Mindfulness lessons from my little master

Samyak Cook2

With mindfulness, you can establish yourself in the present in order to touch the wonders of life that are available in that moment. ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

If you immerse in writings on Mindfulness, you will find three common principles endorsed by most authors.

  • Live one day at a time
  • Do one thing at a time
  • Intently focus on what you are doing NOW

My son Samyak seems to have mastered these 3 principles at a tender age of 3 J Looks like we all master the art of mindfulness during the first 6 years of our life. As we grow further, we slowly unlearn this way of life and pick up habits of distraction, multi-tasking and escapism from the NOW.

When I tell Samyak about our weekend plan and announce that we would watch an animated movie on Saturday morning, he instantly asks ‘are we doing it NOW?’ For him any activity has to happen today and now! No concept of past and future, the only moment available is NOW.

Yesterday is history, tomorrow a mystery, today is a gift and that’s why it’s called the present.

I am amazed at his ability to focus on one thing at a time; the above picture says it all. You can see his intense focus and dedication in making chapati (Indian bread) for us. Nothing in this world distracts him when he is occupied with something, totally submerged in one activity. For adults, the biggest challenge is to focus on one thing among myriad of distractions. We pay the price through ineffective results.

Lately there has been a tremendous amount of research on mindful eating. With mindful eating we can enjoy every morsel we put in our mouth. Interestingly we tend to eat less when we are fully aware of what and how we are eating. Instead of counting calories we should count the number of times we chew food! I have been trying my luck with mindful eating [trust me, not an easy task]. The task seems onerous as I keep slipping back to mindless eating 🙂

It appears to me that the art of mindful eating is also innate in children. The below picture was taken at Mysore Zoo last weekend.

Samyak ICe

I bought an Ice candy for him and we started walking towards our next stop at the Zoo. He announced, ‘let’s eat this first and then walk’. He sat there for 15 minutes to relish that and enjoyed every bite of that Ice candy. Interestingly he didn’t even utter a single word till he finished eating. By the way, latest studies also echo the tradition of not talking while eating.

There is so much to learn from children just by being with them. They subtly make us aware of things that we ignore as grown up men. It reminds of the quote ‘Child is father of the man’.

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Accomplishment and Acknowledgement

Accomplishment Appreciation

 

What’s driving your achievements? The sense of accomplishment or the need for acknowledgement.

One of the traps of human behavior and quest for success is misunderstanding the driver behind our actions. Our actions may be either inspired by the internal drive to please our souls; or motivated to hear the external praise showered by other people. Appreciation from other people will make us feel proud about our feats, however we shouldn’t allow that to take the center stage and take influence our actions all the time.

For instance, when you learn a new skill (say swimming); you feel great about your new achievement and you feel like a winner who can learn anything! This victorious feeling is ‘soul-feeling’. It’s not dependent on anyone’s acknowledgement.

A student scores high in an exam and then subsequently gets recognized in public. This student also feels like a victor, but this feeling is colored by ego and comparison due to the recognition in public. This colored feeling is ‘worldly-feeling’.

These feelings are diametrically opposite in their power, source and direction. Soul feeling is centered in us and oozes out; worldly feeling is pumped into us through others’ words of appreciation. Craving for worldly feeling is addictive and dangerous since it derails us from our own cherished goals and passions. For example, an author must write great books because of his calling. He will derail from his path if his goal becomes writing the best-seller. Even if it becomes a best-seller, not everyone on this planet will like his work.

Now with the hope that I have given enough description about this concept, let me narrate a personal story to drive the point home. I write articles on my blog to share my insights and thoughts on areas of human potential and achievement. Writing these articles, make me feel on purpose and bring in a sense of peace and calmness as I let my thoughts flow and shape into words. Imagine, if this act of blogging is driven by the desire to get more ‘Likes’ on Facebook or LinkedIn and acknowledging comments by people in my network. Appreciative comments are only by-products of my activity, not catalysts! I should write posts regardless of external acknowledgement and praise because the act is driven by soul-feeling.

At times, we all fall into the trap and lose track of soul-feelings and start running behind worldly-feelings. Only with awareness we can come back on the path of action towards soul-feelings. For instance, my blog post in Jun 2014 titled ‘Calm Sutra : 60 seconds to relax our brain’ was a useful article [in my view] and not many people read that J The next day I realized I was moving away from my original reason for writing. My core reasons to write are to share what I know and help people who need. I also need to aware of this every time I write an article.

So my friends, are you aware of what’s driving your achievements in life? Accomplishment (soul-feeling) or acknowledgement (worldly-feeling)? A healthy balance is the key!

References: Are you read to succeed? By Dr Sri Kumar Rao [specially the words soul-feeling and worldly-feeling come from his book]

PS : I acknowledge the pictures from the internet.

Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

three jewels

   God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

   The courage to change the things I can,

   And the wisdom to know the difference. ~ Reinhold Niebuhr [Serenity Prayer]

The Serenity prayer cited above gives a clear indication to human beings to lead a fulfilling life. If the reader is an atheist or agnostic, you are requested to ignore the word ‘God’ and continue reading other words! You can supplant ‘God’ with other words such as ‘Spirit’,’ Universe’ or something meaningful to your soul.

Let’s go through each line in the above prayer and understand the implications. Each line is soaked with timeless wisdom.

‘grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change’

There are many things that you & I cannot change individually – our skin color, parents, family environment, government policies, economy, conflict with neighboring countries, recession, tax laws etc. Since we cannot change them, it’s better to make terms with them and accept the reality with grace.

‘The Courage to change the things I can’

There is supreme power and energy in this line. Once we accept the things we cannot change with serenity, we will realize that there are countless things that we can actually change. Every choice we make from moment to moment in our life, we have an opportunity to make the right choice! For example, getting up early, working out to get in shape, treating other people well, being assertive, seeking help from a coach, eating healthy food, reflecting on our values & life purpose, pursuing our passions, following our callings and so on… All we need is the courage to act and move in the right path.

‘And the wisdom to know the difference’

The third line calls for the discernment to distinguish between things we can change and the ones we cannot change. When we try to change something that we cannot change and passionately hate it, we get derailed from our path of action. Our energy will be spent on areas of least importance. By the same token, we need to become aware of life areas that we can change and stop labeling them as immutable. Let us remember – ‘Stress comes from NOT doing what we know we should be doing’. When this wisdom and discernment is missing, we experience a lot of heartburn and frustration. Elevating this discernment should become a high priority in our daily schedule. This can happen only through personal development, self-reflection and self-analysis.

Serenity, courage and wisdom are three most important jewels in the crown of human consciousness.

I strongly recommend you to stick the Serenity prayer on your desktop or pin-up board as a constant reminder.

PS: I acknowledge the graphics from the internet.

Identifying Useful Intentions

Intention

Behind every behavior there is a positive intention. ~ NLP presupposition

I love the above presupposition of Neuro Linguistic programming. Understanding the above presupposition intellectually and emotionally will radically change our behaviors and interaction with other people. While this presupposition has exceptional role in many NLP patterns and change work, this article is centered on leveraging the presupposition for communication and personal change.

To make the idea simple to digest and implement, let’s take an example of two co-workers Ram & Shyam who are in the middle of a conversation. Since they have different viewpoints about the topic, they are unable to proceed further to take a decision. Let’s assume Ram decides to explore Shyam’s map of the situation and asks the below question.

What’s the useful intention behind Shyam’s viewpoint?

After asking this question, Ram intently listens and understands the rationale behind Shyam’s views. Listening without interruption is not an easy skill. We pretend to listen and prepare to respond! Shyam also gets a better clarify on his own viewpoint ,values and beliefs by verbalizing his thoughts.

Now together they can explore a new solution by posing another question.

What are the alternative ways to satisfy this useful intention?

This is a powerful question and sets them thinking in a new direction where the focus is on ‘what is right’, not ‘who is right’.

I know this may seem like an oversimplification of the problem at hand. In my view, when it comes to communication and conflict resolution it all boils down to knowing others’ perspectives. Knowing internal maps of the other person is the key to negotiation and agreements.

Probing useful intentions can also help us in understanding our habits and behaviors. A few months ago I started drinking coffee almost every day at a coffee shop. I didn’t like my behavior intellectually; this coffee break was appealing to me emotionally. I wasn’t aware what’s driving me to the coffee shop and making me consume caffeine. One day I sat in silence and I asked myself, ‘What’s the useful intention behind this behavior’?

I realized I enjoyed reading books in a quiet place (and this particular coffee shop wasn’t much crowded) and that intention was useful. In this light of new awareness, I searched for alternative ways to satisfy the useful intention of reading books. I found that I could afford a 15-minute break at work and read 5 pages of my favorite book every day. I haven’t been reading books in coffee shops these days as I am doing that during short breaks at work. Now my visits to coffee shops are with my wife Anusha to have quality attention on each other [we know the useful intention and we like this way] J.

PS : I acknowledge the graphics from the internet.

Chief Advice Officers

Advice

To take any kind of committed action, people need to think through for themselves. ~ David Rock

The more I read about how human beings think, make decisions and take actions the more I get fascinated with the art of listening and probing. When we have conversations, it is so natural for us to give advice to someone’s predicaments and challenges. We act like Chief Advice Officers (CAOs) and assume that people are yearning for our solutions & suggestions to their problems. Do you think people will listen to your ideas and change? If so, obesity will be vanished from our planet [or any such problem for which everyone knows the solution]. It’s not about knowing, it’s about doing what we know!

It appears to me that we pretend to listen and prepare our advice while other people are talking to us. While you are reading this article, you might be thinking that you are different and you don’t wear a CAO hat when you talk to people.

Why don’t you try this out and explore your own behavior? Here is the exercise that you can try.

Whenever you have a conversation with someone at workplace or home, notice what you do when the other person shares his/her problems [perceived predicaments]. Notice your tendency to interrupt and start giving advice or asking leading questions to impose your judgments. Initially you will actually realize this after giving the advice; and you will gradually stop offering unsolicited advice to people. Instead of giving ideas, see if you can ask questions to know about their thinking, values and beliefs. Behavior is the fruit; thinking is the root.

I started noticing my tendency to advise and show my knowledge this year. I was astonished to hear my lectures to people’s problems and their indifference to my ideas [as they didn’t follow my preaching]. In a matter few weeks my propensity to solve others’ problems reduced and I became a better listener probing more about people’s thinking.

I strongly recommend you to try this exercise and see a sea change in your ability to connect with people around you. When you listen, you show that you are interested in others – that’s the key any human interaction.

If you like this article, please read Quiet Leadership by David Rock to know more about this topic and try additional exercises recommended in his book.

PS : I acknowledge the pictures from the internet.

Chasing Daylight : The book you must read

Chasing Daylight

If we take care of the moments, the years will take care of themselves. ~ Maria Edgeworth

Chasing Daylight is the inspirational journal of former KPMG US CEO Eugene O’Kelly. This memoir was written in the three-and-a-half months from July 2005 to September 2005. In July 2005, he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and he passed away in September 2005. This book is a narration of details of his illness with reflections on life, death and success. The reader will be engrossed in this deeply insightful book and will be compelled to think about the importance of living a balanced and meaningful life.

There are five prominent messages in the book for embracing death and enjoying every moment we have on this planet. The five lessons are nicely summarized in the afterword by Eugene’s wife.

  • Message #1 : Face reality

The ability to distinguish between what we can control and what we can’t is the key to a peaceful life.

  • Message #2: Simplify life

Know what you want. Before pursuing for “more”, ask yourself “what is enough?”.

  • Message #3 : Live in the moment

Consciousness is “king of virtues”. Savor the present moment being as precise and attentive as possible. This is one of the hardest things to achieve in life!

For instance, while I am writing this article I am also thinking about all those people who will buy and read the book after reading this article. Our mind loves to fantasize the future or ruminate the past – escaping from the present!

  • Message # 4 : Recognizing perfection

Focus on creating meaningful moments – where you recognize perfection in the every moment of your life. Stop looking at life through the prism of criticism and evaluation.

  • Message # 5: Achieving balance

Dedicate time to achieving balance. It’s a dynamic and collaborative activity. Reflect on your life, plan and collaborate.

Eugene found a unique way to say goodbye to people who really mattered in life. He scribbled the diagram below and went from outer circle to inner circle to bid adieu to people who mattered to him.

screen-circles

I strongly recommend you to read the book and I am sure you will transcend to a different level of awareness and thinking. Even though that awareness lasts for a short-while, trust me it’s worthwhile 🙂

PS : I acknowledge the picture from the internet.

Turning Complaints into Requests : Awareness Exercise

C2R1

Complaints are often uncommunicated requests. ~ Co-Active Coaching , co-authored by Laura Whitworth

Yesterday I was browsing through some pages of the book ‘Co Active Coaching’ and I bumped into this fascinating exercise on turning complaints into requests.

Make a written list of 10 complaints in your life – things that are not going your way. If you have a complaint about the weather in Bangalore, feel free to include that too in your list 🙂

When you have your list of 10 complaints, rephrase and write those complaints as requests in another sheet of paper. Target your request to a specific individual who has the power and the control to do something about your request. In case of your complaint about the weather, you write a request to God (hope you are not an atheist). The goal is to take action on your complaints, and do what is in your control.

Then, for as many items as possible in your list, actually follow through and make the request to that specific person on your list. Also remember, there are always 3 legitimate responses to your request: yes, no or a counteroffer.

When I wrote the list, I had 11 items on my list. I have a busy day tomorrow at work – making requests through e-mail, phone and one-on-one conversations. I felt powerful and in control the moment I turned my complaints into requests on a sheet of paper. It’s a great tool for coaching people and helping them elevate their self-awareness and own responsibility to take action to change their destiny.

PS : I acknowledge the picture from the internet.