The Top Three Tragic Myths of the Times we Live in

“It was dark and quiet, and it took me a few seconds to stand steady on my feet. Well, that’s what happens when you have to get up at 2am to go to the bathroom. But things were going to get worse.

Just as I began to walk, I suddenly jumped and screamed. Something was crawling on my feet. It felt like a spider and I reached for the light switch. When the light turned on it turned out to be a piece of thread which had been lying on the floor. Apart from the disappointment of jumping for no reason, I was wide awake now!”

Just as it happened to me, we often get scared of an insect or a rat, but when we turn on the light they are just objects lying around. But our senses gave them an illusion of being an insect or a rat. Building up on this analogy, everything else in life – our riches, our troubles, and our possessions are illusions and a mirage created by our mind.

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” – Albert Einstein.

Taking this notion forward, this article of mine is going to dwell upon why life itself is a myth, and how each one of us is driven by some ‘absolute‘ truths that are nothing more than widely accepted myths. These myths drain the life out of our days and take us onto paths of mediocrity and obscurity.

Below are the three such myths I think we all encounter in everyday life. (Give them some time to sink in, as they very well might be absolute truths for you.)

1. You Have to Work to Survive
The biggest myth of our times is ‘having to work‘ to earn a living for surviving. Right from our birth, everything is setup to create this illusion. Our education system, the economic system, all the news and shows on TV and the movies we watch. As we grow up, this myth becomes very ‘real‘ for us. The only thing from our childhood which we term as illusions are the cartoons we watch. Did you ever wonder why everyone loves cartoons?

There is a common misconception that work is necessary. Over decades and centuries, every rock is chipped away into sand and dust. Work can do the same to our lives and souls. Day by day, hour by hour, our work can chip us away into disintegration.

If someone tells you they are “making a living”, they can’t be more wrong. They are making a dying, and most probably fast spending whatever little time they have doing things out of compulsion rather than the pure desire of doing it.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” - Confucius

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” – Confucius

Instead, what we can all do is PLAY. Go out and do what you want. Find something you love doing, something you are passionate about.

DisclaimerWork and Play doesn’t have to be mutually exclusive. If you can find a way to play while at work, nothing could be better.

Many people say they don’t know their passion or hobbies, or they have not discovered them yet. Here is a formula – Look into your life, and the things you do for which you pay others are your hobbies and passions, and for which you get paid and compelled to do is work.

DO NOT spend the vast majority of your life working so that you can play in the end. That end might never come, or which might be tomorrow itself, for all you know.

2. Planning and Living for the Future
We live in a world where insurance and pension policies, investments, education, business, almost everything is done with an objective to achieve something in the future. While planning for the future has its benefits, I believe we often take it too far and miss the only time we really have, which is “now”, or this very moment.

Who gave you the guarantee that you will not die tomorrow, next week or next month? What made you believe that you are going to die at 70 or 80, and not at 20 or 30 or 40. If you don’t believe it, read and watch the news. People are dying everyday at all ages. The average age might be 70 or 80, but ask yourself – Do you really want to live your life based on a statistic?

Instead, LIVE NOW. Enjoy whichever phase of life you are in. Be in each day fully, rather than counting the days. Live your life in a way that you are satisfied even if you die tomorrow, or the next second. Make every breath count. Don’t wait for tomorrow if you want to fall in love, travel to your dream destination, or eat that favourite ice-cream of yours. Do it NOW (or at least pick a date in the calendar and book tickets now).

Fall in LOVE with life, not just with a few selected people, things and ideas. Whether you make 1 grand or 1 million, whether you live in an apartment or a mansion, embrace life fully NOW and don’t let your goals and milestones in life decide the level of your happiness or joy.

3. Control and Consistency
The next big myth we base our lives on is aiming for control and consistency. We plan and build systems, and we make rules and processes to make our lives more comfortable and smooth. But the very fact that we can control life is the biggest lie that we tell ourselves.

Life, by its very nature, is messy and unpredictable. It is not fair and nobody is entitled to get anything out of it. In school, if you study more, you get better grades and vice versa.

The same doesn’t hold true in life, as there are so many other factors at play other than your efforts. The sooner we realise this the better. Good and bad things will happen to you. Your education, job, the country you live in, or any other reason which gives you the illusion of safety, is a very bad armour against life.

Instead, be FREE from these controls. Embrace the uncertainty of life and experience real FREEDOM. Go out and play. Learn a new language. Take a new job, or live in different cities/countries and soak in different cultures. Write, paint, or do anything else that makes you experience life rather than draining the life out of you.

Don’t try to be nice or do what is expected. Don’t live for the gallery. Be authentic. For a change, LIVE for YOURSELF. Let yourself be misunderstood, hated, judged or whatever, but live by your convictions. It is better to be assassinated by another human being than being assassinated by death.

Conclusion
Our thoughts (and perception of reality) shape our decision, and in turn our circumstances. It is like watching the same movie again and again. If we want to play a different movie in our life, we have to change the tape.

And rejecting the above myths might be the first step. Thoughts arise in the mind, and we become aware of them. But over time, we stop seeing them as thoughts and see them as reality. Therefore, we should never stop to question our thoughts and the reality they form.

Life is a mirage. An earring and a bangle are both made out of gold. But our thoughts make one an earring and another a bangle, but in essence both are only gold. Yet we only term what we see while asleep as dreams and not what we see while awake. In essence, both are illusions created by our senses. We must never loose sight of that.

How to Ask and Get the Feedback You Need Without Any Stress and Awkwardness?

“I want to give you some feedback.”

If you are like most people, once you hear the above statement, your heart will start to beat a little faster, your palms might begin to sweat, and in certain situations, you might even begin to shake. Feedback can make anyone anxious and stressed – not because there is something inherently negative or bad about it, but because most people have never been trained in giving and receiving feedback. If you give and get feedback only once a quarter at work (even worse if it is once a year), and without any preparation, obviously it will be a strange conversation.

What I have learned over my career is that feedback can be an immensely valuable and insightful tool in our growth and progression, but only if we are ready and prepared to digest and use it for our benefit. Today I want to share via this article my thoughts on the value of feedback, what is the best way to receive it, and then what to do with it. I hope that after reading this article, instead of just waiting for feedback you actually start asking for it. If you are thinking why would anyone do that, let’s dive right in.

Why Do You Need Feedback?

Feedback is one of the easiest and most insightful tools to uncover your blind spots. A blind spot is anything that others know about you but you yourself don’t. For example – if you think you are confident but others find you arrogant and cocky, how the hell do you figure that out if nobody ever tells you that?

Feedback is like a beam of light which shows you how others perceive you. It can be the simplest way to uncover your strengths and weaknesses, but it is often not easy to digest and process it. Feedback lets you know how others perceive you and your talent, skills, behaviour and performance. And knowing them is a good thing. When used correctly, feedback can be a very useful tool to move in the right direction, change course if necessary, and grow in your career (and in life).

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

How Do You Ask For Feedback?

Just like hearing feedback can be stressful for you, providing feedback can also be a stressful experience for the person on the other side. But there are a few ways you can make the feedback conversation a pleasant experience :-

  1. The best way to make the process easier for both sides is to actively and explicitly ask for it. When you invite feedback regularly, it removes the formality surrounding the process and makes the conversation more “normal”.
  2. Explain that you see feedback as a tool to learn and grow, and that you welcome any negative or uncomfortable feedback. You can also go one step ahead and assure the person that the feedback will not have any negative impact on the relationship. Knowing this always puts the other person at ease and allows the conversation to continue more maturely.
  3. Know what you are looking for in feedback. Feedback is not always critical. You should also ask for acknowledgement or appreciation for a task well done. Positive feedback will help you understand your strengths, and gives you the confidence and assurance required to look objectively at your weaknesses.
  4. Be specific and ask for examples. Don’t let anyone get away with a vague feedback. Always dig deeper and ask for specific events and evidence in support of the feedback you receive. Here are a few questions you can ask :-
    a) Can you explain what you mean?
    b) Can you give an example to support your point?
    c) Paraphrase the feedback and ask – Is that what you mean?
  5. Seek feedback from people all around you and not just your boss. Ask people above, below and sideways in your organisation. Multiple sources of feedback can eliminate any outliers and helps to surface any obvious blind spots immediately.
Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

Feedback Is The Breakfast of Champions

Powerful Questions

Whenever you are looking for some powerful and insightful answers, there are always corresponding powerful questions to go with them. Below are a few such questions you can ask to solicit deep and meaningful feedback about yourself :-

  1. If I were to wow you with my performance, what would that look like?
  2. What’s one thing I could improve?
  3. What would you have done differently had you been in my position?
  4. What’s your opinion about how I handled that conversation, presentation, task, etc?
  5. What specifically can I do to handle that task, conversation, project better?
  6. What is one thing you can always count on me for?
  7. What is one thing you will never count on me for?

What To Do After Receiving The Feedback

The worst thing that you can do with feedback is to do nothing with it. The feedback conversation is just the beginning on the road to learning and growth. So once you are done with the feedback, you can take the following steps to make the most of it.

  1. Thank the person for providing you feedback. Not only is feedback essential for your growth, it is also often a courageous step to provide it in the first place. Acknowledge the person for the conscious act of providing you feedback.
  2. Do not defend yourself during a feedback conversation. Do not get into a game of blame and justifications. Respond to the feedback, not react to it.
  3. If the feedback is critical, take responsibility (not blame) for what you hear. Let the other person know that you will evaluate the feedback and get back.
  4. Take time to introspect and evaluate the feedback. Does it resonate with feedback from others? Can you gather more data or feedback to validate it? If no, explain to others how you see it. If yes, let them know what you will change. Make certain promises and then do what you say.
  5. Take all the positive feedback and put it into a complements” document. Often we tend to focus too much on the negatives and ignore what we are doing well. Visiting this document regularly will give you motivation and positive reinforcement. Sometimes reading one little positive feedback can make your day.

Following the above guidelines doesn’t mean that your feedback conversations will be painless, but they will certainly go more smoothly. Once you see feedback for the powerful tool it is in your learning and growth, you will fall in love with it. The more you seek and get feedback, the faster you can move learn, adapt and change course if necessary. To conclude I would like to leave you with the below quote by Ken Blanchard.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard

How to Give Feedback Effectively? What to do Before, During and After a Feedback Conversation?

Giving good quality feedback is an important skill to have in any organisation. Doing so regularly with our peers gives everyone an accurate understanding of how they are doing at work, and what needs to change / improve. However, I have always felt that the importance of feedback and how to effectively deliver it is something which is rarely stressed and communicated within companies. In this article I want to share some of the best practices I have learnt from different people and mentors over the years about giving feedback.

Why?

The first step to giving good feedback is to realise the importance and reason behind doing so. I believe that the only reason to provide feedback is to improve performance while working together. The purpose of giving feedback is never to measure performance, blame, to prove yourself right, to make others wrong or to put someone in his/her place.

I believe this is the most important aspect of feedback which we often miss. I see feedback as a ‘gift’ given from one person to another, with the only purpose of improving how they work together. When we see feedback as a ‘gift’, the feedback conversations tend to be more natural and less awkward.

Before (Preparation)

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”
― Abraham Lincoln

Like most things in life, doing some groundwork before giving feedback is critical. Over time I have come up with a list of steps which helps me prepare for a feedback conversation.

  1. The first step is to collect data and evidence to back up your feedback, and to make sure you have seen the situation from different angles and point of views. This might include gathering some tangible data like sales reports, code reviews, etc or validating your feedback with different set of people.
  2. Apart from remembering the why behind sharing the feedback, it is also very important to have an open mind going into the conversation. We must be willing to investigate / apologise if things turn out otherwise. If the person you are sharing the feedback with brings up new facts or information you weren’t aware of, make sure to acknowledge them and take a time out to investigate rather than thrusting your feedback upon the person.
  3. Create a comfortable space for providing the feedback. Allow enough time so that none of you feel rushed. Depending on the type of feedback, choose an appropriate setting for the feedback. For example – do not choose a place which is overly conspicuous, and never give negative feedback in public. If the feedback is on a trivial issue, you can do it while walking back from a meeting, or in a vehicle driving to another destination to make it less formal. But if your conversation is more difficult, you might want to do it in a meeting room. The important thing to realise is that there is no one right place to deliver feedback, and you should choose based on the type of feedback.
  4. Sleep on it! If you feeling angry, upset or feel an urge to provide feedback; it is often better to sleep on it. Giving feedback at the wrong time can often do more harm than good. Once your emotions are more settled and you have gathered your thoughts, you can then share the feedback as soon as possible.

During (Process)

While you can do all the preparation you want, receiving feedback can still be a stressful experience for people (especially if it is critical). To ensure that the conversation goes smoothly you can follow a few guidelines :-

  1. Criticise in Private, Praise in Public. Use this as a golden rule for any feedback conversation.
  2. Never attach adjectives to people. Start by stating why you are providing feedback, which is always to improve performance (of the person, team, organisation). You demonstrate that by stressing on the impact of the person’s actions (on the team and their performance) and not on the person themselves. For example – Instead of saying “you are a weak communicator”, say “your communication style can be refined to make a better impact in team meetings”.
  3. Be specific in your feedback. Give examples. Do not be vague in your statements.
  4. Be aware of the other person’s body language. Notice if they are getting defensive, angry, upset and change course if necessary.
  5. Be prepared for an emotional reaction. But do not react yourself. Do not get into a game of arguments and justifications. Stay silent and let people vent out their emotions (if any).
  6. Listen and paraphrase what you hear to ensure there is no confusion and misunderstanding. Understand the situation from the other person’s point of view.
  7. Use non-conflicting language. Use “I” instead of “you”. For example – Say “I felt disappointed when you did that.” rather than “You disappointed me by doing that.”
  8. Don’t Push – When you push people, they will push back. Present your thoughts without trying to push them through. Give people a choice to accept or reject your feedback, as you cannot force them to your point of view anyway.
  9. Give more positive feedback than negative, and always be sincere when giving positive feedback. Remember that there are always positives about people to acknowledge.
  10. Thank them for listening to your feedback. End the conversation on a positive note, with the other person thinking about the next steps. He/she should see the feedback as a stepping stone, not as a stumbling block.

“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
– Winston Churchill

After (Follow Up)

To make sure that the feedback is serving its intended purpose, i.e., to improve performance, it is important to take a few follow up steps after the feedback conversation :-

  1. Send a brief summation of your meeting if it was important and critical enough. Also summarise any action points both of you agreed in a follow up email.
  2. The other person might need some time to process what you discussed. Give them that space. Follow up after a few days for any additional thoughts. Ask for feedback about how you provided the feedback. Anything they would like you to do differently the next time? Let your people know it is ok for them to give you useful feedback.
  3. Make sure to act on your action points, or share your progress on them. If you don’t walk your talk, you lose trust. If that happens, you have bigger problems to worry about.
  4. Follow up and ask for progress on the other person’s action points. Offer your support and help in any way you can.
  5. Thank the person and commend him/her for any change in future behaviour. Remember you can never give enough of positive feedback.

To conclude, feedback sharing sessions, when done well, are an incredible tool to build healthy relationships and make teams stronger. By listening and working on feedback, people can learn about themselves (self awareness) and be more conscious about their choices and decisions (career development). When you encourage people to give and share feedback, it helps create a culture of feedback, which eventually increases the strength and effectiveness of teams in your organisation.

What is Feedback? And The Benefits of Feedback for Your Team / Company You Never Knew?

It is the end of the quarter. And it is feedback season again!

Feedback is a word many people dread and it makes them uncomfortable, while for others it is a tool to reflect on and improve performance. Having been on both ends of the feedback spectrum over my career, I want to share today what I think feedback is, and how it can benefit people as well as organisations.

What is feedback?

Do you think feedback is an operational necessity which your organisation requires you to do? Do you think feedback is something “extra” you have to do in addition to your work? In the early days of my career I saw feedback as a distraction which keeps me away from “real” work. I wanted to get done with the feedback cycles as soon as possible as it would make me anxious and nervous. After all, nobody ever told me the purpose of feedback, how to do it well and how to make it a tool in my development.

It was only through my own mistakes receiving and giving feedback (and a few trainings) that I realised that feedback is work itself and not something external to it. Feedback is as much a part of my (and everyone else’s) work duties as any other task I consider essential. Over time I came to see feedback as a tool to improve not just my own performance, but also of the people around me, and of my team/organisation as a whole.

Feedback can happen in a ‘day to day’ manner like any other task. It can be a simple comment on some work which was just completed, like :-

  • You handled that really well. Thank you for thinking about that specific case.
  • I loved how you presented your ideas in the meeting we just had.

OR, Feedback can be a structured conversation with your manager or employee. For example :-

  • I see you doing really well in … , …
  • I would like to see you develop skills like … , etc

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”
– Ken Blanchard

The Benefits of Feedback You Never Knew

The most important and obvious benefit of feedback is that it shines a light on and reveal our blind spots. We all need feedback to reflect, learn and grow. It helps us become aware of our strengths and weaknesses, and identify any actions required to address them and improve performance. Timely feedback is essential to creating a loop where we are constantly reflecting upon what we did in the past and how can we do better in the future.

But apart from assisting in our own personal development, I believe feedback can be an important tool which can help our team / company in other ways. Some of these are :-

1. Better Relationships

A regular cycle of feedback, not just with our managers but also with our peers, helps us build better relationships at work. It helps us get comfortable with each other and develop friendships with our colleagues. Having strong relationships at work not just impacts business results, but also results in more smiles and satisfaction from what we do. Giving and receiving feedback builds trust and help create a safe environment where people can be themselves without any pretensions.

2. Clear Expectations

Having regular feedback conversations with people help clear expectations about what we expect from each other. It brings out our implicit expectations in the open and iron out any disagreements. Doing this right avoids any future misunderstanding and conflicts, and even if they arise, are much easier to handle and resolve.

3. Positive Reinforcement

Giving appreciation of a task well done serves as a wonderful positive reinforcement for the kind of behaviours you want to nurture in your team and your organisation. Giving people a pat on their back or an informal “whoop” or “cheers” can do wonders to their confidence, and sets an example for everyone else.

4. Culture of Feedback

If people are comfortable giving and receiving feedback in a company, and if it becomes a part of people / teams working together, then you have what is called a “culture of feedback”. This can be a tremendous asset for any organisation. This culture lets your employees know that you care about them as people, and not just the business results they produce. The culture of feedback creates an environment which enables every team to take ownership and pride in going after and achieving their business goals, while also taking care of their personal well-being and growth.

To sum it up, the benefits of continuous feedback far outweigh the cost of having a culture of feedback and the little awkwardness everyone feels while giving and sharing feedback, which can be easily mitigated with proper training and guidance. Having a culture of open communication and regular feedback empowers people to come to work and make a difference – to their own growth as well as to the company’s purpose.

The Distinction Between Meaningless Activity and Meaningful Actions, And Why It Can Make All The Difference

In today’s age of always connected devices and nonstop notifications, we all have more to do each day than the hours can fit. Crossing items off the to-do list always feels good and gives one a feeling of accomplishment, but have we ever stopped and asked ourselves – accomplishment towards what?

The ‘Busy’ Trap

Whenever I have stopped to ask myself that question, I have realised that I have fallen into the trap of being busy rather than being productive. Being busy often relieves us from the fear of sitting still and the pain of conscious thinking, while the really important tasks often gets neglected.

We are often sucked into doing meaningless activities, either through algorithms running on our “smart” devices, or through habits we have formed by emulating our peers rather than consciously choosing them. In other words, we waste most of our time doing meaningless activities that we have no time left for what really matters.

Meaningless Activity vs Meaningful Actions

Meaningless vs Meaningful

Everything that we do can be divided into either meaningless activity or meaningful actions. What I mean by meaningless activity is anything we do to only keep ourselves busy. Example – checking email and social media, hanging out with friends, or anything we do without a specific intention in mind.

In contrast with the above, any activity which adds meaning to your life, or takes you in the direction of a conscious intention (or a goal), is what I would term meaningful. It could be a business trip for one, or spending time with their family for another.

What is meaningless and meaningful is different for everyone. Only you can define that. No-one else can make that distinction for you.

We are often focussed on what is urgent or what seems important today that we end up ignoring what is really important for us in the long run. Only by being aware of our decisions we can be deliberate about them to move our life in the direction we want to go.

“A man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.” – Hunter S Thompson

Focus and Prioritise

Research has shown that not having the courage to live a life true to ourselves, not expressing our feelings when we should have, and working too hard are the top three regrets people have at the end of their lives.

Doing things that we find meaningful is essential to our well being. But how many of us spend time wondering about what gives our life meaning, and what is really important to us?

Three Questions

  • What are you good at?
  • What do you love doing?
  • What need can you serve?

I believe the intersection of answers to the above three questions will be the most meaningful work for you. Once you have these answers, it will give you the clarity to prioritise tasks and the courage to say “No” to anything that doesn’t align with what you discover.

Having the clarity about the “why” before the “what” and “how” of any action will ensure you create focused output that moves you forward, rather than effort that just takes you around in circles. So the next time you think you have no time to follow your dreams, you know you have fallen into the trap of being busy with meaningless activities.