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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On The Cusp Of Tomorrow

Tomorrow is a word used quite favorably by a lot of us in every avenue of our lives. “I’ll start studying for my exams tomorrow”. “I will make that call to my parents, tomorrow”. “I will prepare that client pitch tomorrow”. “I’ll submit my project due today, tomorrow (and spend today coming up with a fantastic excuse for doing so). “I will clean my room tomorrow”. “I will take my grandmother for that drive she’s been asking for tomorrow”. “I’m still angry for the mistakes I made and will apologize to my spouse tomorrow”. “I will stop being irritable tomorrow”. “I’ll take my calendar and replace today with tomorrow” (For some reason we never say the following things – “I’ll eat that piece of cake tomorrow”. “I’ll have my second drink tomorrow”. “I’ll wait until tomorrow to play video games”. “I’ll sleep in tomorrow”. “I’ll wait until tomorrow to post my pictures on social media to show the world how awesome I look at the party today”. “I’ll catch up with my Netflix shows tomorrow”).

Procrastination has to be one of the top human vices (I’m quite certain we’d like to call it a skill), surpassing others like our ability to be corrupt, greedy, conniving, lazy, and even Boston Red Sox fans. It’s a VIP card that we tend to use at every opportunity (And yes I mean every single opportunity that involves us doing anything that is not fun and games). In fact, the moment the world leadership declares that alien races do indeed exist (Imagine earthlings as the only inhabitants of the universe. Knowing our habits, we would have trespassed and ruined most of it by now), procrastination would have to be earth’s entry towards an intergalactic event, which would give us a galaxy-sized advantage over the others.

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Despite our tendency to put things off since the dawn of day, I’m often amazed at the ease and fluency with which we procrastinate on the most pressing issues in our lives; Preparation for large client deals, competitive examinations, treatment for health ailments, spending time with an aging parent or a growing child, filing taxes, beginning our fitness regime, resolving grave issues with loved ones, proposing to our love (so that we attend her wedding as the groom and not the best man), and even fixing the hinge on our front door so that we don’t get slapped in the face every time we leave or enter home.

And then when we wake up each day, we wonder why it sucks as much as the previous one. I suppose we expect life to give us a break since we give most things a break ourselves until tomorrow arrives. Unfortunately, (or fortunately since we can push things back another day) every time we begin a new day, it’s still today and tomorrow hasn’t quite arrived. We don’t move a muscle but expect that miracles will take place and life will become more cheerful on its own accord. And when this doesn’t happen we will whip out our magic diary of excuses (Somehow we want to do this immediately and never wait for tomorrow). Who are these excuses for anyway? The world doesn’t really care about what we do with our lives. Our loved ones do, but despite their valiant efforts, they watch us painfully wither our lives away (We on the other hand still believe we have exemplary prioritizing and time management skills).

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So what’s it going to take for us to realize that when we think of a ‘better tomorrow’, we really need to start acting today? What’s it going to take for us to take our preparation for life’s challenges more seriously, beginning today? What’s it going to take for us to realize that enough time has been spent leading a sedentary lifestyle? What will it take for us to pay heed to our failing health and fitness? When will we realize and accept that it’s our redundant skillset and not our environment, that is keeping us from progressing at the workplace? What’s it going to take for us to realize that our grandparents are in their twilight years and if we don’t spend time with them today, there will be no tomorrow? What’s it going to take for us to mend our relationship with our estranged brother? What would it take for us to recognize that too much time has already passed, and with that, a lot of life has passed us by?

Laziness is only a factor that comes into play when procrastinating on trivial everyday things (That still need to be done). It’s the fear of letting ourselves go in the direction that we truly desire internally that keeps us from taking action today. We are afraid of the unknown and the risks that come with testing our potential. And rather than encouraging ourselves to take a leap of faith and back ourselves, we resort to making excuses for avoiding exactly what we need to do. We overthink, which eventually leads to inaction.

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Whether its gaining knowledge and implementing it, organizing our lives more effectively, or simply creating a mindset that allows us to prepare everything ‘tomorrow’ fires at us, the right time is always now (you may start in two hours, as long as it’s still today).

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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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Push Past The Pain Point

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These were the words of Muhammad Ali, when asked why he always went the extra mile and performed a higher number of sit-ups, pushups, or other grueling activities during his training regime, than the numbers set by his coaches.

Recognising our passions and prioritising the tasks and activities that are truly important to us, and necessary to help us achieve our goals, is only half the battle won (Unless you’ve figured out how to avoid taxes, the in-laws, laundry days, waiting in queue for the bathroom at home, your child’s homework, looking for parking, a million good morning messages on WhatsApp groups, advice from your boss on empathy, and people giving you missed calls expecting you to call them back. Then you’ve attained nirvana). Ensuring that we stick to our beliefs, and pursue them persistently and consistently is an indispensable protocol in attaining our life’s missions.

Ever so often, we have an epiphany about what we would love our lives to look like, and we start making goals around this vision. Assuming we have identified our true passion and purpose, we begin to enlist all the small steps we need to take to help us get there (Like finding that glass and bottle of whiskey to go along with the antique armchair and television remote). And then we have one little devil that comes along to play. It’s called ‘instant gratification’.

Some of us want to lose fifteen pounds but want to do so in five days. We go out and buy the most expensive running shoes (These days we need to sell one of our kidneys to afford them and what’s more, they come with a promised life of a full six months. Fantastic!!), and at the end of the week we have evidence of having gained two pounds despite all the jogging (while taking selfies) and sweating (We refuse to acknowledge participating in any cake and pizza eating activities after every run). We want quick results and wear a forlorn look if we don’t get them. We begin to believe that we have set ourselves a target that is well beyond our means and decide to compromise or give up altogether. Some of us want to flaunt a muscular body and we eagerly enlist in a gymnasium. After the first two workouts, we break into muscular aches and pains (sometimes without lifting anything at all) and begin to find the entire ordeal cumbersome and painful. We decide that we need to have realistic targets, and tell ourselves “What made you think you can have that boxer’s physique and six pack abs? You’re an ordinary person, so think and behave like one”. We’re completely ruffled by the effort required to move every inch towards our target. We walk around the gymnasium admiring the physiques of others, complaining that life isn’t fair to us (It gave them steroids but gave us only cranberry flavored protein bars).

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We want to be a professional swimmer, but the daily practice of jumping into a cold swimming pool at 5 am (This isn’t always the case. Sometimes it’s 6 am), overcomes our determination because a few weeks later we still don’t have an invitation for the state championships. We want to become a Bollywood playback singer, but the relentless practicing for three hours a day, after our 9-hour job (if we plan our day well we can play ‘Antakshari’ at work for better practice), for a year, hasn’t brought a wave of music producers to our doorstep. We want to publish a book, but a few instances of writer’s block have diminished our enthusiasm (Most times the writer’s block comes in the form of us dozing off due to our own insipid writing. Ahem, moving on). We want to be perfect parents, but as soon as we realize how hard the first two years are, all bets are off (and we go from our desire to be fantastic parents to awfully crabby human beings). We want to be successful businessmen, but a few failures and missed deals convince us of our ineptness as well as the difficulty of the trade (And then the only thing being dealt are harsh words, as we sit around the conference table playing ‘who takes the blame’).

We want to be world-class coders, speakers (I recommend you just get Bose), teachers, doctors (ones who display exemplary skill in diagnosis followed by legible handwriting to ensure that treatment is provided for that very same diagnosis, and not another), engineers (ones who remember the stuff they have learned even after the examinations are over), dancers (I once saw a horse dance brilliantly at a fair in Pushkar, India, despite having two left feet), bankers, (ones who don’t get caught after sanctioning illegal loans), lawyers (ones who have mastered the art of debating successfully with the wife), artists (ones who can draw more than just stick figures), the man in the attic of Indian shoe stores, servers at the McDonald’s drive-in, and anything we envision ourselves doing that brings fruition to our lives.

In this technological age, we want lightning quick results with minimal pain. The moment we encounter an obstacle in our path, we are keener to change direction rather than overcome that obstacle (Funny this rarely happens when we encounter weak internet connectivity while uploading images on Instagram. Eight hours later we are still at it, in the quest for success). Are we willing to push past the pain point? Are we willing to tell ourselves that it’s going to take a lot more than we’re used to? Some of us give up early and some of us stay in the fight longer, before exasperation sets in, and we lay down our arms with no end in sight. We generally tend to focus on how far we have to go and not on how far we’ve come.

Only if we learn to recognize and appreciate the small accomplishments along the way, will we stay the course. It’s that ability to keep the end goal in sight, and constantly feed it with positivity and belief that will eventually lead to the culmination of our vision. Triumphs born out of trials and tribulations are always the sweetest (Of course we need to fail every now and again to keep our sugar consumption in check).

Let’s not count the number of hours, days, weeks, months, and even years of effort put in, just the progressive milestones that really count.

Mundane, Tuesdane, Wednesdane……

Wake up, snooze the alarm, wake up (This process can have as many iterations as you choose, unless of course there is a licensed gun holder at home), take a shower, get dressed (drop breakfast on your clothes and get dressed all over again), head to work, perform daily tasks at the workplace (Including bitching about the boss and star performers, taking six coffee breaks, reading at least two movie reviews, discussing senseless news items, and working on deadlines when time permits, after addressing the more important aforementioned tasks), head back home (while exchanging parliamentary greetings with your fellow citizens while stuck in traffic), eat, flip TV channels to watch various advertisements, ignore the wife and kids, sleep, repeat. This may sound like fun for a week or two, but then things might begin to get really boring. Everything may seem mundane.

The word ‘mundane’ seems to have such a negative connotation. Even the sound of the word is morose and draining. It sounds like the life has been sucked out of something (which also happens when some people walk into a room, including your boss, the income tax official, as well as Dementors from Harry Potter). A lot of things we do on a daily basis may make us feel that way too. But mundane is necessary. Earlier, I had written about identifying what we truly want to do, as opposed to just going through the motions because we believe we need to and feel there aren’t any other options. And, while passion and belief in what we do are always going to be central drivers in helping us stay happy and content, these ingredients by themselves are not enough. Acumen, hard work, discipline, and consistency are equally important. Not all skill is inborn, and with the right approach in body and mindset, skills can be honed over time, with the support of true intent and desire. Even the gifted need to refine their abilities in order to reach their potential (For those who follow cricket, two prodigious youngsters began their careers three decades ago, and while one’s journey ended up in the stars, the other’s slipped down a manhole. Sachin Tendulkar got runs, while Vinod Kambli got earrings).

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Author, James Clear says that 40% to 50% of our lives’ routines are formed by habits and that habits are the entrance ramp that helps us get on the highway and allows us to cruise. There are habits that we need to get rid of (procrastinating, overspending, two-timing your spouse with your cellphone, smoking more than one cigarette in a lifetime, binge-watching toxic Indian television serials, eating more than eight helpings of dessert, and even running away from a treadmill as opposed to on it), and then there are habits that will define our future, which is consistent with the way we envision it. Habits don’t have to be earth-shattering in nature, but in fact, it’s the small daily mundane routines we set for ourselves that eventually come to the fore in our effective functioning.

  • Meditating for a few minutes every morning could allow us to deal with stressful situations calmly (It’s ideal if both eyes are closed and we’re not stealing glances at things happening around us)
  • Creating a daily to-do list enables us to prioritize our tasks, and not waste time on unwanted activities (Unless your career choice is game development and testing, playing 10 different video games as the first 10 items on the list doesn’t help)
  • Scheduling these tasks during specific times of the day and sticking to it prevents procrastination (Listing procrastination as a task is disadvantageous)
  • Exercising daily, even for short time frames, helps keep the body and mind healthy (Short bursts of exercise followed by long stints of eating are counterproductive. The only thing that will be produced is more of you)
  • Developing our skill every day in our chosen area of expertise boosts our ability and confidence (Unless your life’s mission is to understand how governments function and what happened to your tax money. You may as well grab a beer and be merry)
  • Reading and learning regularly helps gain experience from other people, improves understanding, teaches us new things, enriches self-development, and heightens imagination and creativity. Read anything under the sun that will help your cause and move you closer to your goals (After a while go indoors to avoid a heat stroke).
  • Be thankful for what we have as it helps us approach life positively, makes us more tolerant, increases our resilience, ensures better health, and keeps us happy (Conditions apply. Expressing too much gratitude towards the neighbor’s wife can have negative consequences.)

Waking up early, getting enough sleep, saving, meeting loved ones in person (and not over social media), hugging your child, smiling, practicing your art, and a million other things form small parts of our daily lives that eventually lead to a happier, healthier and fulfilling life. It’s not just our big dreams, but also the small steps we take every day, consistently, tirelessly, and honestly, that define the quality of life we are likely to lead. We need to do the best we can to follow a path that impresses our heart. But just because we do something we love does not mean we do not need to put in the work (and lots of it) to obtain results. We need to bolster our passion with the right abilities. These abilities are born out of our daily habits, some that we enjoy, and some that we don’t, but are necessary.

Muhammad Ali has always maintained that he hated his daily morning runs, but loved the idea of being world champion. Therefore, mundane isn’t always bad. In fact, mundane, when applied effectively, leads to a very impactful and exciting life. So bring out that pen and paper and list out all of the boring stuff you’re going to begin doing to help you reach your goals, each day, everyday….Mundane, Tuesdane, Wednesdane…

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Home ‘Field’ Advantage

“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.”

This was one of the many famous quotes by William Claude Dukenfield, better known as W.C. Fields. He was an actor, comedian, writer, and even a juggler (It wasn’t just words he was throwing around).

I came across this quote in my early twenties and couldn’t help but laugh every time I read it thereafter. He sounded like he was so disgruntled with life and his failed attempts (almost like Oliver Hardy from the ‘Laurel & Hardy’ comic series. What’s more, he even looked like Hardy without a mustache) that he wanted the whole world to follow suit, should they have similar experiences. It wasn’t until much later that I finally realized that I was actually laughing at myself for a major part of a decade. I had completely missed the point of this statement. But then again I’m not new to missing things, having missed buses, trains, questions in examinations, the wife’s perspective (the consequences are very dangerous), and even a couple of gunshots I took at my former bosses (Okay, that’s an exaggeration. They were slingshots).

How many of us go about doing things in our personal and professional lives that add absolutely no value but on the contrary lead to frustration and a lack of fulfillment? We begin to doubt ourselves, fear begins to grip our souls, and our mind becomes a playhouse for the devil. And yet, we try the same study techniques that have come up short, the same marketing and sales practice that has yielded unsatisfactory results, the same diet and exercise routines that send the weighing scale readings in the undesired direction, the same exasperating approach to getting our kids to listen, and even taking selfies, with that same pout, from the very same angle, of that same mug, a million unimpressive times (How many selfies does it take to satisfy a human being? I’m really curious to know the answer to this question just in case I decide to feature in some of them).

In my opinion, our friend, Mr. Fields, by no means meant that we should give up at the first few signs of failure. But in fact, we must prioritize our goals that are truly aligned with our hearts, our passions, and our skills, to give us the best chance at succeeding and being happy. This would make us more adaptable. The fact that we don’t succeed at something after a few tries should either tell us that either our approach needs to change, or the activity needs to change.

Home Field Advantage

What would happen if you kept hitting your head against a brick wall? Yup, you got it, the owner of the wall will indeed have you arrested. On a serious note, you could counter sue since the damage is likely to occur to your head and not the wall.

How often do we keep doing something because our parents or boss say it’s the right way to do it? How often do we try to convince ourselves that we will succeed one day without changing our method or mindset? How often do we blame our circumstances for our failures because we are too proud to admit that our approach is faulty, or are too scared of the unknown to try something different? Most times we are just involved in personal and professional activities that bring no joy to us and seem to be the only options out there because we haven’t cared to give our hearts the opportunity to express our true passions.

A lot of reputed coaches and mentors say that ‘we can do anything, but we can’t do everything’. Our juggling expert, Mr. Fields would have likely said that if we must juggle a few things in life, they may as well be things that we really care about, bring us joy, and offer a sense of contentment, while still addressing our responsibilities. There isn’t a point in taking on too much if we are unlikely to do justice to any of it.

A few points to consider are:

  1. Sit down (or bounce around if you fancy) and write down the things that truly make you happy, and how you would start incorporating them in your life.
  2. Prioritize everything in your life in the order of importance (Then compose a song about it and sing it yourself in the shower every day)
  3. Don’t let your ego prevent you from reaching your potential (See what happened to him in Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2). Be humble. Humility leads to an open mind. An open mind attracts knowledge. Knowledge leads to excellence. Excellence leads to fulfillment.
  4. Respect the opinions and positions of people in your life, but remember you’re one of those people, and the most important one at that (This doesn’t apply to married people, and those with kids. For you the most important person is the bartender). Respect your own thoughts, believe in your passions, and learn to say ‘no’ when you must.
  5. Push yourself outside your comfort zone. Doing something that scares you brings you closer to a defining change in your life (Stand a bit closer to your neighbor’s Rottweiler, and perhaps even pull its tail to spice things up).
  6. Befriend your fear – fear of failure, fear of pain, and fear of loss. These are inevitable. No matter who you are, life will find you in a dark alley at some point and knock you down. It’s up to you to get up, look life in the eye, and say “I’ll see you again around the block, and I’ll be stronger”. Will Smith talks about his sky diving experience in which he says “The point of maximum danger is the point of minimum fear”. This quote really resonates with me (However, if the parachute doesn’t open, then the point of maximum danger is the point of impact).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gG-F_rRVdLc (Will Smith speaks)

So let’s stop being damn fools about wasting our lives away in oblivion. Let’s find our true calling, our home field advantage where life roots for us. A setting that will earn us the joy of living.

What are you still doing here, fooling around, reading rubbish? Don’t you have some newly defined matters to work on? Get out of here!!

Inspirational Everyday Strangers

I almost never need any coaxing to go for my brisk walks in the evenings, as I genuinely enjoy a good work out on most days, especially if those days fall in between Monday and Tuesday (But silly jokes aside, I do enjoy my workouts, always have). I’m not fortunate enough to live at an arm’s length (The only thing that close to me is usually the TV remote and a few chocolate bars) from any open green spaces, but the 3.5 kilometer stretch between my home and Nariman Point serves as a convenient alternative (It allows me to walk one way, grab an ice cream at Nariman Point, and hail a cab back home). Walking along the Marine Drive promenade does mean that I inhale as much Carbon Dioxide during my walks, as I do during the rest of the day, in this good spirited atmosphere of Mumbai. I get to wear my shoes out faster, as the concrete pavement and my shoe soles aren’t the best of pals. I get to play ‘Donkey Kong’ with the cars while crossing the road, and invariably have a NDE as there is always some chump on a two-wheeler who whizzes past a red light because he is running at least two laps behind the race leader, Valentino Rossi (Mumbai roads and the moon’s surface have a lot in common and therefore you have automatic and unannounced ‘pit’ stops).

But there are plenty of experiences that are less exciting but certainly fulfilling. For instance, you get to lose a little of something regularly, like your weight and waistline (If it’s too windy, you might lose your wig too, so it’s best you leave it at home. It’s better to let people see that you’ve gone bald over the years and not just in one second). Your stamina increases with time, especially if you’re chased by dogs regularly (You’re likely to stop only if you run out of breath or run into a tree. This not only prepares you for the next marathon but also conditions your head and body to become a serious challenge for Mike Tyson, should he have the courage to come out of retirement to fight you). Your mind gets sharper as your body gets fitter (and puts you in a good position to teach your 6-year old multiplication tables up to 4).

With our new age devices constantly honing in on us and keeping us indoors, it’s nice to get out for a little bit, get the blood pumping through our body, and take in the wonderful sights (People fighting with cab drivers, some trying to cross the road over a four-foot high fence when there is a perfectly good pedestrian crossing 30 meters away, 4 parking lanes and just 2 driving lanes, people having a conversation while sitting on two different two-wheelers, women having a second kitty party on the pavement outside the restaurant they have just had their first one in, and the list goes on). What’s more, you get to feature in a few dozen photographs and short videos (Courtesy of college kids, which seems to be the only thing they do outdoors), and you could find yourself on the cover of the next issue of GQ (Only if you’ve worn your best running outfit and with your wig still on your head while the picture was taken).

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And then there are the serious strangers going about their walks and jogs. Names of who you do not know, but faces that you see every day. You see them go about their exercise regimes religiously and consistently, rarely missing a day (You know that only because you haven’t missed any). You see the impact of their hard work and commitment in the positivity emitting from their bodies. These are not our friends or well-wishers (At least not that we know of. Maybe putting on that sporty deodorant will help), but we still find inspiration from their relentless presence in our lives. Then there are some nameless strangers that will notch up this level of motivation by competing with you and trying to outpace you. With me it’s usually a middle-aged ‘uncle’ who begins to increase his momentum as I pass by and tries to stay a step ahead (This is very encouraging for me, not so much because it shows me that even as you age you need to continue to work on fitness goals, but more because I cannot have an uncle defeat me). The only people that are allowed to go past me are the ones that are out there for their evening exercises on walkers and wheelchairs (You have to tip your hat to these people and be awed by their grit and persistence).

It’s the same story at the gym or anywhere else you choose to exercise (Except in your bedroom, where the only thing you’ll likely be exercising are your fingers on the cell phone and TV remote. Unless you’ve upset your wife, and now you’re about to have a sporting bout of wrestling). Strangers at the gym seem even more motivated (they all seem to have bigger muscles than you, and can lift anything from a 100-kilogram dumbbell to a batch of Zumba girls, all at the same time). And what about those guys and gals on the treadmill? Have you noticed that they are running when you walk into the gym and when you’re leaving (after having inspected every piece of equipment without breaking a sweat), they are still running? They seem to have unrelenting stamina, obstinate almost. If I ever get onto a treadmill next to one of these people, I keep up (When I am done keeping up and my lungs are about to explode, I just slide off the treadmill while it’s still on and let them figure out where I disappeared so quickly). Then there are the other muscled strangers that walk up to you when you are bench-pressing and ask how many sets you have left (Doesn’t that annoy you because they make you lose count of your repetitions, even though you’re still on zero?).

We usually look to our loved ones for support and encouragement but are often disappointed as they seem to have a contrary viewpoint. It’s not like they don’t care for us, but in fact, care too much to see us get hurt. Therefore, many a time they discourage us from doing things that are different or out of the ordinary. This is when we need to look around us for that iota of reassurance. I’ve only spoken of fitness buffs as an analogy, but with an open mind (and eyes and ears that are not focused on our phones as we move about our towns and cities), we will always find people around us that can provide a little inspiration and possibly the courage to do the things we’ve been avoiding. Some that we see regularly, and some that we may see only once. It can be anyone. A young boy hanging out of a Mumbai train with the support of a shoestring and yet finding a way to read that e-book. A municipal sweeper ceaselessly going about her job along a 5-kilometer stretch. A postman going about on foot for hours in the scorching heat, delivering mail (Who still sends these?). The current West Indies team bowling away to the Indian batsmen with no end in sight. And even a couple and their five children balancing on a scooter, hoping to audition for the Cirque du Soleil.

Even a pigeon can be inspirational with their ‘never-say-die’ attitude. Have you ever shooed this annoying creature away (that’s trying to get into your home through the window) only for it to arrive again after a few minutes with that ‘have we met before?’ expression? And this saga continues for a good hour. It irritates me, but it also compels me to write some more, do the extra set of push-ups, run the extra kilometer, stick to my nutrition plan, make some more sales calls, and so on (There is no way I can allow a pigeon to be more persistent than me).

We can complain about our routines and surroundings on a daily basis. And we can continue churning out excuses to not do the things that really matter in our lives and hearts. Or we can find those small sources of inspiration and implement them in our lives. All we need to do is observe, think, feel, and then act.

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