Tag Archives: Habits

Familiarity

Yesterday, my wife asked me to visit a particular shop to pick up some special things on my way back home. So after my office I was at the shop with a friend of mine. After we finished our purchase and were returning to my car, my friend remarked, “you seem to know that shop keeper very well”

“What makes you think so?” I asked.

“The way you both were interacting; it seemed as though he knows you well”.

I am not a regular customer at the shop and was not really familiar with the shop keeper. But then I also realized that we were interacting as if we had known each other quite well.

Several, probably hundreds of, people visit the shop on a daily basis. How would a shop keeper remember them? It would really be tough. But a shop keeper definitely had to remember his key customers, because they make his business flourish. So he will need to some way of figuring out who were his regular customers. When one walks in to the shop, there is a moment when the shop keeper is looking for some signs of familiarity, like a friendly smile. If that’s there, he assumes that the person is a familiar customer and then behaves as though he knew him well. He is not faking but is really genuine. So all that one needs to do is offer that first sign of familiarity nothing like a genuine smile.

This was the explanation I gave my friend about this. I happened to be in a good mood that day and probably he had ‘mis-read’ my expression for familiarity.

But as I was writing this post, I was thinking about it again. Will it be possible that the people we meet at the street or office also have this problem? I decided to check it out at office. I walked around the office today with a smile (as genuine as possible) and to my surprise several people I happen to meet on the corridors reciprocated with a smile, a wish or many a times with a ‘how are you’. We must have crossed each other several times in the past, ignoring. But I think unconsciously everyone is looking for that first sign of ‘familiarity’.

This is perhaps an instinct built within us to differentiate between friends and enemies. But what’s also interesting is that everyone looks for that sign during an encounter. No wonder I have so many whom I do not like!

Mosquitoes and a lesson on Surrender

I was few minutes in to my evening mediation, when I felt that familiar prick on my hand.

I was away for a few days. The windows of the room were left open by mistake and apparently many mosquitoes (they are very common in Bangalore) had found their way in. And I did not realize this until I sat down to meditate.

I had had a very disturbed weekend and was looking forward to a deep mediation to set my mind right. And it was then the distraction came in the form of a mosquito. The moment it bit me, there was this deep reflex to raise my hand and kill it. But one of the first rules in meditation is to keep the body absolutely still. I decided to ignore the discomfort, but in a meditative state the pain (and the irritation) was disproportionately high.

Some time pass by and the urge in me to lift mind hand and strike it was so overpowering and finally unable to hold it any further, I finally raised my hand and struck it. As I went back my meditation, to my horror I found there were many of them now. I was in a deep fix. They were biting me on my back, hands, legs and every other exposed place. And having given once in to the urge to move, I didn’t want to move.

Perhaps I should just accept it was my next thought. I could see that my mind was not too occupied with the problem. I was thinking about it and also concerned that my meditation would now be a failure. The more I thought about it, the more intense was the problem and more intense was the urge to open my eyes and kill all of them.

OK. Let me just accept it fully, I said to myself. I paid complete attention to the pain and irritation of the mosquito bite and dropped any thinking about it. (At some point I even tried to imagine that I was loving the bite, which I think did not work well). It was somewhat tricky at the beginning. As I brought my attention to a point of bite, they would fly and settle at another spot. But then after a while, I was able to simply pay attention to the bites and was not thinking about them. The pain seemed much exaggerated, but that didn’t matter.

I had a really wonderful meditation.

After I was done, while driving to the restaurent for dinner I was thinking about it. There is this deep urge in us to run away from unpleasant experiences. This is what makes many of us leave jobs, leave partners or pick up quarrels of trivial issues. True, there is this strong unconscious reactive pattern that triggers an emotional response to unpleasant situations. But what happens if that is ignored? The mind picks it and start making a story about it. The objective of the story is to convince you not to be foolish by not reacting.

An emotion is actually very short lived. But what gives it a life in time is the thinking. If the emotion is just accepted as it is without any thinking around it, it’s great feeling. There is nothing personal about it (good/bad, acceptable/unacceptable) it’s just a feeling that would vanish as quickly as it came.

This is what the Buddhist’s call surrender.

(Note: After the session, I did kill all those mosquitoes I could lay my hands on. Probably compassion is still farther on the path)

Accomplishments and Freedom

A huge screen was put up in our office cafeteria yesterday for employees to watch the much hyped India- Pak Cricket match live. I am not a big fan of cricket; but went there on time just for the heck of it. I was just on time lucky enough to grab one of the few available chairs there and soon the cafeteria was fully crowded and most had to remain standing.

After a while, I wanted to take a break for a smoke. But then it occurred to me that if I get up, I would lose my chair. The match was expected to go on for another good 3 hrs or so and I intended to watch it throughout.

But then, I also wanted to take a break.

As I sat there with these conflicting thoughts in mind, a strange realization occurred. While I was battling with this silly dilemma, I could see that the people who were standing had all the freedom. They could take a break, go and come back later or simply decide to leave without a second thought. They had nothing to lose; didn’t have to hold on to the chair as they had none. But the people who were sitting did not have the freedom, because of the fear of losing the chair. The brief period where I thought I was lucky to get a seat had already lost its charm.

Isn’t the same with every other thing in life? Aren’t we confined and limited by all our possessions, achievements, positions – everything that we had struggled hard to achieve. After the brief interlude of happiness, they actually instill a fear about losing them. And this fear is limiting. So in a way, when you don’t have something, you are not bound by it and you have all the freedom.

After my short break, I was back watching the match, now standing. I was still following the same thread in my mind.

Now, it was interesting. If I was looking for someone to get up so that I can occupy a chair, I am again without the freedom; I might lose my chance if I was not attentive. On the other hand, if I accepted the situation and did not look forward to sitting, I was free. So restrictions don’t just come from what we have, but also with what we wish to possess.

Now comes the most interesting part. Many left as the match progressed (OK, India was little disappointing) and there were many chairs empty. But there were also many standing then, not bothering to sit down. When what is desired is easily available, the interest is lost.

Though this is such a trivial incident, it represents a pattern that fundamentally makes our lives so problematic. Be it looking for a seat, be it buying a BMW, be it becoming a billionaire or be it getting out of a miserable situation, it is the same mind and mental pattern at work!

The real beauty of this whole thing is that the whole drama happens just in the mind; in reality, there is no drama. It is just a situation as it is.

Buddha saw this whole drama some 2500 years ago, when he said “desire is the cause of all suffering”

What does the ego want?

My wife informed me that my daughter got down from her school bus crying. She told me the reason too, but I wanted to hear what my daughter had to say.

In the evening, I picked up a conversation with her on this. I asked her why she had cried in the bus.

“Papa, you know it was Suneethi’s (another girl in the bus) b’day today. She distributed chocolates to everyone in the bus and she didn’t give me”

 “So, why did you cry?” I asked.

“Because she didn’t give me”

 “OK fine, she didn’t give you. But why did you cry?” She looked little puzzled.

“It is a bad behavior, right?”

 “May be, but then why did you cry” I asked gently.

There was a pause. I repeated the question again.

“Because I wanted them to feel sorry..?” she said hesitantly and then quickly changed the topic to something else. I guess she saw the point.

This is what the ego always does. It thinks by reacting (emotionally) it can change a situation favorably or at least make someone guilty about it.  It’s easy to see how this works in children, their egos are still developing. But as adults look at the amount of messages we sent out by reacting to the world every moment. We are constantly saying to the world “I am right, you better change”.We all have a need to be in constant conflict with one or the other thing.

Aldous Huxley once said “I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” But will the ego agree?

Need for continuity

For most of us, a large part of our thinking is unconscious and compulsive, in the sense that we aren’t even aware that we are thinking. But even then the mind is able to go on and on with thoughts to the extent that even if we wanted to, they wouldn’t stop. I have always wondered why the mind has to do this, because this is what leads to compulsive thinking and stress.

Even if the thinking is unconscious, there exists a continuity existing between thoughts. Which means there is ‘something’ that facilitates the connection of one thought to the next. This does not happen just in the case of compulsive thinking but also with day dreaming. Once the thinking can have it’s own continuity, it tends to act like an independent function and does not need the thinker to intervene as much as possible. This is the state of no awareness. In the state of no awareness the ‘unconsciousness’ spreads to other aspects of life, like decision-making, performing some routine tasks, reacting to situations…

It may be interesting to look at if this continuity issue arises at a thought level and spreads to other aspects of life or it is the other way around?

Even if we say that the thinking is unconscious, it is not really so. Most of the time there is a theme or a topic or an objective and there is mostly an order. But within that space, at the level of thought, the continuity is unconscious. But we need this continuity to think, to produce results, to make sense etc.

The intelligent mind actually adopts many techniques to keep thoughts together and give continuity. Here are few examples:

  • Stories – stories make up the lives of most of us (I am like this, my achievements, my sufferings, my this and that..)
  • Reactive Mind Patterns , Conditioned behaviour
  • Anxiety and anticipation
  • Resistance – Past/ Future

 This continuity spreads to all aspects of our lives and ultimately results in us seeking continuity in our own lives. And for most of us, this is what drives our lives. It is what strengthens our sense of self  which thrives on seeking continuity and fulfillment. But most of the time the continuity is so well established as a habit that people have absolutely no say of what they think and how they think.

What happens when the continuity is broken? Assume that there is no compulsive need for a thought to connect the next what happens?

This is probably the state what most spiritual traditions call freedom. They say this is the state where there is no likes and dislikes, no desires, no remorse … you can look at something without thinking and you do not need to react to something….

So the revolution is to go deep to the thought level and eliminate the need for continuity. Then all the mind patterns, habits, concepts and identity will simply collapse. Because the root cause lies deep in the mind.

But is that the real freedom that we as human beings want? I do not know…

Psychological Camouflage

I was attending a meeting today where many senior people of the company were also present. This was one that ‘we are expected to attend’ and like every such meeting, this was boring and dragged on and on. Most of them were uninterested, but as it is customary in India, no one expressed it.

Time passed, and slowly one person got up, muttering something to his cellphone (very visibly) and pretending as if he is attending a call, walked out of the room. The reason looked quiet genuine, and a few more received calls and excused themselves to take them. (The cellphones are muted, so there was no way to figure out if there was a call really)

I sat there, curiously watching what’s going on.

I have already written in one of the earlier posts that mind (logical mind) plays a key role in sense perceptions. For e.g though there are so many things around, one must be seeing only a few things. These few things are those stand out from the rest or that has changed from last time, because the mind acknowledges only difference (linear from a previous state or transverse from the surroundings). All the rest is classified as usual stuff that ‘the mind already knows’. This applies to all the physical things.

Most of us are aware of this and this is what makes us dress like the rest around us or behave the way we have been behaving so far. Then we aren’t noticed by others. (the converse is also true, people who love to be noticed try to be different from others)

Trying to be identical to the surroundings is a phenomenon called camouflage, which is used (more predominantly in the insect world) both to escape from a predator and to attack a prey unnoticed.

Human beings dressing up like others etc is also a camouflage; for whatever reason we do not want to look different from the rest. May be this comes from the tribal nature of ancient humans.

But as humans, things need to be more complex.The incident described at the beginning is a totally different dimension to this camouflaging, unique to humans- I will call this ‘psychological camouflage’ (I do not know why this name, but this is what came up in my mind). At the first level, we try to behave like (well almost) people around us and over a period of time we develop what is called the right behavior (note that right behavior is always with reference to a society). Till this point, it seems OK. But what also happens in the process, we develop ‘expectations’ – how someone should behave in a particular situation. This ‘expectation’ is purely a virtual thing, it only exists in the mind (and the mind projected future). Any behavior around that is in accordance with this ‘expectation’ is generally unnoticed. Because the brain says – It confirms to what is expected.

Now if someone acts different to this expectation, it gets noticed. May the brain fires a ‘mismatch’ trigger or something like that. Each one of us are aware and conscious about this and many a times in our lives we pretend to be doing / not doing something to conform to other’s expectation. We psychologically camouflage in the projected expectations of people around us.

 It may be interesting to explore how this works. In the example described above, there is a conflict going on in the mind of the person to begin with. One part of the mind says – get out of this place. And the other part says –No it will look odd. This goes on for a while till the first part wins and you decide to leave. But then you do not want to look different (the ‘expectation’ here is that everyone remains for the entire duration and any act different to this is likely to be noticed by others) and then your cunning mind comes up with this solution – pretend as if you have just received a call and walkout to attend it. This may be not the perfect solution, but the best mind can create. The attempt is to make the act look as natural as possible, so that it goes unnoticed by others. This is attempting to camouflage.

If look around, you will be surprised at the amount of camouflage we all do. We may be looking intently at a presenter simply because that’s what is expected. We might be frantically scribbling notes in a meeting (especially when you have nothing significant to do) so that it looks natural. Watch someone who jumps a queue to join a friend who is far ahead.

 Always point is that we try to camouflage with what the world expects (and the world consists of other people who do exactly the same thing ..!). But most of the situations where we try psychological camouflage are points of cognitive dissonance, which is also the key for Innovation.

The muted TV

Over the last weekend, I was watching a film on the TV, when the phone rang. I muted the TV and picked up the phone; and it was a call for my wife. As she came walked in to the living room to attend the call, I returned to the sofa to resume watching of the film.

Not to disturb her, I didn’t turn the volume ON, but continued watching the picture.

This was interesting. I was trying to make sense of what’s going on without the audio part. I had to concentrate hard. It occurred to me that I haven’t watched something so attentively for a long time. And it was not easy.

The telephone interruption ended, but I continued to watch the film without the audio. I looked at people more closely (in to their eyes, lips..) and I could understand most of what is going on clearly. When there was audio, it was taking most of the attention and I paid little attention to really the whole experience (I think I paid real attention to the visual part only when there was no background clutter..)

I am all the more convinced now that language (or speech) disrupts our perception process by drawing our attention to it. Or may be there is an unnecessary urgency in us to ‘understand’ things..

When I look back at this, I also get a feeling that most of our primary needs and emotions can be expressed easily without any language. Then what we need the language for? – for all that mess that we have been building around us which is creating a false identity for us

Try listening to someone intently without processing what they say or without trying to interpret or even respond. You are in for a great revelation….

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.

Leave your bed as soon as you are awake

Ever wondered where all that negativity gets reinforced deep in the mind? I think here is one to watch out for.

Say there is a compulsive thought that you are trying to shake off. You do some reflection in the evening or try some distractions to free your mind. As you go to bed, it looks like you are successful and calm. The next morning, you are awake (at least partially) but you still remain in your bed. As you lie tossing between sleep and waking state, all that suppressed thoughts take over. You are not really awake, so you watch helplessly as the mind start playing those ‘video clips’. By the time you are really awake and decide to step out of the bed, all that negative thoughts would have reinforced in the mind.

Some time back, a friend of mine mentioned to me that he has all the negative thinking in the morning. I didn’t have this answer for him, then. But now from my own experience, I think this is true.

People who have undergone severe stress in life would tell you that they find themselves awake in the middle of the night to find those compulsive thoughts taking over the mind. You would also have noticed that when you have spent lot of time in bed in the morning (say on a holiday), you are much less cheerful and positive.

So, the solution? Leave your bed the moment you are awake in the morning. Not very easy, try it. Your mind will not let you. It will tempt you with ‘that extra bit of wonderful sleep’. But if you can resist that, you are more likely to start the day with a positive note.

Try it.

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.

Tell stories to overcome the logical barrier in the mind

(Continuing from my pervious posts on Right Brain and Left Brain and a technique for coordinating them)

In my view we were all creative and imaginative as children and as we lost it to a good extend as we grew up. Thanks to our education system and the demands (at least as we perceive) of the world around us. 

Look at this scenario. You are in a team meeting in your office where your boss presents a problem and asks you for ideas to solve it. There is silence for sometime. Suddenly you have an idea. You are about to open your mouth and then you hold back. Because you are not sure if it is ‘not illogical’. What happens if others laugh at my idea? You decide to wait. Others start giving their ideas. All of them making perfect sense. The boss doesn’t seem to be happy yet. Then suddenly a colleague blurts out exactly the same idea that you were pondering on. The boss is jumping up in excitement and your mediocre colleague has stolen the show. You feel a lump in your throat as you leave the room and you are asking you this age old question- why did I hold back? I just lost an opportunity.

Reason is simple. As we become more logical, we are so particular that everything that comes out of our ‘mouth’ (I wouldn’t say mind) has to make sense for us as well as to others. Which is like the logical brain putting a gate or a filter for any information that comes in or goes out. It’s then, you look at a great painting of Salvador Dali and wonder – what’s this stupid thing all about?

So, the point is you need to re-train your brain to overcome the logical barrier. Here is a simple technique to do that.

If you have a small kid at home, start telling him/her stories. Not the ones you have read or heard. Create stories for your own. Make them as illogical as possible. Don’t have to worry; your kid is not sitting there judging whether you make sense. He/she is enjoying every ‘illogical bit’ of it. The more ‘weird’ the story is, better they enjoy.Don’t hold back your imagination and don’t try to make sense of what you say. Add effects by appropriate postures, gestures and sound if you like. Do it whenever you find time to spend with the little ones.

Two things will definitely happen:

  • Your  rating as a parent will shoot up
  • You will soon have someone making a comment on you that ‘you really have those out of the box ideas’

Rajinikanth and Sharukh Khan

Before you get carried away by the title, let me make my point. I believe that people who have had phenominal sucess in life, do have certain ‘special qualities’  which are not very obvious or noticeable. I think these qualities have helped them (over and above the accepted traits such as hardwork, perseverence, committment and luck) reach unimaginable heights and stay there for long. Let me give you two of my observations:

I was reading a review on the book The Name Is Rajinikanth ( I haven’t read the book) in a magazine last year ( For those who do not know, Rajinikanth is a south Indian actor who is famous for his style and commands a popularity that no other actor in India can ever imagine). There was something I found very interesting about him in the article; that’s his ability to detach from what’s going around. There was an incident mentioned where he goes to a director to return the advance payment and to tell him that he is going to the Himalayas in search of the truth. The article mentions that Rajini often gets this ‘problem’ where he can detach from life and look at it as a third person.  This is the essence of what is called Sakshi Bhava (The art of witnessing) which even great sages would die to achieve.

Look at another example. During a flight , I watched an interview with Shahrukh Khan   ( For those who do not know, he is the ‘King Khan’, who rules the Hindi film industry of India). There was something interesting that caught my attention. Shahrukh talks of a special character of him, which describes as – Every place looks new to me, even if I have visited it several times. I forget people and places. When I’am there the next time, I can’t recollect if I had been there earlier. When I’m there, I am just there. (My interpretation of what he said, not verbatim). This is what every one who is trying to ‘be ‘mindful’ or ‘live in the present moment’ strive to achive.

The point I am trying to make here, these simple (but profound) characteristics in these people have definitely helped them to be what they are, but without being feverish about it. They may not get noticed easily, because I think they came to them naturally and effortlessly.

Who knows, there muct be such a quality in each of us, lying neglected because we don’t really recognise its significance..

Why is that I do not enjoy something fully? – II

Continuing the thought from the previous post Why is that I do not enjoy something fully?, here is another perspective on the same question.

For most of us the enjoyment is either in the past (our  own heroics, success, victory, luck) or in the future (hoping for sucess, win, prosperity etc). Both are virtual because they don’t realy exist except in the mind.

When we enjoy something in the present, it is not the mind that’ enjoying it. It is something above that; call it your conciousness or self or whatever you want. This comes from a total acceptance, which I believe is possible only in the present moment.

Difficult to belive? Try this. Pick a task/activity that you don’t enjoy (better something that you have been pushing aside for long), and do it today with total involvement. No judging. No analysing. Enjoy doing it. If your mind is trying to pull you away, just smile at it.

See what happens. So where is the genuine enjoyment? Is it in the mind or in the present moment?