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.

Don’t Allow Yourself to Use the Word “TIRED”

Recently I was talking to a friend of mine, who has been a state level Taekwondo Champion for the state of California. She was telling me about her strenuous training program which she used to follow when she was training. Among other things, the one thing which she told me was that she was not allowed to use the word “tired” even if the trainer asked her to do 300 push ups. She said “tired” was the word which they could use only after they turned 80.

The Role of Language in Shaping Our World

Language plays a very important role in how we feel and go about our daily lives. The way we use language can determine the results we produce in the near and distant future. Researchers at Stanford University have proved that the way we use language shape how we see the world.

It is often said that what you say is what you get. Saying that you are tired will actually make you feel tired and you will have all the symptoms to prove that. But we don’t realize that it was our word which caused it in the first place.

So when someone asks you “How are you doing?” and you reply with, “I am tired” or “You know how Mondays’ are.“, we are actually contributing towards the impending tiredness or exhaustion by saying these words. The same goes for all the negative thoughts that come into our mind and out of our mouth, like “I don’t have enough money“, “I am not lucky” and so on.

Remove these words from your vocabulory

Remove these words from your vocabulary

Words can Take Power away, or they can Give Power

Whenever we say something, we increase our belief in it. We give power to outside situations, individuals and circumstances which is always disempowering. Athletes, like my friend in the example above, are not allowed to use such language because the trainers are aware of this fact.

On the other hand, when somebody asks you, “How are you doing?” and you reply, “I am doing great!!“, you will actually feel a smile on your face and some adrenaline rushing through your body. It is impossible to say I am doing great without actually feeling good.

If you are stretching your limits while doing a task, instead of saying “I am tired“, next time try saying, “Let me check my physical limits.“, and you will gain the strength to go that extra mile and achieve the impossible.

Do you see a connection between what you have been saying and how your life is turning out?

One of the quickest ways to improve your way of being is to change the words you use, to others and to yourself. When I say words, it includes the spoken words and the unspoken thoughts too.

Just by changing the words we use, we can release a lot of tension and create joy. So the next time you speak, be aware of the words that come out of your mouth. Be aware how others’ negative words make you speak out negative words too, and vice versa. Try to catch yourself when in a negative emotion and speak powerful words instead.

Speak words which profit others, depicts hope, courage and inspiration and which create positive images. Then notice the difference in how your surroundings and people react.

Use more of these words

Use more of these words

Some of the danger words which we should cut from our vocabulary are –

  1. Should / Could – These words, spoken for ourselves or for others, implies judgement and makes people defensive and tense.
  2. Try / Maybe – These words leave ambiguity and leaves an option for you or another to escape commitment in case things get difficult.
  3. Always / Never / Nobody  / Everybody – These words generalise opinions which are rarely the case and can cause people to react unexpectedly.
  4. Bad / Disastrous / Terrible – These words spread panic and can lead to more mistakes, stress and confusion.
  5. Nothing is gonna change / That’s how it is done here – Using such phrases creates a culture of resentment and cynicism which ends up killing all enthusiasm and creativity in people.

Instead, you can use powerful words and make them work for you :-

  1. Declare a Commitment. 
    1. I commit to exercising 3o minutes daily.
    2. Let us commit together to make this company the best place to work for.
  2. Make a Promise
    1. I promise to finish this report in two days.
    2. I promise to never drink and drive again.
  3. Make a Specific Request
    1. Can you finish this report before Friday or not?
    2. If you like it, can you share this article on facebook today?
  4. Offer Support
    1. Is there anything I can do to help you with this task?
    2. I am just a phone call away, if you need me.
  5. Offer Hope
    1. You will make it through it. You are stronger than you think.
    2. Believe in yourself, not the critics. I know you will prove them wrong.

Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny. – Lao Tzu

So the next time, instead of saying –

  • “I can’t exercise more, I am tired.”, say, “I am not tired, let me do one more round.”
  • “I can’t work outside because I have asthma”, say, “I will work to prove I am bigger than my asthma”
  • “I can’t do this because I don’t have enough money”, say, “How can I earn enough money to start doing this?”
  • “I am not feeling good, it is going to be a bad day”, say, “Today is going to be a great day and I am raring to go”
  • “My life sucks”, say, “Today is a new day. Let’s make the most of it!!”

Do this and you will see that your days will get brighter and dreams will turn into reality. Break the pattern of using words which suck power out of you, and instead form a new habit of using words which give power to you and the people around you.

Why We Should Break the Safety Wall Around Us (to be Happy)

“It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult. ” – Seneca

We all have build ‘safety walls‘ around us that are unconscious to us, and are strengthened over time. They determine what we can and cannot do, what we try and what we don’t. Almost all our actions are determined by these safety walls.

But rather than being safety walls, they are more of a trap where we are stuck in a state of presumed comfort and our each decision is determined by these walls. They make us believe that life is tough outside of these, and there might be unforeseen dangers. So unknowingly, and only in assumption of some ‘danger‘ we don’t risk going over these walls.

I have found myself in similar situations many times. No matter how many fake assurances I gave to myself that I was doing good, the fact is that when you are in your comfort zone, you are still while life is zipping by.

When the world is moving ahead and you are still, you are on a decline.

If we stay in this zone, over time, our excitement and energy levels begin to come down. We feel more and more lazy and tired each day, and our eating habits (and with it, our belly too) go out of shape pretty soon.

It might look like life is going on FINE, but in reality we all know that we are not moving ahead while our limited time on this planet is passing by.

Be Vulnerable

The first step towards breaking the aforementioned safety walls around you is to become aware of the fact that you are trapped in your habits. Are these habits and patterns are running your life on auto-pilot? Or are you in control of your life?

Once you are aware of this trap, you can take steps towards breaking these so called safety walls and explore the ‘real‘ world outside. If you have to really live (rather than just exist), go outside and be vulnerable – to your fears, anxiety and become comfortable with them. Only then you will feel liberating and peaceful.

Outside of these walls, what I have found is that there are opportunities rather than dangers, there is excitement rather than boredom and joy rather than frustrations.

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something.

The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. – Randy Pausch

Have Faith

When you step out of your comfort zone, there will always be a little uncertainty and fear. But consider that these are more of an illusion created by your brain rather than real, and move on ahead. Have faith in life and face your fears by taking small steps.

It will do two things. One is that you will realise that your fears were more perceived than real, and two, you will expand your comfort zone. Very soon you will be comfortable in situations you weren’t before.

Dream Big

In our safety zone, we all tend to believe that we have something to loose if we step out and try something new. But take a moment and think, what do we have to lose?

We all have our limited time on this planet, and nobody knows when ours is ending. Life is a gift given to all of us, and when we stay in our safety walls, we are just waiting for it to get over rather than truly enjoying whatever it has to offer.

So do something, almost anything you like and the way you want to do it and see what happens. When you let go of whatever is holding you back, you will experience what real freedom and being alive is about. So dream big, and go for them, step by step.

If you win, you WIN! If you loose, remember that you didn’t had anything to loose anyways!

Stay Young, Die Young

I have always felt that age has nothing to do with being twenty or sixty. I can show you many 80 year olds more energetic and active than many 20 year olds. When you step out of your comfort zones, you experience being alive and that is what being young is.

Wouldn’t you want to stay young all life and die a young man, irrespective of your age? We should all strive to live our lives waiting for Mondays rather than Fridays, waiting for mornings rather than evenings, and waiting for beginnings instead of endings.

Each day is a gift, and we should be grateful for it everyday we wake up. Life is giving us this gift daily, and we must strive to make the most out of these gifts before they run out of. There is not a second to be wasted, not a moment to be spent without feeling alive.

Make out the most of what each moment has to offer. Because we never know when life will stop giving us this gift!

Five Things A Leader Must Do By Default

In today’s corporate environment, after a few years of doing your job well enough, chances are that you will be asked to step up and lead a team. You trained and studied to be good at your job, and now getting to manage people seems like a reward for a job well done.

By promoting the good performers to be managers and leaders, people have assumed for centuries that the skills that made you successful as an individual contributor would also make you successful as a manager. If you have led people for any considerable amount of time, you would know how false this assumption is. Yet in the business world, this continues to be the norm.

Today I want to list down five things which you must do, or are expected to do by default, to be effective as a manager/leader. And it is likely that nobody told you this when you were promoted. I have only figured them out after leading teams for over a decade, and I believe I am on a continuous journey to learn and know more about leadership.

1. Lead Yourself
The first thing you must do to be effective as a leader is to lead yourself. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team. Like any worthwhile endeavour, it takes time, effort and daily investments to build trust with your team.

If you want your team members to honour their promises, honour your promises to them. If you ask them to be on time for meetings, you must be on time first. Or you will lose their trust. If you ask them to be respectful to each other, you must respect them first. Or you will lose their trust. If you want them to be humble, you need to exemplify that in your behaviour. If you need them to be honest and sincere, you need to acknowledge your mistakes publicly and make amends for them. You can not lead a team if you can’t lead yourself.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” - Unknown

2. Know Where You are Headed

When you are leading a team, people will look up to you for providing direction. Having a well-defined purpose clarifies why the team exists in the first place. Coming up with the team’s purpose together with your team will empower them to take decisions which are in the best interest of the team.

Listening to your team and engaging in a dialogue will allow the team to define and own its purpose. You need to spend time with the team regularly to discuss, revisit or reshape the team’s purpose. Ensuring each member understands the team’s purpose and their role in the team will empower them to prioritise their tasks effectively.

3. Be a Coach
If you have people reporting to you, then you are their coach by default. You don’t have a choice in being their coach as people will approach you anyways. When they are demotivated, when they have a conflict, or when they need help for any other reason; it is your responsibility to listen, understand their concerns, and then coach them to align their personal motivations with the team’s shared purpose and goals. If you can’t do that effectively, it will impact the results the team intends to produce in the future.

While I assert that you are a coach by default, the skills and conversations required to be a coach don’t come by default. You must invest time and effort in learning and practicing your coaching skills. How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll

4. Demand Commitment and Accountability
Just as every sport has a certain set of rules, each business team can come up with rules (or standards) which apply to their business and industry. These rules will govern how you work and define success and failure. Examples could be how you treat your colleagues, how complaints are handled, and what boundaries you set in matters important to the team. Once these standards are set, it frees up everyone to exercise their own creativity in making decisions. This gives shape to the ‘culture’ in the team.

After you set up these standards together with your team, you have to demand them. Of course, for this to work, you have to exemplify them yourself. Holding your team accountable to these standards (or rules) will bring the team members together and set the team up for high performance. The intention behind it is not to punish or penalise people when they slip up, but to ensure an open, fair and supportive culture in the team.

5. Serve Your People
I believe that leadership is a privilege, and that each leader is a custodian of the company’s values, beliefs and ambitions for the future. Leadership will require you to think beyond your own self-interest, and from your team or company’s point of view. In order to lead you must be willing to serve – to put your team’s interest in front of any individual interests, which might lead you to make some difficult decisions from time to time.

Leadership is not about power or authority, nor is it about popularity. Leadership is about character – which you will need to express yourself authentically, compassion – which you will need to grow and develop your people, and integrity – which you will need to serve your people with the respect and transparency they deserve.

I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves. You show your team the way, give it what it needs to do the job, and then get out of the way. Your biggest job is to create an environment of respect and accountability, where people have fun and express themselves freely by continuously moving forward towards the team’s goals.

Leadership is Service

To sum it up, these five points above are not strategies or tactics which you can incorporate in your leadership style to get better results. These are the bedrock which will give rise to a myriad of strategies and tactics, which in turn will lead to those results. If you try to fake them, your people will call your bluff sooner or later, and you will lose all credibility and trust. An attitude of humble service will enable you to become a better leader, while taking care of your team and company’s needs.

How to Powerfully Step into the New Year 2017

I think it was 1989 when I, for the first time, realised that the 1st of January was a special day. The biggest change for me, one that always took a few weeks to get used to, was to write 1990 instead of 1989 in our school notebooks daily. While the whole world celebrated and wished each other on the 1st of Jan, nothing much else seemed to have changed (for me). Today, as we stand at the cusp of 2017, 28 years have passed since then. Though the fact still remains that nothing much changes between Dec 31 and 1 Jan, if we look at the last 28 years, then we can no doubt say that the whole world and each of our individual lives have changed immensely. While we may not always notice and acknowledge it, change is the only constant in life. A New Year is our annual reminder that time has come to move on and prepare ourselves for the changes coming.

Today I want to ponder and write about how to powerfully step into the new year, so that we are not surprised or shocked by the changes it will bring along. Over the years I have realised that we might very well let the years slide by without much attention; there always comes a time when we are made aware, not often subtly, that time has moved on. So read on if you prefer to enter the new year on your own terms, or skip this article if you feel a new year is too insignificant an event to trouble your brain cells.

1. Complete 2016
The first step before starting anything new is to finish what you are doing now. Just like we put the first foot down before lifting the other one while jogging, just like we get our raw vegetables and spices ready before cooking our food, it is imperative that we finish our 2016 before we even start thinking about 2017. If we ignore this first step, the result will be the same when we start cooking a delicious dish only to realise later we never got the required ingredients.

What I mean by completing 2016 is taking some dedicated time before the new year to –
1. Introspect your goals (if any) at the start of the year and make peace with where you are now.
2. Celebrate your achievements (big and small) and laugh about your failures (missed opportunities)
3. Reflect upon what you have learned, and how you have changed or grown over the year.
4. Free your mind from the grip of the difficult people and hard situations you have encountered this year.
5. Apologize if you realise you have been a difficult person in someone else’s life.
6. Give up any blame, regret or shame gathered this year. There will be new to collect in 2017 🙂
7. Thank and express gratitude to everyone who has made a difference in your life.

2. Know Yourself
The next step before moving ahead is to take some time to know yourself better. That doesn’t mean finding out your blood group or body weight or exam grades or other people’s predictions about your future, but rather looking deep inside yourself to discover your deepest values and motivations. You can do so by answering questions such as –
1. What are your deepest motivations? What have you always wanted to do?
2. What are you really passionate about? Is there something worth devoting your life for?
3. What drives your actions and decisions? What are the values you hold most dearly?
4. What makes your really happy or angry?
5. Who are your biggest inspirations in life, and who are the people you can’t stand? Why?

Answering these questions are anything but simple and there can never be final answers to them. But if we take time and ponder over them and come up with some ideas, we will know ourselves better than anybody else (our parents, friends, grades, achievements, money) can tell us about.

3. Where do you want to be in the next 5 or 10 years?
The next step is to think about the future and exercise your imagination muscles. Think about the kind of person you want to be in the next 3, 5 or 10 years. This might seem like too far ahead in the future, but it doesn’t take long for these years to roll by. Just think about how quickly the last 10 years have passed by. Imagining your own future can feel a bit strange and uncomfortable at first, but soon it will become a lot of fun – just like a game. Do not let this question overwhelm you (which it can), and instead, play it like a game and see what you come up with.

While you imagine your future, think about your deepest desires and ambitions. What do you want to accomplish that will give you the most satisfaction? What changes you want to see in yourself, your family, your society, your company, your city and your country? How do you want people to relate to you after 10 years? In this step you do not need concrete answers, but a vague image of where you want to be. The intention of this exercise is to get you thinking about your future, the actual answers you come up with are not so relevant.

4. Decide milestones or checkpoints on the way
The next step is to identify milestones for the next 1 year for the ambitions which you discovered in the previous step. Don’t let this step scare you. You don’t have to decide milestones for each one of your ambitions – you can choose a few which are the most important to you. Also don’t worry or bother about “how” you will reach your milestones as you have the whole year to think about that.

These milestones will serve as checkpoints which will measure your progress towards your long term ambitions. These milestones can be broken down into quarterly and monthly milestones depending on what you prefer. The only thing to take care while marking these milestones is to make sure they can be observed and measured by anyone easily and they are not vague. Make sure to be clear about what you want to achieve, when and where you will achieve that and with whom. The more numbers you can use the better this step will be in its fruitfulness, and it is best to avoid vague words like soon, sometime, in a few weeks, improvement, better, more, etc.

In the above two steps, it is very important to also include and keep time for recreation, fun, sports and other forms of entertainment. The whole idea of this exercise is be more aware about yourself and prepared for the coming year, and it is very important to not take it too seriously and think only about work and professional stuff. If you are a movie buff and want to watch 100 movies or visit a few movie festivals next year, plan your milestones for it.

Where are you going?

Where are you going?

With the above four steps, you can step into the new year and make a powerful “start“. Of course, that doesn’t mean that your life will pan out exactly as you imagined or that the next year is going to be your best year. It just doesn’t work that way. But knowing where you want to go is always better than hoping to get “somewhere”.

I can write another article about what you can do in the new year to make sure you hit your milestones, but we must always remember that change is the only constant in life, and it can come up in unexpected ways and mess up our plans anytime. But having messed up plans is still better than having no plans at all, and we can repeat the above process anytime to plan afresh for the future – we need not wait for the next “New Year” to repeat this process.