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.

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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.

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.

Don’t Run Away From Boredom

Article in the Mindscape Section of the November 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

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Before I started writing this article, I went onto Google and ran a search with the terms “How To Get Bored”. The results were hilarious. Nine out of the ten results on the first search page were about how to kill boredom. “5 Ways To Overcome Boredom”, “17 Things To Do When You Are Bored Out Of Your Mind” and “10 Ways to Conquer Boredom” were among the search results.
If you have kids at home, you probably hear about getting bored way too often. And unfortunately, a lot of parents resort to the quickest escape route of handing them the iPad, smart phone, laptop or switching on the television for them. Pop culture today seems to be hooked on to ways of getting rid of Boredom with a vengeance. With an endless list of suggestions like, meet new people, join a class, travel, develop a hobby, volunteer, do this and do that. Why? What’s the problem? It’s not a sin to be bored. On the contrary, boredom can be a fabulous way to get more out of life. Here’s how.
First of all, boredom helps in sparking new ideas. The famous writer Robert M. Pirsig, who’s considered to be one of the most widely read philosophers still alive, said that boredom always precedes a period of great creativity. Another one of his famous quotes on Zen and nothingness alludes to the same thing and it reads, “If you stare at a wall from four in the morning till nine at night, and you do that for a week, you are getting pretty close to nothingness”.

Secondly, getting bored gives you the great opportunity of getting more time for yourself. Most often, when you hear people say that they don’t have time, they’re talking about not having time to do the things that they want to do in life. In a generation that patronizes multitasking, getting more done in less time and keeping busy as opposed to living and experiencing a richer life and stopping to smell the roses, many don’t realize that getting bored is the opposite of whizzing past life and missing out on it. In fact, I think, children should get bored. It’s a great way to get them to be more creative and experience time and life in its completeness. The same applies to adults. A lot of adults today don’t give themselves even the remotest chance of getting bored. Even a long weekend is filled with activities and things to do. And before you know it, you’re back at work.

Third and most importantly, boredom is a sure shot way to help people look inward. A lot of your goals, visions, aspirations, dreams, likes, dislikes and desires are happening inside of you. All you need to do is look. But if you’re so distracted with the world around you and the zillion demands that you put on yourself, then you’re bound to drift aimlessly in the high seas. Jim Morrison, the American song writer and the lead singer of the rock band “The Doors”, has this wonderful old aphorism about people.

Those who race toward death.
Those who wait.
Those who worry.

Don’t be among the ones who race toward death or the ones who worry. Just wait. The next time you get bored, don’t reach for your phone, start an activity or schedule new plans. Just wait. Let the boredom set in. Sit through it, experience it, learn to be with it and relish it. You’ll get a good glimpse of who you are, what makes you tick and what you should actually be doing in life.

Are You Suffering From Compassion Fatigue

Actual Compassion Fatigue was a term first referred to in a U.S. document on immigration policy in the early 1980s. It refers to the progressive fading away of compassion among individuals who need to express high levels of compassion as a result of the work they do or because of the life situations they are in.

In my view, the legitimate version of compassion fatigue that results from a continuous exposure to painful situations is clearly understandable. For example, taking care of a bed ridden family member for a prolonged period of time, going through a complicated and traumatic divorce that is spread over years or working a job that involves exposure to people in some sort of pain or trauma. But today, people seem to be victims of compassion fatigue even when there’s nothing in particular to be fatigued about. I’m more interested in talking about the 21st century variant of compassion fatigue, where it’s not just trauma or pain but various other emotions that people are fatigued towards. There is an overload of exposure today towards certain dimensions of life and this in turn leads to people becoming numb to what an acceptable dose of the related emotions might be.

Though leading bodies in the world, like the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association are yet to accept compassion fatigue as an actual diagnosis, there’s simply no debate about a gradual numbing effect that occurs to people’s reactions and perceptions to certain things due to over exposure. Versions of compassion fatigue, in my view are present in several walks of life, even if you’re not in a job that requires taking care of others or showing compassion. The phenomena of eating and drinking out regularly, divorces, depression, traffic jams or long commutes, and several other negative hallmarks of big cities have gone up so much that you might well be partaking in the madness and not realizing it.

For example, in the corporate world, the incessant cribbing that I often hear from people who I meet almost makes job dissatisfaction a given. Monday morning blues and TGIF are accepted norms in most parts of the world. To the extent that if you don’t complain about your job, you might actually stick out like a sore thumb in some organizations.

Another roaring example is social media. With the ever increasing popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and Snapchat, a segment of people are simply too used to sharing every single detail about themselves with the rest of the world. As a result, the sharing quotient of most social media users in the world has gone through the roof. More importantly, there’s this constant pressure of having to portray a good life as if your existing life and what you have is seriously flawed.

The great danger of a continuous exposure to excesses is that it warps your sense of what’s acceptable and what you actually feel like. Don’t get so used to broadcasting your life that privacy means nothing to you anymore. Don’t chase your financial dreams so hard that you’re unable to enjoy the money you already have. Don’t be so obsessed with trying to look better that you stop appreciating your personality and charm. As the Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich put it, “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.”

Most importantly, Don’t be so caught up in trying to live a successful life that you forget to live a happy one.

What Defines an Alpha Male?

Article in the Mindscape Section of the August 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

The misconceptions about the concept of the Alpha Male range from people seeing it as the ultimate acknowledgement of a man’s virility to feeling the need to be aggressive or flirt with women. Saying that being an Alpha Male is just about being physically fit, behaviourally aggressive or smooth with women is like reducing Osho’s entire range of ideas and philosophies merely to what he said about sex. So what else makes an Alpha Male?

First of all, an Alpha Male is not a bully. He is not out there to get other people or put others down. On the contrary, he is someone who lifts people up and brings out the best in others. That’s precisely what makes him stand out and shine in a group. Quite like the lion that is seen as the king of the jungle and yet doesn’t kill his prey for cheap thrills. But when a loin is hungry or needs to attack, he knows exactly what to do. Likewise, even the Alpha Male attacks only under the pressure of necessity, and when he does, size doesn’t matter. His energy in a fight is immense and mostly drawn from within rather than through practice or technique.

Secondly, the Alpha Male is not stuck up. He is a flexible beast. He accepts mistakes, takes ownership and adapts quickly. He realizes that negative feedback or differences in opinion are not a personal insult to his manhood or to himself as a human being. He is calm, composed and has a striking sense of poise even when things are not going his way. This comes from his quality of not blaming others, taking responsibility for who he is and his remarkable optimism in learning, growing and becoming a better person.

Another brilliant quality the Alpha Male possesses is being comfortable with being exactly who he is. He doesn’t suck up to anybody in the face of hierarchical superiority, greater public image or under social pressure. He speaks his mind out, doesn’t mince words and shoots bullets of honesty through his language and actions. This ability to express himself with ease makes him a fascinating leader, beyond just good decision making or being at the helm of affairs in any set up.

Finally, one more defining factor of an Alpha Male is that he is passionate about life. He sees a clear purpose to his existence and as a result finds more meaning in his work, his actions and his life as a whole. He clearly stands for certain things and that gives him a sense of style and charisma that is truly his and not one prescribed by others.

An alpha male doesn’t need to be young. You can be an alpha male at any age and there could be several other factors that define an Alpha Male to a slightly lesser degree than the ones described above. But for the most part, he is seen as someone who can walk into a room, fill it with his presence, exposing himself completely with uncrossed hands, direct eye contact and engaging others through his entertaining stories and his sense of humour. In a world where political correctness and living for others reigns supreme, the Alpha Male will continue to express himself and yet there is one thing that he would never ever do. He would never try to be an Alpha Male. He will be who he is and that is what makes him an Alpha Male.

The Neutral Line Phenomenon

Article in the Mindscape Section of the July 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

Ask yourself how you feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 being horrible and 10 being awesome. Now how do you feel today in comparison to other days on the same rating scale? You could extend this inquiry into an assessment of how you feel this week, this month or even this year. We all have days that are a 10 or even a 14 while on the other hand, there are days that are a 1 or 0. While it’s absolutely normal to experience these highs and lows, the larger question is where do you spend most of your time? I mean towards which end of the feel good scale?

The neutral line phenomenon is a concept I’ve used to get answers to some of the above questions and process those answers to live a better and more fulfilling life. The neutral line phenomenon refers to an imaginary line that is in between the highs and lows, that indicates habitual behaviour or your customary state. Someone, who at any given point of time feels they are at a 10 probably has a higher neutral line compared to someone who on most days feels they are at a 1 or 2. While 1, 2, 10 or 14 are just numbers on an imaginary feel good scale, the neutral line is real. It is your habitual behaviour or state and in turn is a true assessment of the kind of life that you might be leading. The people who are living an awesome life, are actually the ones who are feeling like a million dollars most of the time while people who are going through a mundane existence or even living a life of struggles are the ones who are feeling down and out or oppressed most of the time. There is absolutely no point having a high net worth, buying a mansion, taking fancy vacations, getting to the top of the corporate ladder or even retiring at 30 if you don’t feel good. Rest assured that you’ve had a pretty lousy year, if you spent the whole year working a job that you hated and doing other things that you were forced to and that you hated yourself for, just to take that 10 day international vacation in December. What this does is that it puts your neutral line way close to the zero mark. On the other hand if you at least did that lousy job for 5 days a week but had a blast during the weekends doing the things that you absolutely looked forward to, then that immediately puts your neutral line closer to a 4 or a 5. Now imagine that you were doing a job that you loved from Monday through Friday and you had other interesting passions that you spent your weekends being involved in and to cap it all you also took that lovely vacation at the end of the year. Now that is when your neutral line would hovering around the 10 mark. I’m sure you get the picture. The bottom line is to push up your neutral line. Rather than aim for those isolated high times of your life that are far and few between, do what it takes to feel good more often and to increase the intensity of that feeling. And I don’t mean do whatever it takes.

Someone whose neutral line is at the happy level, on good days feels happier and on great days feels elated. While for someone whose neutral line is at the depressed level, even the great days are just slightly sad days.