The Wandering Wondering Mind – Part 2

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In the preceding part, I have written about the dreadful thoughts and images that plague our minds and drive peace and harmony out of our lives. And more often than not, all our efforts to block these disturbances out are in vain. We may be able to distract ourselves temporarily but the death rattle continues to play in the background before resurfacing in full force. We need answers that we don’t get easily and may never find. We go into panic mode, hyperventilate and even think we’re going crazy because we have lost complete control of our minds and the situations it constructs.

I have also made an attempt to classify these turbulences into broad categories that are certainly relevant to me and hopefully something you can relate to as well. The only person in our control is ourselves and the only situations we can control are the ones that our mind creates and overemphasizes on. We must realize that anything else is beyond our control and while we hope for the best, we cannot expect things to turn out rosy

There may not be a magically effective way to calm our minds but small daily routines certainly help.

Be productive

Shutting our minds down can be infuriatingly difficult. However, if we keep ourselves busy and aligned with our short and long term goals, we’re more inclined to be creative and positive and less likely to entertain negative thoughts. We must invest our minds in activities that we are passionate about and bring us joy. It’s these things we are likely to do best and the subsequent results will have an uplifting impact of our minds

Meditate

While I still struggle with this even though I try it for only ten to fifteen minutes daily, meditating every day can have therapeutic effects on the mind and the body. I have been meditating for about seven months now and while my mind still wanders when I’m meditating and I still have my mind infuriate me, I am certainly calmer and more in control today than I was when I began. Considering that sages take decades to master the art of medication and attain enlightenment, I’m only just getting started. Having said that, the start has certainly been promising.

Use a positive chant

Telling ourselves that ‘we’re fine’, ‘life is good’ or ‘The Yankees will win the world series’ constantly will have long term positive effects on our minds and we will experience more stability within. Hearing a positively soothing voice is very effective. There is a reason to-be parents are asked to sing to and speak to their child while she is still in mummy’s tummy. We’re not very different as adults and when we don’t have an external voice that can do the sweet-talking for us, we need to do it for ourselves.

Exercise

Cardiovascular workouts and breathing routines help relieve us of stress and anxiety. Playing a sport that involves sweating (because you could very well start playing poker) or even strength training help release endorphins, which are natural pain killers that exist in our body and help reduce stress. If we engage in these activities consistently, our physical health improves as well, which is an essential collaborator to our mental state.

Write

Writing things down that bother us, allow us to clear a cluttered mind. Revisiting these thoughts at a later stage allow us to reflect upon and gain clarity on some of our confusion. Write about the things that work for you and repeat these habitually in your life. Over time these habits will allow us more mental stability.

Read

Reading books like ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’, ‘Before I Fall’, and ‘The Bell Jar’ are likely to be counterproductive, but reading motivating books like success stories and even ‘feel good’ novels help lift the mood and the mind. And you never know what evasive answers you may find on any given page.

Listen to music

If we’re frustrated or angry, listening to Megadeth or Black Sabbath may do us little good. However, we all have happy memories associated with some song or the other and listening to these during our melancholic existence can be very uplifting. The right music not only helps me form happy memories and calm my nerves but also helps me think of a positive future.

Pursue a hobby

If you have the love and the skill for something like playing a guitar, a racket sport, stand up comedy, or even making French fries, put it to use. Engaging in constructive activities that we enjoy is always a sure way to switch out negative thoughts. Not only do we have fun but we also improve our skills, and one never knows where that may lead us.

Keep a clean environment

I personally cannot stand clutter, whether it is inside my mind or in my surroundings. I tend to think better when I keep a clean environment and I strongly believe that the way we keep our surroundings is a reflection of our minds. For example, if our desk is cluttered, our room untidy, our beds unmade, it mirrors that state of our mind. Sometimes we need to jumpstart our brain into positive motion and making a concerted effort to maintain a clean and tidy environment can have that impact. Personally, I’ve noticed that I think better when I keep my environment clean.

Surround yourself with positive people

I cannot emphasize enough on how important this is. Surrounding ourselves with toxicity is a sure shot way to end up in a hole and remain in it. We love it when people lend an ear to listen to our problems, but ideally, we need to see if they offer solutions or just join us in the cribbing game and spread more negativity. Besides there are people that just seem upset with everything in life and constantly complain, demean, ignore, fight, and try to control us. Some of them could be family members and close friends who we cannot discard from our lives but we need to be aware of where we draw our lines for our own sanity. To counter these negative effects and also as a general practice we must make a conscious effort to surround ourselves with people that spread positivity, joy, and imbibe confidence in us.

Sleep well

We spend a third of our lives sleeping (some of us even spend a majority of our waking hours asleep). Sound sleep is as essential to our physical and mental health as any other form of fitness routine, dietary habits, and other good health practices. A lack of proper sleep can lead to a drop in performance, mental tiredness, anxiety, as well as other health-related problems. I have my phases of getting appropriate sleep versus not getting enough and I sense a marked difference in my mood, functioning, and mindset in each of these scenarios. If you’re struggling to get proper sleep, there are plenty of tips available online to help you sleep better.

Live in the present

A lot of our issues arise because we cannot get over the past or stop worrying about the future. We cannot alter one and cannot predict the other. All we can do is to use our failures and pain from the past to learn and grow and plan for the future. We can only do this by living in the present and using our time at hand to the best of our abilities to make our present productive.

Forgive

We hurt terribly from the actions and inactions of people, and find it difficult to forgive them for putting us through so much grief. However, we pine over these matters long after the situation has taken place, and extend our grieving with no end in sight. Yes, it does take time to heal but how are we helping ourselves by not making any effort to move on? Forgiving someone does not mean we accept the pain they have given us, but helps us heal faster. We tell ourselves that we are now in control of our situation and getting back on our feet and running is up to us.

Contribute

We need to understand that there are people in situations that are way worse than our own. Making a contribution in their lives not only adds perspective to ours but also makes us feel good about ourselves (release of dopamine – the ‘reward’ neurotransmitter). We could choose to help people in our circles or even volunteer for a good cause.

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So stop moping around and trying to solve every mystery in your life. Sometimes, we just need to focus on other matters and let bygones be bygones.

Man Cub Diaries

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I should have thought a bit more before choosing sciences over arts in college. I should have continued to pursue sports (I could have earned as much in a day as I now would in two decades). I should never have trusted my 4-year old with my expensive Kotobukiya Wolverine statue. I shouldn’t have walked into that ‘baby food launch’ meeting in diapers and a pacifier in my mouth. I should never have asked that girl out (Now we’ve been married for 15 years). I never should have invested in the Amazon Echo (Now no one talks to me except when they need money). I should’ve thought twice before using the example of my boss’ exemplary skills on fool’s day. I should have shut that hatch in the private jet only after my mother-in-law would have flown out of the plane.

We constantly mull over the decisions we have taken over the course of our life and beat ourselves over all the events that went south. Some of them are small silly occurrences that make us cringe in embarrassment (like yanking hair out of our nose while obliviously looking into a two-way mirror), while others could be life-altering events. However, there is a reason we are not provided with reset and rewind buttons. We are meant to make mistakes, learn from them, improve, and grow into more mature, resilient, and wise individuals. To err is human.

While we can’t bring back the past and make amends, life often gives us opportunities to guide younger people that might be at a delicate stage of life where we once stood. Sometimes we see ourselves in them. If I was given a chance to mentor my younger self, here is some advice I would offer.

  1. Santa Claus exists. Sure he doesn’t always dress in red, sport a meter-long beard, ride on a sled pulled by horned herbivores, or even look like someone that started eating on Thanksgiving and didn’t stop until after Christmas. In fact, it’s not even the same person all the time but different people that come into your life and gift you with happiness, wisdom, strength, courage, support, and opportunities. They may be permanent members in your life or fleeting ones who leave once they have empowered you. It’s important to keep your senses open, recognize these gems, and appreciate the value they add to your life (Because we tend to take people like this for granted for the most part).
  2. Age no bar. Sure age is a constriction at an actual bar, but it isn’t always a deterrent to acquiring knowledge and skill, possessing wisdom, and making an impact far larger than your shoe size would lend people to believe. Growing up in the 80s and 90s we were given a mandate about what we could do and not do, based on how old we were. Sure certain disciplines had to be rightly followed, but we were wiser and more capable even at that tender age than what we were given credit for. The freedom to express without the egos of grown-ups being challenged is important for developing confidence, courage, and independence. You’re ten? No problem. Express fearlessly.
  3. Follow your passion. Sure, at some point in your life you may feel compelled to jump into the rat race (and we’re prepared for this from a young age starting with potato sack races in kindergarten), but it’s criminal to lose sight of your true passions. Hone the associated skills and live your life in the realm of your passions. You will make money following a career path you may not be crazy about, but you won’t smile as much. However, the joy of a passion oriented career will engulf your life in joy and laughter, and pay the bills comfortably.
  4. Be gutsy, take risks. Fear is real and is probably the oldest human sentiment (considering the prehistoric man was constantly trying to survive harsh conditions). It is perfectly alright to be scared. But, capitulating to your fears will only leave you with an onslaught of events to repent. Acknowledge your fears but also embrace them and learn to conquer them with time. When you address every one of your fears, you take a step towards becoming a stronger and wiser person.
  5. Don’t get bullied. If you’re going to be a pushover, you may as well become a skydiver. And I don’t necessarily mean being terrorized by the school jerk, but I mean getting overshadowed by more dominating personalities around you. A lot of these people will mean well and therefore try to impose their ideologies on you because they will believe it is good for you. Sure, it’s important to acknowledge these people and their intentions, to learn from them, take advice, but not at the cost of subduing your own personality. You have a powerful character to contribute to this world and it’s best done by being you.
  6. Watch your health: eat right and exercise regularly. Sure you can eat twelve pancakes in one sitting and wash it down with a gallon of milk when you’re nineteen, because no matter how much you eat or what you eat, you will be skinny for a while, even if you spend 23 hours a day on the couch (Assuming you do go the bathroom a few times to take up that last hour). The damage is invisible to the eye because it’s happening inside of you. The manifestation of all your bad health habits will be a colossal giant to overcome when you’re older.
  7. Don’t be in blind awe of people. As youngsters if we aren’t the boldest personalities in the neighborhood we tend to follow the ‘coolest’ people blindly. There are a lot of things you may want to do differently but you may find it hard to go against the ‘gang leader’ and will end up doing things on their agenda. Appreciate people for what they are good at, but chart out your own path and follow your own heart.
  8. The guy with the bigger muscles is not tougher than you. Whether you take this literally or figuratively, don’t let the appearance of a person or event scare you.
  9. I don’t care what anyone says, the Hawaiian pizza is awesome.
  10. Problems and pain arising from these problems are real. Don’t spend your time trying to avoid pain but rather accept it, embrace it, and practice how to master it. Pain leads to strength.
  11. Don’t judge your present and future on your past. Whether its heartbreaks or tough times, don’t judge people and situations based on your past experiences. Your past experiences teach you how to deal with these situations, not avoid them. Trust your instinct and give everyone and everything a fair shot.
  12. If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it could be Loki in disguise.
  13. Love yourself and believe in yourself. Life’s experiences can make us bitter inwards. Remember to nurture and love yourself through these experiences. Your confidence will take a hit every now and again through the course of life but you need your own backing the most.
  14. Recognize, respect, and reciprocate genuine love and care you receive. Family, friends, and true well-wishers are important. They are rock solid by your side when you hit rock bottom.
  15. Eat your dessert first. Superman is Superman because he wears his pants before his underwear.
  16. Stop trying to please people. I can bet your money that you will annoy, upset or repel someone at any given point, no matter who you are, what you do, or say. Be yourself and let people appreciate you for who you are. These are the people that matter.
  17. Sport adds a lot of perspective to life. Sport teaches us the values of individualism, teamwork, and everything in between. It teaches us how to value not just ourselves, but our comrade in arms, the ethics, and principals that define us, and the entity we represent. Let one sport be a passion.
  18. See the world for what it is and not what you think it is.
  19. Respect time. Time is our most valuable resource and you must put it to the best possible use to ensure that you live a life of purpose and impact.
  20. Do it now. The best time to embark on something is now. Not tomorrow or any other day.
  21. Coolness comes from your personality and character. Doing things to look and feel cool is just insecurity.
  22. Cut yourself some slack. Beating yourself up over all your mistakes and shortcomings will only have a negative effect in the long run. Making mistakes and being inefficient is part of life. Give everything your best effort, pick yourself up if you fail, pat your back for having tried, learn from your limitations and strengths, and try again.
  23. One selfie is enough.
  24. Save consistently. I can’t emphasize this enough.
  25. Bad things can happen to good people. You may believe that you’ve been fair and honest and respectful of people and events in your life. Yet life will take a dump on you. It’s part of the process.
  26. Love your toys and pets. They give you all the joy and no grief for the entire duration of their lives.
  27. Be grateful. While you may think you don’t have what you really yearn or work towards, you’re alive and kicking and an opportunity is about to present itself to you as much as the next person. Thank your stars for what you have, the positive people in your life, the strength, the passion, the compassion, and the desire to make an impact.
  28. Spend a majority of your life outside Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social media application that’s luring you into its deceptive web.
  29. Laugh at yourself. There is nothing more helpful in dealing with life’s tantrums than a sense of humor. And when this humor is directed inward, you’re a mighty titan (who may choose to just snap his fingers to get stuff done.
  30. Think beyond yourself. Have a vision that includes more than just yourself. Make a positive impact on the world around you. Give.

I have 14,000,606 more points to dole out, one more than the number of futures Dr. Strange saw in ‘The Avengers: Infinity War’. Just like he saw only one victorious future, we too have just one life to fulfill our destiny. Go make the best of it.

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Playfully Serious

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Being serious for prolonged periods has always been a difficult task for me. And I don’t mean that I take my work, relationships, passions, and other responsibilities lightly. I take them very seriously indeed. But by serious I mean I cannot hold a grim, businesslike, tense, depressed or unhappy demeanor for too long (If you smile too much or crack too many jokes in the corporate world you’re considered to be someone that is not serious about the job). My innate nature is to play the clown in most situations without undermining or disrespecting the situation or the people in it. However, I am not impervious to the discomfort caused by drastic situations and unsavory events. On the contrary, my emotional nature does allow events and people around to have their impact on me, both positive and negative (If I was playing Bruce Banner in the Avengers and Tony Stark poked me with a needle, I would have turned green, red, yellow, purple…). However, I consider myself to be a defective piece whereby I can’t mope around beyond a point in any situation.

All my life I have tried to come up with some response (which tends to be comical and carefree in nature) to adversity in its early stages itself. When someone tried to bully me as a child (which didn’t happen all that often), after I overcame the first few moments of fear, I would participate in the mayhem in self-defense and laugh at my own predicament much to the dismay of the perpetrators. During my school days, if I struggled in an examination, I would start humming and whistling to myself (occasionally even tell myself a joke) to help dissipate some of the stress. Of course, if the invigilator happened to cast her eyes on me at the time, I would look dead straight with a serious expression letting her know that the exam is a breeze and I’m just formulating the best response mentally. If I got bad grades, I would walk it off and begin to focus on the next opportunity (If I studied hard and didn’t do well then there wasn’t much else I could have done. If I didn’t prepare enough, then I couldn’t expect to do well. Either way, there was no point sulking). If I didn’t win gold in my athletic events, I told myself that someone was better than me on the day (Which was invariably true). If I get rejections from my job applications, I tell myself that the number of applications I make will always be one step ahead of the number of rejections I can get. If I miss a target at work, sure I feel bad (but maybe for a day) and then I convert the entire episode into a joke (or a limerick) and move on. Now that I think of it, I was probably a little nervous even during my wedding ceremony and innately playing the fool, asking for updated cricket scores while the sacred mantras were being chanted.

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And why just situations? People can get us down very quickly too (Only if we allow them to, but most of us cave in). Family members, friends, bosses, colleagues, the next door girl (who still doesn’t know you like her), the ticket collector on the train (during your ticketless travels), the guy who tripped you as you tried to take a selfie during your evening run, and strangely even the banking telemarketer rejecting a loan you didn’t apply for in the first place. For a long time, I let every unpleasant behavior towards me get on to my nerves and push me in a corner. It didn’t help resolve anything and only made me feel worse than I already did. So what do I do now? That’s right, take it with a pinch of salt and a sense of humor.

We will find every excuse to be angry, upset, dejected, irritated or just be grimly serious about every situation and person we deal with. Sure, things get exasperating, but the sooner we realize that unpleasant moments make up our lives just as much as joyous ones, the better equipped we will be to deal with them. Whether we are happy or unhappy about a situation, the fact that it has occurred will remain unchanged and our grim attitude is only going to make us feel worse, not improve the situation. On the contrary, assuming responsibility and lightening the mood in the darkest of moments has helped me rebound faster, stronger, and cleared all the clutter in my mind.

The Joker of Gotham was right.

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So if you were to listen to me, I’d say don’t take yourselves, others, and situations too seriously. If we humor ourselves and laugh (not hysterically, which might be a sign of having gone cuckoo) at our predicaments, we will innately create a belief in our minds and hearts that our problems have not gotten the better of us. We will face them with conviction and fortitude. We all have it in us to realize that the ability to humor ourselves lies within us. We need that humor to face life’s challenges. We cannot tackle the visible until we tackle the invisible. To bear fruit (visible), we must nurture the roots (invisible).

Yes, things will be painful, yes people will be hurtful, yes we will find ourselves undermined and hopelessly outrivaled by various situations, but it’s really up to us to put ourselves in the best mental and emotional condition to tackle life’s gristle.

If life seems jolly rotten,
There’s something you’ve forgotten!
And that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing,
When you’re feeling in the dumps,
Don’t be silly chumps,
Just purse your lips and whistle — that’s the thing!

Always looks on the bright side of life…. phee phoo phee phoo phoo phoo phee phoo (whistling)

  • Bruce Cockburn

Focal Lens

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If you’ve been reading my blogs, you may have noticed that I draw inspiration from pretty much anything and anyone around me (Uncovered manholes, people going for a jog on balance wheels, public dustbins with openings on each end, the laughable…err…. laudable traffic police, people that press the elevator button multiple times, and even those that start talking loudly into their mobile phone as they begin to lose network). The habit of observation has added several dimensions of perspective to my armory and certainly allows me to comprehend situations and people better.

I have always been a keen observer of events around me from a very young age. However, was I really observing or merely seeing things? We see things but do we really pay attention? There have been times when I realize that I had passed by something or someone (like a unique building, an interesting billboard, Spiderman swinging over the street, and even Winnie the Pooh distributing candy) while walking or driving but don’t seem to recollect any of it. I have vague images in my mind but I cannot connect them with a time or place. I have been guilty of removing my phone from my pocket to check the time, scrolled through social media and sports scores, and put the phone back in my pocket only to realize I still don’t know the time (I did this again this morning. Some people never learn). I have spent minutes, if not hours looking for my spectacles and not seen it even while looking at them for the umpteenth time. I have failed to see the pain and hunger in the eyes of a homeless child, only because she was smiling and dancing while begging (Isn’t that what a 5-year old would do despite her situation?). There have been times during my ‘take life with a pinch of salt and sense of humor’ lifestyle (which I truly stand by), where I have failed to recognize the seeping frustrations within me on personal and professional fronts (While it is critical to address them, you can only do so if you know they exist).

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I guess, I started out on this observation spree as a young boy purely to find some form of entertainment around me as I tagged along with my parents on random shopping extravaganzas around the city I grew up in, at school, at the playground, or on the few trips we made to visit relatives and friends. While there was entertainment galore on offer (and a few laughs too), I started to think and began analyzing what I was seeing only as I grew older. In fact, I realize that when I really started to care about the world around me, I had subconsciously learned to observe happenings around me. Conscious sight finally started transcending into conscious observation and recognition.

Today, I pay keen attention to my surroundings. I secretly diagnose people while waiting for my turn at an OPD clinic. I try and understand the situation of a frustrated regular second class train commuter. I try and connect a completely unrelated billboard advertisement to the marketing of my business. I even spend time thinking about how soon it will be before the ‘snail’s pace’ Mumbai traffic comes to a complete standstill and we never reach our destinations.

For me, observing also extends to interaction with our surroundings and the people in it: Taxi drivers, people waiting in a ticket queue, the pizza delivery guy, our hairdresser, a stranger at the gym, colleagues at work, family members, the guy with his head sticking out of a manhole, and even ourselves. Observation, recognition, and interaction with our environment are what helps us develop into more wholesome beings, and make meaningful contributions.

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According to me, we don’t just observe through our eyes, but also do so through our minds and hearts (And some arrogant people do so through their backsides). Observation helps increase our focus, reasoning, and even memory. Our social personality is given a boost. We tend to see the world from different perspectives. We grow richer in wisdom, our minds become more flexible, and we start seeing the world for what it is rather than basing our judgment on preconceived notions and biases. This allows us to help ourselves and others around us. This provides us with a platform to live a more enriching life that absorbs the positivity from our environment and then gives it back in return.

Keeping our eyes open at all times is important (Especially if we don’t want to end up in our closet, as we wake up groggy in the middle of the night, looking for the bathroom). I look out of the car window all the time, even if I pass by the same streets and localities daily (the fact that I have motion sickness keeps me highly motivated from not looking into my phone). I know you are dying to read that forward on WhatsApp or check your feed on Facebook and Instagram. But spare a moment and look up for a change. Life is passing you by, as are opportunities to seize moments that life shares with you. So are you going to open your senses to life around you? Or will you only open something when your phone dings next?

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Mirror Trolls

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While a majority of us turn tail at the first sign of adversity, there are a few courageous souls that like to take life’s challenges head-on (And end up with a swollen head from all those head butts. Some swollen heads are also born out of arrogance on successfully taming these challenges). In fact, unlike the majority of us who use these hardships (such as acquired muscle pulls during the first few minutes at the gym, a bad performance during a group presentation in college, being rejected the very first time when asking someone out, falling off a bicycle while learning how to ride, heading into Andheri (a suburb of Mumbai, which is a populous city in itself) traffic, which I admit requires bravado, vacationing with overzealous relatives, finding a fly in the soup at a particular restaurant (like it’s never happened at home) and even being chased by a horde of dogs while walking your own) as an excuse to completely avoid these responsibilities along with a zillion others, the determined few tell themselves that they have had enough coming second to their problems, and intend to address them with enthusiasm, guts, and purpose.

Adopting a mindset that is positive in its outlook and perceives challenges as fun puzzles, is already a massive step in the direction towards success and fulfillment. Mastering our mind is key to mastering our lives.

I’m a big fan of the Rocky movie series (It ain’t over till it’s over), and in its sixth edition, ‘Rocky Balboa’, I was very moved by the spiel Rocky gives his son about life. It’s not about how hard you can hit, but about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward (If you’ve been reading my articles regularly, you will notice I find inspiration from anywhere; sports, movies, superheroes, toys, strangers, traffic, perpetual selfie-takers, Chihuahuas, and even my shadow (only at the ‘right’ angles)).

Until my mid-twenties I had a pretty meek demeanor towards everything and I was easily overwhelmed by situations, and more specifically people. As a kid, I have been scolded a couple of times by passers-by aunties in my locality for playing in the sun, while my parents were totally fine with it. I would disappear at top speed if I saw any middle-aged woman henceforth. I would blindly follow certain boys that I perceived as cool in school and take up classes and extracurricular activities, even if I had little interest, just because they had. Despite my talent as a cricketer during high school, I silently played victim to political gambles within our team and ended up with raw deals on multiple occasions. I was crazy about my first girlfriend in my teens and her wish became my command. This attitude of mine ensured that a relationship of equals had become lopsided, as I spent years at the bottom end of the see-saw. I can speak of various instances where I was easily bullied by people. Bosses, colleagues, family, taxi drivers, home delivery personnel, and now that I think of it, even my dogs and three-year-old may have pulled a few fast ones on me. And in defense of all these people, I was a willing accomplice. My demeanor sent a message loud and clear that it was okay to treat me this way. I thought I was being nice, and I cared enough to not fight back. I was just being a scared jackass.

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And then one day, after spending a quarter century or more hiding in the shadows, I decided to step out, stand up for myself, and work hard on my confidence and self-belief. In my quest to improve regularly and hone my mental strength and other skills, I became a tougher critic of myself over time. In my quest to prove my mettle, I began to set harder goals for myself and decided to not settle for anything less than absolute success. Of course, that’s not to say that I didn’t have my fair share of failures, but with every single one of them, I took a bitter turn towards myself. I set expectations of myself, which were perceptibly greater than anyone else’s of me. And in this pursuit, I probably set goals for myself that were unreasonable (By which I mean that they had to be devoid of mistakes or failures). Despite my diligence, commitment, hard work, integrity, and blatant honesty (fans of which I can count on the fingers of one hand), I didn’t always succeed, and that didn’t go down too well with me. The shortcomings could be very small (like minor errors in my Excel sheet workings, a less than perfectly composed email, or completing my 7-kilometer daily walk 2 minutes slower) or larger ones (like trouble in managing personal relationships, failing to convert every sales lead, and trailing my long term goals), I came down hard on myself.

In my quest to earn self-respect and not be allow myself to be ill-treated by others, I started meting out some really bad treatment to myself. I was no better than the many people I had encountered thus far. My lack of empathy for myself (despite a lot of empathy towards others), was adding to my bitterness, and subsequently showed in my environment, and results in my performances in every aspect of my life. There was a point where I didn’t even smile much or stopped altogether.  My behavior was the equivalent of punishing myself for overeating by ordering one more banana split sundae. I lost focus on a basic fact of life that empathy, care and kindness, and not brashness and rigidity, lead to improved confidence, achievement, and true happiness.

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I’m learning to not be too harsh (no pun intended) on myself. That doesn’t mean I don’t give everything my best and behave like a bum. It just means that even though the best efforts don’t always result in positive or desired outcomes, I pick myself up with care, and have another go. While, I truly believe that consistency in our effort tends to attract positivity in our environment, and things tend to manifest in our favor, it is a long process and comes without a 100 percent guarantee. The nicer we are to ourselves, and the more we love ourselves, the closer we get to that figure (assuming we do all the other necessary things as well)

Guess who paid the price for being meek and letting go of dreams and goals easily? You’re right, I did. And guess who bore the brunt of a negative mindset by being an overachiever and too hard on himself? Correct again, me. If taking things too easily is detrimental, being too hard on ourselves and not offering any reprieve is equally damaging.

Give yourself credit, time, attention and love, and only then will you truly empower yourself. Stop trolling the person in the mirror (unless your wife is checking her self out while trying on her forty-sixth dress as you look on in exasperation).

Take a break, have a Kit Kat.

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Pit Stops Along Life’s Course

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I have already established that I am a massive sports fan and amongst the various sports that I do follow, Formula 1 is definitely one that I enjoy for its strategy, teamwork, and sheer level of daredevilry (As a resident of Mumbai, I often get to see Formula 1 hopefuls trying to work on their skills: flying over potholes, multitasking on their phone and exchanging expletives with fellow competitors while driving, racing past red lights to gain a competitive advantage, blocking paths to prevent other drivers from passing, and occasionally crashing into each other at neck break speeds of 30 kilometers an hour). But the sport is more than just that isn’t it? It’s not only about winning each circuit or the overall championship at the end of the season but about the little victories, both skill based and psychological, which eventually lead to long term improvements and triumph.

While watching the race on television or in the stands (if we are wealthy enough to spare that kind of money on car racing, especially since we aren’t the ones inside the car), we experience aggressive driving, smart calls on each turn, split-second decision making, and the speed and finesse of the pit crew among several other attributes of this sport. But the sport is deeper than what meets the eye. Not only does each member of a team (right from the team principals, directors, technicians, analysts, designers, R&D members, the pit crew, and the drivers) render the old adage of 10,000 hours to a minuscule number, and work in faultless unison to obtain the desired results, but they also set small targets for every moment of every race in order to encourage themselves and keep striving forward.

Modern technology enables the millions of viewers at home to now listen in on the instructions and strategies (played out between the team crew and the driver) during a race (Now only if we could get on a three-way conference call and offer our advice as well, just to provide that much-needed boost towards winning the championship). However, we get to hear these conversations in periodic bursts, whereas a lot of deep exchanges take place, which we are not privy to. I believe this is where the real work gets done: support, words of encouragement, cheers on a small milestone achieved (like fastest lap), empathy during failed missions, planning ahead, breaking things down into smaller goals, and who knows, maybe even cracking a joke every once in a while (I know I would).

A lot of us don’t aim high or set far-reaching goals for ourselves. But those of us that do, forget to take our much needed ‘pit stops’. We are so focused on the end goals that we often fail to realize that we hold ourselves back from attaining them. Trying too hard without taking the time out to address and acknowledge our little milestones, is probably as bad as not setting ourselves those big goals in the first place. While it is certainly better to try than to not try at all, not doing anything and overburdening ourselves, by doing too much without reward for small accomplishments, could lead to the same result.

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Let’s take our children as an example We have big plans for their education, extracurricular development, character formation, as well as life in the real world. However, we set progressive targets for them (right from their first steps and garbled words to serious development of skill, character, and mannerisms), and reward them for every little landmark reached. We nurture them with compassion, understanding, and love, as much as with discipline, prudence, barebones honesty, and strict rules. However, we don’t seem to display the same patience and nurturing attitude towards ourselves or other adults. Is this because all children are special? If they are, then at what age do they become ‘not so special’? At what point do we stop rewarding ourselves for our small accomplishments? At what stage do we stop feeding ourselves with compassion and love along with the beatings we dole out to ourselves on the way to our goals?

All entities from governments (they even reward their own for no accomplishments) and large organizations to businesses and sports teams have massive milestones. But they always recognize and reward the efforts and accomplishments of groups and individuals on the path to that goal. There is no reason why we can’t recognize these needs as individuals.

Life is like a formula 1 race circuit. It has the straights where we can cruise, it has nasty corners, it involves heavy decision making, it has a fair load of risks, it has highs and lows, it has friends and adversaries, and it often prevents us from completing races (due to confidence ‘crashes’, ‘engine’ failure, bad decisions etc.). However, you pat yourself for the effort, brush yourself, and plan for the next race.

Celebration is as important as planning. Encouragement is as important as achievement. Compassion is as necessary as discipline and hard work. It gives us a sense of self-value and helps us to keep moving toward our ultimate goals. We can’t keep swimming under water the entire way. We need to come up for air every now and again. We need our pit stops.

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Jigsaw Jubilation

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Life gives me puzzles, not problems – Quincy Jones

I’m not certain if Mr. Jones was the first to say these words (just like we can’t be sure of several other quotes), but this Grammy legend certainly combined this belief along with his talents to bring music and joy to millions.

I’ve already taken a swing at problems and pain and how we tend to change course or stop dead in our tracks at the first sight of these party poopers. I believe that we create most of our problems in our minds, and don’t give ourselves any chance of dealing with them in reality. That girl is out of my league (Because she has a great smile and I have no teeth). I will never pass my driving test (Despite this being my first attempt, with no history of failure). My prospect is not going to buy this product (Because he looks stern and closed minded). My spouse won’t understand (Because there is no record of understanding spouses in the history of mankind). My boss is likely to be a real handful (Even though it’s only the first day at a new job). I will fail my college examination (Because I didn’t get a chance to revise for the fourteenth time this morning). I will drown in the bathtub if I fill it completely (Because I’m only a little taller than Tyrion Lannister). And you can all add your own examples here to make this the longest list in the world.

Some of these problems are not even ours to bear and don’t impact our lives directly, but we cringe at the outcome already forming in our head (For instance, if the opponent of our favorite tennis player is Roger Federer, we consider the match lost. If a particular political party wins the elections, we consider our country doomed, like the previous one was Godsend. Or, we even fear that Priyanka Chopra may not get along with her mother in law).

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While I don’t always confer the designation of puzzles to all my problems, I have dealt with several challenges in my life by treating them likes games or sports. During my days at an investment bank, I had to put in long hours, which comprised of tough tasks, and a race against time. Now I would come to my office in the morning of a 14-hour work day, and feel like I had a Herculean task ahead of me, and find my shoulders sagging a bit. I am a huge sports fan (if you didn’t already know that) and used sport to keep my drive up. I broke up my 14 hours into a game of basketball or football, depending on my mood for either tackles and brute force or dunks and fast breaks. The first hour was pregame warm-ups. The next twelve hours were broken into fours quarters of play (with a short lunch break at half time), and the last hour as the postgame presentation. My work was my opponent, and being a competitive person, I now managed to convert fear into excitement and determination to win the game. I would plan all along and see where I stood at the end of each period of play, and if I needed to re-strategize. Not only did I make work more interesting for myself, but in the quest to win, I also put in good performances (Plus I would give myself an interview at the end of each day and revel in my achievements…:)).

I have a degenerating spine and am in regular discomfort because of it. I have tried various forms of treatment, physiotherapy, and other fitness exercises for close to two decades now. While I have seen favorable results, none of them have been permanent. And when I get spasms (every 12 to 18 months), I could be bedridden for a good part of a month. This puts a break on all my activities and also negates a lot of work I’ve put in towards my fitness. Rather than get disheartened, I try new techniques and exercises (under the guidance of a therapist/doctor of course) to see how I can finally beat this ailment (Being a cricket fanatic, this is my Indian tour down under, the final frontier). I even talk to my back at times to see if I can solve a thing or two and have that eureka moment where I have found the optimal solution. And what’s more, I make jokes on my back and allow my friends and cousins to do so as well, to always keep the humor and fighting spirit alive. I am India’s Leaning Tower of Pisa (With a tilted body during my spasms).

Thick waistlines and slim bank accounts, daily goals we can’t surmount

Irritable spouses and disobedient kids, flaring tempers that don’t have a lid

Long working hours and short stacks of cash, balding heads, and an uneven mustache

Many words of disappointment but few of appreciation, failing economies and warring nations

More cars and fewer roads, diminishing strength and heavy loads

Crowded trains we cannot board, great desires that we can’t afford

Sour grapes and no wine, big dreams but no spine

– Harsh Chandriani

So go ahead and ask that girl out, and not worry about the outcome. What’s the worst that can happen? She will slap you? So what? It’s about your attitude and how you view this situation. Don’t think she assaulted you, but instead cared enough to touch your face (That’s a positive thing).

The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life – Erno Rubik

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Whether it’s challenges at work, health problems, relationship roadblocks (both personal and professional), financial difficulties, or a plethora of daily inconveniences, we tend to get bogged down by them. We rely on negative past experiences to predict future outcomes. I have come to terms with the fact that life will always throw curveballs at us no matter what, so it’s best to have a little fun and adventure while we’re tackling them. I have made a conscious effort to look at my problems as puzzles (games and sports to be more specific), and deal with them with a pinch of salt and a sense of humour.

Let’s find our own jigsaw fixations, and deal with our problems in a manner that we find fun, quest oriented, and intriguing. On life’s rainy days, while we try and shield our heads, let’s jump into the puddles every now and again.

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