How Many Meetings Do You Have Left In Life?

SF - May 2019

I have a couple of really close friends who I’ve known from school. We spent a lot of our formative years together. Conversations that we’ve had during our late teens and early twenties, really helped shape our thinking into what it is today. But that’s not the point. I met one of them a couple of years ago and like always, every time we meet, we never finish talking about all the things that we want to talk about. There is so much to say and at the end of the meeting, we go back feeling satisfied and elated. As we spoke, we realized that because of where our lives have taken us, we live in different cities, work different kinds of jobs and mostly, it becomes almost impossible to meet and catch up regularly. The last time I’d met this friend was about 3 years ago and the time before that was roughly another 3 years ago. We’d both just turned thirty then. So I reminded my friend that if we both lived to be 70 years then we have about 13 or at best 15 meetings left before we died. Of course that’s a really scary thought and we both spent time discussing how we could stay in touch and meet up more often.

That’s really the crux of what I have to say in this article. Think about those 10 or 20 people who really matter to you in your life. Look at how often you meet all of them. If your parents are in one country and you work in another, then it’s likely that you don’t meet them too often. If your parents are really old and you meet them just once a year during your annual vacation, then you probably have just 10 meetings left with them. If you have a really close friend and you both got busy with your own lives and you catch up just once every 4 or 5 years, then you both have just 20 meetings left if you’re really lucky. You might also have relatives who you really love, who care about you and whose company you cherish. Unfortunately, if you’re meeting them just during that occasional family wedding that happens once every 8 or 10 years, then you can do the math yourself and figure out how many meetings you have left with that person.

Make a list of the 20 most important people in your life. It’s likely that you’re already in touch with some of these people on a regular basis and that’s awesome. If you aren’t, then pick up the phone, call them and make definite plans to meet and spend time together. Life is about spending quality time with the people who matter the most to you. Our busy schedules, our fast track careers and our luxurious lifestyles are meaningless if what we’re trading for it is quality time with the people who matter the most to us.

 

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How To Practice Feeling Good

SF - April 2019

It doesn’t matter if you’re stuck in the wrong job, if you’re drowning in a horrible life situation or even whether you are at a point in life where something really horrible just happened to you. There are always things that you could do to make yourself feel better and in fact start feeling pretty good with a little bit of practice. On the other hand, there are a lot of people out there who have wonderful things happening to them in life but they still aren’t feeling good. That’s because feeling good is a habit and the more you practice it, the better you get at it. Here are five things that you can start doing right now to start feeling good.

 

Laugh

How you get yourself to laugh is really immaterial. You could watch stand-up comedy clips on YouTube, remember funny incidents from your past or hang out with a friend who always makes you laugh. The point is that you laugh. Laughter causes a reduction in the levels of the stress hormones cortisol and epinephrine and also causes the brain to release endorphins that relieve physical pain. So not only will laughter make you feel good mentally, you’ll also start to feel good physically. Moreover, laughter is not just something that will make you feel good, it’s also contagious. The more you laugh, the more you make people around you laugh and in the end a lot more people end up feeling good.

 

Smile

If you’re a person who is really feeling down and you think that laughter is too farfetched, then tone that down several notches and just smile. I’ve done this with several of my clients. At times when they weren’t feeling great about something, I’ve asked them to just smile continuously for ten minutes. For no reason at all. The interesting thing is that the brain doesn’t care whether you’re smiling for a reason or not. It still releases endorphins and the feel good hormone serotonin. Smiling faces are also considered to be friendlier and more attractive faces. That’s another bonus point on the feel good scale right there.

 

Help Someone

There’s something about helping others that makes you feel good. It’s not just therapeutic; it’s also great for your self-esteem. When you help others, you first of all move yourself out of the victim mindset, which is a big reason that a lot of people don’t feel good to begin with. By helping others, you also unconsciously tell yourself that you are better than certain others, you can give, which means you have a enough and also that you can empower and make others feel good which means you will be able to feel good yourself. When you help others and their lives improve in some way, the positive feeling you experience is really something that you benefit from the most.

 

Exercise

Any form of exercise is a sure shot way to make yourself feel better. Try this out. Give yourself a rating in terms of how you feel on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being really bad and 10 being awesome. Now exercise for 30 minutes. This could be a routine of floor exercises, lifting weights at the gym, running or even a brisk walk for 30 minutes. Rest for 10 minutes and give yourself a rating again on the same 1 to 10 scale. You’re bound to feel better. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released by the body especially because of anger, fear or anxiety. Exercise makes you feel good by burning cortisol and also releasing endorphins.

 

Affirmation

A lot of times, what causes us to feel bad, worse and then really horrible are the things that we keep telling ourselves. Even on a day when you’re feeling pretty good, if you keep telling yourself, “I’m not good enough”, “I’m horrible”, “I feel lousy”, “I feel sick”, etc. you’re going to eventually fulfill those prophesies. Try this instead. The moment you catch yourself not feeling that good. Purposely and deliberately tell yourself something like, “I feel great”, “I’m awesome”, “I’m feeling superb”, “I feel amazing”, etc. Initially this might feel like a joke but keep at it. Soon you’ll notice that your body and mind respond to it. You actually start feeling better just because of what you’ve been telling yourself.

 

Use the above five methods like a bag of tools. Pull one out that suits your situation and the specific instance when you want to start feeling better. Try them out and see what happens. The more often you do this, the more control you will have over yourself in terms of moving your feelings in the direction of your choice.

The Secret To Finding Positive Emotions

I recently gave a talk at a health and wellness center to a small group of people. I started by telling people to sit down and focus on just being there, instead of worrying about finishing the talk and getting back home or focusing on what will happen next.  I actually announced that we were going to sit there for an hour and just let ourselves be. Allowing ourselves to do nothing and enjoy the process of just being there. I also emphasized that they don’t have to try to change their state or try to make themselves feel more relaxed. They can just sit there feeling the way they are feeling and experiencing what they are experiencing and that’s fine.  Most of them looked a little shocked but agreed to try it. As we sat there, there were some people looking around, some staring into thin air, some looking at each other, etc. Of course after about five minutes I told all of them that we were going to proceeded into the talk. The talk was about applied psychology and the content of it is quite immaterial for this article. What was really fascinating to me was the number of people who came up to me after the talk and told me that they really enjoyed what I made them do during the first five minutes. It made them more at peace, it stilled the wheels of their minds, it brought them back to the present moment and I heard many more such experiences that people had during those five minutes.

In my view, the reason that people found those five minutes so powerful was because, for once, they stopped trying to get into another state and accepted where they were and what they were experiencing. This is the essence and the secret if you like, of achieving some of the most sought after positive emotions in life. If, for example, you are not feeling peaceful for whatever reason, then don’t try to fight it. The moment you start fighting it and working on becoming more peaceful and start doing all sorts of things to achieve that peaceful state, you actually end up becoming a little agitated. And this takes away from the very peace that you’re trying to create. On the other hand, if you just tell yourself, “Well, I’m not peaceful. So what?” This indifference to your lack of peace actually makes you feel more peaceful. The same logic applies to most other positive emotions. Imagine you’re not feeling happy on a particular day for some reason. The more you try to make yourself feel happy, the more you start feeling concerned about why you aren’t so happy. The more you try to fight that lack of happiness, the more true happiness evades you. Try this. Just say to yourself, “Hmmmm.., I’m not really happy right now. But it’s alright. We all have good and bad moments”. This casual attitude opens doors to greater levels of happiness. At least you start feeling happy that it’s not bothering you that much anymore.

So the secret to finding any positive emotion is to not try too hard or even to stop trying altogether. There is something about trying to chase a positive emotion that takes you away from the emotion that you’re trying to experience. So just stop trying.

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If you want to schedule an organizational training or individual coaching session or just have an exploratory consulting conversation with Vinesh Sukumaran, click on the link below.

http://www.vineshsukumaran.com/contact.html

What Really Drives Your Behaviour?

During the launch of my book, “From Behaviour To Wellbeing”, I was asked an interesting question by a member of the audience. “Your book describes human behaviour as one of the most important elements in the world. So is there something beyond behaviour? Is there something more fundamental than behaviour?”

Of course there are things more important than human behaviour and things that actually drive your behaviour. Here are a couple of them.

 

Genetics

You are likely to carry behaviours of people from your previous generation. Particularly your parents and grand parents. Whether you like it or not, your genetics have a huge bearing on some of the behaviours that you demonstrate in life. This is not taking away from the fact that an arrogant father needn’t necessarily have an arrogant son and that children can be nurtured to be more composed and respectful. However, the chances of two arrogant parents having a son or daughter who might also be arrogant could be a little higher purely because of genetics.

 

Logic

This is another dimension that is fundamental to behaviours. People who are addicted to anything bad are almost always sure that there’s no real logic to their addiction. If you’ve ever snoozed your alarm in the morning and gone back to sleep, you know what I’m talking about. In the morning when your alarm goes off, you know that you’re supposed to get up and start your day. But it actually feels more logical to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.

 

Love

I’ve seen people who are in love, doing some of the most ridiculous things in the world. Sharp and intelligent men who are great at business and life in general, becoming completely irrational and demonstrating really unexpected behaviours. Likewise, people who are tough and pushy on the outside becoming soft and bringing out their innocent and vulnerable sides when they’re in love. Love could be an incredible driving force to bring out people’s power to stretch themselves, take more responsibility and commit to something that they never could have imagined.

 

Attachment

I keep telling people that a behaviour is anything that you do. And a habit is a repeated and regularly demonstrated behaviour. One of the reasons why people have certain habits that they struggle to change is because of their strong attachment to those habits. I don’t just mean the big addictions like cocaine or nicotine. Even if you’re really attached to your cup of coffee in the morning, it would make it a lot more difficult to change that behaviour and stop drinking coffee.

 

My point is that behaviour is an important dimension of your life and could well determine some other things in your life like the level of your overall Wellbeing and the extent of peace and happiness you experience. And yet there are other more fundamental aspects that could be driving your behaviour, a couple of which I’ve listed above. Identifying and working on these fundamentals could be a great way to both change your behaviours as well as develop new ones.

Focus On What’s Going Well

SF - 2 - February 2019

When parents notice their child struggling with a particular subject in school, the instant reaction is to find a tutor for that subject or to send the child for remedial classes. The remedial classes, extra study and effort might bring that student’s weak subject up to power with the stronger ones and I think that’s a good thing. But what often get missed out are the strengths that the student has. A student who is extremely good in the English language but is struggling with Math might spend a lot of time and effort to improve his Math but lose out on the opportunity of building on his real strength of English. This is what I call the Weakest Link Approach. The mindset of focusing on what’s going wrong and what’s not working, while completely neglecting what’s going well. I also see this at play when organizations call me in as a consultant and tell me about everything that is a problem or everything that is not going well. Almost entirely overlooking the things that their people are good at and the things that the organization is doing well. And there’s always something that people are good at and there’s always something going well in any system. Focusing on that is what I call the Strongest Link Approach. The mindset of first accepting that there’s always something going well, focusing on it and eventually allowing that to expand.

To start using this in your own life, just follow this three step process.

  1. Start by first making a list of at least 20 things that you are grateful for. This is a good primer to help you set the right tone and get moving in the right direction. If you can’t think of at least 20 things in your life that you are grateful for, then it’s important to work on doing that first before proceeding. This helps you work on yourself from a point of power, abundance and gratitude.

 

  1. The second step is to think about what specifically might have helped you have some of those 20 things that you are grateful for. Write down three things that are going really well that you can do something about. These could be your strengths, a life situation, an area of your life, something that you possess, etc.

 

  1. Step three is to do at least one thing everyday that helps you focus on and build on what’s already going well in your life.

For example, if three things that I am grateful for are my house, my health and my job. Then the second thing I would do is to think about three things that are really going well. Maybe, in my case, it is the fact that I live in a house that I own, so I don’t have to pay rent. I am in a state of health because I work out everyday. Finally I am in a job that I enjoy because I have the skills that are required for excellence in my job. The third step then would be to do one thing everyday that helps me build on what’s going well. Perhaps take better care of the house that I own and do one thing everyday to keep it clean and looking great. Maybe going for a five kilometer walk everyday or learning martial arts to further improve my health. I might also join a course and spend an hour everyday to read, learn new things and practice and improve the very skills that are getting me to excel at my job.

In the end, what you focus on expands. Since there is enough that is going well for all of us, it totally makes sense to focus on them and allow them to expand to all other areas of our lives.

The Five Levels Of Happiness

Sometimes, it’s worth admitting that happiness is not as easy as saying “either I’m happy, or I’m not.” Like most other things, there are shades of happiness and sadness that one might go through. While there’s no end to the number of different levels that one can break down happiness into, for the purpose of this article, I’ll stick to just five. Here’s how they unfold.

Being Happy

This is the level of happiness where you feel good, content, glad, joyful, blissful, cheerful or whatever the feeling of happiness means to you. The reason why you feel this way is immaterial. What’s more important is that you’re feeling the emotion of happiness.

Being Sad

While I would still call this a level on the happiness scale, what it really signifies is a lack of it. It’s important to realize here, that not only are you not feeling happy, you are feeling down, gloomy, depressed, wretched, miserable or whatever the feeling of sadness means to you. Once again, the reason why you feel this way is immaterial. What matters is that you’re feeling the emotion of sadness.

Being Neutral

This is an interesting level on the happiness scale. Here, you are not feeling happy but you are not feeling sad either. You’re not glad but nor are you gloomy. A lot of us go through such states almost unnoticed. A regular and insignificant day in some people’s lives could feel like this. You wake up in the morning, you get ready, get to work, nothing good or bad happens in office. Then you get back home, it’s a regular evening even at home and nothing that you consider good or bad happens at home either and you get to bed. So, were you happy? No. Were you sad? No. You were feeling neutral.

Being Sad About Being Sad

At this level on the happiness scale, you are not just feeling sad but feeling sad about your sadness. These are times when someone is experiencing sadness and perhaps telling themselves, “why me?”, “why does this have to happen to me always”, or “this sadness will never go away”, etc. The point is that there is pondering and rumination about the sadness that in turn makes the person feel even sadder. This is a meta state and actually is a few notches below just feeling sad.

Being Happy About Being Happy

At this level on the happiness scale, you are not just feeling happy but feeling happy about your happiness. This is when you’re experiencing happiness and that happiness is bolstered and boosted up by thoughts like, “wow! I feel so good”, “this good feeling is really awesome”, “I’m so fortunate to feel so happy”, etc. Eventually, all these positive thoughts about you happiness actually make you feel even happier than you already are. This again is a meta state of happiness and is a cut above even the state of merely being happy.

If you visualize this as different levels, from low to high, at the lowest level would be, “Being Sad About Being Sad”. Just about that level would be, “Being Sad”. This would be followed by “Being Neutral” which is just above and bang in the middle. One level above being neutral is “Being Happy”. Finally, the level that tops all the others is “Being Happy About Being Happy”. If there is one thing that I want to convey through the description of the levels of happiness, it’s this. It’s alright to feel neutral or even to feel sad. When that happens, feel the emotions that you’re going through and carry on with your life. Do what you need to do. This will keep you from spirally downward into mild or deeper states of sadness. If you really want to contemplate and ponder, do that with the happy states that you go through and the positive emotions that you experience. That’s something that will make your happiness sprout and blossom.

 

 

The Magic Of Not Trying Too Hard

The underlying premise of this article comes from the concept of Paradoxical Intention. It’s something that was originally coined and conceptualized by Dr. Viktor Frankl, more popularly known for his ground breaking book, Man’s Search For Meaning. Dr. Frankl saw Paradoxical Intention as something that could be used for therapy and cure of various kinds of phobias and anxiety disorders.

Paradoxical Intention means deliberately and consciously thinking of and exposing yourself to the exact thing that you’re afraid of or trying to avoid. For example, if you are someone who stammers while speaking, you deliberately try to stammer as much as you possibly can. That takes away the pressure on you to not stammer and you end up stammering a lot less than you would otherwise have.

This has several applications in life and since most of the work that I do is related to the applications of psychology, here are a few.

  • Insomnia

If you’re a person who struggles to fall asleep at night, just the thought and the anxieties of not being able to fall asleep could keep you awake. Try this instead. Try to just stay awake. When you do this, it reduces the anxiety of not being able to sleep. Because now, you’re not trying to sleep anyway. This automatically kick starts a process of relaxation that helps you fall asleep a lot more easily.

  • Performance Anxiety

Whether it is on stage, during an exam or in front of an authority figure. When you have to perform, you are trying to do your best and give it your every ounce. As a result you end up becoming nervous about your performance and end up doing the opposite. That is underperforming or not being able to give your best performance. The next time you have performance anxiety, try this. If you have to talk in front of an audience and are afraid that you might goof up. Then get on stage with the intention of goofing up and making people laugh through your mistakes. This will reduce the stress on you to perform and will calm you down enough to speak fluently and comfortably on stage.

  • Fear Of Failure

I meet a lot of people in my coaching sessions who have a very high fear of failure. The fear of failing in a new job, in a new country, in a business or even in a new area of life. What this does is that it makes you avoid that situation. For example, a guy who is afraid of starting a new job in another organization might avoid that situation by sticking on to the same job. In the long run, this causes him to land up in the exact situation that he was trying to avoid. He ends up failing because he kept sticking on to a job that he didn’t fit into but was afraid to shift out of. If you have a fear of failure, then try to enjoy failing. Tell yourself, “I’m going to fail at something every single day. I’m going to practice failing and I’m going to enjoy failing.” This will push you to try new things without the fear of failure and in the process; you’ll be surprised how many things you actually end up being successful at.

To sum all this up in a couple of sentences, do the exact thing that you think will happen to you when you are out of control. Get yourself to purposely magnify and demonstrate the very symptoms that you’re trying to avoid. Dive into more of those scary and outrageous outcomes that you’ve been trying to avoid all along and you’ll trivialize them in your own head. This will eventually produce more of the results that you want in life.

 

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

To know more about Vinesh and his work visit http://www.vineshsukumaran.com

Things Are Seldom What They Seem

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

The title of this article is a recurrent theme in conversations between a really close friend of mine and me. She sees these words as pearls of wisdom passed on to her by her mother. And having had several long and interesting conversations with her, even I begin to see the relevance and applicability of the statement in several walks of life.

One of the big lessons that I’ve learnt as an organizational development consultant is not to judge organizations or people by their appearance. And over the years, I’ve become extremely slow to judge people. I might be quick to observe something or quick to comment and give feedback but I’ve become really slow to judge people and organizations. The reason is simply because of the number of times that I’ve been wrong and after a point, I realized that evidence and actual facts must always overshadow gut feelings, impressions and opinions. Here are some examples.

I’ve consulted with quite a few organizations which have an absolutely professional image from the outside or the way they’re portrayed on the internet but when I get in as a consultant and start working with them, I start seeing the real picture. Professional and otherwise well respected organizations filled with dirty politics, poor culture and even corrupt and unethical working styles. I’ve seen individuals in organizations, like a really tough manager who is considered a great business negotiator by all. When I start working with him one on one as a coach, I start to see how insecure he really is about his position in the organization. Likewise a really charismatic, good looking and confident woman who from the outside looks like she has it all figured out and is living a wonderful life. Through a series of conversations brings out the horrible difficulties in her personal life and how much validation she actually seeks from others. I’ve also noticed this in relationships. Couples portraying an image of being really happy on social media. Posting pictures of fancy holidays and thoughts that others can only marvel at, thinking how blessed this wonderful couple must be. Only to find out a few weeks later that they are on the verge of an inevitable divorce.

Of course even the opposite is true. Some of the most timid and meek looking people might actually have strong and unshakeable conviction in who they are and hearts of pure iron. A married couple without kids who seem like they are living a mundane and lukewarm life from the outside might actually be sharing the highest amount of respect for each other and enjoying the wildest sex. And organizations that are located in an almost battered bungalow away from the buzz and other IT parks showing the highest level of professionalism and clocking incredible profits.

My basic massage to you is that a lot of things in life might look great or horrible from the outside, but that is not an indicator of what the truth might actually be. Going with what things seem like is a classic mistake a lot of folks make. It pays to dive in and explore what things are for real. It’s typically what happens when people choose a career path or shift careers. Almost every career looks great from the outside. It is when you step in and when the tyre meets the road that you truly understand what working in that field feels like. Even people who want to become Bollywood or Hollywood stars often underestimate the amount of hard work, early mornings and practice it might take to look good on screen.

Excerpts from this old piece by Gilbert and Sullivan also called “Things Are Seldom What They Seem” sums this up really well.

 

Things are seldom what they seem,

Skim milk masquerades as cream;

Highlows pass as patent leathers;

Jackdaws strut in peacock’s feathers.

 

Black sheep dwell in every fold;

All that glitters is not gold;

Storks turn out to be but logs;

Bulls are but inflated frogs.

 

Drops the wind and stops the mill;

Turbot is ambitious brill;

Gild the farthing if you will,

Yet it is a farthing still.

 

Though to catch your drift I’m striving,

It is shady? It is shady;

I don’t see at what you’re driving,

Mystic lady? Mystic lady.

 

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.

 

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.