25 Dec 2015

Why We Will Keep Hearing "Humara Kuch Nahi Ho Sakta"

Modi should do this, Jaitley should do that. The government should do this, the judiciary should do that. Businessmen should do this, Bollywoodsters should do that. Dhoni should do this, Saina (not Raina) should do that. India should do this, Pakistan should do that.

Swacch Bharat Abhiyan will fail because Modi does not put in effort. Corruption will not be eradicated because Kejriwal’s honesty is being questioned (LOL!). Crime rates will not fall because the police does not care about the law. News channels will never sell honest news because they simply care about ratings and money.

"Swacch Bharat Abhiyan is novel idea", I tell my friend. But Modi is not doing enough to make it a success. He simply wanted to make the headlines - that attention-seeking globetrotter (by the way, here are some facts about his trips and devices). While saying this, I pop a chocolate in my mouth and throw the wrapper on the street. “Iss desh ka kuch nahi ho sakta,” I lisp while savoring the chocolate.

I want people to read my blog posts, share them, comment on them, and make me a star. But I will not engage with other bloggers. I will not write something that people like to read. I will write mediocre posts purely for myself and expect people to discover my posts and swoon over them. I will reciprocate only to people who engage with me first. And I will call popular bloggers snooty because they do not praise my writing.

I want the government to build better roads and flyovers. But when they are built, I will drive on the wrong side to avoid the 5 additional seconds added to my travel time because the route. If I accidentally get on a flyover, I will reverse rather than take the longer route - inconvenience caused to traffic be damned. As a pedestrian, I want vehicles to stop for me. But even when I see them coming at high speeds, I will cross the road, mentally challenging them not to slow down. Let's see who blinks first.

I want people (family, colleagues, subordinates, domestic help) to listen to me, but I will talk to them like a jerk. I will behave like a self-professed know-it-all, without even an iota of achievement to my name.

I want… I demand… I want… I demand…

My friend, when will you start doing something? Every change starts from within.

Added luxuries have made us more cocky and stubborn. We want conditions around us to improve without our quality of life being affected in the tiniest way. Not everyone can be pleased every time. Sometimes you lose a little, sometimes others do. All of it contributes to the bigger picture of inclusive growth - in your family, at work, or in your country. We know this, but still behave like street dogs. By being pig-headed in compromise, we stifle growth in society. We may be happy to have got what we wanted, but it hurts us in the long run. By demanding that others do what we want the way we want it, we display entitlement and selfishness, compromising humanity along the way. Then we complain that humanity is dead.

Change starts with you. And it doesn't have to be a turnaround in life that we have come to associate the word with. Can you cross the road quickly, or wait a few seconds for the vehicle to pass to ensure that it is not inconvenienced? Can you place an empty Bisleri bottle or chips wrapper in your bag, or throw it in a dustbin when you find one, rather than littering on the road and complaining that there is no dustbin around? Can you be kind to a stranger who can do nothing for you? Can you be respectful of other people without expecting them to reciprocate? Can you calm your mind when it is clamoring about daily events the most? Yes. Will you? That's a different question.

Like My Era, I'll leave you with a song. I hope you start with the Man in the Mirror and ask him to change his ways.

R.I.P. Michael. God knows we need you more than ever today.

17 Dec 2015

#My21DayChallenge - Week 1 Update

This comes pretty quickly, close on the heels of the previous post, but today marks the 8th day of #my21daychallenge. Here are some details on what has transpired in the last 7 days:

6 activities are part of the challenge, or experiment, or rather adventure, as friends mentioned in comments of the previous post. Here is how they went:

  1. Meet friends - 6 hours: I met Purvesh, Rakesh (technically, he is not a friend but someone far more knowledgeable) and Amit, a remarkably talented painter. Each experience was refreshing. Purvesh asked me uncomfortable questions, the answers of which have helped me set a goal for the next two years. Rakesh gave me tips to progress in an area where I was stuck. And Amit… well… his paintings floored me. I must meet more people this week.
    With Purvesh

  2. Exercise - 5 hours: Mission accomplished.

  3. Read - 7 hours: I think I have exceeded the preset time here. I completed reading Success Sutra and have started reading The Power of Habit again. Trust me, if you want to write a non-fiction book, use The Power of Habit as a benchmark.

  4. New Experiences - 4 hours: I have been lagging here. I heard some music from Winery Dogs and saw Amit's paintings. His portrayal of Gaya when the world ended is breathtaking (the painting in the centre of the image). I must spend more time in this. I will be at the Comic Con this Saturday. If you are around, come say hi.
    Some of Amit's paintings

  5. Waste Time - 14 hours: This is a goal which I feel I have exceeded. Social media again sucked me into its trap - I simply couldn’t find the guts to activate the SelfControl app. I also tend to switch on the idiot box during meals, because of which my meals get extended and time gets wasted… time that could be invested elsewhere. I think focus (or the lack, thereof) is the biggest problem here.

  6. Sleep - 50 hours: I need no motivation here. Probably have exceeded this target too (sorry, no photo of me sleeping).

Some challenges I am facing are:
  1. Not being able to document my activities well. I currently write in my diary, which is not an efficient way to go about it. Sometimes I forget, sometimes I don’t carry the diary along… I must look for an app which helps me keep a tab of my tasks in a simpler way. Do you have any suggestions?

  2. Some of my tasks coincide. For instance, watching TV while eating meals is a combination of wasting time and time for eating food. When I met a friend at The Li’l Flea, it was a combination of meeting friends and new experiences. Need to figure that out.

  3. Motivation is not high.
I don’t feel a conspicuous difference in me. Then again, I have not done things too differently from what I did previously. Let us see how this week progresses.

14 Dec 2015

I am Conducting an Experiment on Myself

Recently, I tried to revive a music project with a friend.“I would love to, dude,” he said. “But I don’t have time.” He is not the only one faces this challenge. Many people say: “I would love to [insert activity] if only I had time.” Some of the activities include rest. I shudder to think that some people are so busy that they have no time to rest. In fact, I have started feeling like I am lazier than I thought, because I rarely am, if ever, hard pressed for time.

Then again, the bias of the mind is such that it overestimates everything it does. I thought that my ‘time management’ techniques were note-worthy, that people should learn from me. And so I thought of writing a blog post titled ‘6 More Things to Do When You Don’t Have Time’.

Interesting paradox, isn’t it?

I jotted down six ‘activities’ for people to do when they feel like they don’t have time. Then came doubts. This would be another boring, preachy, ‘knowledge dispersing’ post where the adage ‘those who can’t do, teach” would ring true. Some readers would appreciate it, the vast majority would ignore it, and the post would be forgotten within one day of being published. So I thought of taking it one step further.

I would try it on myself first.

I don’t suffer from dearth of time largely because I ignore irrelevant things (almost everything, actually), and because of a poor, virtually non existent, social life (my friends will vouch for that).

It worked wonders for me in the last year. I amassed a lot of knowledge in this period, reading articles online and trying things out, some of which worked while others didn’t. I have learned by getting my hands dirty, something that I could not do in the corporate world.

But I have hit a brick wall now. My ability of keeping things simple has been compromised, and so has my penchant for staying calm. I am stuck in a rut and my perspectives are restricted because I barely meet people. I have begun talking too much, pushing forth my points rather than trying to understand the person in front. I have started thinking that I know what is best for others. I have become lazy and complacent, and have procrastinated on an important project for over a year.

These are not my best days.

I have two choices to address this predicament: I can either wallow in self pity and blame circumstances, or I can fix it. I choose the former.

Just kidding, I choose the latter.

Here is the deal. I am conducting a 21-day experiment on myself (which started on 10th December) and will share the results with you. It takes 21 days to form a new habit, and I will try to form more than one in them.

There are 168 hours in a week. Below are the six activities, and the tentative amount of time that I will spend on them each week.

  1. Meet friends - 6 hours: The people who say “What? You’re crazy!”, don’t count as friends. The ones who say “You’re crazy and I love it”, do. So I will meet more of the latter. Hopefully I will upload more Facebook and Instagram-worthy photos, or at least be tagged in some.
  2. Exercise - 5 hours: I already exercise this much each week, so this shouldn’t be difficult to manage.
  3. Read - 7 hours: I read so much online that I have been ignoring good books which have shaped my thinking. I’m going to return to reading, with the aim of covering at least 20 pages a day.
  4. New Experiences - 4 hours: This includes listening to and making new music, attending conferences and exhibitions (if applicable) and anything else which plunges me into something new.
  5. Waste Time - 14 hours: Time spent on social media and in front of the idiot box (even news and sports) is time wasted. I will try to waste 6 hours between Monday and Friday, and 14 on weekends.

    Reading useful articles will not be considered wasting time, nor will doing household chores so that mom stops complaining about me being unmarried and her ‘not having a helping hand around the house’.
  6. Sleep - 50 hours: A minimum of 7 hours each day.

These sum up to 87 hours, which means I am left with 81 hours each week to work, complete household chores, eat food and travel for meetings. I’m thinking that should be enough.

How did I come up with these numbers? I don’t know. I’m just shooting from the hip. These numbers are not carved in stone. As I mentioned before, they are tentative. Plus, I’m still working on efficiently keeping track of this.

This experiment is not to see how much I work. It’s about evolving as a person. I believe that meeting encouraging people and exposing myself to new experiences will motivate me to do what is important, that reading will improve my writing and thinking, and seeing that I have only 81 hours a week to complete whatever I want to will make me more productive.

I could have started today, right? It’s Monday, the beginning of a new week. But I started on 10th December. The end of the experiment will coincide with 31st December, the end of 2015. On 1st January, 2016, I will have the results to share with you. And yes, I will keep tweeting about stuff with the hashtag #my21daychallenge. (It’s an old hashtag but nobody is currently using it. So why reinvent the wheel?) Engage with the hashtag and share your encouragement, insights, criticism or anything that you feel will help me.

Now, there are two choices. And I will choose between them depending upon what you suggest.

  1. I make a note of weekly progress and share my victories and challenges with you each week
  2. I make a note of weekly progress and share it with you at the end of three weeks.

What would you prefer? Wish me luck.

7 Dec 2015

5 Lessons I Learned About Life From a Workshop on Autism

Before becoming an independent content marketing consultant, I spent almost nine years in the corporate, trying to make my way through it, eventually (and happily) giving up. I couldn’t digest many aspects of the corporate world - especially its culture. I kept feeling like everyone chased the same things, blissfully unaware that they were headed in a wrong, overcrowded direction.

Last weekend, I attended a seminar on autism, thanks to my friends at SAI Connections. The speakers included Dr. Steven Gutstein (Dr. G), the founder of an autism treatment program named Relationship Development Intervention (RDI), and Mrs. Kamini Lakhani, someone who, in the last year, has shown me the other side of autism spectrum disorder - a side that 97 percent of us don’t know about. The more I interact with her, the more intrigued I am about the condition. Because while I earlier looked at autism as a disability, Kamini showed me how remarkable children with the condition are. True, their brains are wired differently from us, but that doesn’t make them disabled. In fact, the more I read about these amazing children, the more I feel like we ‘normal’ people are the ones who are disabled.

As I heard Dr. G’s speak, I started correlating his concepts about autism to everyday life. Everything he said had lessons for leaders.

When you hear the word ‘leader’, do you only think of a politician or senior executive of a giant multinational corporation? No, leadership encompasses much more. You can be a leader if you are a parent, a musician, a spouse, a team member or anyone whom others look up to.

Here are 5 lessons applicable to leaders which I learned at the workshop:

1. Plug the hole

Dr. G gave a terrific example - one which struck an instant chord with us: A ship is sinking, and the captain and crew are busy siphoning out the water. I have a glue that will fix the problem for good, but the team will have to stop bailing out the water and work with me. “We’re busy right now,” they say. “If we stop bailing the water out, the ship will sink.” Fair enough. But we are humans. Ultimately, our muscles will give way, and we will fail to siphon the water at the same speed as it’s entry. Or we will just die out of exhaustion. And the ship will sink anyway.

We are enamored with ‘fire-fighting’. We wear it like a badge, always addressing seemingly urgent things without addressing what is actually important. We are busy making others do what we want, or doing things ourselves because ‘we are faster at them’. But in the long run, we make people dependent on us. And once that happens, we complain about having to do everything, burning out, not having a life anymore and so on. 

Remember: Short term pains for long term gains. If you truly want to stoke someone’s creativity and independence, focus on plugging the hole of the ship rather than bailing out the water.

(L-R: Dr. Steven Gutstein, Mrs. Kamini Lakhani and Dr. Rachelle Sheely)

2. The far end of the pool

Parents and professionals overwhelm children with autism with infinite information, believing that the children will eventually grasp it. But it doesn’t work. They throw the child in the pool (metaphorically) hoping that he will learn to swim. Often however, the child steps out of the pool to save his life, and never returns. This hurts not only the parents but also the child, because his development is impeded.

The same happens in the professional world. Managers simply ‘throw people in the pool’ and expect them to perform. But this ’First day-First hour productivity’ is an overhyped misconception. When a pilot is trained, she is not immediately put onto the simulator, and bombarded with poor weather conditions and an engine malfunction. She is guided over time to develop the necessary skills to handle any situation - even the ones not included in the simulator.

The same principles must be applied by us. Before you expect a miracle from your subordinate, child, or team member, you must help her imbibe the necessary skills to deliver one. Remember, if the child or subordinate cannot do what you expected, the blame lies squarely on your shoulders… on the shoulders of the leader.

3. Empower growth seeking

Like children, if subordinates have to grow, they have to be presented with a positive and predictable environment. Before you try to develop specific skills in people, you must provide them with experiences which make them feel secure.

Motivation should be growth-seeking, not growth-limiting. I have seen far too many bosses do the latter. They demotivate people, or instill fear in them. This not only reflects the insecurity of the inept managers, but also builds a culture where people want to quit, not grow.

Leaders, on the other hand, alter the way their subordinates perceive themselves. They let their team members expand themselves to grow mindfully and accept unpredictability. Dr. G emphasizes on helping children with autism develop a sense of self, without which, they cannot function in a world which is not black and white. I believe the same can be applied to each avenue where a leader functions.

4. Most things don’t matter

We are always busy. Phone notifications, emails, meetings, multitasking, parenting, working… there is so much to do, and such little time! Surely, we should get better at time management.

But time management is a myth. Task management is the truth. It’s not about the number of tasks that you do, it’s about the number of times you do specific tasks which matter to you.

Warren Buffet has a philosophy: Write down 25 goals, and choose the 5 most important ones. Don’t put the others on the back burner. Instead, ignore them. Every time you have a task in mind, ask yourself, “Does this fit in with my goal?” If the answer is yes, proceed. If not, ignore it.

You will find that you can pursue selective work that pays off and will have more time for yourself. Sounds like a paradox, doesn’t it?

5. Don’t tell, show

As I mentioned, before I met Kamini, I thought autism was a disability, that affected children were incapable of living independent lives, and that they are liabilities for their parents.

But in the last year, Kamini has shown me how wrong I was. And Dr. G did the same in his workshop. They spent more time demonstrating through videos and activities than telling me. And rather than telling me to get rid of my misconceptions, they watched patiently as I put all my delusions in a box, threw them off a cliff, and waited for the sound of them smashing against the rocks.

Barking orders and instructions is not half as effective as showing people. Language can never replace visuals. Use results, case studies, videos or anything that can keep people captivated.

It’s funny how life is, isn’t it? We find inspiration at the most unexpected places. I am single. Yet I took away a lot from a workshop about autism, and will implement them in my life. Which point struck a chord with you the most?
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