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.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in Our Professional and Personal Lives

When I started working at the age of 21, my manager was only a few years older than me. Both of us being very young and passionate about work, we developed a good friendship. As I completed my first year at work, I sat down with this friend (manager) to discuss my performance. I wasn’t ready for what came next.

In the meeting he was very formal and distant in his approach which I found unfair. Due to our friendship, I expected an informal conversation. Instead, what I got was “feedback” and “improvement points”. When he was done with the performance cycle, it left me in a very bad mood and it affected our friendship. While he was only performing his job as a manager, I was too naive and felt betrayed as a friend. It took us more than a year to mend our friendship, and I am good friends with him to this day.

This incident was very tough for me, and it was not until many years later that I recognised why it was so. At first I blamed my manager friend for being more of a “manager” than a “friend“. Later (after we mend ways) I blamed myself for being too emotional and developing friendships at work. I came to the (wrong) conclusion that emotions and rationality are mutually exclusive, and I shut myself down emotionally.

It was much later that I realised that emotions were not the culprit. Instead it was my inability to handle my emotions which led me to react impulsively. With experience I have come to believe that emotions are absolutely necessary for doing any meaningful work. They only seem tough when we don’t know how to handle them.

I have already written about how to handle our emotions in the workplace. In this article I want to stress on the importance of emotions as the driving force behind decisions.

We Experience The World Through Our Emotions

We walk around the world and make sense of it through our emotions. When we experience an event, different emotions get triggered based on our values and beliefs. Emotions make our experiences good or bad, valuable or not, and pleasurable or painful. If we introspect we will found that every decision we end up taking is derived from an emotion that touched and moved us.

These emotions can overwhelm us occasionally, but without them we would have no connection with people or events around us. While emotions can sometimes bring pain and tears, it is only through them that we feel joy, happiness and peace in life. It is very important to realise that emotions are our strength, and not our weakness.

It is our emotions that make us human. The little moments of joy when we play with our kids, the smile on our faces when we help someone, the tears in our eyes when we see something cruel and terrible (even if it is on TV) – it is these emotions that connect us all as human beings.

Seeing a tweet by a billionaire CEO and to be able to feel empathy for him/her makes us bridge the economic, physical and social divides and come closer. On the other hand, if we are privileged in any way, being able to empathise with the less privileged and act for them brings us closer. Emotions help keep our egos in check, and prevent us from being indifferent towards the less or more privileged in our society.

The Role and Importance of Emotions in our Lives

Emotions and Reason are Not Mutually Exclusive

Most of us believe that emotions and reason are opposites of each other, and it is often presented as a fact that you can’t act rationally if you are emotional. In many workplaces, emotions are frowned upon and an excessive display of emotions (joy, tears, anger) are seen as a liability.

On the contrary, what I have learned over the years is that emotions can be our biggest asset. They can give us important information that can shape our lives if we listen to what they are trying to tell us. The key is to learn how to express our emotions without repression or explosion.

Emotions can help us clear the fog of rational choices and reveal our moral lighthouses. They help us choose wisely when presented with two equally good or equally bad choices. Emotions clarify our thinking and help us see rational choices in a new light while pure rationality often makes us run wild with ideas, even at the expense of others. Rationality without emotions can look enticing in the short term, but it can be a menace in the long term.

It Is Impossible to Be Rational Without Emotions

While it is true that emotions can overwhelm rationality at times, it is impossible to be rational without being emotional. Today there is scientific evidence to prove that we, as human beings, are incapable of making decisions if we can’t feel our emotions. You can read about the works of neurobiologist Antonio Damasio to see that without emotions, there is no decision making possible. [1][2]

He worked on a patient with a severed connection between the frontal lobe (where rationality originates) and cerebral amygdala (where emotions originate) in the brain. After the surgery, the patient could think, but he could not feel anything. He noticed that while he was able to engage in rational thought all the time, he was not able to make a choice over the other.

When Emotions Overwhelm Us?

We all have been in situations where we don’t want to do what we know is the right thing to do. When emotions overwhelm us, we can get sucked into the temptation of the respective emotion and (re)act in a way which provides us emotional relief. For example – When you couldn’t control your frustration and vented it out on your manager because it felt good to spurt it out.

Emotions are very good messengers, but poor masters. We should always listen to them and let them play a big role in our rationality, but subjugating reason to emotional whims can cause us short and long term harm. In the end we should always use reason to choose the best option available for us, and use emotions as a lighthouse to guide us on the right path. This will help us in making the right choices (which might not be the easy ones) in life with conviction.

Emotions Intelligence is a Skill. Train Yourself

Now that we have seen that there is no action possible without emotions, we can conclude that emotions are not bad or good in themselves. It is our ability to handle them that make us interpret them as so. It is a skill that, just like other skills, can be developed.

Learning to deal with uncomfortable emotions builds confidence and opens up new pathways which were earlier closed to you. Emotional people are often regarded as weak in certain societies, but I believe that the ability to handle one’s own emotions is one of the most useful skills a human being can acquire.

Increased emotional awareness can be a great asset we all can make use of not only to make the right decisions for ourselves, but also to create a better world around us. A world which is not mine or yours – but ours.

How To (and not to) Deal with an Emotional Employee

As I wrote previously, every human emotion is valid. However, the story behind them might not be, and we always have the choice of how to respond to an emotion. If we want to master how to deal with others’ emotions, our own emotional mastery is the prerequisite.

Studies have shown that emotions like frustration, cynicism, enthusiasm, etc are as contagious as germs. I believe each human being acts like a tuning fork. Every emotion is like a wave, which when reaches others, either accentuates or dies down depending on whether the frequencies match or not.

When two people are emotionally reactive, even a small argument can quickly escalate into a fight. When we learn to master our own emotions, it gives us an opportunity to deal with any situation confidently. It will dampen any emotional waves and allows collaboration, even in the face of disagreement. We can strengthen our relationships with others, even in the most stressful and difficult situations.

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. - Dale Carnegie

When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion. – Dale Carnegie

1. Learn to Notice Emotional Build Up
Emotions are like storms. Just as we can forecast most weather storms before they strike, we can always notice and predict “emotional” storms too. If an emotional outburst of an employee is a surprise, then there were some signs we missed.

Emotional reactions don’t come out of nowhere. Just like storms, they build up over time. There are always signs, physical and behavioural, which we can observe and watch out for. If we notice these signs, we can get an advance notice of emotional build-up in people.

For example – If we notice tightening of muscles and a red face, the person might be getting angry or frustrated. If we notice a trembling voice, sweating and defensive body language, someone might be feeling scared or anxious. If we notice smiles, laughter and a relaxed body language, the person might be happy about something in his/her life.

2. Act Early. Validate What You Notice
When we notice physical signs of emotional build up in others, we must act early and validate our assumptions. Obviously, we can’t read another’s mind so whatever we assume about another’s emotional state might or might not be true. So the most prudent way is to state our assumption as just that, and ask the other person for validation.

For example – If your colleague has been quiet and detached since a few days, you can approach them and say – “I see that you have been quiet lately. You seem a bit tensed too. Am I right? Is there something which I don’t know, or can help with?” Never walk up to someone and pass a judgement, “Why are you sad? What’s upsetting you?”

Remember our assessments about others’ emotional state are just that – assessments. Mistaking them for truth could trigger an emotional reaction and make them defensive, which we don’t want to. What works for me is to state my assessment tentatively, and to always ask for verification.

3. Listen And Acknowledge. Don’t Judge And React

It is only human to be emotional. When someone opens up about their emotions to you, it is an act of courage. Don’t dishonour that act by rushing to judgement or suggestion. Just like our own emotions, acknowledge them by listening and understanding their point of view. Try to stand in their shoes and sympathetically feel what they feel.

Challenging others’ emotions is often counter-productive and makes them feel alienated and disrespected. If their emotion is directed at you or they feel your behaviour led to the emotion, you might be tempted to justify yourself. But that never helps anyone. If you can stay calm and relaxed, any emotional attack will eventually diffuse itself.

Emotions are the result of an internal fire. Reacting emotionally only adds fuel to that fire. Instead, let we can let it run out of fuel by allowing others to express themselves fully while we listen empathically.

Remember, mastering your own emotions is a prerequisite before handling others' emotions.

Remember, mastering your own emotions is a prerequisite before handling others’ emotions.

4. Let The Storm Pass. Take A Time Out
When there is damage due to a weather related storm, we don’t rush out to do repairs while the storm is still on. We wait for the storm to pass before assessing the damage, and doing any repairs. Similarly, if we notice an emotional storm, it is always best to wait for it to pass before jumping in to help.

There have been many instances when I have been sucked in to respond to an emotional employee. I have always regretted it later as it only made the situation worse. Taking a time out often works for me. A few moments to breathe often allows both parties to stay with their emotions and come to peace with them.

I believe the best way to understand someone else’s emotions is to observe our own. Becoming aware of our own emotions can help us empathise with others. When we feel compassion for others’ emotional states, regardless of whether we agree with their reasons or not, then we are ready to take the next step — which is asking the right questions and coaching them.

5. Coach. Inquire. Ask the Right Questions
The next step is to ask coaching questions and help them understand their own emotions. By genuinely inquiring and listening to others, we can help them clarify their thoughts.

Coaching via asking open questions is about respecting people as individuals, and giving them a free choice to act in a way that is consistent with their values.

Coaching someone doesn’t mean fixing other’s problems. We don’t get to be a superhero through coaching. Coaching is about letting others find their own answers – ones they already know but have become masked behind their stirred emotions. Coaching begins with genuine care for your employees and colleagues. It is a skill which requires practice, and you get better at it with each conversation.

Depending on the emotion, the coaching questions you can ask will differ. Here are a few examples –
Sadness – What are you sad about? What did you lost? Why did that matter so much for you? How could you grieve or mourn for your loss? Is there something I can do for you to support you?
Fear – What is scaring you? What are the chances of that happening? How does that impacts you? How can you prepare better for it to minimise the damage? What else can you do to feel at peace?
Anger – Who hurt you? What boundaries did they cross? How can you express your complaint and act in a way consistent with your values? How can you put the issue behind? What would it take for you to forgive them, or let go?
Guilt – What did you do? What damage did it cause? Who have you hurt? How can you make amends? Have you apologised? How can you be at peace? Can you forgive yourself?