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.

 

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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.

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.

A Place Where Nothing Can Affect You

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

I’m sure a lot of us have heard the story of the Zen master and the earthquake. A Zen master was having dinner one evening with his disciples. A major earthquake struck and while everything shook and swayed, the disciples ran frantically to other rooms and to different parts of the monastery. Some even ran right out of the monastery in an attempt to save their lives. In a while, the earthquake settled down and the tremors stopped. So the disciples started to find their way back to the monastery and eventually into the room where the dinner was served. They found the Zen master still seated in silence with a calm and peaceful look on his face. When the disciples asked him how come he didn’t run out to save his life, he replied that the quake was everywhere. In that room, the next room and even outside the monastery. So the only place you could actually escape to was into yourself. And that’s what the Zen master did.

We sometimes don’t realize that we all have access to a place like this. A room where no one and nothing can affect you. A place where you can be in a state of absolute bliss, despite the earthquakes and hurricanes of life that might surround you. But before you start gaining access to this room you need to identify it and if you can’t do that; at least build one for yourself.

There are some of us who are lucky enough to have found that sacred space early on in life. Either through practicing a form of art or music or meditation or through writing or even just by knowing how to relax. These are the people who almost have a readymade room and the journey they take is just about drifting gracefully in their mental or spiritual space to find that room. And lets also accept the fact that some of us might have come into this world without a blessed space to go to or might be so far removed from that peaceful room that it would be far smarter for us to build a new room from scratch. Here’s what you could keep in mind if you wanted to build your own room of bliss.

First of all, spend time every day, doing something that you absolutely love. Read a book, workout, take a walk in the park, write, practice martial arts, go on a bike ride, meditate or do whatever makes you feel good. Try to pick activities that take you inward rather than keep you distracted from your inner self and take you further away from your center. So things like drinking, drugs, gambling, gaming or television are bad options. When you do the things you love often enough, you’ll notice that the intensity of the good feeling that you experience starts to expand and become more intense. That’s when you realize that your room is slowly getting built. Secondly, you’ll notice that some activities work better for you than others. For some, meditating for an hour might get them into a quiet and serene space while for some others sitting in a café reading a book for a while might make them feel tranquil. Choose what works best for you and stick with it. This is like finding the right entrance to your serene space. Thirdly, repeat your favorite activity frequently. This does not mean quitting your job and doing it all the time. There is great power in spaced repetition. Each time you enter your peaceful room, the more definite it becomes. First you identify a spot, then you mark it, then the walls get built, then the ceiling and interiors and lights and fragrances. The more often you go into this room, the more robust your room becomes.

A final thought is that once you identify your room or build one for yourself, don’t abandon it. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve had a really calm mental space that they could go to whenever they wanted to. One that their parents inculcated or ushered them into or perhaps one that they themselves identified in the process of growing up. But as they grow older and get caught up in the natural disasters of everyday life, they stop going to this room and eventually this room gets abandoned or forgotten altogether. Finally at some point they’re having a midlife crisis or experiencing severe job stress and they don’t know where to go.

So once you know your safe haven, respect it, guard it and enjoy it for life. It’s a place where nothing can affect you.