Tag Archives: Decision making

Deep seated problems

I was to attend a Conference in Mumbai last week along with a colleague of mine. We were to catch a morning flight to Mumbai and decided to share the same taxi to the Airport. To confirm the plans, I rung her up the previous evening and told her that the taxi would pick me up at 6.00 AM and she should be ready by 6.15AM.
I was somewhat surprised when she asked me if we shouldn’t be leaving earlier than that( We had a 8.30 flight and the Airport was approximately 1 – 1.5 hrs. of drive from where we were. Considering all this, I had booked the taxi at 6.00AM which would give us some buffer in case the Bangalore traffic throws up some surprises). I told her that we would be there well in time and asked her why she felt we should leave earlier.
‘I want to check in my bag’ she told me
That was ridiculous. We would be in Mumbai for just two days, and in no way I could imagine that someone would carry a bag that couldn’t go in as cabin baggage. When I asked why she was carrying so much stuff just for two days, she clarified that it was because she wanted to carry some perfume in the bag. That sounded a good enough reason, as liquids more than 100ml wasn’t allowed in the cabin baggage. Not wanting to change the plans, I suggested that she either carry a small bottle or buy one after we land in Mumbai; in case she was very particular.
She agreed to this, though I couldn’t help feeling somewhat puzzled at this strange (at least for me) conversation.
So we were there at the Airport the next morning and were about to board the flight. While at the queue, she requested a help from me. Once we were inside, she wanted me to help her put her bag in the overhead lockers (She was very short and couldn’t reach the lockers herself). I was happy to help, but then another problem arose. As per our allotted seats, she had to use the front door and I had to use the rear door. While I was about to leave her towards the rear door, she quickly handed over to me her bag and told me that she would collect it when we reach Mumbai.
So here I was carrying two bags plus my laptop bag, trying not to look like a porter. I was a bit annoyed. While I was happy to be of any help, this was going beyond the limits. Any co-passenger would have helped her put the baggage in the lockers or she could have asked the air hostesses to help her.
That moment everything connected together in a flash. I understood the whole problem. As I had told, my colleague was very short and apparently was very conscious about it. I realized that that was the reason why she wanted to check in the baggage in the first place; to avoid being uncomfortable while trying to stove it in the overhead locker. That was also the reason for her almost impolite behavior of handling it over to me.
I have come across several such instances where people (including myself) act in strange ways to cover up such deep complexes and fears and also to fulfill deep desires. I remember when I had purchased my first car in 2004; my father was the proudest man on earth. He grew up in poverty and had to toil hard his entire life to make a living. I am sure a Car would have been beyond his dreams. We drove to the market in my car. The weather was very hot and I wanted to turn the a/c on. But my father suggested that we roll the windows down to get some fresh air. Soon I understood what was in his mind – he wanted everyone to see him travelling in his own car. I saw him beaming and smiling at friends and acquaintances throughout.
These deep desires, fears and complexes create our lives and influence the way we think, react and make decisions. And most of the time we don’t get to set them right because we constantly justify our behavior and put in all our efforts to ensure that they aren’t threatened.
Note: I am just setting up my website ( http://sajeevvk.com/) which exclusively will contain my thoughts on mind and its working. I welcome you there and would be grateful for any feedback and comments.

Do we get to choose in life?

It is rather strange. But it always looks like everyone else has a choice in life but not me. Things are thrust on me mercilessly. Why is life unfair to me?

There seems to be things to choose from all around, but strangely the moment I get to choose, the choices vanish and there is simply that one thing, the one thing that I do not like, left.

 The world is full of opposites, at least they way my mind sees it. Opposites to choose from;there is love-hatred, war-peace, joy-misery, chaos-order, beauty-ugliness, wellness-suffering. They tell me that I get to choose. They tell me that I am what I have chosen to be.

Do I really get to choose? Can I simply choose between being happy and being sad? If I can make that choice, will I need to make any other choice in life at all?

 Or have I made that choice already?

 Sometimes in our lives, we make choices. Either because we are not attached to the choices or there is a logic that overrules the feeling or we are utterly confused that the decision making becomes conscious. The choosing is unconscious mostly otherwise and in fact, there is no choice at all in the first place.

 Many a times when you attempt to change something (you make a conscious choice to do something or not to do something), panic sets in. There is so much of trauma, uncomfortable feeling, frustration, resistance and mostly after enduring the suffering for a while, we return back to the comfort of what we were.

Moreover, it does not occur to us that a current situation (mostly unpleasant) is in fact a consequence of a choice we have made some time back. Partly because our sense of cause and effect is limited both by time and physical space.

But most of us would agree that we do get to choose. Why then is it difficult to make choices?

The answer to this lies deep down in the mind. The truth is that most of the time, the mind does not see a choice at all in the first place. Because there is a pattern in the mind that will immediately trigger the irresistible urge to react in a particular way (pre-rehearsed or learnt from the past experience). So, for the mind it looks as if there is no choice. This is also why we feel others have got a choice, because the choice disappears only when we try to connect it to the sense of self.

We will be able to see the choices only if we can stop the urge to connect a thought trigger to an existing pattern in the mind. This happens in the present moment. See the representation in the post The act of mindful watching

 The moment we are able to bring space at this level of thought, choices simply will spring up. Most of the time making the right choice seems tough for most of us because we approach it upside-down. An abstract feeling becomes a thought, then an action and further a habit or behavior. And we try to make change at the level of habit / behavior. This doesn’t work. Also because at the level of habit or behavior the logical mind is also very dominant.

When the logic drops, patterns weaken one travels back to the thought and then the basic abstract feeling. There one makes a simple choice and a new dimension opens up. This is the choice of going back to a child’s mind of joy and creativity.

So there seems to be only one choice to make –whether to go back to the pre-thought state or not.

….hm, do we really have a choice?

It’s just the difference between acting and reacting

A change is always tough. Most of us are sure that there are certain things that need to change in our lives. But when we attempt to change, there are all kinds of problems; uneasiness, fear, agony and depression. Even if we are able to change some thing (like a habit), there is a high probability of relapse after a period of uncertainty. I have wondered about it; often triggered by my attempts to stop smoking. When I did quit finally (rather easily), it gave me a new perception about the issue.

I think the problem is fundamentally with the point of change. Here is the theory : The difference between success and failure (or misery and happiness) is a simple choice between acting and reacting. Look at the picture below:

Action and Reaction

Say you are at the point Z and need to take a decision. You have two choices. One is to go by the patterns (or mind) which is usually the reactive path. The moment you align your mind in this way, mind starts further strengthening and reinforcing the point of view. You are then lead in one direction as indicated by the green line (the lines around it indicate the reinforcing mind patterns). There is another choice. That’s not to go by the patterns (mind), but to be aware or listen to your consciousness. This is the path of action, indicated by the red line. Even here, the mind does strengthen and reinforce the thinking.

Every moment in life we are actually at the point Z. If we can be aware and not get carried away by the mind, perhaps we can take right decisions for the future. This is rather simple.

But when it comes to change, the problem is more complex. The decision point is actually somewhere in the past and we have say taken a reactive approach and proceeded in one direction. Assume, it has taken us to Y. Now we want to change. We want to be at X. So we take a decision and convince ourselves to be at X. But this is just temporary. Soon the old patterns become dominant and you are mercilessly dragged to Y. When that happens the reinforcement is further strengthened and you are more convinced that you cannot change.

So where is the problem? You should actually be first moving to Z (and not X). This will demand that you work through the conditioning of the mind slowly and remove them. When you are at the point Z, look at the decision again. With the correct mindset or awareness, you can take the right decision and take the path towards X. Since the conditioning has been taken care of, they don’t trouble you hard and in no time new patterns are formed.

 Let’s understand this with an example. Take smoking. Assume you are a smoker (because at some point in your life, you decided to try it apparently for no reason) and you are trying to quit now. You are at Y, and have lot of stuff built already around it in the mind like – Smoking helps me relax, It reduces my stress, it’s difficult to stop this etc. You also want to escape and you want to be, say at X ,where you are free from the habit.

Action and Reaction eg

Now you project yourself to be at X (whatever method you use – Cold turkey, cutting down etc). For a day or two, you are better off (at X), but soon the patterns become active (and there are things going on in the mind like – perhaps this is not the right time, I should actually cut down etc..)  and you feel miserable. And soon you are pulled back to point Y (you relapse). The more this happens, you are even more convinced that you can never escape, because every failure reinforces your conviction that you cannot quit.

Why this happens? You were at the point Z, several times in your life; say whenever you are smoking or whenever you tried to resist the temptation. And when you decided to smoke, you actually said: This is enjoying and relaxing. This has taken you in one direction and all the conditioning is built around it. Even if you are successful with this approach to quit, you are likely to be depressed and miserable, because the basic decision is in question.

So in order to really escape, you need to go back to the point Z and rephrase the mindset. An example could be : “ This has been a dreadful disease that’s taken control of me, I am now stepping out. It feels so great to be free”.

Now there are three elements. You, Smoking and the act of Quitting (or not doing it). So at the point Z you have to use these three to construct a direction statement. You know what most smokers do? They construct it something like this : “ Though smoking helps me to relax, now because of my bad health, I have to somehow stop it. I am going to try it real hard. I am not sure if I will succeed, I have failed many times before. But I will try it hard this time”. This takes them straight to the path of misery. 

But if you can construct a direction statement like “ I am escaping from this dreadful disease, it is so great. I do not need to do this again”. You take the other direction.

It’s not just a simple affirmation statement in the mind. You need to use awareness (and reflection) to go deeper and deeper till you find the basic decision making point and make the change. And this change will be easy and permanent.

This might rather look simple, but if you understand it, it is the key to change.

Balancing the change – The improving and worsening parameters

There is a technique in TRIZ for conflict problem solving. The essence of the technique is that when we try to improve a parameter of a system, there is another parameter that is worsened.  Typically a compromise is arrived at balancing both the parameters. An example would be the power and fuel efficiency of the car, when you try to improve one, the other suffers. And this is the gap where innovation finds its scope – is there a way we can have a more powerful car with the same fuel efficiency? This would mean that we will need to create a new engine or is there a way to boost up the power output by external means…and so on.

The crux of the theory is that, every system is balanced in some way and when we change any of it’s parameters, that creates an imbalance.

This applies to our life too, when we try to change. Whatever is our personality or habits, at any given point of time; we are balanced (at least in our own view). Now when we are making a change (like you drop a habit like smoking) this leads to an imbalance. While the imbalance gets corrected over a period of time automatically, there is always a tendency to come back to the last balanced state automatically. I think this makes the changes difficult. Mind (or some external triggers) will try to trick us to go back to the ‘old balanced state’ and mostly we give in after some initial struggle. People who have been smokers will tell how miserable it is when they try to stop.

I think it’s essential to know how to retain the balance when we make a change. One reason why this is difficult is that while the improvement parameter is rather ‘physical’ the worsening one is ‘virtual’ (by physical what I mean is those we can feel as an entity in space, time or as an object or activity. Virtual ones are subtle, often in the mind which we cannot really feel or predict or measure). While we plan to change the physical parameter, typically we ignore the virtual one. For e.g, you take a decision that you are not going to smoke again. You list out all the reasons not to smoke again and take your plunge. But you ignore the ‘virtual’ part, which is the deprivation, misery and depression. You either decide to take them on as they come or hope they will not come. The moment you stop smoking, an imbalance is created. The mind will use all the virtual parameters as excuses to force you to go back to the old balanced state of a ‘smoker’.

So how do we tackle this? We shouldn’t take just one decision, but take two – one for the improving parameter and the other for the worsening parameter. So in this case it would be like this: (1) I will not smoke again and (2) I will be so happy about it. Provided you stick to both the decisions equally, a new balanced state will be created without much struggle.

In some cases where both the parameters are physical, this balancing happens rather automatically. For e.g you decide to wake up early from now on, you will naturally know that you need to go to bed earlier than usual. But in some cases, the worsening parameter lies hidden. For e.g you want to bring more focus to your work and you decide to spend more time in office. You know, this means you will spend less time with your family. But the real ‘worsening parameter’ here is that your family is not going to be happy about this change and at some point of time, the issue surfaces and may be an argument breaks out and you have your good excuse to go back to your old habits. So what could be the solution here – you also take a decision that you will well compensate for your reduced time with family with increased quality. This will create the balance for the change the family will undergo.

I think when we are able to move from one balanced state to another while making a change, changes will be effortless. Identifying the right improving and worsening parameters will be the key to this.

An insight to making firm decisions

All of us make decisions in life. We decide to do something or we decide not to do something or change the way we do something. While we are successful sometimes, there are also quiet many failures. (By success I mean that we are able to stick to the decision and failure the opposite)

Have you ever wondered why we aren’t successful always? Even if we thought about it, we are most likely to attribute it to things like our will power. One reason why we are unable to see a pattern in our own decisions (and the success and failures) is that every time the decisions are different and look unique. It’s very rare we take the same decision over and over again.

 I had the great privilege of being a heavy smoker for many years. I had made numerous attempts to quit, and one important ritual in every attempt was my taking the decision ‘not to smoke ever in my life’. I failed repeatedly. Sometimes it was immediate; sometimes it took few hours, days or weeks before I succumbed to the temptation. Sometimes I was miserable and some other times happy.

When I analyzed these failures, I could see there were two separate aspects. One was the decision making itself and the other sustaining it through maintaining the mindset. If I made a good decision, that helped me have a great start. I could overcome the initial hurdle without serious problems. Similar to a rocket gaining the escape velocity to overcome the earth’s gravitational pull.But if the decision it self was weak, I failed almost immediately. Even when I made a good decision, my failure came from the second aspect – where could not sustain it.

So, when was it that I could take a good decision? I saw two scenarios:

  1. When I had done enough reflection and introspection (why am I doing this, what is it doing for me..etc)
  2. After an emotional outburst.

But still I couldn’t figure out why was my decisions were stronger in the above scenarios.

 Months later, I came across a technique from Yoga for making firm decisions. This is the technique:

Sit in with your eyes closed, spine erect. Take a deep breath and hold the breath inside. Now repeat the decision firmly and continuously in your mind. Keep holding the breath as long as you can. When you can’t hold any longer, breathe out completely. Now hold the breath outside and repeat the decision again in the mind. When you can’t any longer hold it out, breath in and hold and so on. Do this couple of times. And it seems, whatever decision you take like this, you wouldn’t be able to break even if you try to.

This was interesting. Holding breath is a stage in Pranayama called Kumbhaka. And what happens when you do Kumbhaka? – the mind stops (or the thoughts disappear). (Please do not attempt the above technique without guidance or knowledge)

Now the whole thing made sense. I could see a connection. I could see that in both the scenarios above, there was something interesting about the mind. In the first scenario, the deep reflection settled the mind (or the doubts) and the in the second mind just entered in to a void following an outburst. So in essence, I could see that the mind had to get out of the way if we have to take a firm decision. This is verified by the fact that there are times when I take a decision; I almost knew that it will not work. I could see that before even the decision is made, doubts arise in the mind and the decision is doomed even before it starts.

Based on this experience, I have formed a concept for making firm decisions:  If you have to make a firm decision, you need to first get the mind out of the way. Once the thoughts stop (mind doesn’t exist then – I like the analogy of mind and thoughts to forest and trees) take the decision. Allow it to sink deeply in to your self. You will find that the decision is successful, almost effortlessly.

So how to get the mind get out of your way? Here are few suggestions:

  1. Intense Mindfulness. Mindfulness literally kills your mind. When you are mindful, the decision making is good automatically, and you don’t need to do anything extra. But becoming mindful needs some preparation and effort
  2. Intense prayer and surrender – This also settles the mind, especially when there is fear about the decision or you feel helpless
  3. Deep reflection and introspection. In cases where your mind is cluttered about the decision. For e.g smoking, on one side you really want to stop and on the other side you fear that you will miss your friend. Do a deep reflection to get clarity, this will settle the mind and you can take a better decision.
  4. Certain techniques in yoga where you do breath retention (like Moorcha pranayama, Nadi Sodhana Pranayama with prolonged Kumbhaka or simply just holding the breath as mentioned above). They immediately result in a void, and this is the space where you actually take the decision. A void could also result by haphazard breathing for sometime. Techniques 2 or 3 followed by 4 will be your key to making firm decisions.

Sometimes, it is also possible that your mind becomes void or blank without any effort. If you are aware, you should be able to catch it (I have seen this happening ton me when I am physically exhausted)

But remember, taking decision is one of the aspects we need to master. Thoughts on sustaining that in another post.

Being true to yourself

Imagine the time you were a student, preparing for an important examination. It’s late night and you are in your room, supposed to be studying. After a while, you are bored and sleepy and you pick a novel and start reading. Unexpectedly, your father walks in to your room and before you can cover up, he sees what you are doing. He walks out without saying anything.

What happens? You are overcome by a terrible feeling of guilt and embarrassment. You feel miserable. You know you have done something wrong, but still do not know why.

It could also happen in office when your manager suddenly walks on to your desk to find you browsing some sites instead of working on an important assignment.

All of us have this difference between what we are supposed to be doing and what we are actually doing. But the interesting part is that such things happen without us taking notice of. We would have actually sat down with a plan to work on something for the next two hours. After a while, we get slowly distracted. There is an uncontrollable urge to check your personal mail or see who is on the chat or look in to the bulletin board. And invariably this is the time someone chooses to have a glimpse of how you are working.

This extends to other things in life. Say if you have promised your wife that you will never smoke again and you yield to your urge and puff away in office. You come home in the evening soaked in guilt. Your wife asks – did you smoke today?. You say – No. She is so happy about you keeping the promise and you are asking yourself – what kind of person I am?

When this involves another person (someone is expecting you to do something) it normally ends up with them forming perceptions or opinions on you. You manager might decode that you need constant monitoring or your wife is actually smelling your cloths to confirm that you haven’t really smoked.

But the real problem is what happens to you. Every time when you come to know of this ‘difference’, it pulls down your self-respect. And you see this phenomenon extending to all other things in your life – at your work place you are not doing what you should be doing, your wife is not what you expect her to be, and eventually your life is not what it should really be. The more you lose your self-respect, more doubtful the mind is and this further creates the difference.

I think it’s extremely important to ‘be true to yourself’, to live a life with self-respect. In my view, there are three things to set right.

  • Managing Interruptions : There are two kinds of interruptions. One is external (someone walking over to you to clarify something) and the other internal (your mind says – forget this boring presentation, let’s look at what’s new on the bulletin board). These internal interruptions are the ones that cause the problem. Here some suggestions:
    • Try this out. Next time before you sit down for a task, set your mind – I am going to do this for the next two hrs. No interruptions. I will look in to anything only after that. I think over a period of time, you will see a great improvement
    • The other issue is to do with planning the day. Spend some time every morning to plan the day. This will avoid drifting of your mind
    • If you have this problem for long, it could be because of a lack of purpose. Set some definite goals, which will provide a direction to your mind
    • Another important point to take care is the restlessness of the body. If you don’t exercise regularly or have lot of mental clutter, the body is restless and in no time the restlessness passes over to your mind.
  • Unable to keep up a promise :  Big or small. You have promised someone something and then don’t honor it. This creates not only self-respect problem but also perception problems. Being true to yourself also means that you only make promises that you can keep. Start with simple things and you will master this soon.
  • Inability to stick to your decision :  One night you take a decision that you are going to rise early and exercise regularly from tomorrow onwards. The next day, you wake up as usual late and  as you are hurrying to reach office on time, you despise your self and are convinced that you can never take any decision in life.

The suggestion again here is, start with simple things and don’t take a decision for your life time. It creates lot of fear which is sufficient to doom anything ever before you start. Take a decision for a day, or a week or whatever is comfortable.

I think if we are able to get rid of this ‘difference’ and be true to ourselves, life is bound to be much more peaceful.

Surrender

Surrender is a beautiful concept advocated by all the Indian religions. It is even placed superior to many of the spiritual practices.

But what does it mean really? What do one surrender? To whom? What happens after that?

I had my own problem understanding what surrender means. It is a tradition in India to offer your problems to a god, diety or a guru. This seemed to me the closest possible meaning of surrender, when I tried to undertsand this initially. 

This is how I experimented this.When I had a problem that I couldn’t solve or escape from, I said – God, I can’t handle this, I’m surrendering this to you. You take care. But it didn’t really work and soon it looked more like a ritual. I realized that such a surrender demanded complete faith (in whatever you surrender to), which was another abstract concept I needed to then understand. Without faith, the surrender was meaningless, because I doubted whether it would work or not and still continued pondering on it. Subconciously, I wished it would work, because my faith would grow then! So I had another chicken-egg situation. 

I dropped it for months till I became interested in  Mindfulness  and present moment. I decided to attempt to be ‘in the present moment’ for a week or so, just to feel it out ( I didn’t continue that for a reason; that’s for another post). As I became more and more mindful (in the present), surrender manifested all of a sudden! It was there in the present moment.

This brought about a totally diffrent meaning to Surrender. The real surrender is to drop all the resistance (to anything, may be after you failed to solve it or escape from) and just be in the situation. And the problem is no more there, simply because in present moment there are no problems.

Try it yourself. If there is a problem thats bothering you right now, just drop all your resistance to it, accept it fully and just be there. See what happens.(No cheating, be true to yourself, the acceptance has to be total and effortless)

I have tried this in some simple issues in my life and it works beautifully. But I think the challenge is to apply it to real serious issues (especially where ego is involved..)and that’s something I would like to start practicing.

Long way…