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Category: attitude

Prep work

The whole world seems to focus only on success. Economic success. Monetary success. Net worth. Success in exams. Success in career. Success, success, success.

We know the opposite of success is failure right? And failure = end of the world. We’ve addressed failure and success many times here in Forever Happy Now.

But here are two very important and interesting ways to rephrase success. And to tell us, that success isn’t an event, but a journey.

  1. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” This is a super-quote, directly from Benjamin Franklin himself.
  2. “You don’t fail in exams, you only fail in preparation.” This super-quote, I recently found on Twitter.

That’s it. Success will come, as long as the ground work is being laid. Our only focus every minute of every day, must be to keep preparing, and working, to the best of our abilities. Success will come, because where else can it go?

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Immersive

As adults, we often struggle to learn new things. It could be a new skill – usually learning to draw, learning a new instrument – or wait for it – the most favourite of them all – learning a new language!

We often try for a few hours, maybe a few days even. And then the interest levels start to go down. In languages where you have genders for objects – like a train is feminine or a bat is masculine, for a native English speaker, this can be verbal hell.

They say ‘immersion learning’ is the best form of learning. Want to learn French? Go live in the French countryside for a few months. Nobody will speak to you in English, and if you want to survive, you have no choice but to converse in French.

And then the thought strikes – “Oh how I wish I had learned this as a kid. Look at the kids all around me, they are so quick to grasp everything.” And then we give up.

I was quite surprised therefore to read, that kids are actually not very good at learning. They are certainly not better than adults. And if anything, we should have a huge head start. Then why do we struggle? Because we only read and plan, but rarely take action. But kids? They don’t know to read or plan. They only act. Watch any toddler repeat the same broken words and sentences hundreds of thousands of times, until it becomes perfect. How many times to do we repeat what we are trying to learn?

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Running for what?

A podcast I was listening to recently had Allyson Felix as the guest of honour. I had not heard of her before, but she came across as a really nice human being. And that is not to say she’s not famous – she’s the most decorated US track athlete in Olympic history, having won 11 medals – breaking Carl Lewis’ record of 10.

What really struck me was how she found her passion. Most Olympians and sportspersons we meet seem to be born into their sport. Of course there will be a few exceptions (like Allyson), but by and large, it would appear like these exceptionally talented people found their calling very early on, like in their early school days.

And this is something many of us struggle with on a daily basis. We see start-up founders make hundreds of millions, while we feel aimless and lost. We see people who’ve found their calling, while all we seem to end up with are calls from spammers. How to find this passion then? Should we give up?

Here’s what Allyson said that I really liked. She said that most of her peers who found their passions early on, became such hardcore specialists (in a specific sport or activity), that by the time they turned 30, they were already burned out. Whereas in her own experience as a 35 year old medallist, she only entered her sport well into college! Till then, she was just enjoying other sports like basketball that she really liked, but was nowhere near good as in running. I think this is a great lesson for me – no need to struggle to find a passion and get burned out or stay dejected. Instead just enjoy the work I am doing, and live in the now, today, forever happy.

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Improv your life

A friend of mine from college used to be fantastic at improv acting.

How he’d get ideas on the spot, how’d he string his thoughts together, how he’d act on the spot, and yet make it all comedic, I have no clue.

In a recent TV series I was watching, I came across a fundamental principle in improv.

It’s called “Yes, and?”

This is a way of continuing the dialogue. Accepting whatever the other person on stage just said, with a “Yes”, even if it is completely nonsensical.

The “And” after the “Yes” helps with continuing the conversation. Like a nonchalant ‘okay, what next?’

Even outside of improv, this struck me as an amazing way to look at life. We’re each beset by so many unexpected troubles and issues. Instead of getting smacked in the face and falling down, we can stay rooted and ask the question “Yes, and?”, then put on a smile, keep calm, and carry on.

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Garden gecko

A recent evening drive to visit my cousin sister was an interesting one. Not for anything else, but because I had an uninvited guest ride with me. And I learned a lot from him. Specifically, the importance of never giving up. Curious?

So here I was backing my car out of the parking spot at my apartment building. And soon as I hit reverse, I noticed a tiny garden lizard perched up on the windshield. Not on the inside, because that would have freaked all the passengers out, but on the outside. He was really tiny too. No chance he would survive.

Soon I forgot about him – given all the traffic, and the re-routing by google maps and all that. But boy was I surprised when I reached the destination. He was still hanging on! And I most certainly used the wiper more than once. And did i mention the potholes, the sudden brakes, the rains, and the wind? How did he manage it? I will never know.

On the way back, before getting into the car, I checked if he was still around. Nope, not in sight. So I got in, started driving for a couple of minutes, and lo, a tiny lizard head! Suffice it to say, that someone was hanging on for dear life. A total of 3 hours later, monsieur gecko was back at his own apartment building.

He had a quick tour of the city, but his resilience and ability to stick on (quite literally) – that was something else. No giving up and no excuses for this guy. If only I could be like him.

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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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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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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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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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What’s up doc

During a recent visit to a hospital, I happened to look at the doctor roster.

Just a quick glance, nothing out of the ordinary here.

Many doctor names, many many more credentials, and then their practice timings.

9 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday. 9 am to 12.30 pm on Saturdays.

Wow they work Saturdays too. And here I am cribbing about my never ending 5 day week. I need to change my perspective on life, and learn from these literal life-savers and life-givers.

And then a few names below, one doctor had a unique ending time for his practice. It read as follows:

“From 9 am, till the last patient is seen.”

Now isn’t that just an exceptional work ethic?

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Working for what?

A scene from the hit movie Munnabhai MBBS shows a very disgruntled hospital janitor. No matter what the situation, he is always grumpy.

Why? Well of course, he makes very little money. But according to him, it’s not the money alone. It’s also the fact that so many people just keep coming in and leaving their dirty footprints and shoeprints all over the floors that he would have just then finished cleaning. This includes all the well-respected doctors and nurses, not just many pay grades above him, but also much higher on the societal respectability scale. No wonder he is unhappy.

That is until the protagonist comes along. He tell the janitor that sweeping floors is one of the most important duties to society, and more so to a hospital. He goes on to explain, that doctors and nurses can only attempt to cure sickness after a person has already fallen ill. But the janitor? He is in a unique position. He is able to prevent ailments by keeping his hallways and rooms spic and span. The janitor now has an elevated responsibility and higher purpose to live up to!

We too may feel we are doing janitorial duties sometimes. And even sitting in a plush corporate office can give us this feeling. It can also happen at any level of seniority. That is why, even successful CEOs and Heads of Businesses quit their jobs in order to find their calling. Quitting to find another job is certainly an option. But while we’re at the current job, we can keep the janitor’s lessons in mind, and look for the higher purpose.

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Tough life

When life gets tough, we often just want to kick it all off and take a break. But few have this luxury. Here are some things we can do irrespective of whether life has gotten tough or not. It’s hard to practise, but this is what great and successful people have advised and continue to advise.

  1. Smile. That’s it. Easy peasy. But can we smile when we know the world around us seems to be falling apart? And “falling apart” is really taking things to the extreme. Often times it is just one of our life-long dreams hitting a minor speedbump. Many times even smaller and more inconsequential, but which we love to focus on and exaggerate.
  2. Don’t complain. As they say, “Don’t tell people about your problems, because 80% of the people don’t care and the rest 20% are happy you have them!”
  3. Learn. All of life is about growing and becoming better. One day at a time. If we can’t learn from our or other people’s experiences aka failures, then those would only be wasted opportunities.
  4. Give back. Living life for ourselves alone is a huge huge huge burden. But living for improving the life of others, for the country, for the world? While the tasks may be harder, the selfless nature of the assignment will make the burden feel weightless.
  5. ABCs. Attitude, Behaviour, Character – this is what differentiates the best from the also-rans.

Finally, as Guruji always says, modern education and material comparisons can only help us in the material world. But the material world is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. Our ultimate goal as human beings should be moksha, i.e. realizing our true nature is not of the body but of the Soul.

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Jumping high

In the Tokyo Olympics high-jump event, the competition was down to two finalists. Both of them jumped exactly the same height of 2.37 metres. And so it was a tie.

The officials had each of them jump again – three more times in fact. But neither Olympian was able to better the 2.37 number.

In the last and final attempt, one of the two contestants had to withdraw because of a leg injury. The other bloke now had a clear path to gold.

But in what would go down in history books as an outstanding example of parasparam bhavayantah (Gita chapter 3, verse 11, nourish one another), the healthy contestant before his final attempt, first checked if he could … wait for it … share the gold with his opponent!

The officials quickly checked and confirmed that it would be indeed be possible. He decided to forgo his final attempt, and in the video, both players are ecstatically seen hugging each other. How amazing is that? We are brought up with the notion that if we win, someone else needs to lose. But life is not a zero-sum-game. If everyone wins, that is the highest jump of them all.

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Behavioural intentions

Here’s a lovely quote by Stephen Covey.

We judge others by their behaviour, but ourselves by our intentions.

This is brilliant because it is not just what it says, but is also the essence of karma yoga. As we have seen before, karma is not just action, as it is often loosely translated into. But rather, it is based on intention.

What Mr. Covey refers to here in a way is our lopsided view of karma. In our minds, we know that we mean the best. If we were late for work or an important occasion, we immediately have an answer ready. Not to the outside world, but to our own conscience. “I really wanted to be on time, but [it started raining] / [the carpenter came later than expected ] / [ got an unavoidable phone call ] / [add other genuine rationale here ].

This is fine. Things go wrong sometimes, and it’s certainly difficult to be perfect in everything all the time. But we apply these relaxations only to ourselves, not to the world. Why? Because we can only see what others do, and not what they are really thinking i.e. intending.

If as the realized masters say, it is intention that is most important even from a karmic point of view, we must introspect thus: are we being too lenient on ourselves, and conversely too harsh on others?

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Rejection notice

Here’s something I came across on my LinkedIn feed recently. A man who was in need of a job was giving some interviews.

During one such interview, the HR told him about the great practices followed in the company, the compassion, the empathy, the work life balance, the amazing culture, the camaraderie and so on. A wonderful HR marketing pitch if there was one.

A few days later, he got an email from the same HR. The email had no greeting, no salutation, no niceties, no ‘thank you for attending the interview’, no template-response either (‘thank you for interviewing with us, we appreciate your candidacy but regret to inform you…’).

Instead, the email from the HR had just one word. “Rejected”. Yes just this one word. Nothing else.

Maybe that HR didn’t have time, or was genuinely irritated by this applicant – who can say for sure. But it’s still basic courtesy isn’t it?

The learning for me was, that even though I don’t write ‘rejected’ emails, maybe I speak similarly – harshly and curtly at times. I may not even realize it, and I wouldn’t know the impact on the other person, but the other party might feel deeply hurt. Much care must be taken. Words once uttered, can seldom be taken back.

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Humble prostrations

Here’s how my Guru began his address to the satsangis this year during Guru Purnima.

He called out a variety of different Gurus across all sorts of sects. He mentally and verbally prostrated before all the great Gurus of yesteryear and now.

He paid obeisance to all the great rishis and munis and saints of the past. He also prostrated to Swami Chinmayananda, Srila Prabhupad, Sri Sri Ravishankar, Sadhguru, Sathya Sai, Shirdi Sai and all the other divine personalities. He also said we are prostrating daily to them. Not just to them, but also to their followers!

My Guru is 80+ years of age. He need not prostrate to anyone. But a self-realized soul understands that the age of the body is irrelevant, and that at our cores, we are all divine, and that there really is no difference. I’ve seen him physically fall at the feet of those who are much younger than him as well.

His prayer on Guru Purnima day was not for himself. Rather it was that we must all understand this divine unity within us, and love each other. And that the love must begin from each one of us, and spread outward. What humility, and what a thought!

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Cover page

When we discuss Dale Carnegie’s (DC) amazing book How to Win Friends & Influence People in satsang, participants often ask certain types of questions. Maybe we can call these questions as extremities. Here are some examples:

  1. DC says we need to listen to the other person. But what if the other person keeps on talking and I don’t get to talk at all?
  2. DC says think from the other person’s point of view. But what if the other person doesn’t think from mine?
  3. DC says we need to smile as often as possible. But others aren’t smiling.
  4. DC says develop a genuine interest in the other person. But when do I then get to talk about my interests?

These are all valid concerns. However, our objective must be clearly understood. As the title on the book’s cover page states, this book is useful if you want to win the other person over, befriend them and / or influence them.

If this is the clear focus and objective, then we need to think: Does it matter whether I get to talk or not, or that the other person doesn’t smile or not, or that they don’t see the world from my point of view? Ideally, no!

This is DC’s decades and countless experiences’ worth of rare wisdom neatly encapsulated into a 200 page book. The real question we must be asking ourselves is – how better can I apply the learnings of this magical book to my life?

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Honest policy

Now most times, when someone comes up and says, “Hey give me your honest feedback on my performance / speech / act / article”, the person on the other side becomes fairly guarded. Should they speak the truth and risk losing an important relationship? Or do they just continue to parade the emperor with no clothes?

This may not matter much in the larger scheme of things in the personal realm. But honesty / transparency are hugely important for company culture. Whether to customers, between employees and management, to shareholders or other stakeholders – admitting mistakes without worry of being censured and the ability to speak freely is quite a superpower. 

The example of Bridgewater Associates, run by Ray Dalio comes to mind. Dalio released some candid feedback he received from one of his employees. “Ray – you deserve a “D-” for your performance today in the meeting. You did not prepare at all because there is no way you could have and still been that disorganized. In the future, I/we would ask you to take some time and prepare and maybe even I should come up and start talking to you to get you warmed up or something but we can’t let this happen again. If you in any way think my view is wrong, please ask the others or we can talk about it.”

And that’s exactly what Mr. Dalio did. He asked the rest of the people in that meeting to rate him on a scale of A to F. Let’s just say the result was closer to F than to A. He immediately published the result for his entire employee base of >2000 people to see.

This is debilitating and extreme honesty to be a recipient of. But its unique culture has been instrumental in helping Bridgewater build itself into one of the world’s largest hedge funds, persisting for over 45 years – when the average life of a hedge fund is only 5 years.

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