Why We Behave Differently In Different Situations

Article in the Mindscape Section of the June 2018 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I was recently at a friend’s house for dinner and one of the guests, a rather gregarious woman in her mid-thirties, knocked down this wonderful purple ceramic vase. I’m almost sure she knocked it down by mistake. The vase crashed to the floor and shattered, and what followed was quite interesting. As soon as the vase shattered, the woman’s instant response was to look around to check others’ reactions to it. This is a quality that we’ve carried with us almost from infancy and I’m sure at some point we’ve all noticed children doing exactly the same thing. People inherently have a strong interest in human behaviour and by that; I don’t just mean their own behaviour but also the behaviour of others.

There are several definitions of behaviour that you’ll find in psychology textbooks and on the internet. While some define behaviour as a response to some sort of stimulus, some others define it as the action taken in relation to an environment. You even have definitions that emphasize how behaviour is the way in which a system functions under specified circumstances and so on. To reduce all this to its essence, human behaviour is anything that you do. Anything You Do is a behaviour. If you stand erect, that’s a behaviour. If you slouch when you sit down, that’s a behaviour. If you wake up early every morning, that’s a behaviour. Behaviour isn’t just confined to anything you do physically; it’s also anything you do mentally. If you say “Oh my God!” to yourself (only in your head) whenever you face a difficult situation, that’s a behaviour. Or if you go inward and get lost in thought when someone’s talking to you, that’s a behaviour too. Likewise, if you say to yourself in your mind, “I’m strong and I’m gonna make it” when you face something difficult or if you feel engaged and energized when someone’s talking to you, those are behaviours as well.

A big reason we behave differently in different situations is because Behaviour Breeds Behaviour. This means a couple of things. Firstly, if you do something once, it’s easy to do it again. If you smoke once, it’s easy to smoke again. If you fast once, it is easy to fast again. Secondly, if you do something with a person once, it is easy to repeat that behaviour with that person again. If you tell someone a secret and build trust once, you are likely to share more with that person. If you have sex with a person once, it’s a little easier to have sex with that person again. Finally, your behaviour could influence the behaviour of the people around you and vice versa. For example, if you hang out with a group of fitness enthusiasts, your own alignment towards fitness is likely to increase. You’re more likely to run a full marathon if you hang out with a group of runners rather than with a group of party animals who go out and  get drunk every night.

Another big reason why we behave differently in different situations is because, of the conditioned responses that we might have to the behaviour of people around us. This conditioned behaviour response is a phenomenon that starts from when we are kids. For example, even as children, we tailor our responses to situations and incidents based on the behaviour of people around us, just like adults do. I’m sure you’ve seen a toddler running around and playing with his parents. If he suddenly topples over and is not really hurt, he looks around for people’s reactions. If his mother comes running towards him expressing shock and anxiety, the kid starts to cry. If she continues to play the game and brushes the “fall” aside like nothing happened, the kid moves on with life. Imagine someone getting fired by his organization and the rest of the team and people on his work floor coming and genuinely congratulating him. Telling him how this opens up awesome opportunities for him in the market and sharing the success stories of people who’ve been asked to leave in the past. I know even the thought of something like this happening has a “Dali painting” like surrealism to it. But if it did happen, I’m sure that the behaviour of the person who got fired would be far different from what we usually see. Different from the usual behaviour of being morose and feeling out of place due to uneasy interactions from colleagues, awkward silences when he walks into the cafeteria and taps on the shoulder from team mates with the “shit happens” look on their faces.

One of my other favourite explanations of why people behave differently in different situations is based on the Social Impact Theory. Psychologist Bibb Latané developed this theory in 1981 when he was at Ohio University. According to this theory, Strength, Immediacy and Number are three factors that impact a person’s behaviour in social situations. Strength refers to the amount of influence, power or intensity that a person perceives the source of the social impact to have. For example, your behaviour is more likely to change in the presence of someone whom you perceive as being from a greater social status or of higher authority. The phenomenon of an employee who’s been delivering a wonderful corporate presentation that goes completely haywire as soon as his CEO walks into the room. Immediacy refers to how recently the person was subject to the source or event. For example, you are more likely to retain a high state of motivation at work, just after you’ve been given a raise. Children are more likely to be at their best behaviour just the week after they’ve been grounded. And finally, number refers to the number of sources exercising social influence on a person. You are more likely to alter your behaviour in the presence of other people compared to when you’re alone. In fact, the psychosocial law that governs social impact suggests that the most significant change in behaviour happens to a person when the number of sources moves from zero to one. With an increase in number thereafter, the extent of change of behaviour progressively decreases. So your behaviour is likely to change more drastically when you shift from sitting alone in a waiting room to sitting in the presence of just one other person. In comparison, if you are giving a talk to 500 people and that increases to 600, the degree of change in your behaviour is likely to be negligible.

These are just some of many reasons that explain why people behave differently in different situations. I won’t go into any of the others, since the purpose of this article is not to psychoanalyze the zillion reasons of changing human behaviour. It is to just bring to your awareness that there are more than a couple of reasons why we behave differently in different situations. This awareness in itself has been a transforming experience for many of my clients and has helped them make better behaviour choices.

 

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Slow Is Better Than Fast

Article in the Mindscape Section of the January 2018 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

One of Google’s philosophies listed in the “about” page of their website is “Fast is better than Slow”. Google calls this one of the ten things that they know to be true. That might work perfectly for a corporate giant like Google, but not necessarily for human beings.

I have a friend who went on a weight-loss mission last year. His goal was to get MBA admissions into a B-school in the U.S., and after that, his immediate goal was to drop to below eighty kgs. He was 103 kgs when he started and had never dieted in his life, ever. So when he started walking about 10 kilometres every day and went on a strict diet, his body responded phenomenally well. He dropped exactly 24 kgs in two months. It was an incredible success story despite the fact that the suits and other clothes that he’d gotten stitched to take to the U.S. were loose and dangly by the time he left. Here’s what happened when he got to the U.S. His workload increased, academics and deadlines took priority, and since he was on a student budget, he succumbed to the quickest escape route of eating junk food. Suddenly there was no time to even sleep, let alone walk or exercise. The long and short of it is that he put on about half the weight he had lost in about six months and the rest of it thereafter. If this trend continues, he’ll soon be heavier than he ever was.

‘Fast is better than slow’ is a great philosophy for the speed of website searches, automobile performance or Amazon deliveries. In the case of health and wellbeing, it rarely works. Of late, I’ve been suggesting to anyone who’s on a weight-loss programme to just focus on losing 1 kilogram a month. This will ensure that in two years you lose 24 kgs, and this is exactly the kind of weight loss that sticks. What a lot of people don’t realise is that a crash diet, quick-fix exercises or workouts and the related plunge in bodyweight are like stop-gap arrangements. To become slim and fit requires you to become a different person – a person with different habits, behaviours and a new mindset. Sudden changes that happen often impact just the physical dimension but leave the mental side of the person untouched. On the contrary, when you lose weight progressively, it means that you’ve been working out regularly; you’ve stood the test of time as far as your new diet is concerned, and you’ve made fitness and exercise a way of life rather than a short-term arrangement.

Now that’s just one example. There are tonnes of others. In the travel industry, there is the whole phenomenon of quick travel and package trips. In my view, that’s one of the worst ways to see a country or a city and also to approach travel in general. It only works for those for whom visiting places is more of a tick mark than an experience. I recently met someone who went on a package trip to ten countries in fifteen days, and when he was showing me the photographs of his trip on his phone, even he could barely decipher one place from the other. In many of the big cities, people are accustomed to rush out of bed in the morning, rush through their morning chores and breakfast, rush to work, rush through their workday, rush back home in the evening, rush to the gym if they’re lucky, rush through their workout and get back home to rush to bed. This rushing mindset and lifestyle is the opposite of enjoying life. I also see a lot of people wanting to get rich fast and retire fast, as if work life is a horrible dungeon to quickly escape from.

The real solutions lie in slowing down. As you start imbibing this idea of living a slow and relaxed life, do it slowly. Don’t rush into the idea of slowing down. Start by doing one activity every day slowly. Maybe have your coffee tomorrow morning slowly. Very slowly. Make sure you really enjoy every sip of it. Once you’ve done that, don’t be in a hurry to add two activities the next day. Stick with a slow morning coffee every day for a month. If you catch yourself naturally doing a few other things slowly during the month, then good for you. But don’t push it. After a month, add another activity. Maybe you can take a slow walk around your block after dinner or read a book slowly before going to bed. Do this for a month and then add one more activity. If you do this, you’ll begin to notice that you’re also learning to give yourself time in other areas of life. If you want to go on a diet, don’t change your entire diet overnight. Start with one small change. If you eat four slices of bread, two fried eggs and some butter and jam every morning, then just start by reducing the quantity of butter to half of what you normally eat. Then you can reduce two fried eggs to two boiled eggs. Then keep progressively changing things till you reach your ideal diet.

This is what the ‘Slow Is Better Than Fast’ philosophy is all about. If you were reading this and thinking that one month is too long of a time or one activity a day is too less of a change, then you are exactly the kind of person who might need this approach the most. Life is not meant to be a speed test; it’s meant to be a slow and ornate experience of our existence.

A Quick Way To Tame Your Ego

Article in the Mindscape Section of the December 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

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For the sake of this piece, I’m not referring to ego merely as the consciousness of your identity or the “I” as Freud called it. I’m referring to the inflated feeling of pride that some of us sometimes feel in our superiority over others. Taming your ego is not about putting an end to the ego and killing it altogether. This causes a person to miss out even on the good aspects of having a healthy respect for their identity. My focus is to ensure that you aren’t being controlled by your ego to a point where it constantly influences your behaviour, and you have no way out. As Friedrich Nietzsche put it, “Whenever I climb I am followed by a dog called ‘Ego’.”

Begin by thinking about a situation when you behaved in a certain way because of your ego. Maybe you screamed at someone, stopped being in touch with someone, walked out of a restaurant, lied about something or even drove rashly. Now think about what your ultimate goal was in that situation. Imagine you walked into a restaurant to have dinner, ordered your food, but walked out before it arrived because you weren’t happy with the waiter’s service. Your specific behaviour in that situation was, walking out of the restaurant before your food arrived. Your ultimate goal in that situation was to actually eat a good dinner. Then ask yourself if your behaviour supported your ultimate goal. If yes, then great.

On the contrary, if you walked out because your ego had filled you with a sense of entitlement, that you need to be served as soon as you walk into a restaurant, then the only thing you achieved was staying hungry a little longer or even skipping dinner. In which case, you ended up doing something because of your ego that took you further away from your ultimate goal of wanting to enjoy a good dinner. Every time you notice that you’ve done something because of your ego, that’s taken you away from your ultimate goal or what you actually wanted to have, then you better rethink that behaviour. The final step is to do something different or adopt a new behaviour the next time around. Or even do something right now that will help you undo the damage caused by your past ego-driven behaviour. If you screamed at a friend and that severed your relationship, and your real goal was to retain that person as a friend, then maybe you should swallow your pride, call up and apologise. The next time you’re at a restaurant and the food is a few minutes late, realise that it’s you who needs dinner and not the waiter. So stay put or request the waiter again to speed up. Call the management and give them some feedback, if you like.

People I’ve suggested this to started doing it for several instances from their lives where their ego caused them to act or behave in a certain way. Eventually, this got them to act differently the next time a similar situation arose. Do this, and in due course, you’ll start doing the right thing in different situations out of instinct rather than being controlled by your ego.

Four Ways To Develop New Beliefs

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

When I conduct training or coaching sessions for my clients, one of the things that I almost always have to deal with is helping clients develop new beliefs. A person who believes in his or her potential to change and develop is infinitely more likely to produce desired results than a person who does not. It doesn’t matter what you’re trying to achieve, losing weight, getting a six pack, finding a new job, attracting your ideal life partner, making more money or even trying to find peace of mind or become happier. If you’ve already believed strongly enough, you would already have achieved what you wanted in that area. You might be more in need of belief, in an area of your life where you are struggling to achieve your goals and live the life you want. Here are four methods that have helped a lot of my clients and they’re bound to work for you as well. These are unlike the usual suspects of writing down your goals or visualizing them.

  1. Spend Time With People Who Believe

Going beyond clichés like “birds of a feather flock together” and “you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with”, there is some truth in the amount we might absorb from the people we hang out with. So spend time with people who already have the kind of beliefs that you are trying to develop. If you are trying to run a marathon, go join a runners’ club and get into the circle of people who’ve already run a couple of marathons. You’re bound to pick up their vibes, their vocabulary, their habits and eventually their beliefs.

  1. Flood Yourself

Imagine you are down with a viral and are going to meet a new doctor. What would make you feel better? Hearing success stories of about the number of people the doctor has cured or hearing of the number of people who have gotten worse after meeting that doctor? In order to build your belief in a particular area, flood yourself with supportive information by reading books, watching videos or even talking to people who would tell you things to strengthen your belief rather than weaken or even shatter it. If you joined a martial arts class after watching a documentary on martial arts and getting inspired by the health and wellbeing benefits of martial arts, then do things to keep that flame alive. Read articles about the health benefits of martial arts, watch some more documentaries or even take some seasoned martial artists our for lunch or dinner and understand how the art has helped improve their lives.

  1. Do At Least One Thing Everyday

A lot of books and self-help gurus have greatly under estimated the power of action. Belief and action almost feed on each other. Do at least one thing everyday that will add to your belief. If you are trying to learn a new language, learn at least a few words in that language a day or look up what courses are available in your city, or get in touch with a person who can teach you that language or even buy a book or download a language learning app. Any of these will take you a step closer to your goal. Each time you do this, a small ounce of belief is built into your system. And with each tiny increase in your belief, the more likely you are to take more action and eventually your belief and your action will nurture each other to drive you forward.

  1. Don’t Be Obsessed

There is something about being desperate to achieve you goal, that causes your goal to evade you. People who are passionate about something, have a positive outlook towards what they’re trying to achieve. On the other hand, people who are obsessed about something are almost functioning from a place where they feel failure is imminent. I’ve often seen people desperately trying to get married, desperately trying to have kids, desperately trying to make money and some even desperately trying to get happier and it never works. Don’t be a victim of the missing tile syndrome, where your entire life starts revolving around the one thing that you don’t have in life because you don’t have supporting beliefs in that area. Take steps towards building new beliefs but don’t forget to continue living your life and enjoying the things you already have.

If after following the above four tips, you’re still struggling to develop new beliefs, then you might want to sit back and think about whether you actually want those beliefs. The reason you might now believe that you can buy a mansion in an elite neighbourhood could be because, in your heart you don’t actually want to go live in such a neighbourhood. The reason you don’t believe that you can get a higher paying job might be because way down inside, you don’t want to work any harder or take on more responsibilities. The reason you don’t believe that you can recover completely from a health problem is likely to be because the health problem is your perfect alibi for your underachievement in other areas of your life.

The Real Art Of Doing Nothing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the October 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

In the consulting work that I do, I now see people realizing the downsides of the erstwhile buzzword of multitasking. Managers and leaders are now starting to feel that trying to do several things at the same time and at breakneck speed doesn’t just have poor productivity and quality implications but also takes a toll on a person’s health and overall wellbeing. Quality over Quantity is a more meaningful mantra and one that spreads beyond product and service portfolios and into the lives and lifestyles of people.

When I’ve asked several of these overloaded and often overworked multitaskers of what they really look forward to doing during their breaks or times off from work, I hear a range of things from outdoor adventure to meeting friends for a drink. But one recurrent response that frequents the list is “Doing Nothing”. While most of us know logically that it’s impossible to actually do “Nothing”, it’s also true that we know what people more or less mean when they say that. “Doing Nothing” is a great way to increase you sense of wellbeing and experience more bliss in life. It’s perhaps the opposite of multitasking and here are a couple of ways in which you can actually “Do Nothing”.

Cut yourself off from technology. While it might be difficult for some of us to cut ourselves completely away from technology, start with what is doable. Stop watching television, turn off the radio, switch off the mobile phone or lock up your laptop. If all this sounds impossible, just start with one of them and do it for just one day in a month. You can then move it to two days in a month and so on. The idea is not to become a recluse but to give yourself the opportunity of experiencing the wonderful feeling of nothingness every once in a while.

Slow down. If the above suggestion seems like a bit of a jump, just try consciously slowing down. If you take 30 minutes to drive to work, leave a little earlier and for a change, just drive slowly to work. If you live in a big city this might irritate the daylights out of a lot of people on the streets, but that’s alright. Because this is about you experiencing the feeling of doing Nothing, not them. Wake up a little earlier so that you can eat a slow breakfast. Drink a slow cup of tea or coffee or even just a glass of water. Read a book slowly while you enjoy it, or even have a slow shower if you like.

Do what you love. Interestingly this is what a lot of people mean when they say “Do Nothing”. They mean doing exactly what they want to, for as long as they want to, or even doing what they really love doing in life. When clients I coach tell me that they want to Do Nothing, I ask them, “Like what?” and they say something to the effect of, “Like take a vacation” or “Like read a book” or “Listen to music” or “Have a long and relaxed brunch with friends” or “Take long walks” or “Lie down by the ocean and look at the blue sky”, etc. All of these are specific things to do and yet what they have in common is that they are things that these people really really want to do.  So, if you want to do nothing, start with doing what you really love.

Stroll. Get out of your house and take a walk, but aimlessly. We’re so used to doing activities with an agenda that we mostly walk only to get somewhere. Even people who go on a morning or evening walk have a mental target of finishing the walk and getting back home. This time, just try walking without any specific destination in mind. Resist the urge to go somewhere as that would take away from the Nothingness of the activity. Just stroll around without any specific plan or place in mind. The idea obviously is not get lost but to go with where your instinct takes you and to let your legs guide your direction. Doing this for just 30 minutes is a great way to get a sense of Doing Nothing.

Finally, If the above things don’t really work for you, or you think that they’re way too bizarre or beyond your control, at least stop multitasking. Try doing just one thing at a time. While driving, just drive. Resist the urge to talk on the phone or listen to the radio. While you eat a meal, just eat your meal, avoid conversations or discussions. And while you’re reading an article in a magazine, shut off all other distractions.

 

The Ripple Effect

Article in the Mindscape Section of the September 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

The Ripple Effect is a phenomenon that occurs all around us and refers to how small changes that happen at a micro level have far greater implications and reach at a macro level than we could possibly imagine. The positive changes that people make in their own behavior will not just impact them but the people around them, their friends, relatives or colleagues, their environments and so on. And this is obviously true even of their negative behaviors.

The manner in which this works is that there are several factors at play when it comes to how we influence one another. One great explanation is through the role of mirror neurons. These are neurons in our brain that cause us to experience what people around us are going through even though we are not directly under the receiving end of the stimuli or situations that cause those experiences. For example when we see a person in real life or even on screen crying, we might get teary eyed or cry. Another big explanation is how we learn and develop new behaviors through the process of modeling others around us. Right from when we are little children, we tend to imitate others and through this imitation, we learn new skills, languages as well as typical reactions to different situations. This is also at play in the Ripple Effect. So what eventually happens is that when we demonstrate a certain behavior, others around us pick up traces of it and that gets passed on the people around them and it’s like the domino effect. Since most of the work that I do is with corporates, an example of the Ripple Effect that comes to mind is related to the corporate world. There are several companies, where the founder or the head of the company is at the center of the ripple that spreads all around him. For example, Richard Branson’s adventurous spirit and customer orientation percolates to the entire Virgin staff and even to the policies of the company. The no leave policy that they launched a couple of years ago gives the employees the freedom to work from where they want and to be on leave as and when they feel like, as long as their work gets done. Likewise, Google that was started by two PhD. Students from an ivy league has the practice of taking people who are also from premier educational institutions while Apple that was started by a college dropout boasts of enough examples of artists and poets who built their wonderful products.

My thoughts on this phenomenon are mostly related to how powerful it can be as a way to bring about change. Since you spread both your positive and negative behaviors and mindsets with the same intensity, there is a lot that you can do to ensure that the people and environments around you are positively impacted. If you don’t want to do anything else to make your life and the lives of people around you better, at least don’t spread negativity. In fact, doing nothing would be a far better contributor.

 

Don’t Postpone Your Meaningful Life

Article in the Mindscape Section of the August 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

While I was researching a recent wellbeing project, one of the things that caught my eye was how important it is for people to have meaning in their lives. Though, as an idea, this is rudimentary, the number of different areas where the power of meaning is at play is incredible. While this can be comprehended by the amount of importance “meaning” is increasingly being given in the field of psychology, it’s also something that most of us understand intuitively.

Here are a couple of things that you can do right now to bring more meaning into your life. The first one is called “Coherence or Congruence”. Nothing could be worse than a person being someone he or she is not and living a life that they actually don’t stand for. And yet, it amazes me how many people actually do. Quite often, through the corporate consulting work that I do, I find people working for the wrong companies, playing the wrong roles and many who are even stuck in the wrong situations or relationships for years. They just continue doing it because they are used to it and by now it seems too late to try something different or start something else from scratch. While the work of geniuses like Viktor Frankl talk about how to deal with this, I think there is real value in actually solving the problem by perhaps getting into the job of your dreams or pursuing the kind of life that you actually feel you deserve. While Frankl talks about finding meaning even in a concentration camp, it is important to realize that today we are not in concentration camps and we could actually walk out of our hells if we so desired and planned it well enough.

I’d like to call the second “Near Death Experience”. It’s not uncommon for people who’ve had a near death experience to come back to life with new zest and meaning. People sometimes see the value and meaning in life only when they’ve been that close to dying. It reminds me of Steve Jobs’s famous Stanford speech, where he says “No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there”. I recently went to a critical cancer care center in my city and was surprised to see how many people actually got the counselors there to call their estranged family members, friends or business partners, so that they could apologize and build a new relationship at least for the brief period that they had left. I hope not all of us will have to wait for a near death experience or to be diagnosed with a terminal illness to live a more meaningful life.

Start today, by doing the things that matter the most to you. Spend time with the ones you love, take your best friend or relative out for dinner, go for that family vacation that you kept putting away or call up someone you parted ways with for some silly reason and apologize. Because when you are on your death bed, you’ll never regret doing them.

Two Sure Ways To Feel Happier

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

One of the important emotions that people sometimes spend a lifetime pursuing is happiness. There really is a need to focus on Ways To Be Happy Right Now, as opposed to at any other time or in any other place.

Quite often, in corporate settings, in families, in academia and for that matter in any other walk of life, a lot of people pursue what they pursue, in the end to feel happy. This approach I think is fundamentally flawed and the idea of getting somewhere or earning something or becoming someone and then thinking you will feel happy might deceive you endlessly. The only real way to be happy is to be happy right here, right now. If you aren’t happy at any given point in time and that continues, then it’s quite like an endless cycle. Moments become hours, hours become days, days slip into months and years and eventually, you’re lying on your death bed thinking how you should have been a little happier when you could.

Our ability to imagine the future could be pretty horrible, especially in terms of what emotions we might experience after we attain a certain state. So I think almost the essential question for someone to answer and get right is how they could be happy right now. Here are just two ways out of many that I know work for sure.

 

Gratitude

This refers to the things that you are most thankful for and grateful for in life. One of the best ways for you to be happy is to be reminded of all the things that are in your life that you are grateful for. The constant chase of happiness often stems from not being at peace and not being satisfied with where you are in life. It would really help to maintain a folder or note book called the gratitude journal. By documenting the different things in your life that you are grateful for in this journal, first you make a conscious effort to notice the good things in life. Then, when you take stock of how much you have to be grateful for, you actually start to feel fortunate and happy about it. This process also turns on the reticular activating system. The part of your brain that brings to the forefront, the things that matter to you or help you perceive what is important to you. Over time, you will end up with a log book of things in your life that you could feel grateful for. Each time you read this book, it will make you experience the sense of happiness all over again.

 

Meditation

This is a way of observing yourself in a calm and relaxed manner and not responding to thoughts and ideas that come into your mind. A great way to do this is to sit in any comfortable position, keep your eyes shut and stay focused on your breath. Maintain just a gentle focus on the breath, without making the breath deeper or shallower. Just the normal breath. If the mind wanders and random thoughts begin to float in, gently focus on your breath again. In the beginning it might be difficult for someone to observe their breath like this without responding to their thoughts and ideas. This normally happens for fear of not remembering that thought later. A good way out of this is to keep a notepad and pen handy during the meditation because a lot of what floats through your mind are haphazard ideas, things to do, random past memories, random imaginations of future events, etc. Whenever a thought enters the mind that is difficult to ignore, it’s a great idea to gently open or even half open your eyes, make a note of the thought in the notepad and continue with the practice. This can be reviewed once you are done with the practice, for whatever it’s worth. Apart from feeling relaxed or sometimes even feeling happy for no reason at all, meditation helps people see and experience the good things in life more profoundly.

 

These are just two things among many that I know work for sure. This article is only a starting point for future development in terms of accessing the state of happiness more often and experiencing more intense levels of it. Apart from trying out what works for you from the above options, I urge you to experiment with your own approaches to experiencing happiness, document them and practice feeling happier.

Everything In Life Has An Expiry Date

Article in the Mindscape Section of the April 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I recently met a friend after several years and when we sat down at this restaurant for dinner, like all old friendships, it was great to catch up and revisit old times and realize how much we had in common and knew about each other. What was also clear was that despite all our commonalities, we had also grown quite differently as individuals and in that sense, though nothing much had changed, in reality a lot had changed. For example, this friend of mine has stopped drinking, stopped smoking, stopped eating meat and had turned completely vegan. And he told me all this in a matter of fact way. That was really where this article began. It made me realize that everything has its time and validity period.

We grow into and out of things as we grow older. There was a time in my life when, if I didn’t go out for a big party on the 31st of December, the New Year celebration didn’t feel complete. That idea expired long ago and I don’t go out and party likes a rock star anymore. But looking back, I’m glad I went for those parties and celebrations at a time when they made that much sense to me. Another common predicament I keep hearing about is how people have to make sudden changes in their life styles. A sudden diagnosis of heart disease or cancer or sometimes even diabetes or hypertension immediately slaps a strict diet and lifestyle change on you. Things that people once relished start getting treated like poison and after a while a lot of those people even stop enjoying those things altogether.

This is not just confined to food and lifestyle habits, a lot of other things could expire too. Like your income, your earning potential and maybe even your ability to do things like you do today. Now that’s just the ability part. It’s also possible that your priorities change altogether and then that entire idea expires for you. Imagine if you weren’t interested in money anymore; imagine that “prestige” as an idea didn’t appeal to you anymore. Imagine you lost complete interest in entertainment, sex, good food, fast cars, travel, reading or anything else that mattered to you. Those aspects of your life will completely fade away. This is probably the most negative sounding article that I’ve ever written but at the risk of adding to that, I just want to mention that there is always the possibility of people leaving us altogether. Though this is a term that I have only heard in India, there is probably a reason why they say that people expire. The truth is that you might never know when you might not be able to take the stairs anymore, when you have to stop eating wheat for good, when you will stop being in love with someone, when you will have to stop travelling or when the last time that you might be seeing somebody is. You just never know.

Enjoy your life and everything in it while it lasts. Don’t realize too late that you should have done what you wanted to. Sometimes you might not have the ability to do them anymore and sometimes you might not even want to do them anymore.

Carpe Diem.

Zen And The Art Of Decluttering

Article in the Mindscape Section of the March 2017 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

A friend of mine who lived in my city for several years, recently shifted back to her country and I was at the cusp of the shifting process. It was shocking to see how much stuff someone can have with them that they might never use and sometimes have never used at all. One of the interpretations of the Pareto principle says that 80% of the time, we might keep wearing just 20% of the clothes in our wardrobes. I think this pretty much applies to all other things that we stock up for eternal non usage. In my view, decluttering is not just about getting rid of junk but it is also about getting rid of your baggage. Here is how you could go about doing it in a progressive fashion.

First, start by looking into your shelves, wardrobes, attics, draws, lofts and closets. Take out everything that you haven’t used in a year and are not likely to use in the next year and put it into a large bag that will form part of the junk that is “to be disposed”. Keep doing this till you can’t find anything that falls under the “to be disposed” category. Then get rid of that bag by selling the stuff in it, donating it to an orphanage or giving it to someone who you think might need it. This is not a suggestion to get rid of something really precious like your ancestral family jewelry or something like your wedding gown that has real sentimental value even if you might never wear it ever again. If you’re one of those people who treats every pin and empty perfume bottle like it was your wedding gown, then try this. Take out those things that you are trying to hold on to anyway and put them into a “to be disposed” bag. Zip up this bag and keep it aside for six months. In six months if you never use any of the things in that bag, then without a second thought, pick up that bag and get rid of it. If you did use any of the things in the bag in six months, then keep just those things aside for later disposal. While getting rid of useless things is just the first step, it’s a great way of not just clearing up physical space in your house but also mental space in your head. It’s like the difference between sitting at an over cluttered and dusty desk versus sitting at an organized and clean desk. Decluttering actually helps you think more clearly.

The second step of decluttering is to look at how you spend your time throughout the day. Stop doing all those things that you do that have no meaning or purpose and don’t add any kind of value to your life. Whether it is talking on the phone unnecessarily, mindless watching of television or channel surfing, cyber loafing and just jumping from one website to another, or checking out what everyone under the sun is up to on Facebook. Just stopping these activities will free out time to do the things that really matter to you, that make you feel good and ones that actually add value to your life.

Thirdly, start decluttering people. We all have people in our lives who really matter to us and who care and reciprocate our feelings and gestures toward them. They are the ones you should be spending most of your time with. Scan your life and identify those people who you might be talking to or interacting with on a regular basis, but who are absolutely wastes of your time. There could be people who just talk to unload their burdens on you, there are some who call you only when they need something and are never there for you when you need them and some others who want someone to while away their time with and in the process sap your energy dry. The idea is not to call these people up and severe all relationships with them in one shot. Rather than pulling the plug abruptly, slowly stop entertaining them and keep your interaction with them to the minimum. This will either keep them at that minimum interaction level or cause them to fade away on their own.

If you’ve managed to do this much, then you’ve really made headway and I’m sure the quality of your life would have increased several fold. Just to add some whipped cream and cherry to your decluttering exercise, you could also try mental decluttering. Watch your thoughts throughout the day and start to identify all the useless, unproductive and unconstructive thoughts that you have. If you like, you could start journaling your habitual thoughts through the day. After a couple of days, if you look back at what you’ve captured you’ll clearly be able to identify the useless and unsupportive thoughts that you are indulging in. This self-awareness really helps because then, every time you catch yourself thinking one of those lousy thoughts, you could quickly and deliberately replace it with a positive one. I’ve tried this myself and in the beginning it’s easier said than done. But with practice, you will start to find it a lot easier to do and the benefits of decluttering your mind and dwelling on the positive and supportive thoughts far outweigh the benefits of merely clearing out the clutter from your closet.