One more brick in the wall

brick

 

Club Contest Speech on 10th Feb 2017, awarded first runner up .

Title : One more brick in the wall

Time : 5 – 7 Minutes

——————–

Sometimes we don’t know what we do, even worse; we don’t know why we do what we do! Good evening Toastmasters, guests & contest judges.

Two weeks ago I raised my hand to participate in this speech contest. I don’t know why I did that.

What made me sign up for this contest? What are my chances against these 4 speakers with 5 stars? Michael is a gifted narrator & an animated speaker. Bob can rob your attention with his high-quality words. Russ can impress you with his grace & style. Gladwin can win your confidence just by his stage presence. What’s my strength? Well, do I have any is a better question?

All these questions & arguments drove me crazy as I drove back home from the previous club meeting. By the time I reached home, I had made up my mind. I was determined to quit. I started to mentally draft my apology email to Wayne. I thought of skipping the club meeting today by citing my busy schedule as an excuse. Then I realized, this is my second meeting as a club member. Indians have this peculiar belief about missing the second step of a new journey.  We don’t miss the second day of a new school, second day of new job and second meeting of a new club. I had no choice but to speak!

Once I decided to stay in the contest, now the second challenge gripped my mind. What topic should I choose? What should be my focus? Should I inspire the audience? Or Entertain them or persuade them to adopt my viewpoints. I had umpteen vague ideas in my head, but not a concrete topic in my hand. I was pulling my hairs out despite being scared of losing them. A week went by, I still didn’t have a topic. On Friday night last week, I couldn’t sleep as these thoughts were buzzing in my head.

I sat on a chair, closed my eyes. I took a few deep & deliberate breaths. The thought ripples slowly faded and my mind became placid.

If my goal is to become a better communicator, then why am I resisting this speech? Why am I in stress? Where is my focus? Questions are the answer, I got my answer. My focus was the prize of contest. The prize of winning, the prize of admiration and the prize of appreciation.

Shifting focus on the prize derailed me and sprouted self-doubt in my mind. We all have experienced this in situations such as job interviews, sales presentations, writing exams or IQ tests. Poor performance is the price we pay, when we are preoccupied with the prize.

The moment I focused on my purpose, this speech became just another step in the process of becoming a better speaker. In other words, this speech is one more brick in the wall, not the wall by itself! This analogy was liberating; writing this speech became fun as I had no prize to win.

To achieve our purpose, we need to submit to the process ignoring this shiny object called prize. Process is of paramount importance in every aspect of our lives; whether it is bearing a child, nurturing a relationship, improving health or accumulating wealth. Process is progress!

Becoming an effective speaker too is a process, we just need to show up, stand up & speak up! And that’s exactly what I am doing today. I am glad I did not quit.

Whether you are an amateur or a matured speaker, the prize of appreciation will distract you. It will prevent you from making mistakes, experimenting & learning by doing.

You can see this in action, when you hesitate to take a meeting role or procrastinate delivering a speech or feel reluctant to participate in a speech contest. When that happens, just remember your purpose is more precious than the prize.

Every time we show up, stand up and speak up; we are placing one more brick in the wall and we are one step closer to building the wall.

Same reasons, a new season!

icebreaker

After 7 years of hibernation, I joined a Toastmasters club in Belmont ,California.  I delived my ice-breaker speech recently. Below is the speech script.

Objective : Introduce yourself to the audience

Time : 4 – 6 Minutes

—————-

You never get a second chance to make a first impression. I don’t know who said that, all I know is that’s not true in the world of Toastmasters. I delivered my first ice breaker speech in 2003. This is my second chance to make a first impression in my second home club. When I look back and review my life situation between these two ice breaker speeches, I find some similarities & some differences.

Let’s look at similarities first. I had 3 reasons for joining Toastmasters back in 2003.

  1. To become an effective communicator and articulate my ideas clearly
  2. To meet like-minded people who want to improve themselves
  3. To enjoy the act of speaking in public, moving from fear to pleasure

Event today the same 3 reasons catalyzed me to restart my journey with this club. Same reasons; a new season.

Now let’s look at some differences in my life now compared to the year 2003.

  1. I was single back then, now I have a family; a lovey wife Anusha & a lively son Samyak aged 5 years
  2. In the year 2003, I lived in Bangalore, India and visited Bay area on work every year. Now I live in the Bay area and visit Bangalore twice every year
  3. I have lost around 35 pounds of body weight; I have also lost an incalculable amount of emotional weight. I look younger and feel lighter than I used to in the year 2003

From the year 2003 to 2011, I actively delivered speeches in Toastmasters and participated in speech contests. In the words of Jim Rohn, “I worked harder on myself than I did on my job”.

I completed Competent Communicator and Advanced Communicator Bronze manuals. When I took a hiatus in 2011, I was one speech short of completing Advanced Communicator Silver level. After 6 years of hibernation, I am now motivated to reconnect with my voice and shape my thoughts into words.

Today I am restarting my Toastmasters journey with a blank slate, starting from the icebreaker speech. My goal is to complete the competent communicator track by the end of this year.

I like community clubs because of the spirit, commitment & diversity. It’s rare to find these three elements in corporate clubs. That’s why I joined a community club this time. I have attended 2 club meetings here as a guest. The quality of speeches is outstanding.  I am joining HighSpirit Toastmasters club with a high spirit.

As I embark on this journey, I want to remember 3 key learnings from the last decade of my life and use them as a guiding light as I walk ahead.

  1. Perfection is the enemy of execution. Never wait for a perfect script to deliver the next speech.
  2. Progress is made by actions, not merely by intentions. Planning definitely helps, but action brings vision into fruition.
  3. The journey is more important than the destination. Enjoy every step in the path of progress. Don’t lose the moment in search of momentum.

 

Freedom From The Prison of Feelings

Prison

Weak is he who permits his thoughts to control his actions; strong is he who forces his actions to control his thoughts. ~ Og Mandino

  • He irritates me to the core
  • My friend doesn’t make me feel special
  • She brings the demon in me
  • My boss punctures my confidence in meetings
  • My blood boils when people don’t keep their commitments
  • I feel ignored when he doesn’t talk to me for a day

Most of the statements cited above are familiar to us. Either we have uttered them or we have heard someone else do that. Two things stand out from the above lines.

  1. The person saying this is holding the other person responsible for their feelings
  2. There is an underlying assumption that our feelings are remotely controlled by others’ actions

These 2 beliefs can shackle us in the prison of feelings and label us as victims of other people’s behavior. Others’ action definitely can be a stimulus for our feelings, but not the cause! Let’s dig this deeper through an example. When I say “My boss punctures my confidence in meetings”, do I mean my boss has a pin in his hand and he pricks that on me? Is there a physical pain in my body due to the prick? Do I hear the sound of balloon bursting? What’s the drama here?

Our reality is colored by our invisible beliefs, values and expectations/needs. When my boss challenges me in meetings, he is doing something that is not harmonious with my needs. The greed of meeting our needs is the real cause of emotional hurt. Our unmet needs trigger negative feelings in us and we verbalize them as if feelings are remotely operated. Blaming others for our feelings is just like languishing in the prison that is unlocked and unguarded! Freedom is just a few feet away if we decide to walk out.

All we need is a clear awareness of our needs and the assertiveness to state our needs. When we state our needs there is a possibility of fulfilling them, rather than depending on others’ telepathic skills (to read our minds). Even if being assertive doesn’t help, at least we can be content that we left no stone unturned and make peace with reality of life.

We can break free from the prison of feelings only if we take responsibility and understand that the locus of control is within us.

We have no control on what happens to us; we can only control how we respond to the situation!

Renewing My License to Embrace Stillness & Enjoy Silence

Vipassana1

As soon as you start to observe a mental impurity, it begins to lose its strength and slowly withers away.

~ S N Goenka

I attended a 10-day Vipassana meditation course in Aug 2014. I wrote a blog post to explain my experience. Below is the link for some background.

pramodavyasarao.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/my-vipassana-course-experience-10-days-of-noble-silence/

Starting tomorrow, I am attending a 3-day Vipassana refresher course culminating on Sunday evening. The goal is this refresher program is to get established in this meditation technique and ensure that the practitioner is doing the right things. What I learned in 10 days last year will be taught again in 3 days. But there is a big difference this time! What’s that? Keep reading…

During the course our day starts at 4AM and the last meal (you can call it dinner or snacks) is at 5PM where we get some fruits and tea. For this 3-day course, the last meal is at 11AM, yes you read it correctly! There is no food intake after 11AM and the participants will get a glass of lemon juice at 5PM. That means close to 20 hours (11AM to next morning 6.30AM) there is no food consumption! It was hard for me to digest this idea at first. After a few days I accepted this is a challenge and registered for the course.

Upon investigation I found that this process is to help participants to experience a deep meditative state and get the best experience by keeping the mind alert (and the body light). Also there is no influence of food on the mind in those 20 hours.

The course starts at 2PM tomorrow and finishes on Sunday (2nd Aug) at 5PM. This time the Bangalore Vipassana is providing individual rooms to participants. That’s a great opportunity for participants to experience privacy and avoid any sort of distractions during the course.

I am grateful to my family for their support in this adventure. Thanks to Anusha, mom & Samyak (he reminded me to pack my meditation block this morning).

I am looking forward to develop self-awareness & equanimity!

3 Days – 72 hours of Silence – 30 hours of Meditation!

Celebrating 25th Donation!

BloodFB

A couple weeks ago I donated a unit of blood at Rashtrothana blood bank in Bangalore. It was exciting to donate it for the 25th time. It all started way back in 1997 and this activity continues to inspire me to retain my eligibility for blood donation (health vitals & other blood parameters).

As I reiterated in my earlier blog article, there are numerous benefits to donors too. I have reaped all those benefits in the last 17 years. You can read the article below to know more.

pramodavyasarao.wordpress.com/2014/09/18/my-23rd-donation/

With proper planning I could have increased the count to 50 (3 times a year for 17 years), but I didn’t. Can you guess the reason? It’s the most common reason that I have heard people offer for not donating regularly. “I am waiting for the opportunity to donate to a friend or relative”. Imagine all donors thinking like that! I took a while to come out of this veil of excuse and participate in voluntary donation camps.

When I crossed 30, I made a commitment to participate in camps or a visiting blood bank 3 times a year for this noble (and favorable) activity. Every time I talk to the staff and inquire about the supply, I realize the gap between demand & supply in India.

There are a bunch of people in my life who made a great impact and inspired me in this 17-year journey. I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to the following people. If I have missed anyone, I apologize in advance.

  • Satyamurthy – the man who donated a unit of blood to my uncle in 1995 and showed the importance of this noble service
  • My parents who unconditionally supported and took pride in my interest at the age of 18
  • Sandesh – the captain of NSS (National Service Scheme) for alerting me when the requirement came from hospitals during 1997 to 99
  • My elder brother Raghu who led by example and participated in several donations. I am sure he is close to 20 donations now!
  • My college friends Rajappa, Sharath and Abdul Shiraz who accompanied me on some of those occasions and they also donated few times
  • My colleagues at Oracle who passionately participate in camps at workplace and continue to inspire others
  • Anusha & Samyak for accompanying me to these events and making this as a family activity
  • All those people who work in blood banks and act as helping hands to people in need

I sincerely request all readers to become a voluntary donor and donate blood at least twice every year. It’s a great way to serve while we continue to live with verve!

4 Aspects Of Thoughts : Volume|Velocity|Variety|Veracity

Thoughts

The world is your kaleidoscope, and the varying combinations of colors, which at every succeeding moment it presents to you are the exquisitely adjusted pictures of your ever-moving thoughts. ~ James Allen

While reading an article on ‘Big Data’ last week, I stumbled upon 4 aspects that distinguish ‘Big Data’ versus ‘traditional data’ stored in information systems. These 4 aspects are: Volume, Velocity, Variety and Veracity. I was fascinated to realize the same 4 aspects apply to the realm of thoughts in our minds. This article extends the analogy and provides my perspective on how these aspects influence thoughts.

Volume

Psychologists say we think about 60,000 thoughts per day. I wonder how they measured this 🙂 it’s an interesting number regardless. No wonder we all feel overwhelmed at the end of the day trying to swim in the ocean of thoughts. How many of these thoughts are productive/empowering versus unproductive/debilitating?

Velocity

To experience the velocity of thoughts, sit alone for 5 minutes and observe your breath. Within seconds, you will be hijacked by a new thought and it will take a while for you to come back & notice your breath again. There is a simple Buddhist meditation technique to experience this process. In this technique, you start counting your breath from 1 to 10. With each cycle of inhaling and exhaling increase the count. You will be lost in thoughts by the time your reach 6 or 7! Try this out.

Variety

Like a monkey jumping from one branch to another, our mind moves from one thought to another. Sometimes these thoughts are related and sometimes they are totally unrelated and distinct. As your notice your thought pattern, it’s astonishing to find the variety of topics your thoughts can meander through.

Veracity

As you notice your thoughts, you might find yourself imaging the future or replaying the past! Either trying to re-image the past and changing it or fantasizing a better future or worst yet imagining a potential personal disaster in future. It’s hard to keep our minds here and now! How many of these thoughts are veracious? How many of these are based on unverified assumptions, colored perceptions and self-fulfilling prophesies? Perception is reality.

One of the best ways to understand our thought pattern is to capture them in a journal. Every hour open your journal and write down your thoughts & feelings at that point of time. As you do this persistently over a period of time you will elevate the level of awareness. Kindle this flame of awareness via contemplation, self-observation, silence and meditation. The journey and the results will be equally rewarding & fulfilling!

PS : I acknowledge the graphic from the net.

Krishna’s Coaching Philosophy

Coaching

People don’t resist change, they resist being changed. ~ Unknown

One common roadblock for a coach in helping people change is the irresistible attachment to his or her own ideas & strategies. A coach can be trapped in his own ideas and continuously hint the client and gravitate the client towards a particular outcome or path. It’s very important to realize that the process of coaching is “all about the client” and “not about the coach”.

I was fascinated to read the same theme echoed in Bhagavad Gita [Chapter 18, the last chapter, verse 63].

iti te jnanam akhyatam

guhyad guhyataram maya

vimrsyaitad asesena

yathecchasi tatha kuru

After unraveling the secret wisdom in 17 chapters, at the end of 18th chapter Krishna says to Arjuna to carefully think about Krishna’s words of wisdom and do what seems right to him. Krishna seemed to be detached about the outcome and didn’t insist Arjuna to blindly follow what he preached in 17 chapters.

This exactly is coaching. A coach can only create awareness and then hold the client accountable for committed actions. Taking personal responsibility for our actions is of paramount importance. That’s the secret of all personal achievement and success. Everything we do matter and we must take ownership of our actions!

Coaching is not so much about adding, it is subtracting whatever is getting in the way of the client’s desired goal.

~ Timothy Gallwey

If the coach is biased towards a particular outcome or path, the client takes no responsibility to act and take the next logical step in the path of personal change.

If you are in the role of a change catalyst, a professional coach or manager or leading people – accept the fact that you cannot change people (and that’s their job); you can only elevate their awareness and empower them to take responsibility for their actions.

Once we embrace Krishna’s philosophy in helping people change, we can relax & rejoice. Let’s remember, it’s not about the coach! It’s all about the client.

Seven Years with Biwi and without a TV

7years

When men and women are able to respect and accept their differences then love has a chance to blossom.

~ Dr John Gray

Today Anusha & I are celebrating our 7th wedding anniversary. While chatting this morning, we pondered over crucial events and decisions that shaped and molded our relationship. Undoubtedly eschewing Television in the year 2008 has been the turning point in our life. While setting up our new apartment after marriage, we bought everything except the entertainment box.

It wasn’t a difficult decision for me as I wasn’t a TV buff anyway. However this was a significant diversion from Anusha’s interests & lifestyle. It was so nice of her to agree with my proposal for 3 months and then buy a TV if needed. I also committed to reach home by 6PM every evening and plan a family activity once I reached home.

First two weeks were easy to manage and we did things like visiting temples, attending family functions, chatting, going for a leisurely walk etc. After that it was really difficult to pass time. Just imagine how much can we talk? We started wondering what else other couples would do after wedding 🙂

Fortunately we didn’t budge and buy a TV. We listed our values and interests and started indulging in activities that brought joy to both OR one of us. The activities included watching inspiring movies, reading self-help books & magazines, yoga, going for long walks in Lalbagh, trying various cuisines etc.

The more we stayed away from constant exposure to media, the better we became as individuals. We started discovering our dreams, needs & values and more importantly we began expressing them to each other.

Now that our son Samyak is 3.5 years young, we continue to enjoy our life without a TV at home. Samyak enjoys watching animated movies and some selected videos on Youtube on my laptop. A common question we face from friends & family members is ‘When are you buying a TV?’ Our answer always is ‘We don’t know’.

My clients from Coaching & Training assignments think that I am missing a lot in my life by not owning a TV and depriving titillating entertainment to family. Some have said that via their facial expressions and very few have also verbalized these thoughts to me. Opinions are subjective and as a family we really have gained a lot by losing just one trivial thing.

By this article, I want to express my gratitude to Anusha for supporting me in this decision and willing to try new experiences in life. Life has become better in all areas in the last 7 years and the future looks even more promising and peaceful!

I don’t intend to bash TV watching and unsettle anyone reading this article. I agree that there are some benefits of watching TV for a limited time (underscore the word limited).

Why don’t you try this for a week and stay away from TV? It will be challenging and fun-filled. If you don’t enjoy that week, you have the remote control in your hand anyway 🙂

Transcending from Knowing to Doing

Knowingdoing

It’s not about knowing. It’s all about doing. ~ Bruce Lee

During a training session last week, my running coach Dr. Gladson narrated a story of his friend (I don’t recollect the name, so let’s call him Mr. in this post). Mr. X works as CEO of an organization and he is in his early 50’s. X travels overseas at least 3 days in a week. X knows few basic things about health, nutrition and fitness. Despite very little knowledge, X is in great shape and his health vitals are perfect!

What’s the secret of X’s success? My running coach said, X consistently practiced and followed the principles he knows 🙂 That’s the secret behind his health and fitness. Not a lump of esoteric & theoretical knowledge. It’s the simple art of doing what we already know!

In my view, most of us know what to do to go to the next level. If you we don’t know there are many avenues to discover the stumbling blocks in our life or career. For instance, if you want to improve your leadership skills or performance at work – first get a candid and anonymous 360 feedback to know your reputation. Knowing what to change or improve at work place is never a challenge. It’s the doing part.

If you know what to do and you lack motivation, here is what you can do. Take a blank sheet of paper and write 20 advantages of changing your behavior. By the time you write 20 benefits, you will already be convinced to start at least. All you have to do is look at the list everyday when you wake up to keep the momentum.

To stick to your plan, you can find a buddy (to remind you), make a daily checklist or any such thing to build a new habit in you. Once the new behavior becomes a habit, you no longer have to motivate yourself on a daily basis. It’s now on autopilot mode.

Let me encapsulate the message in 3 sentences

  • Find the behavior to change – What to Change?
  • List the benefits to – Why Change?
  • Get on the path and do something every day! – Change 🙂

PS : I acknowledge the graphic from the internet

Smile More and Judge Less

Smile

Stress comes from not doing what we know we should be doing. ~ Rubén Gonzalez

Marshall Goldsmith conducts a unique exercise in his workshops. He did this activity with us in the 2-day workshop at ISB Hyderabad in January this year. We were asked to identify 1-2 minor changes in our behaviors that would have a major positive impact on our lives. We had the latitude to choose any area of life namely health, fitness, relationship, leadership etc.

Once we wrote two things on our notepads, Marshall asked us to frame one sentence to encapsulate those behavioral changes in 6 words. This was a tough task! It really made me focus and shave all unimportant words in my sentence. I took around 10 minutes to meditate on my words and finally settled with the sentence ‘Smile more and judge less’. This line acts as a constant reminder for me to find joy in life and to be aware of the fact that perceptions create realities (my two behavioral changes).

It’s been 90 days since I wrote this line and the message still rings in my ears once in a while to focus on new behaviors. I also have this posted on my message board at work!

Since then I have tried this exercise in 1:1 coaching and group workshops. Let me list a few lines people wrote in my workshops. I really love the way this activity piques people’s creativity.

Eat less and be healthy

Relax and Embrace Life

Enjoy more and complain less

Breathe deep and speak with a smile

Listen better and ask questions

Run and have more fun

Be happy

Let go and enjoy the inevitable

Talk less and accept more

Enjoy doing what needs to be done

How about you? When you do this exercise – what two things would you write? What would be your one-line slogan to remember? Go ahead and do this exercise. I appreciate if you can add your one-liners as comments on this blog. Before I sign off, let me reiterate mine – ‘Smile more and judge less’.