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Forever Happy Now! Posts

5 to 7

If something is really hard to do 5 days a week, then it would obviously be really really hard doing it 7 days a week right?

Maybe not.

For instance, did you know that it’s easier to workout 7 days a week, compared to working out 5 days a week?

No way, that doesn’t even make sense right? Or does it?

Think about it. When we work out 5 days a week only, we spend a considerable amount of time wondering which two days should be no-exercise days. Suddenly laziness creeps in. Or maybe we’d want to keep Sat-Sun as no-workout days? Yes possible, except that dragging ourselves to exercise on Mondays becomes that much harder.

Instead of giving ourselves the illusion of choice, what if we just worked out all 7 days, maybe taking it easy on some while really going the whole hog on others? We do brush our teeth and take bath everyday, so why not exercise?

This is really not just about exercise, but could be relevant for developing any good habit at all. Want to read more? We can read 10 minutes a day – everyday – compared to reading 1 hour, only on weekends. Want to eat cleaner? Eat cleaner (not necessarily 100% clean) every day, rather than struggling a few days, only to give all the gains back on one cheat day/week. What do you think?

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5 levels up

The ‘level 5 leader’ is an awesome outcome of Jim Collins’ research. He covers this in great detail in his book Good to Great as well. What is this level 5, and how did he get there? Rather surprisingly, Jim wasn’t even looking for leadership to be one of the defining qualities of an amazing company. It makes sense right? Leaders exist everywhere – bad companies, good companies and great companies. Yet why do only some succeed and not others? Thinking thus, he proceeded to almost remove the ‘leadership’ component of his research.

Until he discovered that not all leaders are created equal. And voila, 5 levels of leadership! This is somewhat like Maslow pyramid of needs, except this is for leaders. Level 1 is about individual skills. Level 2 is team player skills. Level 3 is management skills. Level 4 is leadership skills, which is not just figuring out what to do, but also motivating your team to want to achieve it themselves.

So what was level 5, that led to the companies where these leaders worked outperform to such an extent? It was a combination of two things: humility and willpower. The indomitable human spirit, will, where it’s there, there’s a way – is well known. But humility? It’s not just the self-effacing type. Rather, it is a specific type of humility, defined as the ability to recognize the flaws and faults that you have that you have to grow past with honesty.

And where would one build such humility from? Only from failure. We are all afraid of failure. But it is actually failure which builds success. Imagine combining this humility, with the will to not just do something selfishly (not a leader), but to work for a greater purpose. Incredible.

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I wish you bad luck

There are many commencement speeches available on YouTube, often delivered by of some of the greatest politicians, businessmen, sportsmen or actors at the various Ivy Leagues. Of course these tend to be extremely motivational, and the combination of wit and pragmatism can help students (and lurkers like me on YouTube) gain credible insight into the real-world that awaits them.

Most of the speeches repeat positive message: work hard, earn money, be humble, be this, be that, do this, do that and lots of best wishes to you and all that.

But US Supreme Court Justice John Roberts gave an unconventional speech a few years ago. He actually said, “I wish you bad luck.” Surely quite unexpected? Here’s a para I found most interesting, pasted below for your reading delight.

"From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.”

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Achieving excellence

We saw yesterday the outlines of excellence as suggested by author Jim Collins. We also thought about how it would look if applied to ourselves personally. But how do we achieve this beatific end state? We know the outputs, but what should the inputs be? Well, why not take a leaf out of the same author’s books?

Key here is the concept of ‘time tellers’ versus ‘clock builders’. Who is a time teller? In today’s day and age of a million startups, a time teller could be a person with an amazing idea. Just like he can tell the time perfectly, he can call out the most outlandish but supremely successful idea of the time, ahead of anyone else. And the clock builder? I think this one is obvious. Important to think about, a clock once built, needs no time teller.

Jim’s research suggests a negative correlation between starting a company with a great and successful idea, and becoming an enduring, great company. Wow isn’t that amazing? And here’s the follow-up. “It actually turns out that many of the greatest companies started with failures, setbacks, things that were catastrophes early on. And it was the very fact that they had no success at the start that played a big role in them building the muscle strength to say, you can think of it as I’m going to have a successful innovation versus I’m going to build the muscle to innovate, right, which would be more durable.

So it boils down really to stellar execution. Discipline, patience and perseverance. Probably answers that sound boring. But while ‘culture may eat strategy for breakfast’, perhaps consistency can eat talent for lunch!

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Measuring excellence

Jim Collins is an author who needs no introduction. In one of his defining studies, he has distilled down the excellence factors for any company, to 3 core elements. These are:

  1. Superior results (the company can be amazing on paper, but it needs to win in the real world)
  2. Distinctive impact (if the company disappeared, would it matter?)
  3. Lasting endurance (not just a one-hit wonder)

While these are amazing insights for companies, I also couldn’t help but realize these are amazing ideals for anyone striving for excellence to try living up to.

  1. Superior results – irrespective of the profession, can our clients feel they always get the best only with us?
  2. Distinctive impact – of course no one is indispensable and all that; but even so, if we disappeared from the earth tomorrow, how many people would miss us? Would we have left behind a legacy? Not for the money we provide others, but the compassion, listening ear, love and warmth?
  3. Lasting endurance – it’s easy to be good to people once or twice, but to do that lifelong? That would be most beneficial, not just to those being helped, but to the doer. A non-stop selfless attitude is no different from the pinnacle of spirituality.
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Paralimping

Of the various disabilities that exist, a physical one is very hard to live with. Not that mental disabilities aren’t hard – they certainly are. But given weaker cognition as it is, it may have a lesser impact on one’s own self worth. But a physical disability coupled with perfect mental machinery? Surmounting those odds requires gargantuan effort. The various incidences of kids poking fun at undeveloped limbs, or the inability to run around like most kids would – not easy. Even those that are physically (fully) well endowed struggle with their self-images and self-worth. How many times have we not wished to be slightly thinner, more muscular, taller, fairer? Even A-list celebrities, yes the same ones whose chiselled bodies adorn cover pages of leading fashion magazines, too succumb to such mental competitiveness.

So awesome it is then, to read the inspiring stories behind various Paralympic athletes from India and other countries who won golds, silvers and bronzes. Here are some outstandingly fine men and women, who were either born with physical disabilities, or picked them up along the way – through some unnerving quirks of fate. But the power of their resolve, hard work and persistence in the face of seemingly insurmountable physical loss – teaches lessons to those of us who have everything, yet live in our own made-up worlds of mental distress. Money never enough, job not good enough, things not going according to plan, small molehills repeatedly made out to be mountains, giving up on smiling altogether, taking tensions for the smallest things – and on and on. All this begs the question – who really is the one with the disability?

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In the well

Many conversations today go like this.

“Hey man. All well?”
“Yes, all well. And you, all well?”
“Yes, yes, all well here too.”

Could there be a more banal way to communicate? I’m probably the guilty-est of such conversations. Even just calling these ‘conversations’ itself is doing the word a disservice. 🙂

As anyone who has mastered the art of forging deep connections will tell you, the trick lies entirely in asking the right questions, and then sitting back and listening. That’s what makes an outstanding conversationalist. The ability to ask and listen, and not the ability to speak. Counterintuitive, isn’t it?

That is indeed the true power of questions. As Dale Carnegie famously said, “Don’t try to be interesting, try to be interested instead.”

Can we perhaps substitute “All well?” with: “How are you?”, “Where are you from?” (nice and open ended!), “What are you working on these days” (everyone is working on something), “What’s changing in your life?”, or “What are you learning these days?”. So many options!

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Hair pulling

A very chubby baby I came across recently had the cutest baby laugh. Gurgling and chirping, it was just a joy to be around. Except when it would pull its own hair. Babies, as we know, do funny things sometimes. They don’t know the exact cause of pain, and because they tend to be fairly (very) uncoordinated, pulling their own hair with one hand satisfies the requirement of the hand to grab onto something. But it also simultaneously causes immense pain.

Now what to do? The only way is for the baby to leave its own hair alone. Even it’s parents can’t do anything at that point, because the grip of the baby is too tight. But it’s a matter of time, and the baby loosens the grip on its own.

Such is also our plight often in life. By keeping gargantuan expectations, we often invite misfortune into our lives. This self-inflicted pain is no different from the baby pulling its hair. And these expectations are not just milestones in professional setups, “achieve sales of x%”, or “drive costs down by y%”, but also expectations related to when happiness should be allowed to flow. It’s almost like we have a stop button inside us. “No, today I have a lot of work, and hence I will not smile even once.” Surely I’m guilty of that many times!

Taking myself too seriously can only end badly. It’s better to be sincere, than serious. As Swami Paramarthananda says, the disciple needs to first identify that a problem exists (with themselves). The Guru thereafter, needs to not only know the remedy, but also be free of the problem!

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Aligned

A while ago, I had to get something designed. Like a presentation, but formatted beautifully and designed aesthetically. Such a task would seem really simple. But the samples sent by the designers? Boy were those off!

Basic things like alignment, would be improper. What to do? It’s easy to explain something mathematically – because it is precise. “Please ensure the border thickness is 0.5 cm.” That’s clear because there is no scope for misunderstanding. That’s why adjectives just don’t cut it.

But alignment is critical, no matter how hard to explain. There are so many people, just living, breathing, eating, walking, working – exactly like everyone else. Seen from afar, there would be no difference whatsoever.

But go closer. And alignment becomes not just a differentiator, but also downright critical.

The wise one, is aligned to a larger purpose. The vice ones on the other hand, are simply jettisoned from one triviality to another.

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Animalistic

One of the questions that often arises in the minds of spiritual seekers, is whether animals accumulate karma.

A realized soul would say, “Does this even matter? All of these silly worldly questions – how does the answer to this question help one in their spiritual quest for liberation?” And such a soul would be bang on!

However, the question has come indeed, and one answer could be thus, which I came across in Acharya Prashant’s new book titled Karma.

No, animals do not accumulate karma. Because to accumulate karma, one would need to make a choice. A choice of whether or not to do something. Humans have choices – so we can either do a good thing and earn good karma, or the reverse. But animals? Acharya Prashant argues that animals have no choice. A lion kills deer to eat, driven by its natural instincts aka hunger. How far do you think a vegetarian lion would get in life? 🙂

But humans do have a choice isn’t it? To eat vegetarian or not. To exercise or to live unhealthy. To live a noble life or one of plunder. So many choices, so many possibilities, and so much karma.

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Work ethic

Here’s one of my all-time favourite Sanskrit shlokas.

Kaayena Vaacaa Manase[a-I]ndriyairvaa
Buddhy[i]-Aatmanaa Vaa Prakrteh Svabhaavaat |
Karomi Yad-Yat-Sakalam Parasmai
Naaraayannayeti Samarpayaami

It’s not only the chanting of the shloka that is awesome, but when chanted with full awareness of its meaning, the chant becomes… enchanting!

Kaaya is body, vaacha is speech, manas is mind, indriyas is sense organs, buddhi is intellect and aatma is soul. All Sanskrit words which are simple enough to ‘feel’ while chanting. The shloka says that no matter what work we do with each of these body parts, we do it only (sakalam) for others (parasmai). And we completely surrender every such iota of work at the feet of the Lord Narayana.

How brilliant is this? It is karma yoga in a simple shloka form. If I’m feeling tired or bored of work, I just need to remember the millions of unfortunate people who are out of jobs, stuggling to make ends meet. And then I remember this shloka, and with full fervor can work not for my own selfish needs, but only for the welfare of others. And that too, we can place the outcome, at the feet of the Lord. Truly brilliant!

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Calculus

Okay, I admit, I suck at math. I used to hate it in school, and I still don’t find it fun. And calculus? Oh man, I never understood it. It just wasn’t intuitive you know?

There was a point though, when I learned that everything in the world around us, is actually mathematical, to an amazing degree. Like fractal patterns in snowflakes and plant designs and what not. Wow. I also remember how a dog that runs to catch a frisbee in the beach, intuitively does calculus. Same for the archer fish that shoots its prey from underwater, implicitly calculating refraction angles. Pretty amazing instincts.

As one of the senior satsangis says, all of the learning around us is additive. If we study math or history or geography or medicine, we actually become more knowledgeable about those subjects, and hence those ‘add’ to us.

However, a scriptural book like the Gita? It was just a conversation between a charioteer and a warrior. Not much to add to oneself really. Why? Because the Gita is not really a book of knowledge. One could read the meanings of the 700 shlokas maybe in a few hours and come out none the wiser. That is because, the Gita is a book of action. Calculus applies here. The Gita is not additive, it is integrative. Like a spoon of sugar dissolving in the coffee.

The same Gita when read over and over again, and its lessons put into action, can result in the reader being transforming into a better and better person each time.

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Swa

Swa. That’s the name of an artisanal juice syrup brand I got to taste recently. It was tasty, and its name comes from the fact that one has to make it ‘on their own’. Put in the effort of adding water to the Swa syrup and mixing it.

And such is the case with Dharma as well. The ultimate dharma, the ultimate goal of a human being is to attain moksha or liberation. However, the path to getting there is what is called as swadharma, because it is of one’s own doing.

A super example is from Acharya Prashant’s book called Karma. He likens dharma to being at the (x,y,z,) coordinates of (0,0,0). This is the starting point. It’s where we all came from originally, and where we need to go to eventually (in this lifetime or next).

Depending on where we are currently, our coordinates could be (10,12,15), or (3,4,5) or even (-20,-8,19). And thus the starting point is what will determine the work we would need to do to get to (0,0,0). This difference in starting point is what requires swadharma. Everyone would have to do their own bit. The work is not easy. Time for a drink.

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Heavenly hell

Since time immemorial, man has wanted to live an enjoyable afterlife. Avoid hell at any cost, and make sure to get into heaven.

Why heaven? Because everything there is awesome – a cornucopia of food, women, money, opulence and grandeur. Who wouldn’t want to go to such a place no?

The question to ask is, even if we had all this, would we still be happy? Is happiness guaranteed? Surely some celestial beings in heaven would be having more comforts than others. And the comparison game would begin playing on their minds. Or if everything was always available equally and status quo for everyone, then surely life would become very boring, and that would lead to its own problems.

So a promised heaven in the afterlife really is not an answer at all.

Then what about in this life? I really like how Sadhguru puts it. “If you are doing something unwillingly, that is your Hell. If you are doing something willingly, that is your Heaven.”

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Randomly random

Karma. That is what we are constantly accruing. But it is also the name of a newly released book by Acharya Prashant. He’s an IIT-IIM-grad-turned-spiritual-Guru and so I was quite keen to read what he has to say on this topic.

There are many interesting things he covers. One for today’s post, is on randomness. He says that the happenings in the material world around us are truly random. That it is impossible to predict the future with any certainty.

There are so many people and creatures in the world and each has its own free will. When all of these interact, in real time, dynamically, how is it possible to ‘setup’ a specific karmic event for any single individual that is supposed to experience the fruits of their past actions?

The thought is sobering, and indeed seems to make sense from the perspective of our limited and miniscule intellect. But for the Creator of everything around us, maybe it is not such a big deal? The author agrees that karmic law exists. However, this is applicable at the level of an individual, by way of his/her reaction to an external stimulus, i.e. two people could react very differently to the same news, for instance.

So is this what the birth chart of a native predicts in vedic astrology? That s/he will be successful during this period, or will get married during this period, and so is perhaps referring to internal emotions likely to be felt by the native? The word ‘likely’ is important, because free will can be exercised in a counterfactual manner.

There are also many great saints who have tweaked the karma of their disciples. Some say that mass fatalities like plane crashes and terrorism are part of ‘community karma’, perhaps engineered to perfection by Nature Herself. How does that fit in here, in a world ruled by free will and chaos? I guess there will always be some things we just cannot understand…

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Distractions galore

Our lives seem to be full of distractions. The mobile phone, the internet, YouTube… Oh there are so many culpable offenders in my fight against distraction. So many things to do, but just no ability to focus on the various tasks at hand.

But maybe distractions are par for the course simply because the work that is done is chosen poorly. The work is chosen only because the result seems favorable. Some money, some benefits, some perks, some power, some something or the other.

Spirituality keeps on asking us to live in the moment. That only means we’ve to love the work, i.e. the process of working, and not the outcome of the work alone. If instead, we are focused on monthly payday alone, of course distractions will plague us. Even the feeblest of winds can get us to alter course then.

If we look at it this way, then maybe distractions are good, even great. If I’m going to work in an organization for the rest of my life/career but still get distracted easily, maybe that work is not something I truly like? What’s the point in doing something if it’s truly not meaningful enough? Note that meaning is only for the doer – what’s meaningful to me might be nonsensical to another.

The alternative of brainstorming, networking and hustling to get to do what you feel is truly meaningful, is not an easy path. And so for most, it is easy to continue to do what they have been, while cribbing about distractions, while letting the void-for-meaning deep within them, grow stronger and stronger.

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One at a time

Sometimes there’s just too much to focus on. Like the rabbits that Jack Ma talked about once. He said that if you’ve got a room full of rabbits and you need to catch one, most people start with the rabbit closest to them. If that runs away, then they switch to the next nearest one. Momentarily another rabbit comes into view, and then they run after that one. And then another one. At the end, they are left with no rabbit.

The better way, is to just focus on one rabbit all along.

This can be extended to our daily ‘things to do’ checklist as well. We could focus on one newspaper, one podcast, one TV show, one book, one scripture, one chapter, one YouTube channel etc. Even within these, say one specific online course that we like, the focus can be on doing only the 10 minutes it requires per day. That would make it easy to execute as well as track.

If this is implemented with discipline, it can work wonders in the medium to long term. But if not, then at the end of the month, on one fine weekend, we are suddenly saddled with hours of work to catch up on, which then leads to anxiety and feelings of incompetence. 10 minutes a day. That’s all it takes. It’s a fine line!

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I swear

Here’s a cute scene on TV I saw recently.

A table had a small glass jar with a few coins in it. A label ‘Swear Jar’ is pasted across it. A mother is seen berating her 5 year old daughter’s use of swear words. Every time she says a bad word, the kid needs to put a dollar from her pocket money into the ‘swear jar’.

Like all kids, this one too tries to find loopholes, asking her teacher to “go to shell” and “what the muck” among other such cleverly hidden expletives.

The mother is initially irritated by this behaviour. But it dawns on her that the “swear jar” is not the right approach. If one were to create a rule such that the target person (the 5 yo) can’t even understand (because she is too young to), then of course said target would try to break the rule!

The mother then changes tactics and says something beautiful. “Baby, no more swear-jar okay? That is pointless. But I want you to understand why bad words are not okay. And that’s because bad words make other people feel bad. Now you are such a good girl – surely you don’t want other people feeling bad because of what you say do you?”

“No mommy.”

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TT extraordinaire

This past weekend, a few of us from the extended family had a quick and wonderful outing. One of the cool things about technology is that it makes it easy to find independent bungalows for rent, which are financially pretty reasonable, because we can apportion the larger cost across more people.

The other advantage of having an independent house? An awesome games room! So we played a lot of table tennis, and of course it was fun blaming the table, the racket, the ball, the net and everything else!

The most important thing for table tennis though, is one’s arms / hands. That’s what we’ve to really be thankful for. No hands, no table tennis, right?

Nope! Meet Ibrahim Ahmadtou, who lost both his arms when he was just 10 years old in a train accident. He didn’t step out of his house for an entire year as he couldn’t bear the ignominy of his disability. But today at the age of 48, he is no less a world champion, representing Egypt in the Paralympics.

How can he play table tennis without hands? He uses his mouth of course! And he tosses the ball up with his feet. Do have a look at some YouTube videos. The technique is simply extraordinary, but what is even more so, is his iron will power.

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On priority

How does one who is completely devoted to and lost in the Lord behave? Maybe there’s more than one way – surely. But here’s what’s on the cover page of the Mukunda-mala-stotra book originally composed by King Kulasekhara and then of course expounded upon by various greats. This specific excerpt is from Srila Prabhupada’s commentaries:

When King Kulasekhara saw the breath-taking beauty of Lord Krishna in ecstatic trance, he lost all the desire to rule his vast kingdom. Later he wrote, "My mind cannot turn from Sri Krishna's lotus feet even for a moment. So let my dear ones and other relatives criticize me, my superiors accept me or reject me as they like, the common people spread evil gossip about me, and my family's reputation be sullied. For a madman like me, it is honour enough to feel this flood of love for Godhead, which brings such sweet emotions of attraction for my Lord"

The very things that we each are craving for – societal approval, name, fame, wealth, status – are being given up in an instant by a great King, simply because he tasted the true nectar of being one with the Lord. We are no kings, so it is all the more important that we have our priorities straight. But is that the case?

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