Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Dr. Milton Erickson and the Milton Model of speech

As you sit there at your computers reading this post of mine, I know you are wondering if I've lost my mind. And it is a good thing to wonder, because, if you didn't wonder, it would mean you were not thinking. And thinking is good because, everybody says so. All the time! One should think, don't you think? I know you are thinking just what I am thinking about to be writing this. I also know you are thinking if this is something you would like to continue reading or to not continue reading, isn't it? Not that thinking is not a bad thing, it is not even that thinking is not such a not good thing, it just happens. Thinking good thoughts... or thinking bad thoughts... they are both thinking. And while we think, we do and so obviously, our thinking has a lot of influence on what we do. We also think as we do and so our doing has a lot of influence on our thinking. And they are neither of them a bad thing or a good think, don't you think?

At the same time, thinking brings about a change and change... changes everything. So will you start to change now... or in a few minutes from now? It is only human beings that can change, you know. The notion of motion of change in itself means that for change to happen, there has to be ... motion! And that means, that while walls have ears and a chair can have feelings, they cannot essentially... change!

Thinkers and Perceivers are on two ends of the spectrum and yet, thinkers perceive and perceivers think. Thoughts lead to perceptions and perceptions lead to thoughts. Interesting conundrum - which comes first? One might wonder... just as you are wondering whether I've lost my mind and you are wondering if you need to call for some professional help!

OK! Before you start calling for help, let me explain what the above is an example of. The above pattern is an example of how Dr. Milton Erickson, who was one of the finest psychologists and hypno-therapists of our time, used language to work with his patients. Dr. Erickson was "artfully vague" and purposefully spoke in the abstract, because that was the way, he said, one could bypass the critical faculty and speak directly with the unconscious mind of the individual. Dr. Erickson was successfully modelled by the founders of NLP - Richard Bandler and John Grinder and that gave rise to the Milton Model in NLP. The Milton model puts people into a light trance, which is what you must have felt while reading the above. "HUH? What is she rambling about? Let me go back and read it once again, just to make sure I've understood what she is saying here" or "What on earth? Why am I still reading this?" must have been some of the thoughts that ran through your head. Didn't it?

See, we have an unconscious mind. That part of us that holds our emotions, guards our memories and brings back unresolved issues for us periodically to find resolution. Our unconscious mind is in charge of our emotional well-being. Now just think and reflect for a minute. You know that you can be the best at anything you choose to do, but something stops you. What is that something? Would it be useful for you to let go of that limiting belief or fear that you have? How can you let go of that, as long as your conscious, logical mind is with you - telling you about all that could go wrong on that journey... all the show stoppers that you could encounter on the way... How can you let go off the fears that ground you and soar like an eagle, when your conscious mind constantly intrudes and holds up a mirror, to show you your worst fears? So Dr. Erickson said, in order to make a change and make it successfully, it was essential to install that change in one's unconscious mind. 

Let me tell you a story - when Dr. Erickson was 17 years old, he had a bad bout of polio. One evening, he heard the doctor tell his mother that he would not survive and would die. Dr. Erickson determined that he would not die. He decided that he would live. He asked his father to open the windows so he could watch the sunset. Dr. Erickson focused on the sunset and determined to himself - thus sending a very strong message to his unconscious mind - that he would watch more such sunsets. He says that his concentration was solely on the sunset - so much so, that he failed to recognise the presence of other objects that lay between his bed and the glorious sunset he was watching. The only picture in his mind was the sunset and his determination that he would see more such sunsets. Not only did he live, he was nearly 80 when he died. 

That, my dear friends and readers, is a small example of the power we carry within ourselves. The power to heal, the power to carry us to great heights, the power to create our own future and our destinies. The power to imagine, dream and convert that imagination and dream to the physical world, that we call reality.

After all, what is reality, one wonders. Isn't what happens inside of us reality? 

Monday, September 20, 2010

Principles of Success

Based on principles and beliefs of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and from work of The Tad James Co.

I have been studying hard to be certified as a trainer of Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP, my dear readers, is the study of how we interpret our world around us and communicate internally, thus creating our reality. NLP practitioners have a strong belief: "everyone has all the resources they need to be successful. There are no unresourceful people, only unresourceful states".

Isn't that true? Reflect upon yourself. What makes you successful in some things and unsuccessful in other things? Okay, before we go on, let us define the term "Success". My trusty Pocket Oxford defines Success as "the accomplishment of an aim or purpose". Carrying on with this definition, what is it that enables you to accomplish something and not accomplish certain other things? You have the resources at your disposal. You have your intelligence, your resources to gain knowledge / information, you have your diligence and hard work... why then do you succeed so well at some things and not so well at certain other things? 

The difference is in your state of mind. I realised this very clearly when as a little girl, I learnt both classical dance and music. I loved music and singing - I was able to make an internal picture of myself singing - and learnt that quicker. It became a fun exercise for me, while dance became a chore - something that had to be endured - a punishment even. I went for my singing lessons with a light step and a highly motivated state of mind and that told on my success in accomplishing that task. I went to dance lessons with a heavy heart and dragging feet. I was bored and did not pay attention to the lesson. The end result? Rudolph Nureyev can rest easy. No competition to him from yours truly :-)

We can be successful at anything we set our minds to. It is simple to do: all it requires is for us to do it! 

The theory:

=> We create an internal representation of events around us; or even of future events. This internal representation is made up of visuals, sounds, feelings, tastes and sounds. All of this is then bound together quite firmly with our self talk. I had written about self talk in an earlier blog post of mine called "Living with our inner voice". 

=> This internal representation is intimately coupled to our state of mind. That is why, images of certain future events bring us to a happy state and certain images make us sad or depressed or even angry or frustrated.

=> Our physiology is linked with our state of mind and this in turn gives rise to our behaviours. Think about it for a moment - reflect on how you behave when you are happy versus when you are frustrated or demotivated.

=> Our behaviours drive our results and results determine whether we have been successful or not.

So in short, work on your internal representation and the rest falls into place! 

Easy, isn't it? Now here are 5 principles that you can study, reflect and choose to act upon.

1. Know your outcome. Ask yourself, "what is it specifically that I want"? When your conscious mind responds with something you don't want, replace that with a picture of what you want. Your unconscious mind, which is your strongest ally in this task, is best at processing positives. Always picture your outcomes in the positive. I have coached people who when I ask for their goal, start to tell me what they don't like or want from their current life. I always tell them, "Don't tell me what you don't want. Tell me what you want".

Imbue the picture with bright and vibrant colours, soothing and motivating sounds and strong, positive feelings. Smell and taste the feelings of success. Bind all of these together with strong internal speak.

2. Take action. Once you know what you want, start actioning it. It is not enough to want something, it is equally - if not more - important to start actioning it. For an imagined future to become the present reality, it is important to take action towards it. 

3. Develop sensory insights into others. People make minute changes from moment to moment. These changes have meaning only when we are able to observe them with enough sensory insights. Since none of us is an island, our success depends on the people around us. By developing sensory insights, we will be able to observe the impact we have on our surroundings with our behaviours. Our observations will also tell us what we need to carry on doing and what we need to change in order to be more successful.

4. Develop behavioural flexibility. It is a well-known fact that flexibility is a strength, isn't it? Adapting to changing situations, keeping the end result in mind is one of the strongest principles of success. Think of a long distance runner who has a goal to complete the marathon within a specified time limit.  The runner never loses track of the outcome and at the same time is flexible enough to change his running patterns depending on the terrain, the opposition and other factors. Similarly, once you develop a keen sensory insight and are able to observe the impact of your actions, you then need to develop the flexibility to modify state of mind and behaviours, so alternative action can be taken if needed.

5. Operate from a physiology and psychology of excellence. Pay attention to what is going on inside your head and ask yourself if this is the psychology of excellence. Match your physiology to the excellent psychology and see where that gets you. Remember what they say, "it is all in your head". That is so true! Watch and pay attention to your body language - your posture, your tone, pitch and timbre of your voice, your eyes... your physiology must be strong and positive. It ought to reflect the success you have pictured in your head.

I cannot emphasise enough times that all of this - like the rest of my posts - are practical, doable tips. I never write anything out here that I have not used myself. I'd like to repeat one thing - it is easy, you just need to do it!

As always, I want you to comment and give me feedback. Please, please do share your learnings. Sharing is the best way to learn and grow. Thank you for reading my blog.

Other posts on related topics:


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The 3 Cs – Competition, Comparison, Creativity

It never ceases to amaze me how much the advent of the PC (and I don't mean Politically Correct) has changed our lives. By the 90s, email had made it so much easier to reach out to friends that lived around the world and today, it is equally easy - if not easier - to reach out to people we have never met in the "real" world. I hear a lot of talk about the dangers of social networking and the dangers that the internet technology bring with it. Sure, it is a double edged sword and sure it can cause as much harm as it does good. At the same time, I am very gung-ho about it and I have good reasons. I have re-bonded with old friends and made some excellent new acquaintances, Varsha being a prime example. 

Varsha and I neither live in the same city nor did study at the same universities and we don't work together. We met on the internet through a common friend. We share some common interests in blogging, poetry and music. Varsha, like myself, Ranjani and Geetali signed up enthusiastically to the idea of guest blogging for each other and today's post is her contribution to our humble enterprise. 

I am sure you will all enjoy reading Varsha's insights into how she got out of the self-defeating cycle of competition and comparison. Varsha is the author of a superb blog on wellness called Wholesome Options. Do take a look!

Well done, Varsha...

The best self development strategy that I have internalized over time is to let go of the need to fit in and the need to compete.

From the time we are children, we are taught to blend in – to be the permission-seeking, obedient, studious type that our teachers want us to be. Anybody who broke the mold was considered rebellious and immediately labeled “TROUBLE”.

So somehow or the other I ended up being unhappy with my inability to fit in with the dominant crowd and felt quite inadequate and if not incompetent, less supremely competent by comparison.

Some time in early adulthood I met Ruchi – who sadly I have lost touch with. Ruchi, like me, did not fit in at all. In the coiffured, made-up, ultra-feminine, Chandigarh University crowd of the early nineties, she stood out with her dark, athletic, brash “can-do-ness”. A North Indian by birth but a South Indian by upbringing, she defied definitions as a matter of course. The relish with which she questioned things and scoffed at all the dos wowed me.

With her I learnt – for the first time – to celebrate being myself.

In most workplaces (and mine is no exception), the default mode is to constantly look over the shoulder and check out stuff. What is the other office doing? What is the precedent about this? What will that person wear in the Big Meeting? The pattern observed is “Score but also fit in” or maybe it is a case of “the more you score- the better you fit in?”

Over a period of time, I have come to realize that this behaviour of competing and comparing is fuelled by fear - the fear of not winning or the fear of looking silly or stupid or incompetent. I realized that operating out of fear made me unhappy. It dulled any feelings of “can-do” I had. What brought back that “can-do” attitude was connecting with my core values and devoting time and energy to things I cared for deeply.

Let me take an example: at work, I have started to nurture little ‘Bursts of Happiness” that come from doing things that fulfill me in some way. What happens then is there is a dramatic spin-off on the regulated, responsibility bound, official part of me. Instead of looking for precedents, I am able to make small creative dents in the hide-bound carapace that I function in.

To get out of the comparison and competition cycle, the 3rd C has been extremely helpful – Creativity. Thinking creatively and outside the box helps with – as mentioned before – nurturing the little burst of happiness. It is a strange paradox, but sometimes the ability to throw logic out, actually makes logical thinking easier.

Moving out of the comparison / competition trap in two small steps:

1.       Identify what really matters to you. What makes you happy and satisfied and why?

2.      Make time and space in your life for the things that really matter.

Just do this consistently and notice how it makes you feel. You will see that:

ð     You start to feel happier and more at peace

ð     Your mind becomes fertile and creative because you are happy

ð     Paradoxically, this makes you more sensible, willing to learn and less egoistic 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Learnings from opportunities

Dear readers,

A few of us friends decided to write a guest post on each other's blog. We all have blogs on different topics and we felt that this way, we would broaden our own horizons and learn to write about something that is out of our comfort zones.

This post has been penned by one of my oldest friends. Geetali writes a wonderful blog called http://olio-gallimaufry.blogspot.com/ on a variety of things primarily around Shimla, poetry, photography and anything else that catches her fancy. I have known Geetali now for over 25 years and she has been with me through thick and thin. She has been the best friend anybody could have asked for - helping me laugh, cry, vent my frustrations, introspect, reflect... 

Thank you, Geetali - for everything. 

All of us have had that one year which we look at as our special Annus Horribilis. I had two: 2007 and 2008. This post is about lessons learnt from them.

Human beings are like animals in certain aspects. When hurt, we too like to crawl into a dark space to lick our wounds. When hurt beyond measure by other people, a normal reaction is to reject all humanity, to sweep off all relationships out from our lives, at least temporarily. That is what happened to me too. Every interface became a punishment. Every call for a coffee, a silent chastisement of a less-than-perfect life. Every invitation to a party, a sentence to be somehow endured.

However, with the passage of time, I discovered two things. One, you cannot mourn forever. Two, lock yourself up at home, and you will find yourself less and less inclined to step out. Then, the less you step out, the less inclined will your friends be to call you out, because they are sensitive to your situation. I was rapidly getting trapped in my ability to say ‘’no’’. This ability, which stood me in great stead most times, now stood between me, the human race and new learning.

A friend asked me if I’d join him for dinner. He said it would be just a few people, but the highlight would be a talk over dinner by a well-known poet. “I don’t think I can make it”, I answered. “Why? Are you busy that evening?” “Well...”, I hesitated. I couldn’t trip off an easy lie and the truth was too hard to tell. The truth was that I planned to spend the evening alternatively hidden behind a book and the laptop screen. Both realities I felt I could control. People, on the other hand, were a different story. “So”, my friend persisted “You’d rather be in your cocoon forever?” Oh, fine. I’ll come, I said in exasperation.

And so began 2009: my year of saying yes. I decided that I would keep myself busy while my grief played itself out. I would agree to every invitation, every challenge that came my way. At that time, it seemed like a good panacea to the gutting loneliness which surrounded me.

That evening at Peter’s turned out to be a lively one, filled with poetry, laughter and insights. I didn’t know a soul there, except my host, yet I came away with a pleasant glow of having heard a few new ideas that night.

Next came an invitation to do a piece of work: something I’ve long been interested in. My current work role was not connected with it, but I agreed to being in the project anyway. Being an “outsider” helped me be more objective. It showed me how to give my all to an assignment just for its own sake. It also gained me a close friend in a colleague who had been a stranger so far.

Another opportunity landed at my feet. My friend Billy, a painter and scholar, shuns modern technology. One day he asked me to type, proof-read and if necessary, edit, a piece he had written about the temple architecture of Himachal Pradesh. I did the needful. In the process, many unknown facts  unravelled before my eyes. By the end of the week, my curiosity had been piqued enough for me to read up more on this unique style of architecture. By the end of the year, I had gained numerous insights into the history and culture of the state.

We were a small group of professionals, burning midnight oil on a tough assignment. Les had caught my attention with his dry one-liners, his refusal to take no for an answer and his single-minded dedication to our task. One late evening, he asked me if I’d like to have coffee with him. I panicked. I hadn’t been single for a decade and a half and had forgotten the rules of dating. But I went. No, Les and I did not meet, fall in love, or get married. But we became friends and each other’s cheerleaders!

During 2009, I would be a prompter in a play put up by friends, act as a guide for out-of-town visitors and develop a 365-photos-a-year project and judge a debating competition. I would teach a small module of poetry to a group of bright teenagers. I would gain a working knowledge of Punjabi.

I said “yes” to everything and I am happy I did. Had I said “no” I would have missed out on so much fun, so much knowledge, so many interesting people and experiences.  Cocooned in my home, I would have remained numb and static, deprived of all that I saw, heard, learned that year.

For sure, I have not become a brilliant photographer (yet!). I am yet to pen an award-winning play, or write a learned book. But at least I have let go of the layers of despair. Beyond that, I have learnt to see life as an exercise of leaping onto a boat and sailing off into the horizon, with all its enchanting possibilities. Life is about opening up and allowing possibilities to come to us. They may not bring dazzling success with them. They may not change things for us drastically. Every action does not have to be seen in the light of triumph or failure. But at the very least, we are the better as humans for having performed our little role in the unfolding drama of life.  

By saying "yes", I have had a host of experiences and challenges, all of which have helped me to:

-          Evaluate my current situation and accept it
-          Make friends with people I might otherwise have never met
-          Gain insights into what brings excitement and energy
-          Weed out those activities I did not enjoy without guilt
-          Discover new talents and skills within myself

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Why try? Just do it...

Dr. Tad James, Master Trainer of Neuro-Linguistic Programming and the creator of the Time Line Therapy (TM) was the first to bring this to my conscious attention. "When people say they will try, it is tantamount to them saying they won't do it", he said. Then recently, while reading Dr. Deepak Chopra, this very same message came to me again. Dr. Chopra makes an interesting point when he says that fish don't try to swim - they just swim. The sun does not try to rise each morning. It just does!

That got me thinking. What did I mean when I said I'd try to do something? I tried an experiment by consciously keeping tabs of the times I used the word "try" and you know what? 10 times out of 10, when I did not want to do something, I ended up saying, "Let me try". On the other hand, there was no hesitation in committing to doing something I wanted to do. 

"Trying" implies inaction. It implies a doubt, a message that communicates a reluctance to do something without actually saying the word "no". "I will try to get up early tomorrow morning and go for a run" never translates into actually going on that run. "I will try to reach the meeting on time" is a guarantee - you will be late for the meeting.

Trying is not a natural state of mind - it is something that we are trained to do as we grow up. Guess who the trainers are? Our parents and our teachers! Observe children around you. See how many times they use the word "try". Dare them to do something and they either pick up the dare or they say, "I can't do that". Children are direct in their responses and that is why one knows exactly where one stands with them. As the journey to adulthood progresses, children are programmed by their adults to become more sensitive to the feelings and sensitivities of others. That is when "try" becomes an integral part of one's vocabulary. 

We "try" because we don't want to hurt the sentiments of others. We "try" because we don't know how to say "NO" positively and politely. We "try" because we don't trust others to understand our position and our reasons.

So how do we stop "trying"?

1. Start to recognise consciously when you use the word "try". When you hear the word coming into your brain, put on the brakes mentally just before you utter it. 

2. State whatever you wish to say positively. The other day an acquaintance invited me for coffee. I began by saying,  "I will try". The minute I felt the dreaded 3-letter word come, I put on the brakes mentally. Over the screech of the brakes, I heard myself say, "I'd love to have a coffee with you. I just can't do it today, I am sorry".

3. Build the knowledge within yourself about the reasons why you don't want to do something. Facing up to an issue is the first step to resolving it. I was contracted by an organisation recently to design, develop and facilitate a leadership workshop. I heard myself say, "I will try to accomplish this...". All the way home, I asked myself exactly what it was that was causing me discomfort with the plan. I realised that I was not sure of my capability to deliver all the modules they wanted. When I presented my proposal to them, I used this learning and informed them clearly about the modules I was competent to deliver and those that I had not delivered before. I left the decision to them and told them that I'd consider bringing in another facilitator if they so wished. I got the contract and I was told that my being honest about what I would do, turned the deal in my favour. 

What's in it for you to stop trying?

1. When you stop trying, you start driving the vehicle of your life even more strongly. How empowering is that! Think about it for a minute - when you say, "I will try", you communicate to your unconscious mind an intent of having to do something, that you don't really want to do. If you later decide not to do what you had promised to try, you end up feeling guilty. On the other hand, if you do go out of your way to actually do it, a remnant of resentment could linger - because you HAD to do something you DID NOT WANT to do. When you stop trying, your decision is very clear and simple. You have already made your choice and you will abide by it. 

2. When you stop trying, you unconsciously communicate a message to others to stop trying with you. You will notice that the communication you receive also becomes more positive and action driven. There will be less ambiguity in your life as a result. "Jane said she will try... does that mean a yes or a no?" ceases to be. On the occasions when you do come across somebody saying "I will try", you are in a better position to actually ask for a decision and say, "Could you be more specific please?"

So how about it? Stop trying and start doing from today. Take your first step on this journey and see how you feel! And oh yes! Start doing it - don't try

Good luck and have a happy journey!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Learning from the Guru - Deepak Chopra

I was in the book store the other day and picked up Deepak Chopra's "The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success". It is a fantastic book - easy to read and filled with great insights. For this post, I have decided to take out portions of the book that made me go, "W.O.W...". I hope I have not infringed on any copyrights  by doing this. My intention is pure - to spread the idea of self and awareness of self amongst more people and to share my feelings and thoughts about this book. 

Success in life can be defined as the continued expansion of happiness and the progressive realisation of worthy goals. There are many aspects to success, material wealth is only one of them. Moreover, success is a journey, it is not a destination. Success includes good health, energy and enthusiasm for life, fulfilling relationships, creative freedom and a sense of well being.
- Deepak Chopra

This definition of success just makes so much more sense to me. Just reflect on this: anything that is important to the self is a journey, isn't it? Learning is important to me and I always consider it to be ever flowing. Similarly, success, happiness, a quest for truth or even exploration - these all are journeys. Journeys to an unmanifest destination...

We define success based on our wants, interests and needs. Therefore, the constitution of success differs from person to person. Watching my daughter write the letter 'A', travelling overseas for the first time, watching a friend get over a personal loss and build her life... all these have been moments of success for me. This might sound funny to some, but when I filed my income tax returns for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of success. I had arrived - my salary was now high enough to merit paying tax!  

At the same time, not for one moment do I feel that I am a 100% success. There are still unchartered areas for me to go on... more things to do, to see and to experience.


The first spiritual law of success says that our essential state is one of pure consciousness: the field of all possibilities and infinite creativity. Our physical body, the physical universe come from the same place: a field of silent, unmoving awareness from which anything is possible. This field is our own Self. Knowing who we really are gives us the ability to fulfill any dream we have. Anything is possible in the field of pure potentiality because this field is the source of all power, all intelligence and infinite organising ability.
- Deepak Chopra 

While reading this, an interesting anecdote came to mind: at the turn of the 19th century, a conversation was taking place amongst some people somewhere in the United States. Talk turned to the possibility of inventing a machine that could help people to fly. One of the guests took great umbrage and said this was not possible. "It is against the laws of God and nature", he boomed. A few decades later, man took wing and the Wright brothers invented the flying machine. The 20th century was redefined by this one single invention. Guess who the irate guest was! He was the man who fathered the Wright brothers. Irony or myopia, call it whatever you wish. The reality is that Orville and Wilbur Wright refused to be told what was possible and what was not. They set out to prove that anything is possible. 

Knowing ourself - what does that mean? We communicate with ourselves constantly - telling ourselves what we can and cannot do. What makes us look good, what is right, what is wrong... these conversations colour the way we perceive the outside world and actually, they also colour the way the outer world perceives us. Knowing myself therefore means knowing consciously what beliefs and values I hold dear. What are those beliefs that hold me back (self limiting beliefs) and that stop me from interacting directly with my self? What are those beliefs that act as fodder to my ego? A very powerful question I ask myself when I recognise such a belief is, "When did I choose to adopt this belief?" Believe me, the belief falls off like a snake's discarded skin when I pose this question to myself.

Deepak Chopra recommends the following actions in order to practice the 'Law of Pure Potentiality':

Take time each day to be silent, to connect with your spirit, to just Be.
 Practice non-judgement. Begin each day with the statement, "Today I shall judge nothing that occurs," and throughout the day remind yourself of that statement each time you catch yourself judging.
 Commune with nature. Silently observe the intelligence within everything. Watch a sunset, listen to the sound of the ocean or simply smell the scent of a flower.

I have already been practicing the 2nd suggestion and it has worked wonders for me. I now intend to start practicing the 1st and 3rd actions. How about you? Let me know how it goes...

Monday, August 16, 2010

Looking back with satisfaction - no regrets and if onlys...

An important belief we adopt as NLP practitioners is that 'people have all the resources they need in order to be successful'. Sounds great, huh? What does it mean on a daily basis? It means that at any given point in time, we have access to all the resources we need in order to be successful at what we do. One may choose not to employ all those resources, but that does not take away from the fact that they have resources at their disposal. I believe that I am at my best at every given moment of my life. 

So where is the point in having regrets and indulging in a pointless 'if only...' exercise? Granted, "if only..." is a very interesting game and helps in passing time and fantasising about what could have been. "If only I had been more serious about my studies in college", "if only I had gone ahead and pursued my interest in becoming an archaeologist", "if only I had taken the turn off at the previous signal...".  Can any amount of pondering and fantasising change the current reality? No! If you could go back to that point of time, would you do things differently? The answer is "NO". 

This learning was facilitated for me by my friend and business partner, Charlie Lang. Charlie writes a wonderful blog called 'What's up with Charlie Lang?'. You can find him at http://progressu.blogspot.com/2010/08/back-on-blog.html. Anyway, Charlie and I were having a conversation in Hong Kong a few years ago about a certain decision I was regretting and he was the one who first pointed out the futility of this exercise to me. The learning has been reinforced by my other life experiences as well as my work in NLP.

Let's try out something:

Can you remember a time when you took a decision; a decision that you regret today? If yes, can you go back to that moment? If you are confident you can, then:
  • Find a quite room or corner and sit with your eyes closed.
  • Now go back to that point in time when you took that decision. Take on the persona of the individual you were then. Bring back to mind your knowledge at that point in time, all your life experiences till then... remember the beliefs you had at that point in time - what did you consider important...
  • Once you are at that crossroad, ask yourself, "What is my decision? Is it going to be different to what I had taken then?"
Mark my words: 10 times out of 10, you will do the very same thing you did at that time. Remember, when indulging in a "if only..." exercise today, we are using the extra knowledge and experience that time has given us. This extra knowledge and experience has had a significant impact on our beliefs and our attitudes and what we consider important in life. This gives us hindsight, which as well know is quite an exact science.

Employ the following beliefs:
  • Believe in yourself! 
  • Believe in what you are doing - remember you have all the resources to be at your very best at any given moment. Believe that you are employing all the resources you need at any given moment. 
  • Believe that every decision you are taking is for a purpose that makes absolute sense to you at that point of time in your life
Adopt these beliefs and bring them to consciousness each time you find yourself indulging in an "if only..." exercise. It will save you a lot of regrets.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010

    Life - the menu card

    My personal opinion is that increasingly we have started to find justifications for our actions. We attempt to find causes for behaviours that conveniently transfer accountability from to doer to an external influence. The actions of a serial killer, rapist or a brother who kills his sister over family honour are all attributed to causes such as parental neglect, childhood abuse or religious beliefs. Ask yourselves this question: "does every abused child grow up to be an abuser? Or does every neglected child grow up to do drugs or turn out to be a negative influence on society?" The answer is "no". The reality that most of us tend to overlook is: "there is always a choice".

    I like to equate life with a menu card. A menu card of a very high-end restaurant that offers a multitude of choices. How much we pay and the length of time we have to wait to be served at a restaurant depends on what we choose from the menu card. Similarly, our lives offer us a whole host of choices at every stage. What we choose to go with decides the next events. I refer to an example I had used in an earlier post: Mahatma Gandhi choosing to stand up to racism in South Africa. He had a choice in that matter, didn't he? He could have opted to quietly leave the train and sit in the compartment for non-whites. When he returned to India and saw how the common man lived, he forsook his expensive tailored suits for khadi. He again had a choice, didn't he? He could have opted to continue wearing his suits and practicing law. The choices he made gave him the title Mahatma and gave every self respecting city in India a road named after him. The choices he made also got him assassinated. Obviously, his assassin also made similar choices that led him to commit that action. 

    It seriously bewilders me when people talk about not having a choice in the matter. "How is that possible", I wonder! Even when a gun is placed at somebody's head and they are told to do something, they have a choice - they can choose to believe that the holder of the gun means business and follow his orders, or they can choose to resist. I know somebody who fought back cancer at a very advanced stage successfully and is living a full life today. She decided she wanted to live and that choice gave her life.

    All readers of this post, here is my request to you - sit back and reflect. Ask yourself, "was there ever a time in my life when I did not have the choice to be what I wanted to be, to do what I wanted to do". Answer the question honestly and objectively to yourself and you will come to the realisation that I have reached: "There had always been a choice and I HAD MADE ALL THE CHOICES". I know now that I have caused everything that has ever happened to me. There is no scope for remorse or recriminations now in my life. After all, who do I pose my recriminations to? My image in the mirror? 

    This simple realisation empowers you - it puts you in control and gives you charge of your life. Isn't this an important thing? To be in charge of one's life? This is the only life I am going to get as me and I'd like to know that I lived it my way. 

    As always, comments and feedback are welcome. Have a great day and listen to Frank Sinatra's "I did it my way".

    Tuesday, August 3, 2010

    Living with our inner voice

    The interview was for the IT department of a posh 5-star hotel. The 22 year old woman sat nervously nibbling at her nails. She was new to town and felt completely out of her depth in these posh surroundings. She was simply dressed and was sure that the others were sniggering at how she was dressed. As time progressed, she became a mass of nerves and that is when she was called in for the interview. Did she get the job? No! Her nervousness shone through her answers and the interviewers felt that she was not the right choice - she would not fit their company culture.

    That 22 year old was me and that experience has remained with me all these years. Where did I go wrong? Firstly, I gave my inner voice a free rein to keep talking down to me. That affected my state of mind and made me nervous. From that nervousness, came my attitude - an attitude of failure and this in turn affected my behaviours. All my behaviours said to the interviewers, "I am not the right person for this job". Did I have the skills? Yes! Was I competent to do this job? Most definitely yes. What let me down? My self belief that I was not good enough because I was not dressed to the hilt.

    All of us possess this inner voice. It is this tiny voice inside us that gets louder when we are in an uncomfortable situation. "People must think I am completely stupid for doing this...", "If I say this, I'll look like a fool...", "Oh my God! I am wearing this particular outfit. I am never going to get noticed". All of these are examples of inner voice speak. What is this inner voice? It is nothing but our ego. Our ego which demands a constant pat on the back from ourself and from other people. 

    The bad news is that this inner voice is an integral part of us. The good news is that it is like a radio station - we can tune it to any station we wish to. We can programme it. 

    Facts about the inner voice:

    1. Our inner voice stems from two things - a fear and a deeply rooted belief. 

    2. The inner voice is irrational and is not rooted in logic. It is an emotional response to a situation that we are not comfortable with. The important thing to do is to recognise this fact and work around it.

    Steps in controlling our inner voice:

    1. Take 5 deep breaths, focusing on the process of inhaling and exhaling. While an emotional reaction is instantaneous, the logical brain takes less than 10 seconds to kick in. Taking 5 deep breaths serves the dual purpose of giving the brain time to kick in and putting aside negative emotions and allowing for some positive energy to flow in. 

    2. Ask yourself what specifically it is about the situation that is making you uncomfortable. Which belief / fear is it tapping into? 

    3. Ask yourself what purpose is this fear / belief serving you. This might sound funny but fear actually has a purpose in our lives. It drives a basic survival instinct. The emotions of anger and fear, while perceived largely as negative emotions actually drive our fight / flight instinct. So if something is causing you fear, it is probably something that you want to fly away from. Identifying that "something" is a good first step in tackling it. 

    4. Once you have identified how this fear / belief is serving you, identify how else you can derive the same benefits. 

    5. When you realise that there are other ways of getting the same benefits, you will find yourself automatically getting into a different state of mind.

    When I applied this 5 step process to my above experience, this is what I realised: I had a belief that my competence depended on my dressing. I believed that people would assess me based on how I looked rather than on what I knew and was capable of doing. This belief was being driven by the fear of failure. Panic set in the moment my inner voice told me that my dressing was not chic and that people would not consider me competent because of what I wore. That meant I would fail in my quest to get this job. Fear of failure!

    So what benefit was I getting out of this fear? The fear of failure drove me towards learning more, towards knowing more. Due to this fear I was constantly engaged in self improvement and that moment was my "AH-HA" moment. I now knew how else I could still keep getting the same benefits without the added baggage of being afraid.

    The fear of failure still exists in me - but of course. What I have managed to do successfully is to dumb down that inner voice, which once in a while still talks to me when I look in the mirror. My belief about competence and dressing going hand in hand is now replaced by a new belief: "If I fail to plan, I plan to fail". So I plan meticulously and I do everything that I can in order not to fail.

    Life is one giant learning curve and there is loads one can learn just by living. Thank you all for allowing me to share bits and pieces of my learning curve with you all. I hope it is of some use. I'd also appreciate a sharing from my readers - that would enable my learning as well. I would also appreciate your feedback on anything -the content, the writing style, the language... there is no criticism, only feedback. 

    Monday, July 26, 2010

    The ABC of leadership

    I believe there are a few facts about leadership that are irrefutable.

    1. Leadership begins with self. "Be the change you want to see" and "walk the talk" are oft heard phrases in today's corporate world.

    2. The concepts of leadership and the definition of a good leader are discussed by every self respecting leadership trainer, facilitator, mentor and coach. No leadership training programme is complete without a discussion the differences between managing and leading. 

    While it is commonly accepted that there are certain traits that all good leaders demonstrate, there is usually a debate around which is more important: which are non-negotiable and which traits help in creating a greater circle of influence. As I was preparing breakfast this morning, I thought to myself, "why don't I add my two pennies worth to this on-going conversation and create an A-Z list of leadership attributes?". So here goes... 

    ~takes a deep breath~

    A: Accountability. A good leader takes accountability for the actions of self and their team / followers. During the Indian independence struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi, violence broke out at one time and a police station was burnt down with some policemen inside. The Mahatma was an advocate of peace and non-violence (as we all know). He decided to fast (i.e. abstain from eating and drinking) to make amends for the violence. This was his way of taking accountability for the actions of his people. I have been fortunate that one of my ex-colleagues took similar accountability for his team's performance. He never made excuses for them but at the same time did not expose any of them to fault-finding. He always took the accountability for late or shoddy work and took steps to improve performance. 

    B: Belief. A good leader has strong beliefs and is not afraid to fight for and defend those beliefs. Taking from the Mahatma's life once again, his belief that all people were created equal led to his first fight in South Africa, when he was stopped from boarding a train. Aung San Suu Kyii has spent a good part of her life in imprisonment as she fights for what she believes in. The list is endless... Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. - they lived for those beliefs. Their strong belief brought about a vast change in the lives of millions of people.

    A strong belief in self is another attribute of good leadership. Think of any leader and this belief stands out. Bill Gates believed in himself and what he could do. That belief led him to drop out of school and focus on setting up Microsoft. The people of Mumbai showed leadership when they took the onus of returning the city to normalcy almost immediately post the horrific incidents of 26/11. Faith or belief in oneself can certainly move mountains, can't it?     

    C: Care. Such a small word and so many implications. Leaders care! They care about themselves, their people, the environment around them... they care about the work they do, they care about the protection, the welfare and the well-being of their surroundings. They care and they demonstrate that care with passion. During the SARS scare in Hong Kong during 2003, a lot of businesses in the tourism sector were affected severely. A certain organisation however showed their employees they cared. Not a single employee was shown the pink slip and not a single employee was asked to take a pay cut. All this, while a lot of other organisations were letting go of people and indulging in short-term fixes. Once Hong Kong bounced back from the SARS scare, this organisation also bounced back and today they see a visible difference - they have one of the most loyal and committed staff in the entire industry. Voluntary attrition is at an all time low.

    Leadership is not rocket science and there is no one single person who can claim to know all about it. All views on leadership and attributes of a good leader are valid and important. Please do contribute your views on this blog.

    One final thought: here is an interesting article I came across today. The writer talks about two apparently diverse topics: leadership and solitude. I found this article very insightful. Here's the link for those interested: http://www.theamericanscholar.org/solitude-and-leadership/

    Feedback is extremely crucial and of  vital importance to me. Please do take a moment and leave your comments. 

    Friday, July 23, 2010

    Respect the other person's model of the world

    A key aspect of relationships has always been 'Respect'. With the way businesses have changed in recent years and the emphasis on human relations and values-led leadership these days, 'Respect' has become even more critical.

    The demonstration of respect differs from country to country. What Asians construe as a demonstration of respect might be viewed in a very different light in Europe or the Americas. I remember talking to a French colleague of mine, who was scandalised by a behaviour he had observed on the Indian sub-continent. The practice of a younger person touching the feet of an older or senior person. My colleague thought this was repugnant, not understanding that this was a symbol of respect.

    So what is this respect? One of the definitions from my trusty Oxford Dictionary is "consideration for the feelings or rights of other people". When I trained on NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming), we went through the NLP Pre-suppositions - a list of beliefs that all NLP practitioners are encouraged to explore and adopt. One of these beliefs said, "Respect the other person's model of the world". Ah-ha! Now that is interesting, isn't it? We had some major conversations around this one. "So am I supposed to respect the model of the world of a child abuser?", one asked. "How can I condone a murder or a crime? How am I supposed to respect that model of the world?". These were questions that came out from across the room and questions I still hear today.

    Taking a step backward, what is this "model of the world"? Each of us creates our own perception of the world around us based on our experiences, knowledge, education, upbringing, religious faith, beliefs and values. Can two people therefore have the same model of the world? Most likely not! Can I ever view the world from another's perspective? Not while I apply my experiences, my knowledge, my education, upbringing, religious faith, beliefs and values to that model. What one has to do then is to suspend their senses and feelings and their model of the world for a short time and use the other individual's senses and feelings to view the world. That will then give one the perspective required to understand the choices the other person is making. That will answer the question, "why is this person behaving in this manner?".

    Once we perceive the world through the other's senses and feelings, we are able to then behave in a manner which shows consideration for their feelings. As leaders we are able to remain non-judgmental about the choices they make. At the same time if the individual is seeking help or support to make changes to their model of the world, you as a leader can provide that support. This helps you remain impartial and objective and additionally, you have just explored newer horizons, thus broadening your own personality.

    I used a technique with my French colleague to help him understand the behaviour of touching feet. I had him explore his world view of respect and how it is demonstrated. I then had him step into the shoes of an individual from the Indian sub-continent. I had him explore that model by viewing the world through this other person's experiences, background, faith, beliefs and values. He had a completely new experience and he was then able to empathise with that behaviour better.

    One last thing - understanding and empathising with the other person's model of the world is not the same as  accepting it as right or wrong. It is for you as a leader to understand and accept that your people's choices and behaviours are dictated by their model of the world, just like yours are. That acceptance is the first step in the journey to respecting others.

    As always, I need your comments and feedback. I am still new at this and the only way I can get better is for you to tell me how I can get better at it. If you wish to read about a particular subject, please do let me know and I will do my best to bring it to you. 

    Monday, July 19, 2010

    Being non-judgmental

    The other day, in the midst of an argument with my other half, I heard myself say, "you are so judgmental". That brought me up short - wasn't I being judgmental too? As human beings, is it ever possible to be non-judgmental? We are programmed from a very young age to have judgments. Children who know how to pass judgments are said to be bright, intelligent, the brains of tomorrow. As parents and teachers, we tell them, "this is beautiful", "this is the RIGHT thing to do", "I just saw X doing doing something idiotic"... the list goes on.

    Contrarily, as the head of training and HR, one of the mantras I constantly heard (and have been guilty of chanting myself) is "be non-judgmental". As business leaders, we are constantly told not to sit in judgment, but to empathise and to "look at it from the other person's perspective". Unconsciously a judgment is passed when one fails to do this - "Mr /Ms. X is very judgmental". But can one really suspend judgment? The answer is a clear resounding,"NO". What one can do is to suspend our initial judgment and to refrain from acting upon it. To be seen as non-judgmental therefore, here are a few things one can do:

    1. Acknowledge the instinctive judgment for what it is, without feeling guilty about it. Every single human being WILL have that initial response to an external event.

    2. Convert the judgment to 'appreciative enquiry'. Say to yourself, "to me, this feels like Mr. / Ms. X is being idiotic. Let me ask them what makes them do this".

    3. Prepare yourself to listen to what lies beneath the words - the feelings, the emotions and the driving beliefs

    4. Ask the questions, "What makes you do this?", "How does this benefit you?" and "What makes this important to you?"

    This is a kind of loop - you will find yourself making instinctive judgments throughout this process. Follow this 4-step process and believe you me, very soon, accolades about you being "understanding and completely non-judgmental" will be heaped on you.

    Please do send me your comments and thoughts. "There is no criticism in feedback, only learning"