The Power of Questions

Most often, we do not allow our children to think. Have you ever given a case study to a three-year old? If you do, you’ll be surprised at the speed with which they answer, the quality of the response and the number of alternatives they can come up with. Ask children for their opinion on any matter, and they will have one – but no one is asking. Every question you ask a child builds their repertoire, or the mental muscle. As exercise builds physical health, stamina, resilience and strength, questions are exercise for the brain. If questions are about Math, History, Science etc, i.e. the syllabus in school, the brain will respond accordingly. Similarly, if questions are about life, the brain will answer. These answers make the “unfamiliar familiar,” constructing ever-new mental models. The more the mental models, the more the perspectives, the lesser the problems and stress and the richer the life. This positive state of being can trigger the “reward” neural circuitry, building the fortunate habit of self-rewarding, instead of being dependent on others or a system to validate or reinforce.

Similarly, at the workplace, are you asking your juniors questions or giving them instructions? Even if you have the answer, asking questions is a people-development leadership style that enables people to think for themselves. Else, they will remain dependent on you – which, of course, secures your job, but doesn’t do much for your promotion or your team’s empowerment.

We are born with the capacity to do wonders. Every child is a genius in her own way. When this capacity, or potential, as it is often called; is developed, many a times through questions, the child/person becomes able. That’s when capacity transforms into capability. The word ‘capability’ is two words, capacity and ability. When one is capable, then can we be responsible.

The brain makes up 2% of the body weight but consumes 20-25% energy. To conserve energy and be efficient, it builds neural pathways. The human brain is estimated to have 100 billion neurons which can connect in trillions of ways. The richer the exposure, the more the connections as there will be greater associations from the past to compare the new and be more empathetic toward receiving and accepting it, instead of rejecting the unfamiliar and losing opportunities. It’s these unconscious habits that directly affect our ability to make choices and decisions from the higher brain. The narrower the choices, the more we fear. Fear leads to stereotyping people and situations, narrowing opportunities to what is “acceptable.” The larger spectrum of choices provides internal psychological safety, making the individual more secure and confident. A person with a narrow spectrum will rely on external safety stimuli and will remain psychologically insecure.

Such a condition of internal uncertainty puts the mind in a state of constant conflict, mostly about the question, “Who am I?” Since the mind has not learnt to think, there is only a prescribed answer – the one we have been brought up with.

Having observed parents and how they react to their children’s behaviours, it is more often that parents are not nurturing children. Mostly they are conditioning them, that too with fear and shame; while the rest of the upbringing involves indoctrination. This psychological doctoring centers around ages-old social norms and customs of what is acceptable behaviour. The curriculum is different for girls and boys; for different economic strata; varies geographically and prescribed by religious and personal belief systems. And so the child acquires a pseudo personality, complying with what is acceptable. Others become the source of acceptability and respect, to validate the self. Thus, we get rid of the confusion and conflict aroused by the annoying question, “Who am I?”

With this comfortable formula that the brain acquires of getting respect from others and having the neural pathways conserve energy and work efficiently with this habit, we lose our ability to self-respect; or rather, that never quite develops. This ‘hanging on’ to others for one’s self-concept and identity breeds outward-looking mental models, on which we rely for reward and acknowledgement and turn into a ‘complaint’ society. Such peoples often are followers of the dictates of others.

This state of being can spread through society making most of us depend on each other for our self-esteem. Since ‘each’ has not much to ‘give’, as that ‘each’ is looking for it in the ‘other’, the alternate becomes to ‘take’. To take away from the other. I’ve seen grown men celebrate, clap, cheer when the other looses. These cheering men did not win, but they find solace in the loss of others. That is a glaring sign of a hollowness typical of a pseudo existence. Backbiting is another good method of pulling the other down so as to self-aggrandize. This becomes the neural pathway for reward.

Through history we can see such societies and even civilizations carrying on for hundreds of years in this state of survival. Many self-destruct, where the ego (the embodiment of selfishness), becomes all consuming. Such emphasis and focus on appeasing the form and neglect of the spirit, shrivels the soul, causing the entity to implode. Where are the great Greek, Roman and Mughal empires?

An indicator of fear and shame-centric societies is that they are consumers. Research and development and invention, innovation require a high level of patience, faith and perseverance, an elevated state of service for the larger good.

How can we come out of this downward spiral and become what we ought to be? Just for one day, ask questions. This requires you to acknowledge that others, too, know, and may know better. This vulnerability makes you powerful and them stronger. Be patient with their answers – remember you are facing generations of indoctrination. You cannot break neural pathways by asking once only. Keep at it. Results may not happen in your lifetime, but the transformation has begun.

Energy Management

Energy Management is a concept that was explained in detail in a 2007 HBR article, titled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” The framework provided lends useful insights into the idea behind managing day-to-day energy to ensure employees are engaged and productive, and find their work fulfilling.

The overall concept of energy management includes 4 aspects of energy:

Physical Energy
Emotional Energy
Mental Energy
Spiritual Energy

Following is a list of recommendations for each of these aspects.

PHYSICAL ENERGY

If you feel a lack of physical energy, please ensure:

You’re eating right. Nutrition forms a big part of our overall health and physical fitness will lead to mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness. Simplify your meals – don’t mix chicken with meat, or pulses with fish. Try and consume proteins, carbs, or fats from a single source at a time. Have lots of water during the day and always drink a glass of water before your meal. Don’t consumer water for at least half and hour after your meal.
You exercise often. The minimum is 3 times a week for 40 minutes each. Brisk walking is a good exercise at the basic level. Take the stairs as much as you can. Park your car away from the buildings and utilize that opportunity to stack some steps for each day.
To get a minimum of 7 hours of un-interrupted sleep every day.
To take regular breaks during intense work days. Walk around for 10 minutes after an hour of focused work.

EMOTIONAL ENERGY

If you feel emotionally exhausted:

Pause during the day and take a mental break regularly. Think of something other than work. Read a novel, play a game, call a friend.
Appreciate those around you. Making people feel good about themselves will lead you to feel better as well.
Change the stories you tell yourself. Shift your linguistic patterns. If you discover that a big part of your conversation is about the negatives in life, consciously start talking about the good things. Your brain will believe what you say and it will de-stress you.

MENTAL ENERGY

If mental energy is an area of concern:
Avoid multi-tasking. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is mentally draining and leads to a drop in productivity.
Get rid of interruptions. When you’re in a meeting or require focused time, switch off interruptions. Put your phone on silent. Try scheduling a ‘phone-check’ and ‘email-check’ after every hour, this will enable you to gather momentum for work.
Try changing your work space. A change in location leads to a mental revitalization.

SPIRITUAL ENERGY

For spiritual rejuvenation:
Take time out of your busy schedules and revisit your big picture plan. Know your values and your vision for life to ensure you are on the right track. A misalignment between vision, values and reality often leads to high stress situations.
Clarify your priorities in life. Remind yourself of what is important in life often. Live each day to ensure you’re prioritizing your activities appropriately.
Keep a ‘switch off’ time at home. It is a good idea to switch off your communication devices for 2 hours once you’re home. Say between 8-10pm you will be present with your family, completely.

The Power to Justify

The good, the bad and the ugly exist concurrently and randomly. What we pick, defines our present reality. Like the circuitry in a landline telephone hub, apparently a mesh, a mess; whichever wire is connected, will respond. Data that exists in that connected wiring enables us to survive – the remaining data we pick up from what is around us. That original data takes care of our bodily needs and comforts. Rightly so, else we would not survive. Even in the super-abnormal conditions where a baby is left in a forest, the fable of Tarzan being the best example; the organism finds a way to live. The quality of the external data that the organism is exposed to, determines the quality and direction of its potential.

Every child is born a genius. What we do with that genius determines whether it will flourish or be directed to succumb to merely fulfilling its selfish bodily needs. Research in Psychology has established that, in general, a child is born with enormous potential. This potential is its capacity, which when groomed, becomes its ability; moving it from simply surviving to thriving; to taking response-ability.

The voices of society, of the environments in which the child is bred; sculpts the character of the child. The output is that, by the time the child is 11, the child is ready to fit-in with that society and can cope with its norms and demands. If the voices of the society are insecure, the young child, and, therefore, the adult that it will become, will ably manage within the constraints, restrictions and traditions of that society. The voices will keep steering it in directions often not of its choosing but in compliance with societal norms which are, most of the time, unquestioned mores, useful for the past but not evolved to accommodate the burdens of the present; least of all, the onus of the future. This child will be in the passenger seat for life. Associated behaviors are disgruntlement; negativity; critical; blaming and entitled – a victim mentality. This child will aim to be acclaimed as a hero, with a perpetuating need to be validated and acknowledged as its main driving need. This child’s massive potential will adapt to its comfort zone and justify its thoughts, actions and outcomes to further fit-in. Most of its intellectual capacity will be directed to design, develop and deliver these justifications, as they are what constitute its identity.

If the voices are confident, enabling and secure; the child will find its compass. It will find itself in the driving seat of life to steer into the future. It has learnt to maneuver the challenges of the terrain and knows that the twists and turns, ups and downs have to be skillfully managed. It is this skillful managing that becomes the endeavor, not necessarily where the path leads to. The direction is chosen, but the process is the elegance, beauty and quality of Purpose.

The enormous difference between these two types, the experiences they live and generate for others, can be attributed to three sequential elements as highly researched and presented by Howard Gardner in his book, Changing Minds.

1. CONNECTION

A question, whether what to cook today for lunch or which fear to conquer or what new project to launch, will find an answer according to the predominant attributes of your potential. When mindfully reflected upon for the most appropriate response, that response will be the connection between you and the idea. This connection taps into your potential and extracts from it courage, care and commitment. Recall the time when you achieved the seemingly impossible. It was the idea-connection strength that provided the valor to do something so audacious. You cared for the idea so much that it crafted your commitment to it. Your time attuned with how to make it happen. You got swamped with thoughts and invented ways. You saw the resources lying around you. It was clear and in-your-face and it wouldn’t let you be until you did something about it.

In this instance, being a hero does not matter anymore. You do not need other’s validation, acknowledgement; doing it becomes a duty; a ruling that must be sought.

2. MEANING

This well-thought out and chosen state acquires meaning because it went through the phase of Connection. You find in it Reason (the What) and Meaning (the Why), which, together, define the Purpose. From here on, everything you think, do or say is in alignment with the idea, cause, mission, ideology.  A high level of tenacity springs from an endless well of confidence and positivity and feeds itself, without regard for or expectation of reward or recognition. ‘Giving’ becomes the central theme of every action and you shift from the natural malevolent state to a benevolent demeanor. Whatever comes your way, has meaning, and contributes to the Purpose; nothing is useless anymore; not a minute is spent futile. This ‘giving’ is not altruistic – it is kind and compassionate, but not founded on pity – no, not at all, it is selfish, wherein this selfishness is a virtue.

3. EQUANIMITY

Persistence is no more a struggle or a sacrifice. The state acquired by now is the utmost of what faith personifies. This faith resonates with attributes of confidence and trust, in self and those who have joined you in the endeavor. They joined you because they wanted it too – they wanted someone to stand for an idea. The extent of commitment you demonstrate is what they want to be part of, as it fulfills the human spirit. Patience and humility take over the concept of chronological time. You know it will happen – ‘when?’ is for you to aspire, but not to determine. By now, the ego fads away to be replaced by flexibility to adapt to mixed, varied and intense circumstances. Such resilience brings in more heads and hearts; hands and feet. Here the journey loops back into Connection, but at a higher level of the spiral. Efforts, so focused, narrow toward the line-of-sight and reach the goal, only to happily discover the next higher peak.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 to 1831), the German philosopher rightly said, “Change is the cardinal principle of life. Struggle is the law of growth. Character is built in the storm and stress of the world, and man reaches his full height through compulsions, responsibility and suffering. Life is not made for happiness, but for achievement. The history of the world is not the theatre of happiness; periods of happiness are blank pages for they are periods of harmony, and this dull content is unworthy of man.”

Energy Management

Energy Management is a concept that was explained in detail in a 2007 HBR article, titled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” The framework provided lends useful insights into the idea behind managing day-to-day energy to ensure employees are engaged and productive, and find their work fulfilling.

The overall concept of energy management includes 4 aspects of energy:

  1. Physical Energy
  2. Emotional Energy
  3. Mental Energy
  4. Spiritual Energy

Following is a list of recommendations for each of these aspects.

 

PHYSICAL ENERGY

If you feel a lack of physical energy, please ensure:

  • You’re eating right. Nutrition forms a big part of our overall health and physical fitness will lead to mental, emotional, and spiritual fitness. Simplify your meals – don’t mix chicken with meat, or pulses with fish. Try and consume proteins, carbs, or fats from a single source at a time. Have lots of water during the day and always drink a glass of water before your meal. Don’t consumer water for at least half and hour after your meal.
  • You exercise often. The minimum is 3 times a week for 40 minutes each. Brisk walking is a good exercise at the basic level. Take the stairs as much as you can. Park your car away from the buildings and utilize that opportunity to stack some steps for each day.
  • To get a minimum of 7 hours of un-interrupted sleep every day.
  • To take regular breaks during intense work days. Walk around for 10 minutes after an hour of focused work.

 

EMOTIONAL ENERGY

If you feel emotionally exhausted:

  • Pause during the day and take a mental break regularly. Think of something other than work. Read a novel, play a game, call a friend.
  • Appreciate those around you. Making people feel good about themselves will lead you to feel better as well.
  • Change the stories you tell yourself. Shift your linguistic patterns. If you discover that a big part of your conversation is about the negatives in life, consciously start talking about the good things. Your brain will believe what you say and it will de-stress you.

 

MENTAL ENERGY

If mental energy is an area of concern:

  • Avoid multi-tasking. Our brains can only focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is mentally draining and leads to a drop in productivity.
  • Get rid of interruptions. When you’re in a meeting or require focused time, switch off interruptions. Put your phone on silent. Try scheduling a ‘phone-check’ and ‘email-check’ after every hour, this will enable you to gather momentum for work.
  • Try changing your work space. A change in location leads to a mental revitalization.

 

SPIRITUAL ENERGY

For spiritual rejuvenation:

  • Take time out of your busy schedules and revisit your big picture plan. Know your values and your vision for life to ensure you are on the right track. A misalignment between vision, values and reality often leads to high stress situations.
  • Clarify your priorities in life. Remind yourself of what is important in life often. Live each day to ensure you’re prioritizing your activities appropriately.
  • Keep a ‘switch off’ time at home. It is a good idea to switch off your communication devices for 2 hours once you’re home. Say between 8-10pm you will be present with your family, completely.

Pakistan: A Love Story

You have not lived your life if you have not hopelessly fallen in love with someone and even better broken up with them. There is an old world charm about unrequited love as it makes for legendary stories – the kind Shakespeare punctuated with imperfect, insecure, deluded but generous, loud and strangely optimistic characters. From the moment you start courting someone till the time you are cast out of their life; you experience emotions you thought you were never capable of feeling. In some sense, these themes of unrequited love also seem true for my love for Pakistan. 

Pakistan and I started our fling back in the 90s. I was young and carefree. My fascination with it began when we won the Cricket World Cup in 1992. To me, Pakistan, at the time, was only limited to a few mili naghmay, sports and a bloated sense of self-worth that we were better than our neighbour to the east. As I moved from city to city for education and work, I realized that Pakistan was as enchanting as a reverse swinging Yorker ala Waqar Younis. I just could not get enough of it! It was in those days that I fell head over heals for Pakistan. 

The obvious next step was to sit the beloved on a pedestal. It was impossible for me to imagine how anyone could not love Pakistan! In my vulnerability, I started feeding on the jingoistic piffle dished out by many and thought politicians were the quintessential evil mother-in-law who just did not approve of the choice their daughter had made.  

As I thought my love was about to culminate in the union with my beloved, then the 9/11 happened. It felt as if Pakistan had come crashing down from the pedestal. The romance of 90s seemed to be fading away. Pakistan had become cranky and a bit impossible to like. But I still persisted. How could I let the 15 years of my labor go down the drain. I clang on. I thought I would get it back the way it was and everything would be great again How silly of me! What ensued, as I tried to reconcile with this new reality, was a period of skepticism, low self esteem as a Pakistani and just general apathy. Deep down inside I was trying to play the sympathy card. You show your love interest how miserable you are in the hope that they will come around. Only they don’t. 

A few months ago, I had a moment of clarity. I felt incredibly stupid. It was not Pakistan that had become cranky. It was me who had changed. I was not willing to make those compromises – yes, compromises, that one has to make to woo the beloved. I had become self-centered and my priorities had changed. I was enveloped in this strange sense of entitlement where I treated others as a stepping stone to a fancy job and a big house. I watched Karachi burn; Lahore bleed, Peshawar weep, Quetta on its knees and still said nothing. Imagine how your beloved would feel if they lost an arm and you abandoned them! 

In the months leading up to this August, I have done a lot of soul-searching and believe that unlike a Shakespearean tragedy, Pakistan as a love story still has a hope of a revival – the sort that will one day unite the lover and the beloved. It will take me to put the collective in the mix again, take more responsibility and maturely start to get rid of the unwanted parts (jingoism, sectarianism, corruption and other ills). I will have to put my biases aside and start the process of rebuilding with love and care- without the expectation of wanting back. 

I need your blessings!

Lalaland

A legend in his own right, Sahibzada Muhammad Shahid Khan Afridi a.k.a Lala a.k.a Boom Boom, has decided to hang up his boots after an illustrious career spanning 21 years of international cricket. A born entertainer, Afridi captured the imagination of his wide base of fans since THAT innings. A bowling all-rounder or a batsman who could bowl a few fast leggies, Afridi never ceased to amaze and bewilder. When his bat went silent – and that was a usual occurrence, his bowling would come to his rescue. And when both his batting and bowling went down south, his on and off field antics would make the headlines.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, except for may be once when he decided to retire from Test Cricket mid-tour in 2010 while being a captain, Lala struck anxiety both in the hearts of his opponents and fans alike. He is one of the most decorated cricketers of Pakistan having won the man of the match award for 32 times.

Here is a look at five of his most memorable performances:

102 against Sri Lanka at Nairobi Gym, October 04, 1996

The innings that made Afridi into a household name in Pakistan though that match was not televised live on national TV in Pakistan. The late evening news or the Khabarnama at 9 PST, was usually a dull affair but on October 04th, it wasn’t. Most of the Pakistanis found out about a certain Pathan boy from Karachi who had hit a world record fastest 37-ball century punctuated with 11 sixes and 6 fours and helped Pakistan win a crucial tie against Sri Lanka. His world record stood for 18 years and was broken by Corey Andersen in 2014. The impact of that innings was such that each time Afridi stepped out to bat, he was expected to hit the bowler and his dog out of the park.

141 against India, Ist Test at Chennai, Jan 28-31, 1999

After scoring 11 in the first innings of the first test match between India and Pakistan at Chennai, Afridi came back to get 3 wickets on a helpful surface to peg India back. But it was his batting in the second innings that inspired confidence into a batting line up that consisted of Saeed Anwar, Inzamam-ul-Haq and a young Muhammad Yusuf (Yousuf Youhana at the time). He scored a pulsating 141 on 191 balls against the likes of Srinath and Kumble. His 141 runs were the cornerstone of one of the most remarkable test victories of the Pakistan test team. Though Saqlain Mushtaq took 10 wickets and Sachin Tendulkar made a century, my man of the match was Lala.

51 against South Africa at Nottingham, 1st Semi-final, ICC World T20, June 18, 2009

After winning the toss and electing to bat, Pakistan soon found themselves in a strife at 28-2 in 2.3 overs. That the team actually reached this far into the tournament was a mini miracle in itself. Interestingly, it was an Afridi wonder- catch off the bowling of Umar Gul against New Zealand in one of the previous matches, that many believe, had sparked the stuttering Pakistan team into action. It was a now or never moment for the team as they had lost to India in the finals of the previous edition of the tournament in 2007. Afridi strode out to bat and minutes later was commanding the proceedings. His boundary hitting trail against Johan Botha where he hit Botha for four consecutive boundaries set the hearts racing. He was finally out for 51 in 34 balls. Later that evening, he came back and broke the back of the South African chase by bowling out Herschelle Gibbs and AB de Villiers. Man of the match Afridi had finally taken his team to the finals of the world cup.

54 Not Out against Sri Lanka at Lord’s, Final ICC World T20, June 21, 2009

A rampant Sri Lankan team that had staved off every challenge on their way to the finals found a familiar opponent in Pakistan at Lord’s. Sri Lanka had been flying high as their top order and their mystery spinners were having a ball. They had already beaten Pakistan in one of the group matches and Shahid Afridi bagged a golden duck in that match though his bowling was stable and he took 2 wickets for 23 runs in his allotted 4 overs. It did not matter on the big day though. He walked out at No. 3 into a comfortable situation and took charge of the run chase. He ran hard, hit sixes and most fittingly remained un-beaten at 54 in 40 balls. Ian Chappell, the famous Australian Test Captain and a broadcaster, later said that Shahid Afridi deserved to be the man of the tournament. Shahid Afridi came back home to a hero’s welcome and people started likening him to the charismatic Imran Khan.

Biting the ball against Australia at Perth, Jan 31, 2010

An incident that refuses to leave Afridi, biting the ball was a bizarre thing to say the least. Pakistan were on a long tour of Australia in which they had lost all the matches, some even from winning positions. Afridi was the stand-in captain in the fifth ODI of the 5-match ODI series at Perth. Pakistan were in a position to win as they had Australia 7 down for 178 while chasing 213 to win. In an attempt to perhaps get the ball to swing or seam or do something silly like he did, Afridi decided to use his teeth to change the seam on the ball. Later he pleaded guilty for tampering and served a two match ban.