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.

 

Advertisements

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.

A Quick Way To Tame Your Ego

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

sf-1-december-2017.jpg

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.

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.

The Two Things That Wellbeing Is All About

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

Ask five of your closest friends or relatives what wellbeing means to them. Make a note of what they tell you. I’ve done this exercise myself and have heard all kinds of responses like wellbeing is about living a happy life, wellbeing means being fit, wellbeing means not falling ill, wellbeing is being physically and mentally strong, etc. It doesn’t matter what the response is, I’ve always noticed that there is a projection of what people say into the future. Nobody wants to be happy just for the next 5 minutes or be mentally and physically strong just for today. There is a definite undertone of wanting any of this along with a certain level of permanence. At the heart of the feeling of wellbeing are two ideas, Predictability and Control. People really want to have control over their health, their relationships, their lifespans and sometimes even the lifespans of others. While at the same time, a lack of predictability and control can sometimes send the lives of people spiraling downward. Just not being certain that you might have your job a month from now or that you might not enjoy a healthy life for the rest of this year could cause a lot of stress and people even lose sleep over such apprehensions which in turn impact their wellbeing.

People want to control all kinds of things in their lives, starting from the temperature in the room, to their weight to their blood sugar and cholesterol levels, their spouses and sometimes even the lives and futures of their children. It is no wonder that teenagers feel a sense of control and empowerment when they start working and making their own money. One of the things that any illness does is that it rattles you off your sense of control over yourself. The journey to find and experience a cure is really a journey to gain back control over your life. The other side of the same coin is predictability. The best diets in the world are the ones that give you the most predictable outcomes. Exercises where you can predict the number of calories lost which eventually translates into getting into the desired shape are invariably the more popular exercises. There are several parts of the world that believe in some sorts of horoscopes, oracles and prophesies and the unsaid message from people who believe in them is “we want to predict our future”. In fact the whole “happily ever after” phenomenon hugely leans on the idea of predictability.

Predictability and Control might make us all feel a little more safe and secure but it certainly isn’t something to fret and fume over. Sometimes it’s good to let go because the fact is that stock markets do fluctuate, economies do collapse and people eventually do fall sick or die. Don’t be so obsessed with predictability and control that it starts controlling you. Your relationship with life is like any other relationship. The more controlling you get, sometimes the less control you actually end up having. As one famous Chicago tribune columnist Mary Schmich, put it,

“Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday”.

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.

The Blind Spots Of Wellbeing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

 

A recent piece of news in the New York based Syracuse New Times website read

““On Sept. 28, 2015, a couple from Syracuse witnessed a gray, circular UFO. Ethan and his wife, Shemlynn, were driving on Interstate 81 south and were about nine miles south of the Watertown exit. The couple said that the sky was overcast, with little sunlight still out.

“All of a sudden, Shemlynn pointed out a gray mass in the sky,” he said. “The UFO was circular shaped, and it came twisting out of the clouds for about 5-10 seconds, then receded.”

Shemlynn said that when the UFO came out of the clouds, it seemed unstable or like it was experiencing turbulence.””

What’s interesting is that no website or news paper or TV channel reports the thousands of other couples who were having a quiet evening in New York on that very same day or for that matter anywhere else in the world. Likewise, if there’s one flight that crash lands in some city somewhere, it becomes news the world over while the millions of flights that land perfectly go unreported.

This is what I call the Vital Incident Prejudice. And interestingly, it’s a phenomenon that applies to various areas of life, especially to wellbeing. Even in the sphere of wellbeing, it’s always the hits that get registered while the misses don’t. Here are some instances of the Vital Incident Prejudice that you might relate to.

I recently met a gentleman in his mid fifties, who’d been following a particular kind of vegetarian diet for most of his life. He realized a month ago that he is diabetic. He’s now trying to change everything about his life from his job to his leisure activities and quite naturally his diet. The fact that the diet he followed all these years helped him stay hale and hearty till his mid fifties somehow seems to have zero significance all of a sudden. The single incident of being diagnosed with diabetes could make a person throw away something that was a way of life all along.

Look closely at the same example of the man in his fifties. The Vital Incident Prejudice is also at play when he plans to make changes in his life without realizing that all he has now is diabetes. He’s free from a range of other diseases that many other less fortunate ones in this world are victims of. Examine your own life and see if you’ve been doing this. Many of us are in the habit of focusing all our attention and energy on that one area that is not working well in our lives. And this happens at the cost of all the other areas that are working perfectly for us. This is known in psychology as the negativity bias.

The number of instances of this is endless. People scrapping an entire workout because someone commented on their looks one day. People latching on to the one small negative comment in a two hour conversation that had a sea of positive ones. On the brighter side, there are also people who have quit smoking altogether because they read an article about the link between smoking and impotence or breast cancer.

Try this. Take a look at all the things that are working well in your life and start by consciously feeling grateful for them. If you’re reading this article, then chances are that you already have a lot to be grateful for. It’s all those things that make up your overall sense of wellbeing. If something’s not going your way, spend some time and energy to fix it but move on. Don’t change your entire life around to nourish the plane crashes and the UFO sightings of your life.

One Step To Wellbeing

Article in the Mindscape Section of the December 2015 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

SF - Page1 - October 2015 SF - Page2 - October 2015

We’re not left with too many options but to act right now. At this moment. This is true for the pursuit of wellbeing as much as it is for the pursuit of anything else in life. This includes taking any kind of action, making a decision, putting away a decision, planning for the future, being excited about your goals or even doing nothing at all. The point is that the only moment of power we have is the present. Right now.

Here are two typical behaviours that many folk demonstrate:

Living In The Past

I was recently called by a gentleman in his mid thirties, who wanted me to suggest a hypnotherapist to him. He was jumping from one health problem to another and suffered from a low self esteem as a result. He perpetually “felt sick” is what he called it. Now this gentleman was not too keen on fixing the problem. In my conversation with him, he told me that what he wanted to do was to go back into the past and find out why he is the way he is. As he innocently put it, “I want to find out exactly why I am like this”. So I asked him what he plans to do after he finds out, and he had nothing much to say. As if finding out the underlying reason would automatically sort everything out. So here is someone who lives, focusing on the past, wants to blame it and finally does nothing about it.

Postponing The Present

This is another classic behaviour that people demonstrate. The ones who almost live their entire lives chasing a dream, an ideal state of wellbeing or happiness of some form. The kind who say, “Once I’ve bought that villa, I’ll be happy”, “After I retire, I’ll enjoy life”, “After I get my children married, I’ll relax”, etc. I recently met a slightly overweight manager at an IT firm and we got down to discussing health and fitness as an important area for goal setting. He said he wants to become slim and run a marathon as well. So I asked him when he plans to start pursuing either or his goals. His response was, “As soon as I move out of this company”. And I realized that he’s been telling others and himself that story through his last five jobs. This is someone who literally teleports what he can do right now, into the future, by not taking action.

The Point Of Power Is The Present

Anything you ever want to change has to be leveraged from the present. In fact, the reasons why some of us don’t sit down and clarify our dreams or break them down into workable plans are exactly the same reasons why we don’t achieve them. If you are too lazy to sit and write down your dreams and set milestones, then your laziness might well prevent you from realizing those dreams. On the contrary, if you are too busy to take the time out to think about what you actually want in life, then you are very likely to not find the time to live into your dream life either. You get the point.

At the risk of sounding like a clichéd 21st century self help guru, I want to tell you this. If there is one thing and only one thing you need to do to step into a greater state of wellbeing or to live a better life, just go ahead and take that first step. Right now. Register for that fitness program, sign up for that marathon or do what you really want to do and experience that greater state of happiness.

You are better off taking that first step right now rather than psychoanalyzing the past or fantasizing about the future.