Investing in Yourself and Making Powerful Choices

John was pushing on the gas as he didn’t want to be late for this meeting. If he can crack this deal, it would be a game changer for his company, and he had worked hard for it. But just as he was visualising what he would say in the meeting, his car engine fell silent and it came to a stop soon after.

After struggling for a few seconds, he shouted ‘fuck!’ as his eyes went towards the fuel meter. “This can’t be true”, he uttered in complete shock as he looked at the needle towards the E in his car’s dashboard. He got down and started kicking his car in frustration when a passer by stopped and asked – “What’s wrong?”

“I can’t believe I just ran out of fuel. And I am already running late for this very important meeting.”

“Why didn’t you stop on the way to refuel your car?”, asked the bystander.

“Didn’t I just tell you?? I have to make it to the meeting. I am already late.”

If you are laughing or smiling at the above story, don’t. Because we (Yes! Including you and me) aren’t very different either. In our day to day lives, we are also too 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. If we use the “filling the gas” metaphor which I used in the story, then it is evident that it was a case of bad prioritisation, but it is not so simple to see the same in our daily lives.

If you really want to not run out of gas, you need to invest in the person you are, because that will determine how far you will go. Investing in Yourself is the equivalent of “filling up the gas”. Below I am listing down the four steps we all can follow to do so.

1. Understanding Yourself

We are all shaped by our surroundings – our parents, our peer at school and work, our friends, our culture and our experiences as we grow up. It is very rare that we spend time in exploring who we are on a deeper level. What are our values? What makes us really happy or angry? What do we want our life to be about?

Questions like these can help you uncover your personality and understand how you came to be the way you are. By exploring these questions you also get the freedom to choose the kind of person you want to be, or if there is something you want to re-invent or change about yourselves.

2. Awareness of How You Act

We all have certain beliefs which explain us the way things should be or should not be. Almost all of our decisions are based on these beliefs about people and situations in life. It is our mind’s job to ensure our safety and survival in this fast paced world and it does that by making decisions for us, many times which are even unaware to our conscious self. It is like we are running on auto-pilot.

Making efforts to uncover your blind spots and to be more conscious requires being more mindful of your daily decisions – both big and small. It is only through focusing attention on your mind that you can be present to the robotic nature of your life. By being present to this routine will lead you to the next step – of making your own conscious choices.

Invest in Yourself - Warren Buffet

Invest in Yourself – Warren Buffet

3. Making our Own Choices

Once we are aware of how our unconscious mind drives most of our actions, we can be more deliberate about our choices. Each and every choice we make has the potential to change the direction of where we are going, and each choice will have its own consequences.

By being conscious about your own choices based on your values and beliefs, you can take control of the steering wheel of your life and stop being just a passenger in life.

For example – Rita believes her boss is rude and has a bias against her, based on past experiences. Now every time she gets into a meeting with him, her mind acts overtime to sense any hint of a bias towards her, and as soon as that happens, she start to defend or prove herself right. Often it develops into a behaviour pattern which she can’t help. She feels trapped and not having any other option. Now suppose Rita wants to invest in herself and has taken time to think about her life and understand the events that shaped her personality. She realises that being respected and treating others fairly while working towards common goals are amongst her deepest values.

Now when she hears something from her boss which sounds biased against her, she gives her boss the option to explain his point or rephrases it to make sure she understands correctly, but doesn’t assume anything. After that, she acts based on her values and makes her point to her boss to find common ground rather than to prove him wrong. If her boss is still unreasonable and rude towards her, she respectfully informs him that his behaviour bothers her and look for ways forward. In this case – either her boss ends up changing his behaviour, or she decides to change her team or job, but either way she feels in control and empowered about her choices.

4. Mastery via Practice

Once you have made your own choices, the next step is to practice doing daily whatever is required to stay on course. It takes great amount of discipline and practice to unlearn old habits and learn new ones. You will obviously fail many times when trying to form new habits, but eventually these new habits will feel like second nature. Only by being aware (or mindful) of the decisions you take each day you can be deliberate about them to move your life in the direction you want to go. The challenge is to reflect and learn from your experiences and re-invent yourself if the need be.

The Power of a Pause

When Atal Behari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister of India, I always wondered what could be the reason behind the pauses he took while speaking. Sometimes I thought it was because of his old age, and sometimes people even made fun of him for this habit, but I was always amused by the wisdom of his words – not just his political speeches, but his writings and poems in particular. If we take a pause and think for a moment, we can all recall such people who take longer than usual while speaking or answering questions. In today’s fast paced world, I believe such people can teach us some valuable lessons.

Our Quest for Survival

Human beings are hard-wired for survival, and that is the reason we are the most evolved species on the planet. Our brains constantly listen for signals from our senses (sight, sound, touch) and acts immediately if it senses any danger or threat to our physical well-being. Similarly, our mind always listens from external events, giving us a running commentary as life unfolds around us. When we are conversing, our mind tells us what to speak next or it makes a judgement about the speaker or the spoken. It is the mind’s job to make sure we don’t look bad (or stupid), and it decides (for us) what to do next to save us from (perceived) threats to our social well-being.

Our Ability to Intervene & Take a Pause

If there is one thing which separates us from other living beings, it is our ability to stop this cycle of action and reaction, and to take a pause before deciding how to respond. Most of the times, both action and reaction are simultaneous, with no pause between them. An example could be our spouse asking the same question every morning and we replying with the same response without even blinking. The same happens at work when we talk to our boss or our colleagues.

A small pause before we start to speak or answer can do wonders to a conversation. Most of the times when we are not talking, we are actually waiting to talk. Sometimes the person on the other side has a lot more to say but is hesitant and so he stopped. By taking a pause after he has stopped speaking, and maybe using words like hmm… uh.. ok.. but not jumping in with our views, we can let the other person complete whatever he has in his mind. We can even ask follow up questions like – “Do you have anything else to add?” before beginning to speak ourselves.

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

Simple and powerful words by Mark Twain

In my conversations where I have been aware to take a pause, I have noticed that speaking up after letting the other person finish leads to more fruitful conversations and both parties are left satisfied. This satisfaction is of being heard, and of being understood. What’s more strange is that sometimes I don’t even have to speak up, and the conversation automatically leads to where I wanted it to go by just listening. As people are listened to, they let their rigidity of stance soften and consider your view point even without your asking for it. Such is the power of taking a pause and listening.

Responsibility = Our Ability to Respond

We live in a world today where we want everyone to be responsible. We want our children, our political leaders, our colleagues, our managers, our neighbours to all be responsible. “Responsibility” is an over-used word in our media driven society, but I believe being responsible is first and foremost our ability to respond consciously. It can make a huge difference in our lives if we can train ourselves to take a pause often and act not from our mind’s fears and judgements, but from our values, priorities and goals.

Taking a pause will force us to think about what is really important to us, and it can have a profound impact on our work and lives. Pausing creates space for ourselves and others to express themselves fully. It creates positive energy instead of building tension and enables us to handle tough situations in a more mature way.

I want to end with a simple request – to take a pause and think about this article, rather than just believing the commentary your mind has provided you as you were reading it.

The Last Moment

We say the whole world is connected,
But how far apart we have drifted?
We all have touch phones to show,
How many of us are really in touch, though?

Everybody is in a hurry,
Why has life become so fast?
An anxious obsession for the future,
And endless worries about the past..

Each day, every moment must be cherished,
Some will be sunny, and some overcast!
Our enthusiasm must never be diminished,
Just smile, and enjoy life’s every contrast!!

Endless work, targets and deadlines,
Days, weeks and months pass so fast!
Sing a song, read a book, watch a movie,
We never know which one will be our last!!

In the world of facebook and twitter,
Our networks and friend lists are so vast!
Go out and meet your best friend today,
You never know which day will be your last!

Life doesn’t has to be a torture,
Instead we should aim to have a blast!
Every moment can be an adventure,
As we never know which will be our last!!

Life is Lived in the Now and Here

Life is Lived in the Now and Here

Explaining the Lull in Writing

I had been writing pretty regularly from 2010 onwards till 2013. I have hardly written anything this year, and whatever little I have written, I have not posted it on this blog – sumit4all.com . Many of my friends have asked me to start writing again, and have questioned me time and again why I have stopped writing. To be honest, I have been asking the same question too. I decided to write this article to better formulate my thoughts on this topic, but now I have decided to post this online for all to read and know.

So the question first – Why haven’t I been writing anything lately?

Well, there are two big reasons for that, and I will try to elaborate on them below, as clearly as possible.

1. I didn’t have much to say

I have always tried to be very honest in my writings, and always written what I wanted to say. I have written because there was something I needed to communicate, and not because I ‘should’ write an article on my blog regularly. But there are a few events in life which alter the way you view life so drastically that even you can’t believe it. On the outside, everyone thinks you are the same person, and expect you to behave like you have always done. But inside, you are in such a conflict that you are just hoping to figure it all out. You don’t see the world the same way, don’t think the same way, don’t believe what you used to before. I was in such a state after my mother passed away. I could not resonate with whatever I had written previously, as my thinking, beliefs and actions had changed suddenly.

I did not write anything because I had nothing to say. I read my own articles and poems and they felt so alien now. I was not interested in the ideas and projects I was so excited about before. I shut off CricketRadius.com – the start up I was working on, moved back to Delhi and got back to a job. I wrote a few articles here and there, but the frequency was nothing like before.

2. Coding and Photography

Once I moved back to Delhi in Nov 2012, I stopped my involvement in every social project or tech startup I was involved with. I had a new job in a new city, so I just dived back in all the tech stuff and computer programming/coding, which I still enjoyed. A few months later, at an office off-site, I brought along my DSLR, which I had bought in Bangalore 3-4 years earlier, but never used it a lot due to work or some other project I was so occupied with while in Bangalore. It would not be wrong to say that I haven’t put the camera down after that. I have always loved photography right from my childhood, but over the last two years, I have connected with my camera like never before. It became a medium for me to hide behind and communicate to the world in a totally different way.

A sunset in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan

A sunset in the Thar Desert of Rajasthan

Over the last two years, I have traveled and taken my camera to places all over the country. For Leh in the north to Rajasthan and Pune in the west, to Sikkim in the east and to numerous other places near Delhi. Apart from these travels, I have taken my camera out on the streets of Delhi and captured some candid street shots. After a lot of gear hopping which resulted in two new cameras and another set of expensive lenses to go along, I am getting the feeling that I am just getting started in a new way of communicating – via my photographs.

Looking ahead, I am not sure whether this is just a phase or this is something that will last for long. Well, time will tell. As of now, I am looking to start a photography specific blog where I will write less and try to say more through my photographs. I will also keep on writing on this blog whenever I have something to say, whatever the frequency of that be, in the future.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams

A candid street scene in Paharganj, New Delhi

A candid street scene in Paharganj, Delhi

तेरे प्यार के असर की कहानी

तेरे गालो की यह लाली
मेरे दिल पे वार करे है कितने ।
हर दिन मुझे लगे दीवाली
तेरी हर मुस्कान में है रंग इतने ॥love-cartoon

तेरी यह दो आँखें मतवाली
इनमे ख्वाब लगे है मेरे सजने ।
तेरी ख़ूबसूरती है आसमानी
चाँद तारे करीब लगे है मुझे दिखने ॥

तेरी जुल्फो की छाँव है नीराली
इनसे पवन के झौके लगे है खेलने ।
मेरे नैनो को भा गयी तेरी जवानी
यह छुप-छुप कर तुझे लगे है देखने ॥

तेरे कदमो से है फैली ऐसी हरियाली
जीवन में हर जगह फूल लगे है खिलने ।
तेरे प्यार की आंधी चली है तूफानी
हर कोने से तेरी खुशबू लगी है आने ॥

तेरे प्यार के असर की है यह कहानी
कि संग तेरे वक़्त भी लगा है थमने ।
आज तुझे सुना रहा हूँ अपनी जुबानी
जो मेरी हर धड़कन लगी है अब कहने ॥