Do you know what stresses you?

October 30, 2017

I am one of those who can’t watch a “live soccer penalty shootout” in a big game. It is too stressful. I wonder if it stresses the spectators so much (some even get a heart attack and die!), how stressful it must be for the players. There are studies to show that it is the stress, not skills or fatigue of the game that causes players to make mistakes like kicking the ball outside the goal post.

In today’s fast-paced life, everyone seems to be stressed. Workers may find work to be stressful; whereas for many not having work is the biggest cause for stress. Tensions in family and strained relationships cause stress to many; whereas some attribute stress to their loneliness. Age is no bar. Children, adults and old persons all suffer from stress.

Doctors say a bit of stress is good as it pushes us to perform better by keeping us alert. But when does it cross the goodness bar and becomes harmful is not known. Chronic stress can actually affect all aspects of our life: emotions, behaviours, thinking ability, as well as physical health. The World Health Organization says stress has become a ‘world wide epidemic’.

Experts agree that eating a healthy diet, regular exercise and adequate sleep can go a long way to managing stress. But the problem is that stress goes unnoticed for a long time. We spend our life amidst worries, anxieties, and tensions not realizing that if they continue for too long, they stress us.

We need to reflect for a moment and find out what triggers stress in us. It may be different for different people. In my case, when my ‘things-to-do’ list gets too long, I get stressed. And tasks which have remained pending for long keep adding to my stress. I feel relieved when I find time to finally do some of the pending tasks. After completion of each pending task I ask myself —couldn’t have I done it earlier?— the answer, invariably, is ‘yes’. Even though I believe in ‘DO it NOW’ attitude, there are times I don’t do it myself. By writing about it as a stress management technique, I am reminding myself, as much as I am reminding others.


Who is smarter? You or your phone?

September 30, 2017

Sad but true. A few years ago, a teenager from Anhui, one of China’s poorest provinces, sold his kidney to buy an I-Phone. This tragic incident was recalled by Dr Jack Linchuan Qiu, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong speaking at our office recently.

There are over 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions globally, likely to go up to 6.1 billion by 2020. What is concerning is that fact that on an average people spend over 4 hours a day on their smartphones. Dr Qiu feels world’s addiction to iPhones and other smartphones/devices has created a generation of iSlaves. His recent book “Good Bye I Slave” is on this topic.

For me, Smart phone usage is a behavioural issue that needs attention. Much has been written about its adverse effects on health (not just on adults but children as well) productivity and relationships.

How can you know if you are a smart phone-addict? You are if do one or more of the following:
– You look at your phone first thing in the morning when you get up.
– You take the phone with you to the toilet.
– You check your messages or speak on the phone while having meals.

It may not be difficult to change these habits. If you do that, it will be a good beginning. It is also not a good idea to be on a large number of social networks and groups such as WhatsApp. You end up being flooded with messages and most of them are useless forwarded messages that keep doing the rounds.

The biggest problem, however, is that excessive use of smartphone does not allow us to enjoy our present moment or focus on the person we are with. I had written in one of my earlier posts about make the-best- of -now attitude. Indeed, the most important person is the one we are with, in a given moment. So, don’t let your phone snatch away that moment from you. Switch it off from time to time. It is a smart thing to do! This alone will decide who is smarter: you or your phone.


A bedtime story for leaders

August 31, 2017

The Panchatantra is a collection of fables from Indian Civilization. Parents often read these as bedtime stories to their children to pass on some moral messages.

The stories work just as well for adults. I often use the following story in my advocacy work to call for early action against public health challenges such as HIV and AIDS. Here it goes:

There were a lot of fishes in a lake. Somehow the lake never caught the attention of fishermen. But one day, as the fishes were happily playing around in the water, they overheard a fishermen talking to another. “This lake is full of fishes. Let us come tomorrow and catch them.”
Fishes reacted differently to this threat. One wise fish said, “Let us get out of this lake before fishermen come back. I know a canal which can take us to another lake,” Another fish said, I know what to do in case the fisher men actually came. But the third fish said, “I don’t think the fishermen will actually come. No one ever came to catch us. So, I will not leave my home.”
The fishermen did come the next morning. The first fish who had foreseen the risk was safe as he had swum away with his family. The second fish also had a plan. He acted as if it was dead. The fisher men thought they had caught a dead fish and they threw it back into the water. He was safe as well. But the third fish was caught and consumed.

The way countries responded to HIV and AIDS in the past three decades is actually like the response of the three fishes. Countries which foresaw the risk early and took proactive action did much better. Some countries, which responded when the problem struck were still OK. But the third category of countries which thought ‘AIDS will never happen to them’ were the ones who saw the maximum impact of the epidemic. As stakeholders remained in denial, HIV continued to spread even though there were ways to prevent it.

This is not about AIDS alone. Development professionals and agencies continue to face denial on several issues, the latest being the climate change. Some feel it is not a real problem.

Looks like leaders need to read the Panchatantra tails to understand the importance of being proactive. Arnold Glasgow says it well, “One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency.”

What did I learn in nine sessions?

July 31, 2017

I was having pain in my left knee. My doctor recommended me to take nine sessions with a physiotherapist. I wondered why nine sessions? How could he be so precise? Anyway, I came to know later that this is the norm in Switzerland. They begin with a number so that the therapy leads to some result in a specific period of time. In most cases, nine sessions are enough, though some cases do need prolonged care. In my case, it actually took nine sessions – spread over a few weeks – to get rid of the pain. I must continue the exercises though.

I loved my physiotherapist Quentin Harri, an amazingly professional. Quentin knows his job well, has a positive attitude and is a great communicator. His inspirational and reassuring words truly complement what he does with his hands; and make light of some of the hard exercises he makes you do. He began each session by reviewing the status of the pain, identifying the problem area and saying, “Let’s work on it together.”

I asked Quentin what expedites the progress in his patients most. He said, it is the patient’s willpower and determination to get better. “I only do a small part, actually patients cure themselves” were his humble words. I asked him to share his most satisfying experience. He said, “A woman came to me on a wheel chair and went back walking. It took us more than a year but we achieved what looked impossible in the beginning. The woman pushed herself out of her comfort zone. The progress was slow in the beginning but it did not hamper her determination to get out of the wheel chair.”

To me, main lessons from this experience are as follows:

• Have a time-bound plan to achieve your goal. Remember nine sessions! It may take more or less but it is good to have a specific plan with clear objectives and timeline.

• Adopt “Lets work on it together attitude”. What you achieve is not the result of only your efforts. People have supported you in the process throughout whether you realize or not.

• Be an optimist and persevere. Don’t let the enormity of the problem or situation affect your determination to succeed. Don’t give up. You will get to your goal ultimately!

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.