Winter is never too far: Be proactive

June 26, 2017

Many of us would remember the story of a grasshopper and an ant. While the grasshopper lazed around during summer, the ant worked hard collecting food grains and storing them in its house. When the grasshopper enquired, the ant said, “I am storing food for the winter when there will not be anything to eat!” The grasshopper laughed over it saying winter is too far and there is no need to worry now.

When winter came the grasshopper did not find anything to eat. He died due to persistent hunger.
The story tells us a lot about the importance of being proactive.

How can we become proactive? Here are some ideas:

• Ask yourself: can I do some of the tasks ahead of time or at least initiate them early. In most cases, the answer will be yes. A friend of mine gets a tutor for his son during the summer vacation and makes him complete some crucial subjects such as Mathematics, much ahead of the next academic session. As a result, the child is already ahead of his peers when the session starts. He gets very good grades. This builds his confidence and he is able to do well in other subjects as well, plus he has time to pursue his favourite sport.

• Think and write down the steps that need to be taken to accomplish a task. This helps in organizing your schedule and plan better.

• Never lose sight of the important things in life. We often get so busy with work that family and friends get neglected. Even at work, we often remain busy doing day-to-day urgent tasks rather than addressing issues that need to be looked into in order to make improvements in systems, policies or practices. I have already written a post on ‘Doing important things in life’.

• Don’t leave tasks half finished: Often we start something but due to some reason or the other, don’t complete it. And, at times this gets forgotten. Coming back to the unfinished task takes much longer than to finish it in the first instance.

Proactive people don’t wait for things. They anticipate challenges, look for opportunities and take action in advance. This attitude makes them successful and enhances their influence. To conclude, winter is never too far: be proactive.


Find relevance in your work

May 28, 2017

Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, in his book — Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike — shares some invaluable insights on success.

Knight’s first job was to sell encyclopaedias. He did not have much success. His second job was to sell securities. He did not do well here either. Just when he was beginning to lose faith in his ability as a sale person, he set up Nike and started selling shoes. According to Phil Knight, he succeeded this time because he was selling a product he believed in, and liked.

Knight had been an athlete on his college team. He loved running. He knew how important a good pair of shoes was to a runner. This made him a credible shoe salesman, and the rest is history.

Knight’s personal life story reinforces the point that secret of success lies in doing what you like doing. Knight was not failing as a salesman, he was just not selling the products that he was interested in, or had the passion for. The moment he got to sell shoes, he excelled.

Everyone is not as fortunate as Knight to find a job or a career of his liking, though it is worth trying. Not everyone is daring enough to make a career transition either.  As a result, there are people who have the aptitude for selling shoes remain stuck in selling shampoos. They struggle to deliver the results and don’t reach their peak. And, this affects their self-esteem.

No one likes all aspects of his/her work. We have only two choices: Either dare to change or find relevance in the work we do. Finding relevance means we should see the connection of our work with a higher level goal. Pursuing a worthwhile goal most often gets the best out of us.

In one of my earlier posts – Managing Self-Esteem at Work – I had made a few suggestions. Contentment comes in finding relevance in things we do; and in pursuing goals that give a sense of satisfaction. Since Knight had been an athlete himself, he did not just sell shoes, he believed in making shoes that would help sportsperson achieve their dream. This led him to constantly work on improving the design and features of his products.


Ideas that help in achieving a goal:

April 29, 2017

I have a friend who runs for 5 kilometres a day, seven days a week. Weather does not affect his schedule. It may be too cold, too hot, raining or snowing, he finds a way to go out and run. And, he has been doing it for 23 years.

People like him who strictly follow a schedule to achieve their goal are few. We see a much larger number who start something and then give up. Drop out rates in gym and fitness centres, hobby courses, sport and training courses are always high.

Why is it that some people follow a plan of action and achieve their goals but most don’t?

I asked my friend what keeps him going. His answer was simple, “I enjoy it and actually look forward to running every day.” This sounds too simplistic but if you think it is a profound idea. If we are pursuing something that we look forward to doing, we are more likely to do it. For example, in a weight loss programme, there are several options. A person who likes to socialize will not enjoy running alone on a treadmill. He might be better off playing a sport of his choice, walking with a friend, and doing other group activities.

Most of the physical activity programmes fail because their goals are too ambitious. They are often results-oriented rather that task-oriented. When expected results are not achieved, people get frustrated and give up. In my view, ‘walking 10,000 steps in a day’ is far better than setting a goal of ‘losing 3 kilograms in a month.’

A key point that we often miss is that every success comes after a long process of continued failures in our chosen path. Short and task-specific goal like walking 10,000 steps a day is better in this context as well. It reduces the chances of failures. Even if you do less on a few days, it does not matter. You don’t feel the same sense of failure as you would if you had set yourself a goal of losing 3 kilos in a month.

The final point: we should not allow ourselves exceptions and excuses like not finding time, having too much of work etc. I worked with a consultant recently. We had an important meeting to prepare for and worked till 11 in the night. When we finished and I was looking forward to go to sleep, he told me was going to the gym because he did not want to miss his workout. That should be the spirit.


How to say no?

March 29, 2017

Which are the major decisions you took in your professional life that you feel happy about? – This was the question someone asked me recently.

With a bit of reflection, I could share a decision I had once made. I had said ‘no’ to a very senior officer. Instead of heeding to his demand to offer a short-term contract to an individual, I explained the process that I would follow as per rules. He was not too happy to hear the response. A “No” — no matter how polite and logical it is — does not go well with people who are used to listening to “yes”. It did affect my relationship with his department, which incidentally was key to us. Instead of agreeing to a high-cost short-term arrangement to help an individual, I thought through the process and took the decision to introduce a change in the system, which would be beneficial to the programme in the long run. This worked well; and is still working.

At times, all of us feel pressurized to comply with a request that we are not comfortable with. The problem is greater if it comes from a senior person. Doing something unethical, illegal or simply against our values is one of the most challenging dilemmas in our career.

How does one say “no” in such situations? Here are a few ideas:

Buy time, if possible: It helps to buy time to think over the issue, weigh the various pros and cons and then respond. “I will think over it and get back to you” is a good strategy. But remember to get back within the time you promised. Pressure on you will increase day by day, if you don’t respond; and this will further reduce your confidence to say no.

Ask yourself if you have strong reasons to say “no”: Once you have thought over the issue well, then frame your response, based on facts, logic, correctness of procedures, etc. This way you will be able to justify your answer. It helps to consult some trust-worthy friends and colleagues. You may receive some good advice.

How do you say “no” is the key: Once you have established why are you saying no, you need to present it in a way that the recipient is compelled to acknowledge. Remember, the initial reaction is not going to be good. Be ready for all kind of reactions, outbursts, unnecessary questioning, even yelling etc. Hold on to your temperament. Your attitude, your tone of voice, your confidence all play a role. Remember, if you are right then you have the edge. The recipient would, sooner or later, appreciate the merit of your response.

Having said this, I must add that these situations are a test of our integrity. One has to be ready to make personal sacrifices if one wants to go this road. Lord Milner puts it so well, “If we believe a thing to be bad, and if we have a right to prevent it, it is our duty to try to prevent it and damn the consequences.”


Five ways to self-care

February 25, 2017

Why did you see your doctor last time? I asked this questions to some of my friends recently. Most of them said it was when they fell sick or followed up on a known health condition such as diabetes or hypertension. Very few said it was for general health check-up.

The age-old wisdom ‘health is wealth’ is known to all but still we don’t take care of our health. Most of the diseases are curable or at least treatable if diagnosed on time. Yet, people show up at hospitals during advanced stage of illnesses.

We must prioritise self-care. I would propose the following five ideas:

• Do you have a condition that is unusual even though it is not causing much discomfort? If yes, don’t ignore. See a doctor. Every disease takes time to manifest itself in its rigour. This is the time when it should be worked upon. Early detection results in effective treatment.

• You don’t have to be sick to take a diagnostic test. Several diseases go through an asymptomatic phase with no apparent signs or symptoms. Talk to your doctor and discuss if there are any diagnostic tests you must take depending upon your age and health status.

• Create ‘happy hours’ in your life. You often find them in restaurants or shops when betters deals are offered. Can we not introduce the concept in our life? It would mean finding time to meet with friends, family or doing things that make you happy. It won’t happen unless you pen it in your diary. This will be a way to nurture relationships. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier as I wrote in an earlier post: Bonding with Happiness.

• Everyone knows the important of ‘being in shape’ through exercises, brisk walks, swimming etc. but few do it. Most of the diseases are life-style related and can be prevented. Make a realistic plan that fits in your schedule. Having a goal like losing 3 kilos weight in a month does not work. It frustrates people when it is not achieved. It will be better to have a process-oriented goal like doing 30 minutes of brisk walk five times a week. If you do it consistently, results will follow on their own.

• Life keeps presenting challenging situations. While we must strive for the best, results are not always in our control. Be positive always! Our social network helps here as well. And, yes, surround yourself with positive people.


Find Your Confidence Triggers

January 30, 2017

Confidence, or lack if it, plays a huge role in our life, in determining how far we go. Our confidence shows in ‘I can do it’ attitude; and this pushes us to give our best shot in chasing our dreams.

Most of us begin well, with the excitement of doing or achieving something but a few initial setbacks change it all, making a dent in our confidence.

What can be done to ensure that setbacks and failures do not shatter our confidence?

We must find what triggers our confidence. Confidence triggers may be different for different people. It can be anything that can be done quickly to divert the attention away from the momentary setback(s) and get a sense of fulfillment.

An Olympian used to watch videos of his greatest wins before a crucial match to boost his confidence. Pursuing a hobby and spending time on sports, music, reading etc. can trigger our confidence. A person who is struggling to get a job can do a short online course and this could be a confidence trigger. A person not getting enough job satisfaction can focus more on the tasks that interest him and get the best out of him. Satisfaction of doing some tasks well gives a person positive energy and this allows him/her to attend to the boring and mundane tasks.

Some people stop socializing in their moments of setbacks. It never helps. It is actually counter-productive. There are people in our circle who are trust-worthy and who can give good advice. They may not be able to offer solutions but listen attentively without being judgmental and help us feel more in control of the situation. They also make us see the problem in a different perspective. Most people actually like when someone confides in them. It strengthens relationships.

Don’t analyse your failures too much. The main thing is to act, and do something. Set yourself short and achievable goals and go for them. Success, no matter how small it is, adds to our confidence.  We must make use of our confidence triggers during the moments of setbacks.

Mark Victor Hansen sums it up well, “Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles, and less than perfect conditions. So what? Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident, and more and more successful.”


New Year Resolution: Do make one!

December 29, 2016

The countdown to 2017 has begun. It is time to wish each other a happy new year; and make resolutions.

Making New Year Resolutions is an ancient tradition. Ancient Romans used to begin each year by making promises to Janus – the God after whom the month of January is named. Over time the concept evolved and the resolutions moved into the mould of self-improvement. Now, we find them in the arena of enhancing knowledge or skills (like learning a musical instrument, a new language etc.); doing things for family/improving relationships (like going on a family trip, spending time with children/parents, forgiving someone); and taking care of health (like quitting smoking, going for exercise to loose weight) etc.

A 2007 study from University of Boston found that 88% of the people who make New Year’s resolutions fail. Top two reasons for this are: setting unrealistic goals; and not keeping track of the progress.

Why should one make New Year’s Resolutions when they are more likely to fail?

The fear of failure should not stop us. There is an inherent element of failure in all plans. Isn’t it? A successful person is the one who sets realistic goals, makes plans to achieve them and executes them as best as possible. So, go head and do make a New Year’s Resolution for 2017. Instead of being overwhelmed by the majority, get inspiration from the 12% people who did succeed in achieving what they had resolved to do. Be with the achievers.

screen-shot-2016-12-29-at-10-01-41Make a new beginning. Don’t let the failures of past affect your determination to succeed. Forgive those how have hurt you. Forgiveness will not only improve relationships, it will free you of bitterness and negativity and you will be able to pursue your dreams with full energy.

I wish all a very happy and successful 2017. May it open new doors for you and bring peace in the world.