “too fat” or “they are going to fail”. These people think that being forthright and honest is most important. But these people lack sensitivity to the feelings of others.  To me honesty comes second only to tact. We must ensure that we couch our words with sensitivity. We must take into account the pain the other person may feel when we convey something. We need compassion and kindness. It does not make sense to just get something off your chest when that something can hurt others. So, be kind and be correct.

‘Tis more important to be right that stupid:  This is another trap many of us fall into. A brief encounter with religion or philosophy can often leave one confused on the right course of action. We may end up interpreting philosophy completely wrong.  It is true that Jesus said “If someone slaps you on the left cheek, show thy right cheek”. This does not mean that we quietly suffer all insults and indignities that come our way. I am certain that Lord Christ intended a non-retaliatory response to those who are capable of self-reflection. If we accept everything a sadist throws our way we will always be on the receiving end.

Alternatively the call of Lord Krishna for war against the Kauravas does not in any way justify the use of violence. Such a means can only be resorted after all other means have been exhausted. Similarly we often find people adopting a philosophical attitude towards their suffering and assume that they simply deserve it. We really need to be practical and work towards the solution.

In most cases we must ensure that we employ our reason in every situation and act according the merit of the occasion. Better to be right, than stupid!

We have to be wary of the workings of the mind and avoid the common pitfalls that occur.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

How do you instill good values?

How can we instill good values whether in our child, our juniors or our subordinates? Is there a way that allows us to transfer good moral values whether it is integrity, perseverance, kindness or compassion? In my opinion there is no easy way.

As opposed to our academic lessons where we understand things, values need to imbibed and internalized. We cannot intellectualize values, we need to internalize it.

These are my thoughts on this difficult topic.  Please feel free to come up with your ideas.

Futility of reason and explanations: Values can never be transmitted by way of explanations and reasons. However sound your reasons may be the other person will either acknowledge or disagree with your views. It will never go deep into the psyche. Reason and logic can be used as supporting elements but never as the primary cause for transmitting values.

The strength of mythology and fables:  Mythology and fables are usually good tools to transfer values. A story has a soul and is a good way to transmit values. So whether it patient Job or the valiant Arjuna stories are pretty powerful tools. Aesop’s tales and other fables are also excellent tools particularly in the case of the children.

Leading by example: This is another potent way to pass important values and principles to others. We always tend to look up to role models in life. A Gandhiji, a Mother Teresa or a Bill Gates is a sound example of role models in our life. It is always said that the key method to pass good values to children is by being a role model for them. Children always look up to their parents. Similarly in a corporate world the values of the CEO are usually a pointer to the way the organization is headed.

Inculcating sound values take time and requires a lot of patience. It is extremely critical that we live the values that we want to transfer to others.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For a degree in right attitude

We spend a third of our lives in academic pursuits, the initial years being taken away in basic education and the later years in the pursuit of degrees and certificates. Education in itself is important and necessary to get us through this increasingly knowledge intensive world. However the fervor with which we attempt in getting into top –rated colleges with top-rated degrees does not make a whole lot of sense. We run, or are made to run, by our family and society after law, medical, engineering, commerce degrees.

Granted, a good degree from a great college or a great degree from a good college will give you an excellent initial velocity and momentum to your career in the early years. But with time it is not the degree that will come your aid but your attitude towards life. Unfortunately there are no institutions that give a degree in right attitude. There are no institutions that teach us the importance of personal responsibility, of social obligations, the ability to solve life’s problems. Neither are we taught to maintain a constant drive to get things done, the need for patience and consistency and so on. These are essential skills that one needs in life in addition to the medical, engineering or the law degrees.

We are left to fend our lives on our own. A great many people, after the initial exuberance of a wonderful start to their career and lives dies down, tend to meander about completely lost in life. There are others who just potter or drift about in life.

“Life’s journey, not a destination” we have been told a million times. What has been left unsaid is that this journey can be to new territory, or simply in plain circles. It is what we make of it.

If we don’t have the right attitude to life we will not navigate our way in life properly. Some of us will tend to the same mechanical things ad-nauseum without getting nauseated. Others will tend to buffeted by the vagaries of fortune. Still others will be cowed down under their responsibilities and problems.

In my opinion “success in life is in the eyes of the beholder”. Life is a marathon and we need to have the right attitude in dealing with it. We should not shy away from problems. Rather we should face it head-on. We need to become expert problem solvers. We must sow seeds for our future. We must be grateful for life itself and what it has offered us. We must live every moment.

We must use the creativity of imagination, the strength of courage, the power of determination and the wisdom of patience to sculpt our lives as we live them.

Life is never a race thought it is often mentioned as one. In life you never need to get anywhere. Life is all about paving your own path in time.

You are the sculptor and surprise, surprise, you sculpt yourself!

A healthy and a right attitude can come handy at any stage in life. This does not just apply each one of us but also to our children.

We should spend more time educating our children about true values like courage, will-power, consistency and drive while they pursue their college degrees. This will take them farther in their lives.

Friday, August 10, 2012

On God and religion

Many of us believe in God. We believe in the divinity of the Creator. There are some who will pray fervently, others will chant bhajans or still others will perform rituals. To many of us thinking, praying or chanting hymns gives us a feel-good feeling. We feel a warm glow when we imagine a more powerful Creator above us.

Then there are those who will pray to God to grant them their wishes. They will pray for a long life, wealth or other rewards in life.  Others will pray to God to solve their problems in life. They will live in a imaginary world where their problems of the world is solved through divine intervention.

God to all these people is nothing more than a religious fix.

Unfortunately in all these activities we tend to turn a blind eye to the central teaching of any religion. Behind every God there is a religion. The religions teach us to practice humility, compassion, love, forgiveness and integrity.  We are supposed to avoid anger, hatred or lust.

However most of us perform ritualistic prayers or bhajans and return to our nasty selves every single time.  We forget the values that our religions propound and behave in petty ways. A Krishna Jayanthi should remind us of the need to do our duty in a selfless manner. A Christmas should make us more loving and forgiving. Buddha Jayanthi should make us more non-violent.

Many great souls have re-iterated that it is sufficient to chant the name of God. We take this literally and chant the Lord’s name mindlessly. In reality we should be reminded of the great principles in the religion and we should make a habit of practicing them.

Rather than wishing problems away and praying for divine intervention it would make better sense to confront issues while asking for God’ s assistance in making right decisions.

Rather that requesting God to grant you success and good thing’s life it is better that we take bold initiatives while remembering the sacrifices and the teachings of the religion and God.

God & religion are not fixes for our problems. In reality they are true north pointers of right action and right behavior. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Re-program yourself

We, as human beings, like to view ourselves as the Creator’s ultimate creation, the pinnacle of perfection and so on. The human race is truly superior to all other species and the human brain a real marvel.

We like to view ourselves as possessing free will. We like to pride ourselves in being able to make intelligent choices based on the situation. But if we look closer at ourselves or human beings in general we will realize that more than 80% of our mind is pre-programmed.  We are made up of layers and layers of rules. Our conscious, sub-conscious and unconscious minds have been programmed right from the times of our birth. In the early years a lot of programming is done by our parents – “don’t do this”, “do this”, “avoid that” and so on. Later we get conditioned by our friends, our schools and society. Our inner selves are made up of millions and millions of little rules like – A person who smiles often must be good natured”, “A black cat crossing your path is bad luck” and so on. These programs are deep inside us and kick in when ever a situation triggers them.

With so much of programming most of our actions are simple reactions or results of our existing programs or conditioning. There are some who feel that man really does not have free will and all our actions in our life are pre-ordained. While that may be debatable the fact still remains that most of our actions are simply reactions which stem from our past programming.

For e.g. when somebody questions our capabilities we feel hurt. The simple reason is that we have programmed to view ourselves as smart and intelligent. When somebody questions our credentials our ego is hurt. The internal programming rules start to revolt and we get really upset. Most of the times besides getting hurt we will also tend to get angry. There may be many internal programming rules which may result in this adverse reaction. For one this may be diametrically opposite to the rule “I am the greatest”. There may be other rules also in action for e.g.  “What right does Mr. X have to question my capabilities?”, “Mr. X is inferior to me”.

There may be other times when you instantly dislike a person. This may be because he/she may be dressed outrageously. Sometimes it could be more subtle. This person or this person’s mannerism may remind you of a colleague or acquaintance who you intensely dislike.  The memory of the colleague or acquaintance along with the hate is programmed into your psyche and is triggered again.

Hence it can be seen that a large part of our reactions in this world whether it is anger, hatred, bias, sadness etc are all based on our past programming or conditioning.

We first have to recognize that these reactions are pre-programmed behavior. In a way we are reacting as robots would.

What is required of us is to gently re-program ourselves. For e.g. if somebody questions our capabilities we need to step back and take a genuine look at ourselves. Are we really lacking in some areas? Could we do better? For this we need to re-program our own opinion about ourselves. We have to rewrite the rule about our own assumed superiority. We must write it to include a realistic picture about ourselves.

Similarly when we instantly like or dislike somebody we must again question ourselves. We must look deep into ourselves and try to understand the rules that result in such an outlook.

Re-programming oneself is no simple task. After all we are trying to undo years of accumulated programs and rules.  For this to be effective we must truly make an effort to understand the real reason behind our reactions and why we need to re-program ourselves in a new way.

Many philosophers and thinkers have constantly re-iterated the need for a person to be aware of one’s thought process. This in reality is another way of saying that we need to be aware of our internal programming.

In other words to change ourselves for the better we need to re-program ourselves.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The curse of inertia

All of us come under the curse of inertia in our lives to a greater or smaller extent. How often have we postponed something, procrastinated or just felt downright lazy in doing something.  All of us are guilty of indolence and we keep accumulating a list of things to do. We are soon left with a long list of things to get done.

In fact we can rephrase Newton’s 1st law of motion and safely claim that “A person under the spell of laziness will continue to be lazy unless acted upon by an external agency”. What typically happens is that we tend to avoid doing something because it appears distasteful. When we postpone doing it this distaste soon turns to hatred and we cannot get ourselves to doing it. We either avoid completing our tasks or just try to ignore. But it always tends to lurk in the back of our mind. Eventually this task which we chose to ignore suddenly becomes extremely urgent and we undergo enormous tension.

Then there are some who tend to keep a “to do” list. Unfortunately to a lot of people this remains a “to do” list for a long time. The list just keeps growing longer. Sometimes we just convince ourselves that certain things are unimportant and remove items from the list rather than completing them.

In my mind having an unfinished task is like having a weight attached to a chain around your neck. As you accumulate more tasks you are in reality adding more weights to this chain.

What is required of us is that we just get on with any task that we are faced with. We may face an initial resistance because of an assumed distaste for the task.  Once we get started we may find that our initial distaste was really only imagined. We may actually find that we like doing the task. It is all just in the attitude. It is really important that we do not procrastinate but get things done as soon as we can.

Completing tasks that come to us on time helps us in 2 ways. For one it keeps us light. We don’t have to live with the burden of nagging thoughts. We can live lightly and in the moment. Secondly completing tasks also gives us a sense of achievement and helps us to get more things done.

Prudence requires that we tackle the issues in a timely manner and not spend time now in completing tasks that was supposed to be done ages ago. We need to stop procrastinating. We need to build efficiency and alertness into our mental attitude and complete tasks as they come to us.

When we are more efficient we also become more effective in our lives.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Top ten tips for leading a fulfilling life

We have heard a zillion times about the ways about becoming rich, about becoming powerful, on becoming successful and other cool things. I include below the top 10 ways of leading a fulfilling life. If you live a fulfilled life you will pretty soon convince yourself that you have also been successful.

So here goes. The 10 tips in no particular order

  1. Be content. Be ambitious: The former statement will sound conflicting. But on closer look it really is not. At any given point in your life you should be content with what you have whether it is your personal fortune, your learning or your talents. But at any juncture in your life you must also be ambitious. It is fine to want wealth, to want fame, to want power as long as you do not compromise on true principles. Be ambitious and be proactive. Seize the initiative to make things happen in your life.

  1. Never let go of common sense:  This is next important principle. Any action that you ever take or any new step that endeavor must withstand the test of common sense. If you want to invest in stocks ask yourself “Is this what large majority of people would do?”  Granted no great discovery comes from common sense but a large part of our life is governed by common sense. So for e.g. common sense dictates that we save some part of our wealth for our and our family’s future. Common sense requires that we hone our talents at office so we can move up the ladder. Common sense requires us to increase our friend’s circle. All your actions must have common sense as the foundation.

  1. Make values your guiding light: This tip requires that we never compromise on true north bound principles under any circumstance. Values of integrity, perseverance, humility, compassion have with stood the test of time. In a way they are common sense. We should never compromise on principles even under adversity. In the long run a principled life will save your day.

  1. Fraternize, fraternize and fraternize: Never underestimate the power of a social circle. Increase your circle of friends and indirectly increase your circle of influence. In this era of social networking make maximum use of Facebook, Twitter and good old phone calls to say hi to old friends and make new friends. Friends are useful in so many ways. They can be used as sounding boards, to discuss new ideas, to learn from their experience and their failures

  1. Get to know yourself: This may sound unusual.  After all, what is there to know about you yourself? Actually there is a goldmine of knowledge inside you. For one you try to understand what your real strengths and weaknesses are. With a little common sense you can try to further improve your strengths while working on your weaknesses. Besides one should also take a closer look at one’s biases and pre-conceived notions. Dive deep into your past and you are bound to come up with pearls of wisdom on what worked well in your life and what did not.

  1. Exercise: Exercise your body, mind and spirit. At whatever stage of life you are at make sure you get an adequate amount of physical exercise. You could hit the gym thrice a week, pump irons or just take a brisk walk everyday. After all if you want to live your life well and enjoy it a good body is essential. Read a lot of good books and exercise your mind. Jogging your mind is necessary to stay young as you grow old in life. Finally exercise your spirit by serving people in whatever way you can. You can perform random acts of kindness. Go out of your way to spread joy to people. For those spiritually inclined praying fervently is also

  1. All good things take time: Remember life is a marathon and one needs to be patient in life. We have to work patiently to improve ourselves and our talents. There are no enduring short cuts in life. Your life will be intertwined with the lives of your grandparents, your parents, your siblings, your children and your grand children. You have to work your way through all the numerous interactions in life. Persevere and work patiently in achieving your goal.

  1. Lower your expectations: Keep your expectations low. As St. Francis of Assisi said “Expect nothing. Enjoy everything”. As long as you keep your expectations low you are bound to be happy and satisfied with what you get. While you can be ambitious in life you must also keep your expectations of yourself realistic.

  1. Be grateful: Be grateful for the little things that you have been given in this life. Avoid comparisons to others. While it may appear that your friends and colleagues who may have more that you are happier in reality they may not be. Happiness is not in what you have but in what you choose to be. Choose to be happy and enjoy everything.

  1. Have a purpose in life: “What is the meaning of my life” may sound rhetorical. But you could have a simple enough reason like making sure that you buy your own house in the next 5 years, to spending an hour a week at an ashram to giving 1% of your salary to the poor every year. A purpose in life will help you tide through troubles in life. As Nietzsche said “Anybody who knows the why of life can almost certainly handle any how”

If you follow even a few of these tips you are bound to have a more fulfilling and hence successful life. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The difficulty of altruism

All of us have altruistic urges, to a larger or smaller extent. But there is usually only a small part of us that is kind. However being consistently and uniformly altruistic is rare and fairly non-existent even among so called swamis and holy men.

The lopsided altruism: Most of us practice lopsided altruism. There are some who would not bat an eyelid in shelling out money to a charitable organization - to orphans, to the hungry and the needy. Yet these very same people will find it difficult to be charitable in their nature to their relatives or a colleague. They will be unkind, rude and biased. On the other hand there are those who will be generous to their near and dear ones. They will make sure that their family, relatives and dear ones get their full attention. However they will turn a blind eye to the destitute and the really needy.

The generosity oxymoron: We are expected to give without even the expectation of gratitude. However we generally tend to feel pleased with ourselves and our own perceived nobility. In fact some people even go to the extent of comparing themselves mentally and feel that they are superior in generosity. This is an oxymoron. There is never more generosity. It is as meaningless as being “more pure”.

Ego vs. altruism: This is another bind we typically get into. For e,g. if there is another who is also morally responsible for something then our altruism will depend on whether the other person is equally altruistic as we perceive ourselves to be. For e.g. if there is a village which can benefit from increased funding we will feel that we can give only if all responsible parties also give. Closer to home it is common for a spouse to ignore their child if their significant other ignores the child. In these cases the ego gets in the way and the child or the village suffers. It is better that we get rid of our egoism and give regardless of whether anybody else does or not.

While all of us have an altruistic and generous nature out pettiness often gets in the way. Generosity of heart has to be practiced till it becomes a habit. It requires a lot of thought to keep us broad minded and truly generous.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Modes of the mind – The assimilator, the evaluator and the processor modes

Our mind operates in many modes the results of which are our outbursts, our irritations, signs of impatience, flashes of insight or feelings of wistfulness. In my opinion there are 3 main modes in which out mind operates.  All the modes may operate simultaneously but usually one of them predominates. I call them the assimilator, the evaluator and the processor modes.

The Assimilator mode: In this mode the mind is absorbing things quietly. While you may focus on only a part of an event or a picture the mind goes about assimilating all sorts of information. For e.g. while we may be watching a sporting event our mind may record the smells, the sounds and the general atmosphere. While we may not be aware of this assimilation it is this recording of the mind that sometimes triggers strange feelings of longing when we see or experience something. It is quite likely that in the past we observed an event when a particular doleful song was being played. It is quite likely that when we hear the tune we may be reminded of the event or a similar experience may trigger feelings of melancholy.

The Evaluator Mode:  In this mode our mind is evaluating a situation or an experience and will constantly give us its assessment. After we complete our exams or finish a tough interview the Evaluator mode goes on an overdrive. The mind keeps evaluating the situation and starts nagging. How often have we been on tenterhooks to know whether we would pass a competitive exam or whether we would get a dream job?  In this mode the mind keeps constantly nagging. We can neither wish it away nor ignore it. One approach is to try and reason and justify your position to yourself. This can put a temporary stop but beware it can re-appear with renewed vigor if your reasoning is not good enough.

The Processor mode: In this mode the mind is most effective. In this mode the mind quietly works on any complex problem that is bothering you. You may not be even aware of its working. However the mind in the background is trying out various possibilities and determining solutions. It is creative and come ups with ideas that you consciously would not even think of. Flashes of insight or serendipitous discoveries happen because the mind is operating in the processor mode. When we are faced with a tough problem it is good idea to give the problem some thought and simply park it our brain. As long as you have a strong intention in getting the problem solved you can rest assured, literally, that your mind will figure it out for you.

Knowing the different modes of the mind is extremely important in our daily lives. In the assimilator mode it is a good idea to be extra alert, in the evaluator mode we must reason out the situation for ourselves and in the processor mode we must have a strong desire for an outcome. If we do this we will put our minds to good use.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Mirage of Success

What is success?  As we grow older the word “success” undergoes a major transformation. From our early view that success is getting a first class in your board exam, to cracking a competitive exam and much later to securing a dream job our notion of success undergoes a metamorphosis.

We are often told that “Success is not a destination but a journey”. This is true to an extent. However success cannot be defined in narrow terms of a specific context or a time continuum.

Success in life is dependent on not just our place in life but also on that of our near and dear ones and people at large. As we grow older success can not be based on only our achievements it will also depend on the achievements of people we love.  But then the natural question arises, is success really dependent on achievements. So do we think that a Michael Jackson or a Elvis Presley was successful?

Clearly this is not the case. Success is not dependent on achieving laurels, fame, respect or power. In my opinion it also does not imply sustained fame, respect or power.  To me success in life is how well a person is able to tackle the challenges in life. Success is also dependent on how well you can inculcate a sense of confidence, a sense of courage and discipline in your children or family member. Success also implies how we go about improving the lot of people’s lives in whatever small or insignificant ways. Success then means how we conduct our lives and how we inspire others to live well.

As we reach closer to the grave if we look back at our lives what will we think of? Will we recount the fame or the money we earned? Will we be able to look at satisfaction at the way our children carry themselves. Will be look back at all those times we were able to lend a helping hand to those in need?

Success as we know or visualize is nothing more than a mirage. The occasional triumphs, the victories or recognitions we get will pass.

What will endure are the principles that we hand down to children, the values that we inspire in others. That in my opinion is “true success!”

Friday, June 29, 2012

Mind your mind

“It’s all in the mind” we hear this pretty often. What is the mind? Does it really exist? According to the Bhagavad Gita at the gross level we have the indriyas (senses), above which we have manas (mind) and then the buddhi (intellect) and finally the atma (the self).

We know we have a brain. So then what is the mind? The mind in reality does not exist. The mind is nothing more than the manifestation of our beliefs, opinions, biases and judgments. The mind exists when there is a parade of thoughts in our brain. The mind is like the “current” in water.  It is a dynamic quality and not a physical entity. In fact our mind only exists in our mind.

However while the mind does exist physically as an entity it does come into existence as a manifestation of our deepest beliefs, biases and opinions.

We have to be mindful of our mind. Some of things we need to do are

Free yourself of assumptions: Our thoughts and actions are usually based on our ideas. Many a time we tend to assume things. We see only a snapshot of people or events. We get to know people only through small windows. However the mind tends to average out these experiences from individual events. It tends to interpolate meaning into seemingly unconnected events. The danger of this is that we tend to assume things that are not typically true. For e.g. just because somebody smiles at you on a couple of occasions does not mean that they think favorably of you. Similarly, just because someone is brusque with you on a few occasions does not mean that they dislike you.  We have to question our assumptions and generally not extrapolate from isolated events

Free yourself of prejudices: This is another trait of which most of us are guilty of. We are prejudiced towards certain people or acts. We just instantaneously develop a dislike towards somebody or some task. For e.g. if your boss gives you some task to do on a regular basis we may transfer our dislike of our boss to the task given. We will cringe when we have to do this task. It is really important that we step back and try to put off our biases and look at the task or person clearly. If we do that we may find that we really like the task.

The predictable mind: Our mind is in many ways quite predictable. If we like someone then we go out of our way to protect them. For e.g. a parent is extremely careful that his/her child does suffer any pain. Conversely when we hate someone we ensure that we inflict maximum pain to the person we hate. Our mind relishes the pain that somebody whom we hate has to undergo.

So while the mind is a manifestation of our fears, hopes and prejudices it is extremely important that we use our faculty of reason and question these deep-seated beliefs. We have to extremely mindful of our mind.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Who are you?

That must have taken you by surprise. Rather than asking “Who am I?” have you ever wondered “Who you really are?” in the eyes of others. Who you are in your own eyes is usually quite different from the way other people view you

You are the only person who spends the most time with yourself which would probably indicate that you know yourself best. But there is an issue here as our assessment of ourselves sometimes can be quite erroneous. We may have wrong ideas, wrong biases and wrong judgments on which we base our own image of ourselves.

This does not necessarily mean that the assessment others have of us will be right. In some cases it may be more correct than our own view in others it may not.

So how do others see us? Other’s view of us is based on the interactions that we have them.  In each interaction people see us through a small window. Each subsequent interaction is another window. Typically what happens is that people tend to interpolate and average out your personality between these windows and arrive at what they think  is your personality. For e.g. if several of your meetings with an recent acquaintance of yours shows up your humorous side then it is quite natural the other person will assume that you are generally a fun guy to be with. If you appear irritated and testy during your brief interactions the other person will form an opinion that you are generally a short tempered person.

So while in your own mind these behaviors of yours may really be temporary the other person view of you will be based on these windows into your personality rather than who you really are. So don’t be surprised if somebody has a completely different idea about you as you have of yourself.

This is particularly important in the professional world. Make sure you keep sending those “Hello” messages to your manager and your colleagues. This is also another reason to network and interact more often with your friends and colleagues so that your perception of yourself and the perception others have of you are in sync.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Facets of intelligence

Whenever we think of intelligence we normally tend to confuse it with one’s ability to solve puzzles, mathematical problems, and ability to analyze science problems. To make matters worse we have IQ scores that measure one’s ability to solve a wide variety of test problems. I would like to call this intelligence as “paper intelligence”. This type of intelligence is hardly of any use in real life. One good attempt to classify intelligence was by psychologist Howard Gardner’s in his Theory of multiple intelligences in which he states that there are 9 types of intelligence.

In my view intelligence far from being a problem on paper requires much more involvement. It requires the ability to understand situations, have an insight into multiple contexts, capability to understand nuances, resolve different ideas between people. Intelligence should be accompanied by sound common sense, gumption and dollops of street smarts. In this context I would like to propose the following types of intelligence in people

Personal Intelligence: This is the most basic requirement for a person. This intelligence enables a person to understand what he needs in every point in his life and how to go about achieving it. For e.g. a teenager would understand the importance of learning a professional would realize the need for qualifications or an intelligent sport person would understand the importance of consistent practice. People with this type of intelligence would understand the need to remain healthy and would follow an exercise regimen religiously. Having personal intelligence we would know that we would need to save for our future. We would prudently invest in stocks, funds or CDs to increase our net worth in life.

Professional Intelligence: Have you ever wondered why those with talent sometimes never reach the top of the ladder while others who appear less talented are able to cruise to the top of the management ladder. In my opinion this is because the latter have something I would like to call professional intelligence. For this the person must not only deliver but he/she must make sure that all concerned are aware of his/her contribution. This type of intelligence requires a combination of talent, hard work, ability to influence people and some amount of appropriate self advertisement. Some people are endowed with this type of intelligence. They know what wheels to turn in order to get farther in life.

Interpersonal Intelligence: This is extremely powerful type of intelligence and very few people have it. This intelligence requires that the person be able to weigh each and every individual he/she comes across and be able to turn lever that will make the other person feel important and valued. People endowed with interpersonal intelligence will exert a lot of power. People around them generally love to work for these types of people.

Ethical Intelligence: This intelligence deals with the ability to weight different possibilities in a conflict and to make appropriate choice, Ethical intelligence involves the ability to weigh a hierarchy of values and choose what is most appropriate under the given circumstances

Social Intelligence: This is to some extent similar to interpersonal intelligence though it is on a much larger scale. Social intelligence indicates a complete understanding of how society at large operates. It requires knowledge of what is important to the people at large. Social intelligence is being able to identify a larger purpose in a situation influence people. These people are leaders and can start a movement if required be.

Conclusion: Intelligence thus has many facets to it. In most cases it requires certain perspicacity, the ability weigh situations, understand the contextual complexity and take decisive actions. Intelligence in real-life has little to do solving paper problems. Intelligence involves being able to adjust oneself according to different contexts and choose the most appropriate course of action.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Are you left-brained, right-brained or bird brained?

Which type are you? Are you left-brained, right-brained or simply bird-brained (just kidding!)? Ok, I was kidding there. But if you are either left or right brained you could face serious issues in life. As we know our brain is made up of 2 hemispheres. The left hemisphere is a logical and sequential processing machine. The right on the other hand is intuitive and can take a more holistic view of things. A balanced approach to life will involve both hemispheres.

But very often in life we come across people who are either left or right brained. So let me give you an example of left-brained interactions.
Husband (upset and tired) returns from office: “I got into an argument with my boss today”
Consider these 2 responses
Wife:  “Why did you not do your assignment given?” 
As opposed to
Wife: “Its ok, relax. You can tell me later.”

Or consider this
Son (crying): “My head is aching, daddy”
Dad: “I told you not to play those computer games”
As opposed
Dad: “Go lie down.” And much later when the son feels better tells him about not spending too much time on the computer.

In both the above cases the response is rational, logical and correct. There is no emotional sympathy involved. This is case of left brained activity which really does not help much and can be quite irritating.

Let us consider the alternate, right-brained only responses. These people simply believe in something. They neither reason nor analyze their thoughts. How many times you come across people saying “I just dislike him/her” They never try to analyze what it is about the other person that they dislike. These people simply guess things. They form opinions based on hunches and react impulsively. This is right brained response and can be equally dangerous.

What is really required is that we assess the situation objectively, listen to what our heart tells us and then analyze it logically. There has to be nice balance between the left and right hemispheres. This way we will have proper approach to life and the world.

Monday, March 26, 2012

An open letter to Sachin Tendulkar

Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar – The man who knew cricketing infinity, icon, god and demi-god all rolled into one. I think it is time that you called it quits! Before you dismiss me as another one of your critics let me assure you that I am not your critic. I was a fan of yours once upon a time. Not anymore! It is high time that you retired and passed the cricketing baton to a younger generation.

Here are some questions that you need to honestly answer to yourself.

You say “I will continue to play as long as I enjoy my cricket”. Does not the statement sound extremely self-serving? You are more interested in you enjoying your cricket rather than the billions enjoying your cricket. Don’t you realize that many a youngster with a larger heart would enjoy cricket in the Indian team a lot more than you.

You say “It would be selfish of me to retire now when I am in the top of my form.” I have to admit that this statement of yours is an extremely clever form of self-deception. Isn’t it more selfish to deprive budding youngsters of a chance to play in the national team? Not many will agree with your assessment that you are now in top-form when it has taken you more than a year to score your 100th century.

You say”I know when to retire”. Do really believe you do? If you did you would have quit after India won the World Cup. The other more important issue is that few will have the courage to tell you to leave. After all you have more number of runs, 50’s and centuries than anybody else.

You say “I get goose bumps when I hear the national anthem while standing along with your team mates.” While it is nice to know that your patriotic sense still burns in you imagine what a youngster who is getting a first chance to play in the national team would feel in a similar situation. His heart would probably burst with pride.

In any case with your love for the game, with your patriotic desires the best thing you could give a lot back to cricket and to India. For e.g. you could start a cricketing academy and coach youngsters on the nuances of the game. You could write a book on the “sound batting technique”. You could give so much more away from the limelight than you being in the Indian team with its hectic schedules.

I sincerely hope that Sachin the gentleman prevails over Sachin the cricketer!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Dr. Daniel Siegel in his book mindsight talks about the need to have mindsight or an awareness of the activities of our mind. He suggests that we need to understand our SIFT and (Sensations, Images, Feelings and Thoughts) while encountering difficult emotions. One particular concept in his book is the concept of using maps in knowing ourselves, our dear ones or people at large.

In the book he discusses what he calls Me-map, You-map and Us-map. So what are these maps?

Me-map: Most of us are so wrapped in ourselves that we have what I would like to refer as I-map. We are the center of the universe. We are the nucleus behind all worldly activity. Our problems consume us completely. What is more important is that we have what is termed as Me-map. We need to understand ourselves. We need to be aware of our sensations, images, thoughts and feeling (SIFT) in each every encounter that we have. We have to understand ourselves.

You-map: Our daily lives are made of interactions with our spouses, our children, relatives and colleagues. But we usually run into rough weather in our relations. Why does this happen? This because with everybody we create a he-map or she-map. We look at them objectively. When our spouse or friends relate their problems or source of joy to us we mentally look at it objectively. What is really needed is that we create a You-map. We need to be able to view the problem or source of joy through their eyes and mind. We must be able to visualize what they are going through and what they are experiencing. For this we need to be good at creating You-maps

Us-maps: Very few in this world create Us-maps. When we hear of poverty or see pain we usually create a They-map. We must feel both empathy and sympathy for this. We need to create Us-maps. We must feel compassion for the suffering and pain of others. We must be able to visualize what the under-privileged are going through. We need to feel compassion (Do read Dr. Alex Lickerman’s post: What compassion is?). We need to create Us-maps.

Hence to improve the quality of our daily lives we need to become adept in creating Me-maps, You-maps and Us-maps.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Our bottom-up mind

Our mind works from the bottom up. In other words the sub-conscious mind with all its emotions drives our conscious mind.

In a day we human beings have close to 12000 thoughts. A large part of these thoughts are driven by our inner desires, our hatreds, our likes and dislikes. The conscious mind more often than not, is just verbalizing what we feel inside our deepest core. The conscious mind tries to explain or put words to our feelings.

For e.g. let us say that you resent some person. What happens is that the conscious mind comes up with ideas about all the negative aspect of the person you dislike. You will find that there are so many reasons why the person you hate is so despicable. The conscious mind will explain the inner hatred that you have. In the end you will start believing that the hatred is a consequence of all your observations rather than the other way around i.e. you had resented this person to start with.

On the other hand when we are infatuated with some body then our mind finds so many reasons to make this person virtuous. We find qualities in the person that probably don’t even exist. In many ways the unconscious mind triggers thoughts in our conscious surface.

While we may think that we are reasoning the world we see around us, in most case we just try to explain to ourselves what our emotions are telling us.

In fact in “How to know yourself”, Alex Lickerman, M.D. says that if we explore our mind we will discover things that are counter to our expectations. He goes on to say “The conscious mind, however, is a great explainer. It’s irresistibly drawn into making sense of the world and everything in it, including itself.”

In most cases it is more important to address our biases, our resentments or our anger. If we are caught in trying to argue with ourselves,verbally, then we will end up frustrated. We have to attack the underlying cause which is behind all our verbal layers that our conscious mind makes to root out the problem.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Succeeding in life

Most of us want to be successful in life. We tend to focus on the word “success”. Success by itself denotes nothing more than an accomplishment at a particular point in time or a series of achievements in a narrow field. It is an event or a series of events in a specified field. When we think of successful people we may think of a Steve Jobs, a Michael Jackson, the Beatles or Mark Zuckerberg

All of the above have achieved success in life. Clearly they were veterans in their chosen field. But there is a difference between achieving “success in life” and “succeeding in life”.

If we want to achieve success in life then we have to put our whole heart and soul into the narrow domain we are interested and keep persevering in it. There is nothing wrong with this.

However if we do achieve success in it we may still feel unsatisfied. The issue is that while we are successful we have not succeeded in life.

In order to succeed in life we have to understand that we have to succeed in the journey of life. We have often heard the saying “Success is not a destination, it is journey”.

In this journey in life we have different spheres of activity namely our personal, our professional, our social and our spiritual. Achieving success in a narrow domain will not make us feel great except in a temporary sense.

To succeed we have to focus our attention in all aspects of life while trying to excel in any narrow domain of our choice – music, technology, creative writing or sports. How often we hear of famous people complaining that their lives feel empty. How many of the rich and famous join some cult or follow some spiritual guru.

While success in life indicates a personal victory, succeeding at life is much broader. To succeed in life we may face occasional setbacks, but in life as a whole we will be able to achieve what we intend to.

So to succeed in life we need to ensure that our personal and family life is in order. We have to make sure that we excel in our professional life. We need to constantly increase our circle of friends and finally we need to make spiritual progress on a continuous basis.

In this journey we have to keep at succeeding in life rather in just trying to attain temporary success.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Are we deceiving ourselves?

Are we deceiving ourselves? This was the question which I have been asking myself for the past couple of days. If for a moment we put away our ideas of soul, atman, karma and sin then what are we left with. We would just live each and every day in own merit.

So does karma or sin really make sense? A human being is nothing more than a slightly glorified version of an animal. We probably have a much more evolved sense of ourselves, have developed a language to communicate and would like to think that we have choice. As human beings we really pride ourselves with having the ability to be self-aware besides also having the freedom of choice.

This choice that we pride ourselves in is nothing more than a slightly evolved animal ability. I have seen a dog smell a piece of bread on occasions and quietly turn away. Is it not exercising choice then?

Then we delude ourselves into thinking that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is really only true to human beings who are conscious of their acts. There are many people in the world who simply rationalize their acts and sleep with an easy conscience for the rest of their lives.

When a lion slaughters a deer and eats it does it acquire bad karma? No. However if subsequently a hunter comes and shoots it down would the animal world deceive itself that it was the lion’s karma to get killed?

This brings us to the Greek ethical question that plagued the Greek philosophers’ many thousand years ago. “Is it better to be strong or is it better to be good?” They concluded it is better to be strong.

That is reality. In many ways we live in a world of “matsya nyaya” or might is right. However there are sensible people in the world who do good to others simply because they believe “in doing unto others what they would like have done unto them”.

What are your thoughts on this?