Out with the old!

Words like targets, performance ratings, top company, competition, shareholders etc. sound so meaningless these days. Discussions around fashion and travel feel vulgar and frankly the opportunity to only deal with the emotional and not the financial side of social distancing looks like a privilege. The discomfort that most of us feel as a result has been termed as ‘grief’, ‘denial’ and ‘shock’ among others. Regardless of how you skin this cat, it is painfully obvious that we are still trying to make sense of this new context through an old frame of reference. It’s time to ditch the old lenses and get the new ones. Maybe it’s time to look beyond the prophets of capitalism to the wise old men and women of tradition to look for answers.

Here is what I have discovered so far and propose these for your consideration:

• Do less with less than doing more with less. Our drive to do more and more is a remnant of the industrial age thinking. Everything around us is over-optimized. Even nature allows for redundancies to counter any shocks in the system. Think of why there are two kidneys and not one. The current global supply chain disruption is mainly because of its over optimization; the idea that there must be no back-ups to be more efficient.

• Shift from becoming to being. Becoming assumes that you need to acquire a set of tools, being on the other hand assumes that you already have it in you. It’s just a matter of discovering and using it. We are too worried about our own mental struggles and most of the time they tie us down and don’t allow us to look at the human condition in totality. Breaking free from the tyranny of our own orbit will hopefully launch us into a newer and a grander orbit. I suggest we listen more. It is extremely difficult being with self. Most people want to express as we have become a hyper-expressive society. Maybe it’s time to listen more and talk less.

• Be skeptical. A skeptic is someone who doesn’t believe anything without any evidence. The urge to stay one step ahead of the virus has us externalize our worries and hopes in a weird manner. We share everything without wanting to dig deeper. Being skeptical will help us and others who are trying to help us.

• Don’t be cynical. Cynicism is thinking about and believing the worst of something or someone. While skepticism is cherished, cynicism isn’t. You are not helping anyone by dashing their hopes.

Project Oxygen

Google made a profit of $9.18bn in the second quarter of this year. In the past decade or so it
has emerged as one of the most innovative organizations to have ever existed but this was not
always the case. Traditionally google has always been skeptical of managers. According to a
recent HBR article ‘How Google Sold its Engineers on Management’, Google’s engineers
believed that “management is more destructive than beneficial, a distraction from ‘real work’
and tangible, goal-directed tasks.”
In 2002 google experimented with a completely flat organization, eliminating all managers
and tried to replicate the college like environment they experienced in graduate school. This
obviously did not work. People started going to the founders for even mundane tasks and it
became pretty clear that management was important. But managerial systems could not be
implemented on a whim without date driven evidence in a company like Google. Google did
this in 3 stages Unfreezing, Changing and Refreezing.

Unfreezing (Taking on the status quo)
Google gave a small team in the ‘peoples analytics’ department the task to do rigorous
analysis on what made the highly rated managers at Google different from the lower rated
managers. This team was called “Project Oxygen”. They looked at 3 main factors when
analyzing these managers:
 Team Satisfaction
 Team Performance
 Individual Turnover
The analytics team did double blind interviews and tried to understand what these managers
did that made them so much more effective. After tabulating the results, they found out that
management actually makes a difference but this was just step one.

Changing (Rolling the findings into organizational practices)
Google first changed its feedback surveys to exhibit the traits that they discovered in their
research. They developed training programs and began to work with leading managers in
their functions and started convincing people that coaching, empowering et cetera mattered.
The Project Oxygen team gave in depth presentations to thought leaders in the organization
in order to bring them on-board this new vision of change. They essentially ‘socialized the
findings’ of the research. This leads us to the third stage of the change process.

Refreezing (Institutionalizing the changes)
Google took the practices discovered in their research, and made them a part of award
systems, performance reviews and the like. They essentially made people a lot more
promotable if they had certain traits. Google by taking these measures turned a culture that
was skeptical of management into a culture that was more open to the idea of management.
The research conducted by Google concluded that good managers are good coaches, they
empower individuals, they do not micro manage, they are results oriented, they are clear
communicators et cetera. But this begs the question, why would Google spend all these

resources to find out traits that are already well known? Any reputable management textbook
would list down these behaviors and a lot more. The simple answer is credibility.
Every organization believes that it is unique in a certain way. In order to bring out
meaningful change, evidence of the benefits of that change initiative should come from
within the organization. That is what Google did and this gives us a blue print on what needs
to be done when systems and status quos need to be challenged in organizations.

Are We Out of the World Cup, yet?

Yes, if you are looking for a short answer to the question posed above. A few hundred million hopes and dreams have been dashed. Careers have ended. No fairy tales, no messiahs and certainly no heroes. Sarfaraz and his men have been runners-up in a race against themselves.

Now to the longer answer. No, we are not really out of the World Cup yet. See, our team is a patch-work at best. We did not even know our best combination until half-way through the campaign. You can attribute this lack of clarity to the think tank but only partly. It is a system-wide failure. For far too long, the cracks in the system have gotten papered over by a chance victory or three at the world stage. When that happens, we all buy into the narrative of the ‘unpredictable Pakistan’. This allows the entrenched mindset in the system to hold its sway thus never allowing in the vim of the youth and the unconventional. Think of World Cup 1992 or Champions Trophy 2017 and you will understand what I mean. It’s the performances after a victory which bring to sharp focus the inadequacy of the system.

In so many ways, our cricket team perfectly sums us up as a nation. We are mercurial: “One minute down the next minute up” to borrow from Nasser Hussain. Our approach to life is that if we win the toss and bat first, we will win the match. The problem is the coin also throws up a tail when opting for a head. If we are asked to chase a target that demands of us to show grit and determination, we tend to creak under pressure and resort to idiocy and self-destructive behavior to get ourselves out of trouble. With shaky foundations, our structures crumble and we end up making wrong decisions. Hello, IMF.

Our collective is such that we do come across world-class talent that somehow doesn’t let us fade away into oblivion. Think Dr. Mahboob Ul Haq, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis among others. God only knows how many Wasim Akrams have slipped under the radar because the system failed them. Any talk of reforms and your uncle will stop seeing you.

Back to cricket. It is time for us to overhaul the system. It has been crying for it. It is only after a defeat do we start seeing paunchy players and an under-performing support staff. If we do not heed this call we will be out of the World Cup forever.

Just Keep Swimming

Just keep swimming, go with the flow, accept the way things are; these are just a few of the things that we hear around us almost every day. They all point on to the one fact and that is, once a thing is done, there in nothing you can do about it, so let go and let god! However, as easy as it is to say these things, I’m afraid I see very few people who actually practice it too. As a result, people take more tension, become more anxious and irritable, and in the end put their mental health at stake, all because they think they are in control of their future, but are not ok with the fact that they cannot undo their past.

Let’s break this situation a little using a tree diagram to understand how things works:

flowchart one

Here’s the thing, you have a task/situation/chore/mission in front of you and you need to fulfill it. You have two ways to go about it; complete the task in a timely manner with all your heart poured into it, or complete the task half heartedly and get done with it just for the sake of it. Each case will have two scenarios; you will either get to the desired outcome, or the undesired outcome. The feeling of what comes from these outcomes is what will all be different. But what stands still is that you have next to zero control over any of them. Frustrating as it might be, it is the truth of life and you can not do anything about it.

Some of you might believe in destiny and some of you would not. I myself, being the tiny opinionated person that I am, strongly believe that whatever happens has been already written down. The path to choose to reach that outcome is chosen by you, but other than that, everything is already planned for you. So why worry, my friend? Why the despair?

The term “Just Keep Swimming” is my moto to life. It comes from one of my very favorite movies, Finding Nemo. Finding Nemo is an animated movie about a father fish who loses his son fish in the ocean. The father fish, on his quest to ‘finding nemo’ befriends a fish called Dory who has a short-term memory loss, and is usually good for nothing. Throughout the movie, she chants her favorite words of ‘just keep swimming’ which clearly imply that just keep going with the flow and you will end up where you need to be, and in the end helps the father fish find his son. The perfect example of letting go.

Now letting go here does not mean to fold your arms and sit in front of your television watching your favorite show all day because, hey God has everything planned for you right? No. Rather, it means to work hard and pour your heart into whatever you do, and then let go, because at the end of the day, whatever happens, happens for YOUR good.

My father often says that he wants to have my attitude towards life. In any critical situation, I am usually the one who says “chill kerein, relax kerein” and my father is usually the one who cannot sit still and has his forehead all frowned and his heart beat racing 150 km/h. I often tell him to relax because there is nothing he can do about the situation except pray.

I am no expert in maintaining my calm in tough situations. But I do know my power of belief, and I wish that everyone did too. It is pointless to put your beautiful heart through so much, so why not practice the habit of letting go once your job is done, and staying happy for the life that is planned for you. Just keep swimming and you will be where you are meant to be.

flowchart two

Surviving Adulthood

My 30’s are already turning out to be weird. I’m a mom, a daughter-in-law, a wife, a mentor (yeah i know, weird), an ever-so-still-rebellious daughter, a friend, an ex-friend, a sister…the list just doesn’t end. That’s how many roles I, like many other fellow adults, have to juggle. See, the thing about life is the one million curve balls it throws at you. One moment you’re on top of your game and the next moment you’re falling apart, because, well, life happens. This may seem like your average day-to-day story, but the fact that you have all these insane roles to play, doesn’t make anything easier. You stop finding the time to heal, the time to process, and the time to move on — not move forward but move on.

Adulthood isn’t easy; it’s about containing yourself when you feel you’ve hit the end of the road. It’s about initiating a brand new start when you physically feel that you won’t be able to live through the day. It’s about making choices that may (did i say may…I meant most definitely WILL) be really difficult but are probably for the best (but you don’t know that yet…which makes it even more frustrating!!). 

Adulthood is an overwhelming process. It frightens you because you are constantly struggling to do the right thing and you keep brushing away the things that give you joy and happiness because it seems like the “right” thing to do (Terrible isn’t it? And you thought your 20’s were bad). 

For the benefit of you 30 somethings, (20 somethings, read and learn) I’ve put together a small list which may help you get through the day, especially when you feel like s*** has hit the fan and there’s no way you will be able to bounce back. I like to refer to this list as the ADULTTS (yes that’s adults with two T’s…): 

1. Always hug your mom – I like to start the list with this because it always makes things a tiny bit better than they were before. 

2. Distract yourself – Sometimes getting away from a situation, or the person causing the situation, or the negativity of your surroundings may just help you think a lot more clearly and objectively. 

3. Understand what is important – Prioritize and tackle each step as it comes. Once you understand what is important you will eventually make sure things fall into place.

4. Let it go! – This is the tough one. The really tough one. Especially for impulsive humans such as myself. It takes a great amount of self-control before you realize there’s nothing you can do to help salvage a certain situation. Once you do let go however, you will be in a more positive head space and will eventually realize that perhaps letting go of a certain situation was necessary for you to grow.   

5. Trivialize it – How difficult and unsolvable a problem is depends primarily on your own thought process. You might need to take a step back and really analyze the root cause of the problem and look into that as opposed to blowing the issue out of proportion. 

6. Talk about it! Cry about it! Laugh about it! Write about it! – Basically get it out of your system. Don’t let it linger on. The more you internalize your feelings the worse the pain will become.

7. Structure a game plan – Once you’re done analyzing the problems and the symptoms, exercise a bit of self-restraint and get into solution mode. A good idea is to structure your thoughts and decide how you will tackle each step. We all manage emotions in different ways and this may be a more practical take on the matter; however, once you get down to it you’ll realize that perhaps there was a pretty simple solution all along.

This list of course is fluid and may take a couple of iterations before you get it right but you get my drift. Lastly, always remember: Nothing and by that i mean NOTHING lasts forever. And if we’ll survive one day, we’ll survive the next one too.

A Tribute to Ours and Theirs

You were born into a family like any other. A family that saw dreams for you, pushed you to grow, and stood by you no matter what. A family that prayed for you, cried for you, and fulfilled all your wishes. You had friends that thought you were crazy, friends that made fun of you, and also those who inspired you to be the better version of yourself that you dream of. You were afraid, wavering, and anxious, but also eager, energetic, and certain. You knew what you wanted from life, and you went for it despite all the struggles you knew you had to face. Your mother’s tears and your father’s silent expressions, your sister’s hugs and your brother’s convincing, there was nothing that was going to stop you. There came the day when you went from being just your mother’s, to being your motherland’s. And you would not have had it any other way!

Life was tough and it was crazy. Everyday was like a roller coaster ride that would not end. From waking up at five on cold winter mornings with your seniors throwing buckets of ice cold water on you, to running unending laps on the football even though your legs gave up 20 minutes ago; from drinking your food out of your glass because you only had 2 minutes to finish it, to rolling in mud because your shirt was not properly tucked in; from having emotional breakdowns in front of your fellow batch mates, to being the support system to all, you woke up everyday with a smile on your face and hope in your eyes because you were brave and courageous, and you knew you had a whole nation that was counting on you. You never gave up.

You and many other ‘jawans’ had a sole purpose to life, to protect your country and the many strangers that became your family. You had people rooting for you and praying for you from the comforts of their homes. Did anyone really know what you really went through? The constant fear of attack from the enemy and the distress of losing the life of a fellow or even yourself. Did you really love your land so much to go through that? For you, every bruise was an award, every scar a story to tell. For your family, every breath of yours was another blessing to be thankful for, every doorbell a skipped heartbeat.

And you? You entered the ‘enemy’s’ land being the tiger that you are. You were doing only that what you were told was good for your land. You were considered a terrorist, a spy, an intruder. But you did it still, because you knew that every drop of blood of yours would make you a bigger hero, someone who fought for his land and died in the name of it.

I am sat in my bed, all cozy and warm with a cup of tea in my hands and my family sat right around me. Words are not enough when I write this thank you note to the both of you for doing what you are doing, for being our savior and our protector. A world full of peace is what we’d all love to see, but till then, thank you. Salutes to you both.

“Afrad ke hathoun mein hai akwaam ki takdeer,

Her fard hai millat ke muqadar ka sitara”

Pursuing the More Significant

If we look into human history, there has been one question that has been either asked directly or alluded to, in all religions and cultures. This question is: What is the meaning of life? Ever since humans started thinking rationally and analyzing their surroundings, they have been curious about why things are the way that they are. From wanting to know how organisms have evolved to asking more broad questions about the purpose of life, God and the nature of the universe.

What makes life worth living? Is it a life filled with happiness and success or a life filled with purpose and meaning? Is there even a difference between the two? Recently, I read a quote by John Maxwell and the dots finally connected. He says: “Success is when I add value to myself. Significance is when I add value to others.”

While the thirst for success is never quenched, significance satisfies our deepest heart and soul. It allows us to lay our head on our pillow each night confident that we lived a valuable and fulfilling day. The pursuit of significance is a daily practice of priorities. It is when you set out on a path, focused on something important and you work towards it with dedication every day. It can be anything from a tangible goal to the legacy you leave behind one day. It truly does not matter where you begin, what matters is what you achieve at the end.

The purpose of life, therefore, is to create your own meaning  and to bring it to fruition. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer. The truth is, there are untapped sources of meaning all around us—right here, right now. We can find meaning in every scenario, event, occurrence and context. We can find meaning in the sublime, the absurd, the dull and dreary, and in the perfectly wretched in life.

Here are simple ways to pursue significance in your life:

Begin and end with gratitude:

Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude. Start each day and finish each evening by thinking of three things for which you are grateful. When we anchor ourselves to the abundance in our lives, we uncover that which is most significant to us. It’s not happiness that brings us gratitude, it’s gratitude that brings us true happiness and contentment.

Value what you have:

If you need something to believe in, start with yourself. Until you value yourself, you won’t value your time. And until you value your time, you’ll do nothing with it. When clearly defined, your values will simplify your decision making process and will create fertile soul for you to flourish.

Dream big, live big:

Clear out the clutter in your mind so that your dreams have room to live and grow. Set goals: Plan, execute and implement them. A dream written down with a date becomes a goal. A goal broken down into steps becomes a plan. A plan backed by action becomes a reality. Dream big, work hard, make it happen!

Act with meaning:

The purpose of life is not to be happy, rather it is to be useful, honorable, compassionate, make a difference and leave your mark in the world. In the hyper-competitive world in which we live, leaving a legacy is often implicitly put forth as the highest virtue. It is a way in which  we will feel valued and remembered after we have gone. It doesn’t have to always be grand, it could be something small that aids you in leaving the world a slightly better place than when you came into it.  

The Tyranny of Time:

Do not be lured into the premise that ‘someday’ you will take action, since that day may never come. Many people die with their music still in them. You’re never going to be 100% ready and it’s never going to be just the right time. This means that every moment is also the right moment. If you want it, you just have to do it!

If you don’t make the time to creating a life you want, you’re eventually going to be forced to spend a lot of time dealing with the life you don’t want. Remember, we came to this world with a purpose. Find out what that is. It’s going to be hard, but hard isn’t impossible.

A Practical Guide to Being Intolerant

During my day job, I meet a lot of people from different backgrounds. Most people have no problem being intolerant to others. Those who are not intolerant find it difficult to get along with others. Here is a guide for those, who want to be a part of the in-group.


There are some safety precautions you must follow lest you become tolerant. Foremost is to not think and reflect. Be lazy when you can. It always works like a charm. The second precaution is to always perpetuate stereotypes. They are there for a reason.

Technique 1: The funny ethnic joke

A recent dialogue between one of the participants at a training session:

Participant: “Sir, I want to tell you a joke.”

Me: “Please, go ahead.”

Participant: “Sir, when was Pakistan founded.”

Me: “1947”

Participant: “No”

Me: “How is that?”

Participant: “Sir, it came into being in 1940. It took them 7 years to decide who would keep Sikhs and who, Pashtuns.”

It’s such a convenient and lazy way to make others laugh. When short of humorous material, google ethnic jokes and voila!

Technique 2: The hell-bound fashionista

Overheard at malls and other public places is this oft-repeated sentiment that those who follow fashion and wear lots of make-up will end up in hell. Hidden in this statement is the assumption that modern looking people have shaky morals and they can sell their soul to the devil to buy a new branded shirt. Maybe they do! Branded shirts are expensive.

You can also add to this category the close-minded fundo, who is made fun of because of, yes, you are right, their physical appearance.

Technique 3: The ungrateful South Walay

Experienced again at a training session, when I told the participants the story of how treating my past as a burden always put me down, a participant said, “Sorry sir, South Walay hamaisha inferiority complex mein rehtay hain.” He added further, “Sir, I come from a village up North, but I am proud of my roots.” The point I was trying to make was completely lost and it became about the feud between North and South. Embellishing this technique even further is the honorable mention of the “Arrogant Central Punjab Walay.”

Technique 4: Burgers

The English-speaking crowd sits in their echo chambers and cannot empathize with the common man. They only eat at fancy restaurants and are a danger to the ideology of Pakistan. You could also add the ‘pan eating Karachi walay’ and ‘un-couth Punjabis’ to this category.

Technique 5: You are my ‘Nigga’

Not as pervasive as others, this technique also conveniently trivializes the history and travails of an entire race. Boys and girls who have just hit adolescence, find the most fun in it. It’s endearing how they use this word and there is even WhatsApp groups called “My Nigga’’ that have special friends on them.   

Technique 6: You are stupid for following PPP/PML/PTI/MQM

The most famous technique to be intolerant in Pakistan is to make ‘funny’ jokes on everyone other than your own favorite politicians. All of them are corrupt and they could not care less of their people. They deserve to be chastised till they don’t because that politician just joined your favorite political party from the rival camp.

Bonus Material

If you are bored with using the above, here is a much simpler technique: just look for how ‘different’ the other is from you. There is always physical features, dress, language and family backgrounds to make fun of.

Leader’s Toolkit

For too long, and rightly so, we have been ‘hooked’ to the ambient theories of motivation. Trying to understand the human psyche, aligning management tools to individual and group needs and make people work to get more out of each dollar, has been and is the cornerstone of research and study by social scientists and psychologists.

One such great thinker was Abraham Maslow who had a profound impact on how management was and is shaped. An American psychologist, Maslow was best known for creating the hierarchy of needs expressed in his 1954 book Motivation and Personality, a theory of psychological health predicated on fulfilling innate human needs in priority, culminating in self-actualization. He stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a “bag of symptoms.” The five rungs of Maslow’s ladder are still taught at most universities; millenials are well aware of it, and organizations formulate their reward and recognition policies around it.

Times through these ages has repeatedly demonstrated that those who make it into history books and whose stories are told as inspirational legacies are ones who did not traverse the hierarchy of needs. They by-passed them and reached the top. The story of their journey begins in the last rung of actualization. That’s where the action happens. Prior to this, life’s rituals are around existence and survival; conditions that are not the prescription for human excellence. Think of the Nobel Prize winners; great musicians and painters; inventors and architects; nation-builders and astronomers; social workers and historians – spending decades of their life looking for that one molecule; an economic theory; a musical note that moves the soul; in quest of material to build; life in deep space; serving the ill and burying the dead – what makes them do what they do? Such tenacity, endurance and persistence is not the stuff of survival. There is more to life than filling the belly and a roof over the head. Human struggle is capable of by-passing these menial low-life form activities and launching straight into the rung of self-actualization.

Even in these travails, self-actualization is not the driving force; it is the unforeseen consequence. What is it that makes us capable of navigating past the bodily, safety, psychological and esteem needs to live a life of perpetual contribution?

Upon intense closer reflection, deep inside the last rung of self-actualization, there is another journey. This is one way of how it can be expressed:

leaders toolkit

Pride in what you do lends a firm and robust identity constituted by an unshakable ideology. This pride is augmented by a sense of service, prayer and faith. It is a spiritual experience that fills the belly, intrigues the mind and corroborates the heart. People/societies without an identity are too busy finding one; looking around to compare their own with others, falling into the trap of arrogance if theirs is better, or inferiority complexes, if worse. There is no anchor in such mental quandaries for intelligence to begin its search into the unfamiliar.

What you have pride in, you will care for. This care is ‘respect’ – the ability to repeatedly ‘see’ from the other’s perspective. There is empathy for another and kindness for the environment and resources. This state gives dignity, self-value; beyond mere self-esteem. Without this ability to ‘see’, one is stuck in self-serving traditions.

Empowerment is to recognize one’s power to think, feel and do. With the immense faith imbibed by the previous two stages, this power has to be used, resulting in a heightened state of trust – that molecule has to be studied; this music note says it all; galaxies, million light years away, must be investigated. The enormous trust in oneself is realized and trust in others (people and matter) becomes normal. Without trust, the individual is ensnared in a victim mentality.

The lens of trust makes the eye seek and unravel the unseen. Such a mind enters its veiled realms and creates, designs, scripts and formulates the new, the unknown, the fresh dimension leading to growth in character and progress. Looking at and living in the past is the reality of those not having arrived here.

The individual arrives at the locus of inspiration – everything and every moment is wonder-ful. Being awestruck becomes the natural condition that drives the order. Time and space become immaterial, resulting in tremendous contribution to uplift and unfold the mysteries that are ours to discern.

Pain and pleasure are the proclaimed motivators. Whatever we do is supposed to be guided by our instinct to seek pleasure and avoid pain. This P&P principle drives us at both levels – the physical and the spiritual. The outcomes are different. The physical levels are the same as of animals, and remain the motivations of survival. The spiritual P&Ps are the human reality burgeoning what religion, philosophy, mysticism, aesthetics, ethics and morality prescribes for us to be.

The B Word

In a day and age where social media has become a virtual daily performance and the work atmosphere only extols the virtues of people who are charged up, switched on, working 24/7, racking up numbers, meeting targets, achieving, achieving, achieving- it becomes very easy to get caught up in a vicious cycle. ‘Work-life balance’ is merely a phrase with no meaning, ‘working hours’ are no longer ‘9 to 5’ but ‘as long as it takes to get the job done’ and ‘rat race’ is something that you are simply a part of.

When work takes its toll on your mental and physical health, your family/social/love life, and leaves no time for your personal interests or hobbies – you will inevitably fall prey to the dreaded ‘B’ word: burnout.

Coming back home at the end of the day feeling physically and mentally exhausted is a recipe for disaster and not a sustainable lifestyle. If you find yourself in such a situation, and want to try to avoid burning out, here are a few steps you can take:

1. Organize yourself: Take out some time at the start of every work day and make a small to-do list. What calls you have to make, what documents you have to review, what meetings you have to attend. Whether we realize it or not- without a plan of action, we end up spending a lot of time procrastinating, and as the day ticks on, we find ourselves becoming overwhelmed by an increasing pile of tending tasks. Make a concerted effort to wrap up as much of your work as possible during your work hours, and make a strict rule to not look at any work once you reach home.

2. Move around!: Take a walk, do some yoga, go for a run/ swim/ bicycle ride. Forget the physical health benefits, the clarity of mind that comes from physical activity can be a great stress relief and help you disengage from your mental stressors.

3. Make time for the important stuff: The things that get most overlooked if you are constantly busy with work are your relationships. Do not underestimate the quality of time and attention that other human beings require from you. You don’t have to do anything drastic! Simple steps; such as having tea with your family (during which you keep your phone on silent and in another room), keeping the weekend solely for family (and not mindless errands) or making sure you meet your friends at least once every two weeks. These may seem like small things but will go a long way in keeping you connected to the people you love,

4. Go easy on yourself: There is no shame in taking a break to recalibrate yourself. A day off if you are feeling overwhelmed, a short vacation to reward yourself for the hard work you have done.

5. Nurture your hobbies: whether it’s reading, flying kites, cooking or anything else that brings you joy and helps you unwind- don’t sacrifice it for work. You have to be selfish about your hobbies, keep a chunk of time aside to do the things you truly love, and protect them from any outside interference.

Avoiding burnout, somewhat ironically, requires some work- but a practical and disciplined approach to utilize your time effectively is what will get you the right results.

The Cloak of ‘Practicality’

What I have observed in the last twenty eight years of living in Pakistan, is that our ambient culture is polluted with aspects that take us away from a sense of responsibility and harm our integrity.

Our status quo is riddled with examples of disconnect between the ideals espoused fervently and what we actually do. This dissonance is very evident in some families and institutions. Sadly, all the good stuff that is expressed on social or professional events, often falls on deaf ears, resulting in daily practices of individuals and communities being at odds with the soundbites, which are meant to guide our behavior in a positive direction.

Let’s look at duality as a feature of our culture i.e., saying one thing, but meaning another – saying ‘yes’ to a request from your friend or boss, even though in the heart of heart, you have no intention of doing what’s needed.

I recall that some years ago, a senior lawyer and an acquaintance, requested me to act as a witness at his son’s wedding. I would have obliged, but due to another commitment, I couldn’t be available on the date of the wedding, which was scheduled a few days after my departure from the city. The lawyer comforted me, “That’s no problem.” He opened his briefcase, swiftly took out a document (nikah naama), and suggested without batting an eyelid: “Please sign here as a witness.” I was surprised, “Sir, how can I sign, when I will not be witnessing the happy occasion?!” He was perplexed with my question, and replied, “This is just a formality, and having you as a witness, even though you will not be there, will be an honor for our family. I see this as a practical solution!”

Such a phenomenon begs the question: How has duality become a norm? One of the many reasons that has made this hypocritical trait so routine, is our choice of words, which serve as ‘pain-killers’ to describe an errant act.

Our conscience, which is normally alive and vocal, when it detects incongruence in what we say and do, is conveniently silenced by high sounding words like ‘practical’ and ‘expedient.’ Such words become palliatives and are very effective in silencing the voice of our conscience, whenever we violate personal or professional ethics.

Consider this: Dictionary defines ‘practical’ as an idea, plan, or method likely to succeed or be effective in real circumstances. Hence, achieving a desired outcome becomes a priority, without any regard to how it is achieved.

If ethical considerations and values prove to be impediments in the path to achievement, they are easily sacrificed at the altar of another word – expedience. Note that the word ‘expedient’ means ‘convenient and practical although possibly improper or immoral.’

Anything worth doing is difficult, and being in integrity in all interactions, is a challenge that we need to embrace. By exercising wisdom and upholding principles, in tough situations, personal or professional, we may not achieve our goal in its entirety, but we will sleep well at night.

Life is a minefield of temptations. Each indulgence promises pleasure, which is short-lived. The cost of betraying self is incalculable.

Hiding behind the cloak of ’practicality’ may benefit you in the short term, but will compromise your being in the long-run.

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 Over Time

Time management is undoubtedly an area which seems to be of grave concern to us, both at a personal and professional level. Whether a busy professional or a house wife, a student or a man working on the road, the common factor they all share is the pressure of time. One of the participants in a time management session rightly said “We are very unfortunate not to really enjoy the divine gift of life by cherishing and living every single moment of it rather we are trapped in a blind race which leaves us with an exhausted body, mind and soul”.

Recently, I have come across a very interesting article in the Harvard Business Review “Manage Your Energy, Not Time” written by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. What you read here is mainly an extract from the given article with little personal input here and there.

The subject article underlines two entwined concepts towards time management or broadly taken as life management. One deals with the fruits of living a disciplined life and the other emphasizes on winning time through developing and managing an individual’s energy reservoir.

As mentioned in the article, we are bestowed with four energy springs within our capacity and the best part is the given energy springs will never dry provided we manage them prudently.  Our anatomy is such that we like any another matter in the world are charged and driven by energy, be it physical energy which runs our body or spiritual power which elevates our spirit to its true heights. The essence of a blissful life lies in keeping a balance yet optimum utilization of these God given energy reservoirs.

The Body: Physical Energy

A smart artisan never lets his tools get rusty as he knows compromising on tools means compromising success.

Our body is the ultimate medium through which we exhibit our intellectual, emotional and spiritual energy. Interestingly, this key source of our self reflection is the most neglected one. We are all well aware of the fact that inadequate nutrition, exercise, sleep, and rest diminish people’s basic energy levels, as well as their ability to manage their emotions and focus their attention.

Regular exercise and physical well being sounds like a luxury to be enjoyed only by a very few. Office timings from 9-5 are most commonly known as 9 – none. To be successful or at least to look committed, one must work longer hours – efficiency still outruns effectiveness. No wonder, executives are stressed out and have short attention spans which eventually results in lesser output.

What to do?

  • The first step towards managing physical energy is to identify rituals for a healthy life. Our body, like any machine demands two things for a long life i.e. right fueling at the right time and regular servicing to minimize wear and tear. Watching our diet both quality and quantity is definitely not a very pleasant task but then discipline in any aspect of life requires willingness, courage and commitment and same holds true for a healthy lifestyle
  • Just as a machine needs to shut down periodically to keep it from burning out similarly our body needs proper rest and sound sleep to get ready to face another challenging day.
  • Another key ritual highlighted in the subject article is to take brief but regular breaks at specific intervals throughout the workday. The value of such breaks is grounded in our physiology. Known as “Ultradian rhythms” refer to 90- to 120-minute cycles during which our bodies slowly move from a high-energy state into a physiological trough. Toward the end of each cycle, the body begins to crave a period of recovery. The signals include physical restlessness, yawning, hunger, and difficulty concentrating, but many of us ignore them and keep working. The consequence is that our energy reservoir—our remaining capacity—burns down as the day wears on.

Intermittent breaks for renewal result in higher and more sustainable performance. The length of renewal is less important than the quality.

The Emotions: Quality of Energy

A relaxed mind inhibits creativity and self control, essentials of professional success.

Emotions reflect the quality of energy. As they say a “positive person is the one who manages his emotions intelligently”. The key differentiating factor between other living things and human beings “Ashraf ul Mukhlukat (Superior Being)” is the power of choice between a stimuli and reaction. When people are able to take more control of their emotions, they can improve the quality of their energy, regardless of the external pressures they’re facing.

How to manage Emotional Energy?

  • First step towards managing emotional energy is to identify our reaction pattern towards different stimuli. Keeping a close look to how we feel in different situations lead us to self assessment eventually leading to self development.
  • The concept of intermittent breaks during stressful work hours are an amazing recharger and help overcome negative energy. Unfortunately, without intermittent recovery, we’re not physiologically capable of sustaining highly positive emotions for long periods. The high pace of work with long list of challenges, rejection, never ending competition, force us to move to and fro like a pendulum from high to low energy. Such situations can be overcome by breaking the pattern of negative energy meaning diverting our attention to something which rejuvenates us. This is why call centers usually are encouraged to keep an entertainment room to minimize the burnout among agents.
  • Nothing could be more effective than the power of appreciation both for self and others. Never forget to give a pat on the back to yourself and others on accomplishing a task irrespective of how small or big it is. Appreciation is a wonderful ice breaker and instrumental in building relationship at work.
  • Perhaps the most effective way people can change their feeling and reaction to an incident is by viewing it through different angles. The famous concept 3 D technique works miracles in our professional growth and interpersonal communication. 3 D technique means viewing an incident or decision form three different angles with the core intention to comprehend other’s perspective. The three different angles are:
    • Reverse Lens: seeing the world from the victim perspective. With the reverse lens, for example, people ask themselves, “What would the other person in this conflict say and in what ways might that be true?”
    • Long lens:  Analyzing the short term and long term perspective and consequences respectively. Ask yourself, “How will I most likely view this situation in six months?”
    • Wide lens; Thinking beyond immediate outcomes, ask yourself, “Regardless of the outcome of this issue, how can I grow and learn from it?”

Each of these lenses can help people intentionally cultivate more positive emotions.

The Mind: Power of Focus

Power of focus simply means “being present both physically and mentally. Our intellectual faculty is a product of our focus and observation. The busy office environment demands multitasking, we usually find ourselves juggling with a range of urgent tasks, proof reading a report while answering a phone or tabulating an important information while chit chatting.

What to do?

  • Multitasking can be quite risky; our physiology is such that at times trivial distractions can be costly. The concept of intermittent breaks work equally well for our concentration. The article suggest that one can be more effective at work by giving his undivided attention to a task at hand for about 90 to 120 minutes, try finishing it and then enjoy a little break before one hops on to the next assignment.
  • The worst enemies of focus and concentration are the fruits of technology, a constant beep of incoming mails, never stopping phone calls. Distractions can definitely be minimized to a considerable degree by developing rituals conducive for attentive work.
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Prioritizing indeed works wonders.

Spiritual Energy: Power of purpose

“I no longer want to work for money, but simply for the joy of the work itself.”

What could be more motivating than the power of purpose and meaning? Unfortunately, motivation is largely taken as an external factor.

People perform at their best when their job and responsibilities fall in their liking. Work is more than making money; it’s a way to make dreams into realty. They are better charged with positive energy which leads to focused efforts resulting in higher accomplishments. Regrettably, the high demands and fast pace of corporate life don’t leave much time to pay attention to these issues, and many people don’t even recognize meaning and purpose as potential sources of energy

What to do?

  • Self refueling: Every thing around us demands attention, even a garden unattended for an extended period houses unnecessary weeds and creepers. To ensure a lush green garden with colorful flowers, we need to give it time and attention and water it with love every now and then. Same is true for self development. To find purpose and meaning in what we do, we need to take a soul searching cruise. To access the energy of the human spirit, people need to clarify priorities and establish accompanying rituals in three categories: doing what they do best and enjoy most at work; consciously allocating time and energy to the areas of their lives—work, family, health, service to others—they deem most important; and living their core values in their daily behaviors
  • Another way to mobilize mental energy is to focus systematically on activities that have the most long-term leverage. Unless people intentionally schedule time for more challenging work, they tend not to get to it at all or rush through it at the last minute. Perhaps the most effective focus ritual is to identify each night the most important challenge for the next day and make it your very first priority when you arrive in the morning
  • In the second category, devoting time and energy to what’s important to you, there is often a similar divide between what people say is important and what they actually do. Rituals can help close this gap. Take time out for what you cherish and enjoy it fully so you are better charged when you switch your attention to what you are expected to do
  • The third category, practicing your core values in your everyday behavior, is a challenge for many as well. Most people are living at such a furious pace that they rarely stop to ask themselves what they stand for and who they want to be. As a consequence, they let external demands dictate their actions. What are the qualities that you find most off-putting when you see them in others?” By describing what they can’t stand, people unintentionally divulge what they stand for. If you are very offended by stinginess, for example, generosity is probably one of your key values. If you are especially put off by rudeness in others, it’s likely that consideration is a high value for you. As in the other categories, establishing rituals can help bridge the gap between the values you aspire to and how you currently behave.

Addressing these three categories helps people go a long way toward achieving a greater sense of alignment, satisfaction, and well-being in their lives on and off the job. Those feelings are a source of positive energy in their own right and reinforce people’s desire to persist at rituals in other energy dimensions as well.

Managing energy levels consequently results in better time management, no more running around or beating about the bush. An aligned mind, heart, body and soul lead to accomplishment rather than sulking or wasting time.

Rewrite Your Script

“Magar, aap jo keh rahe hain iss ka hamari company se koi relevance nahin hai,” (“What you are saying has no relevance to our company,” – a participant told me in one of my training sessions a few years back. I had two different ways to respond at that point: 1) to assert myself and explain the context a bit further, 2) step back and reflect on what the participant had said and then pick it up with him at a later time. I chose neither and instead got into a heated debate with him and soon realized that the other participants had also rallied behind him and I almost got booted out of the room!  

Later, I recounted the incident to a senior colleague with all the gravity I could muster. He looked at me, smiled and then taking a sip of tea from his bone china cup said, “This is a serious offence that you have committed to yourself.” I was a bit baffled by his response as I expected him to say words that would allay me. Explaining himself further, he said, “Ali, you have done a serious disservice to yourself. You became defensive and your reaction revealed your insecurity.” Suddenly, the edifice of my self-esteem crumbled right in front of me.

That one conversation started a chain of questions and self-enquiry. I was indeed insecure and the need to win others’ approval was a defining feature of my operating system. Upon further reflection, I realised that it was a desire that had stemmed from my early childhood and had played out like a well-written script. I always blamed my background for my low self-esteem. For me, the word “Kaash” had become an existential reality. “Kaash I went to a big ticket school.” “Kaash I was born into a rich Lahori family.” “Kaash I was taller.” “Kaash I was more attractive.” This soon changed into a series of self-destructive actions and I started losing my mind. Then, South Africa happened!

Amidst the majestic mountains of Drakensberg, the world famous trainer Etsko Schuitema conducts a week-long self-development course called ‘Personal Excellence.” My good fortune that I was able to attend the course in September 2016. The calm of the imposing scenery and the slow pace of everything around was enough to challenge my worldview that ‘fast and loud’ was the only effective way to do things. And the Course! It was a Godsend. A true revelation in more than one way, it forced me to explore the darkest and farthest recesses of my heart to find what’s ailing me. The most resonant thought was that we have the ability to rewrite the script we follow on a daily basis.

Let me explain: I was told when I was in college that I was the sum total of my past experiences. But nobody told me about my bias for only focusing on events in the past that beset me. I thus ended up writing and following the same script over and over again, a script that made me the ‘victim’ of my own self pity. I let my past define my present for far too long. Lack of confidence or not being able to accomplish a task was conveniently blamed on my background. There was comfort in that. I did not have to do much. I just had to lay there and blame.

It hit me like a thunderbolt that it is not really our past that defines us but it is through our present that we attach meanings to our past. If I am not giving my 100% or cannot speak in English or cannot win that business contract, I will always find reasons why it did not happen and invariably those reasons would be events that occurred in my childhood. So I decided to put an end to that madness. Enough was enough.

I feel energized and empowered by the fact that I can associate meaning to an event the way I want to, in the present. If I did not win that business contract, instead of wallowing in self-pity, I now try to look at what I did and what I could do to increase my chances at the next such instance. This allows me to improve without affording me the ‘luxury’ of blaming others. Granted, there are times when I feel as if I have hit a stone wall. But that is not necessarily a bad thing. I don’t need to break the wall down and go through it. I can turn back and take another route to circumvent it and that will only happen if I do not allow that stone wall to enclose me within it. My circumstances allow me to rewrite my piece and not follow the same routine script that my ulterior self wants me to. It works!

Let me urge you to review the script you have been following all your life. Is it one punctuated with suffering, self pity, denial and rage? Or is it one full of adventure, learning, growth and love?

Interestingly, the events that make up your script are neutral. You assign them meaning. It is upto you to assign either empowering or disempowering meaning to the foundations of your script.

Who Are You?

It’s not who you are underneath, it’s what you do that defines you. — Rachel Dawes, Batman Begins

Who are you? Take a minute and answer this question. Before reading ahead, just put down whatever answer comes to mind.

The self — has been the centre of attention for centuries. Philosophers, psychologists and religious figures throughout history have debated on the nature of the self. And to good merit, if we cannot understand the true nature of who we are, how are we to make sense of our relationship to the other and the world. Understanding the self perhaps then is the prerequisite to understanding anything. I exist in your reality, only after you exist. If there were no you, there would be no me, at least not for you.

The world around you therefore, is a reflection of who you are. As you change through time, so does the world around you. You may have defined your self as the physical (tall, dark, blue eyes etc.), the social (a son, a cricketer, an academic), the personal (shy, impulsive, out-going, courageous), the principle/religious (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist), or the existential (human being, a soul etc.). Whatever your definition of the self, will form your understanding of the other and the world. Be careful how you define yourself, for it will define your reality. What we will try today is to understand the self and determine how (in)accurate we are.

You are the decisions you make. Not your instincts, not your thoughts, not your beliefs, only actions.

Umair is a good friend. He is in love with a childhood friend, Sophia. Umair views himself as being religious, and he is. Sophia is relatively more liberal. He wishes to spend his life with her, but knows it will be difficult. He tells himself he can’t go ahead and start a life with Sophia. I think that is a lie. It is not that he cannot. He decides. He prioritizes religion, and his own view of his future over his instinct of love towards Sophia. If he keeps thinking he can’t make this decision, he is disempowering himself — he is helpless. I believe he is not, he has decided to give other things more importance than his feelings of love towards Sophia. That is who Umair is. It will be easier for Umair to navigate through life, if he understands that. He will be more at ease with who he is, if he admits to who he is.

Your decisions share a telling story about your reality. What you prioritize in life. What you give importance to. What drives your decisions? List down 5 decisions you’ve made in the past 2 years. Write down what you think these decisions were driven by. Did you make decisions based on personal growth? Or community? Are you driven by fame? Or variety?

Go With The Flow

Lack of focus is undoubtedly one of the lethal performance killers. Workplace surveys reflect that a scarily large number of employees are usually disengaged primarily due to a foggy, stressed or wandering mind which compromises performance. It takes a mighty effort to shun away all the distractions (both physical & emotional) and concentrate all energies on the task at hand.

I have been struggling with focus myself for a quite a while. I am always on the lookout for some inspiring material on this subject, and recently came across an incredible book on Focus by Daniel Goleman. Thanks to my colleague (Asif) for recommending this book. A brilliant read on the anatomy & dynamics of focus. This article encapsulates highlights from the subject book.

Disengagement at work can be associated to a whole range of factors such as low motivation, lack of challenge, inadequate financial tradeoffs, a discouraging boss, workload , constant stream of technological teasers ( buzz of a mobile or ‘bing’ of a new mail).

According to brain science, the primary reason of disengagement is absence of “FLOW”. People are rarely in flow in their daily lives. They are mostly stressed or bored. Research shows that 20 % people have a ‘flow ‘ moment at least once a day. Around 15 % of people never enter ‘flow’.

What is “FLOW”? Just like music, flow is a state of harmony. A melody is created and music flows when different instruments are in sync. Similarly, flow is a state of neural harmony, a rich, well timed connection between diverse brain areas. There are two vital parts of the brain, the top down and bottom up, When these parts are in sync, we are more likely to perform at our best. It results in high engagement, a state of full absorption; we enjoy carrying out the tasks and feel good about it. Pleasure is the emotional marker of flow.

To understand the dynamics of flow, we need to take a closer look at the two drivers of our mind. Our brain has two semi independent, largely separate operating systems. The ancient brain is called bottom up mind, whereas the relatively modern brain. which has evolved over the centuries, is called top down brain. Both play a phenomenal role in defining who we are and how we operate.

The Bottom Up Brain or Narrative Brain

• This fast and furious part of our brain works like a flash, operates in milliseconds
• it is involuntary and automatic, never sleeps , may dose off for a while though
• It forms intuition through a network of neural associations
• Highly impulsive in nature and is driven by emotions
• This part of the brain fathers all our habits and is usually change averse

Top Down Brain – Direct Experience

• It has evolved over a period of time, flexible and reflective
• It has limited capacity and consumes a lot of energy to operate, no wonder a focused task leaves us exhausted and drained out
• It is voluntary and effortful
• This is the seat of self control and has the tendency to overpower and challenge old habits and emotionally driven impulses
• It is a willing learner, capable of making new neural connections

Power of choice, will power & voluntary attention are top down functions whereas bottom up brain is reflexive and routine driven.
The bottom –up brain has immense storage capacity, it multitasks and scans our surrounding without being told to do so. It is a collector, always on the lookout to gather and store information. The top down brain takes time to deliberate on what is presented by the bottom up brain. Its job is to bring some method to the madness.

Full focus is achieved when both parts of the brain are active. For instance, creative problem solving is a function of harmonious blend of top down and bottom up activity. Think through a problem logically and methodically and then let your mind adrift for a while as you stumble on an impasse. Let your mind wander a bit, break away from the routine and let the unconscious automated bottom up brain to dig out an insightful and creative solution.

The happy marriage between both parts of our brain enables us to realize our full potential and enhance our performance. A collision between both brains is a recipe for disaster as it creates confusion, conflict and chaos in our thought process causing dissonance.

Employee Engagement can be stimulated through motivation, challenge and most importantly by evoking a sense of purpose which will lead to flow, a state of harmony between our creative energies and rational navigators.

An employee dwelling in his comfort zone due to lack of challenge, fear or de-motivation, easily succumbs to distractions and ends up wrestling with focus issues. S/he barely get to enjoy the magical moments of ‘flow’, which act as catapult that hurl you to fly higher & faster.

Office environment can play an instrumental role in employee engagement by promoting a high performance culture which ignites both parts of the brains; challenge , pressure and sense of accomplishment involves top down thinking while motivation & positive reinforcement keeps the door open for bottom up traffic such as creativity and the value of a mind adrift.

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Attributed to Albert Einstein

Be or Die

In the tide and storm of information we are blasted with daily, the ability to steer confidently toward ones goal is quite a feat. Even when one wants nothing to do with the television, there is someone at home who is watching and the sound gets caught. With the so-called educated (at least graduate) politicians yelling and even louder program hosts, the viewer is left ambivalently stunned between ridicule and hope. At work, there is a general disgruntlement with bodies coming to do a job; in social circles the hot topics are more of what the media is blaring; at public service offices there is clamoring for means to get more out of those that are served. Ride in a public bus and you are lucky to get a place on the roof; use a rickshaw or taxi and be prepared to pay through your nose; visit a police station to file a complaint and witness atrocities committed on the evil and innocent alike; stop at a traffic light and get inundated by beggars or blared by horns urging you to break the light, or even get robbed; go to a government hospital and behold enough sights to shock you forever.

Two questions come to mind – how did we get to where we are and how do we overcome this lone state of affairs?

The first is easy. Nature is naturally entropic, i.e. it is self-destructive. We are born to ruin. A body not cared for will decay faster; a garden not tended will suffocate in weeds; a house not looked after will rot; a community not able to care for itself, its people and its processes, will fade; a country or civilization that does not grow, implodes.

The way to counter entropy is conscious effort. The superior human brain is the only instrument that has the ability to be conscious [there may be other conscious beings in the cosmos we are yet not aware of. Consciousness is anti-entropy and pro-evolution. The greater the conscious effort, the more the chances of growth and prosperity.

In our daily lives, how does this work. Let’s say you are over-weight. You know you have not controlled your diet therefore you have reached this uncomfortable state. The doctor has declared you borderline diabetic and hypertensive. Now you wish to lose this weight to be healthy. It takes 30 minutes on the treadmill at 7 kmph to shed the number of calories one can consume in 5 minutes of drinking a cold-drink. Any and every effort you make to lose this weight is called a ‘conscious effort’; effort geared to break habits, to counter impulses, and to stop doing what you ‘want’ to do. Even the putting-on-of-weight was because you did not make a conscious effort about your eating habits. Habits are killers – they are your worst enemy.

Habits are for pleasure and not all pleasure is healthy. If you are not able to control your drive for pleasure, which makes you fat or lazy, then nature’s law of entropy takes over and your health is ruined. Imagine not brushing your teeth or having a bath for a week, what will become of you?

Such consequences are the end result of the scenarios described above; the ills of society. Whether it is the desire not to wait at a traffic light, or to give a bribe to a policeman to avoid a chalaan, corruption starts small, and then there are no limits. The black-and-white of morality start merging and we start justifying our actions. Entropy is justifiable; these are not reasons, they are excuses. Analyzing for reasons is a powerful intellectual exercise; justifications are ego-centric. The more we justify and blame, the bigger the ego grows. That’s when wrongs become the right way to live.

Having adults and seniors not living on integrity adds to the problem. I’ve seen, at school time in the morning, mothers and fathers driving their kids to school and, in their hurry, breaking the red light; people breaking the line at airport security queues, an act of injustice and depriving others of their rights. Thus, our children grow up with a confused mindset. We tell them to be honest and do justice, but demonstrate the opposite. We parents are the role-models of indiscipline in our society. Then why are we perplexed that our kids are poor citizens?

The country’s poverty is an indicator of this indiscipline. Where there are eight children plus grandparents to feed on the salary of two, we are breeding malnourished, weak and survival-only prone people. At times when I mention this factor; the over population that is under-utilized, as one of the causes of our conditions, people’s reaction is, “But this is the only form of entertainment poor people have,” and thus, we endorse and condone the ill. For these many people there aren’t enough jobs or big enough land-holdings to feed, so the increased crime, where one can hire an assassin for a mere Rs 2,500 tops.

Getting to the second question: How do we change our condition? Ultimately, life is pretty simple, we only complicate matters – the answer to this question, too, is easy. Like the oft-repeated Quranic verse that mentions change as being a consequence of self-change, the solution lies in doing the opposite of what we are doing today. Our actions must be reversed for the results to be transformed. Where we lie, we must speak the truth; instead of coming late, we must be on time; stop promising what we will not deliver; not break the queue or the red light; control the birth-rate and let everyone have the right to live a good quality life; respect public property and not spit on or write on walls; value the traditions, customs, religious beliefs of the other instead of bombing them to death or sawing off their heads; listen to each other instead of screaming to be heard above other screamers.

If it is so easy, why can’t we do it? There are two ingredients of the much-needed action. We often hear, at the conclusion of political talk shows that we lack the political Will to act on the solutions we are richly endowed with. Since decades it’s always been the Will that is to blame. In which store, mall or warehouse does one find the Will to make it happen? Where will it come from? Who will bring it and give it to us? Till when do we have to wait to have it? What will happen to us while we are waiting? Who is responsible for us not having the Will? Why don’t we have the Will? What should previous generations have done to ingrain the Will in us? And, if they didn’t do it, what do we have to do today so that future generations have the Will to lead the required change?

Again the answer is simple. There are two ingredients of the Will, patience and humility. Patience comes from empathy and humility comes from gratitude. Lack of empathy is due to plenty of selfishness and lack of gratitude is due to too much greed, which again is selfish. Selfishness is a consequence of fear, which is the basic emotion for survival and, for this purpose, is equal in humans and animals. Fear-ridden societies are either barbaric or decadent. Fear is inversely proportionate to faith. Faith-laden societies are civilized as they have hope and trust that their action will bring results. Fear-full societies have big egos (the pain-body, where it hurts to be kind, gracious and which forces us to do acts of injustice) and will always be dirty, as the ego makes us rigid and does not allow the back to be bent to pick up the garbage. Faith-full societies are less on ego and high on dignity (self-respect) and will be clean, as faith makes us flexible and bendable to ensure what is preached is practiced. The sense of dignity does not allow garbage to lie around; for the mouth to say a lie; for anyone’s right to be abused and for injustice to be committed.

Patience and humility or, in other words, empathy and gratitude, or yet in more words, faith, trust and hope are best inculcated in children till the age of three after which it becomes part of their character enabling them to practice these Godly qualities at the intuitive level. Every year, past this age, these character qualities become more difficult to instill. So we grow up with an Operating System (OS), and even a BIOS, that is devoid of these traits. These get hardwired in us and cannot be changed. As an Adult, we can manage this programming but not alter it. In managing it, we can consciously decide not to do that which we consider wrong but which is a habit. Gradually, this new trained response becomes part of our personality. Yet, anytime we are in a state of panic or respond under conditions of high stress, the old programmed OS will take precedence.

I am not talking about ‘Do or Die’, I insist it is ‘Be or Die’ as to Be is the richness of character – Khudi ko kar buland itna ……. (we all know this). It is not the ‘mai’ – the ‘I’ – it is the ‘khudi’. Therefore it is said, “Having is the substitute of Being,” and, thus, we fill our lives with the material instead of the spiritual – all that we will leave behind in this world and go to our next destination empty-handed.
The choice is ours, as are the consequences we will have to live with.

Being Firm and Fair

Organizations are often held hostage by aggressive high performers who are great at meeting short term goals through pushing and ordering people around, but that comes at a high cost. Long term viability of any business is adversely affected if such conduct goes unchecked. 

No two people are alike. We have different pasts, experiences and beliefs. We come from different backgrounds and cultures. As individuals each one of us is unique and is motivated by different things; yet, we are alike in many ways….Being able to leverage such diversity is what makes all the difference in performance. Understanding and working with difference is a key challenge for any manager to be effective.

Focus of this article is on managers who have a tendency to be very firm and demanding, with little or no concern for how their outbursts or mindless straightforwardness affects individuals and teams at the receiving end. Such a forthright behavior without tact and sense of timing, no matter how well meaning, harms an otherwise conducive work environment.

Organizations are often held hostage by aggressive high performers who are great at meeting short term goals through pushing and ordering people around, but that comes at a high cost. Long term viability of any business is adversely affected if such conduct goes unchecked.

It is important, however, not to write-off such people as trouble-makers. Instead, it would be worth our while to try and understand where they are coming from and what drives them to extreme behaviors.

Through counseling and coaching, it is quite possible, that ‘rough stones’ can be encouraged to turn themselves into diamonds. Often genuine concern for meeting demanding business objectives lead some managers to express themselves in ways that are unproductive.

Those who are overly aggressive tend to be more firm than fair. This is usually because they know no better. However, when such people ultimately do turn around, and a few do by finding the right balance in their leadership style, they become amazing allies of change and transformation.

In organizations, aggressive people are mostly feared or side-lined. This is largely because managers fail to confront such people with the intent to redirect their energy to a positive end.

How can we harness the energy of aggressive people to achieve business goals on a sustainable basis? Think about it. Why are some people aggressive and intolerant? Is this a habit? Or do events trigger an unreasonable behavior in them? When a subordinate explodes on another colleague in the office, in the presence of many, why do their bosses not attend to it promptly and effectively?

There can be many reasons for this, but one thing is clear, the answer to why we behave the way we do, lies in our past. The clues to our present behaviors can be traced back to when we were born, right through to the present time. However, the first seven to ten years of our lives are most significant. These early years can be likened to wet cement, where whatever falls on it, leaves a lasting impression, unless the matter is addressed there and then. Experts in the field of psychology maintain that our most qualified and competent teachers should be teaching in primary schools. This is the time when children are more impressionable. However, despite this knowledge, we live in a land where primary schools teachers are the least qualified and competent, and where parenting is neglected.

Erik Erikson, is known to be a giant developmental theorist. He suggests that we experience inner conflicts as we progress through life. How they get resolved along the way has a significant bearing to our present conduct. The following table is reproduced from the chapter on “The Socialization Process” from a book titled Child Development by John Santrock and Steven Yussen. It highlights the different stages through which we evolve and the inner conflicts we face:

Erikson’s Stages of Development

Late adulthood (51+) Ego, Integrity vs despair
Middle adulthood (31-50) Generativity vs stagnation
Young adulthood (21-30) Intimacy vs isolation
Adolescence (16-20) Identity vs role confusion
Middle and late childhood (11-15) Industry vs inferiority
Early childhood (3-10) Initative vs guiltAutonomy vs shame, doubt
Infancy (0-2) Basic trust vs mistrust

Based on the table above, the sources of aggression can be traced to our infancy and early childhood. For example, if a manager is behaving aggressively, it is quite possible that during childhood, he did not enjoy sufficient freedom to do things on his own and as a result started doubting his own abilities. When anyone uses excessive force to get things done, it could be because the idea is weak. Aggressive people tend to defend weak ideas.

In light of the foregoing, it becomes vital for managers to acquire in-depth knowledge about their colleagues and subordinates in an informal setting. Effective information exchange can take place only in a climate of trust. Without building and enjoying a good rapport with team mates, our efforts to coach or counsel falls by the way side. In fact our attempts to help can also be counter-productive.

Similarly, intolerance stems from us not trusting the process or people we work with. It’s our heightened sense of insecurity that makes it difficult for us to accept anything that is different from status quo i.e., we choose to cling to our comfort zone, and abhor contrarian thinking.

Habit is what we do repeatedly, without applying conscious thought to it. What lies dormant in our subconscious mind often gets triggered through events. For example, the sight of lizards gives some people the creeps – a response that is also a habit. When things are not done as told, some managers sense a loss of power – they feel insecure and behave aggressively.

There could be many reasons for why bosses hold back. It could either be their tactic or strategy of allowing time for things to simmer down. But this is usually not the case. Some bosses are slow in addressing difficult people and situations largely because of fear or apathy or lack of skill. In some ways, this behavior can be viewed as ‘Passive’, which is the other extreme of aggressive. Both ‘Passive’ and ‘Aggressive’ behaviors are acquired from our past experiences, particularly our early childhood.

Passive behavior is characterized by our failure to express our wants and needs honestly. Tendency to allow others to disregard our rights is also very evident in ‘passive’ individuals. On the other hand, aggressive people usually tend to only concern themselves with their own rights and privileges, and that too, at all costs, having no regard for the rights and feelings of others.

There are no easy answers, but as a pointer, seriously consider coaching and counseling. Coaching is for skills enhancement, where the coachee is usually keen to learn. Counseling, on the other hand, is for addressing attitudinal issues and as such can be very time-consuming at first. A company would be in real trouble if most of its people were in need of counseling.

Before you embark on a coaching strategy in your organization, it will be worth your while investigating how attuned your managers are to the subject. Ask them to share their perspectives on:

    • What is coaching?
    • How does one get a “buy-in” for coaching?
    • What actions does a coach need to take?
    • How is feedback provided to improve performance?
    • How does one coach someone who knows more than the coach?
    • What are the payoffs for the coach and the company?

Coaching and mentoring strategies are increasingly being welcomed by top companies to get the best out of people. The benefits show that coaching:

  • Makes a marked difference to performance
  • Gets even a beginner to perform competently and quickly
  • Turns an average performer into someone with real strengths
  • Best performers, too, need a coach to help them stretch themselves to become even better

In addition to becoming a better coach, most managers need to concentrate on becoming assertive, which is a delicate balancing act.

By being assertive, managers can deal with conflicts intelligently, facilitate positive changes in peoples’ behaviors, negotiate effectively with a variety of internal and external constituents, and lead the growth agenda of the organization, while keeping all stakeholders committed through the journey.

Assertiveness is a skill that can be learned to counter our inherited tendency to either be aggressive or passive.