This may seem to be one of the most primary points and bare necessity, as a salesperson if he/she has to make any mark on the prospect and get himself/herself in the good books of the prospect. Howsoever it may sound very basic, many times it is seen that it is a neglected quality to have, among the salespeople with other qualities such as technical skills, negotiating and closing skills taking precedence. However, salespeople should keep in mind that you do not get a second chance to make the first impression. Unless you are likeable to the prospect, you cannot make emotional connections. When the stakeholders/prospects like you, you develop a rapport with them and the probability of they opening up to your questions and getting more engaged with you is always higher.
Some of the things on which the likeability depends may not be under our control at all. Factors such as the mood of the prospect on the day of the appointment, prejudices about some people, their names, cultures, caste, religion, racial, etc play a crucial part in the likeability index of the prospect towards the potential vendor. However, there are many things which are in our control as Salespeople such as, punctuality, grooming, voice, tone, facial expressions, body language, attitude, accent, eye contact, posture and general confidence of the salesperson. While it should be understood that likeability alone cannot guarantee success in sales, it does increase your chances of getting through.
Noted author Karen Salmansohn (she authored many best sellers- books on self-help and columnist in many magazines including psychology today) once wrote- When it comes right down to it, whatever business you are in, you are in the people business. After all, people prefer to do business with people and companies they find likeable.
Salespeople meet all kinds of prospects, some very aggressive, some always testing the vendors, some very egoistic, and some very calm hardly speaking anything. Many times, sales people’s presentation or their talk is influenced by how the prospect comes through to them. If the prospect is aggressive, they become defensive. If the prospect is himself very talkative, they may try and intimidate him by their talks. If the prospects give very short answers, they get frustrated. Many salespeople have the habit of ranting continuously about themselves or their companies. That’s when the stakeholders get upset and develop a belief that all salespeople are pests and meeting them is a sheer waste of their time.
During the initial meetings, prospects are testing the salespeople and may not immediately open up. There will always be an emotional wall between them. A super salesperson will try and lower this wall to increase the probability of winning. In the initial stages of the meeting when the stakeholders give brief answers or conceal some information, sometimes there will be a period of total silence with no party talking. This is a very awkward situation for a salesperson to be in and there is a good possibility that they will fall victim to unruly emotions and getting impatient to starting bragging themselves, thereby killing any possibility of engagement and rapport building. In such situations, salespeople get overwhelmed by following emotions and turn off the stakeholder.
Ego gets hurt: A salesperson may lose it all if he takes some remarks of the prospect personally and may reply back in a rude or aggressive manner. There is also a temptation to control the discussion and to prove how smart they are, they may interrupt the stakeholder.
Fear: Salespeople sometimes don’t have any idea of how the prospect will respond to and fear that it may not be positive and out of this fear they may try to dominate the discussions.
Impatience: When there is silence, salespeople get really uncomfortable and just to break the silence, they may say something which they may not have said in worst of their dreams and turn off the stakeholder.
Showing false emotions: Salespeople may resort to displaying emotions (superficial /fabricated, which are immediately caught by the prospect as false by the prospect) just to break silence/ make the atmosphere lighter by making a laugh or cracking a joke, where it was not required.
How to make your first impression on the stakeholder?
As being likeable is the most important quality to developed by the salesperson, it should be understood very well, that it cannot be taken lightly, many salespeople are guilty of. Let’s discuss some ways in which you can have that first positive impression on the stakeholder and lower the emotional wall.
Grooming and dressing: The most important habit to make positive first impressions. Many young salespeople feel it’s trendy or macho to wear a bear which is not even trimmed properly. A salesperson must smell good (use mild deo), dress well, shoes well-polished, professionally dressed, well-combed hair and look fresh before he/she enters the meeting room. Some usages of very strong perfumes, chewing pan or tobacco, wearing obtrusive colour clothes, eating raw onion or garlic just before the meetings are sure shot ways of turning off the prospects. Special attention must be given to keeping clean nails, no tattoos or if you have one, should be covered it adequately. Still better avoid them completely. Prospects don’t like flamboyance; they appreciate honesty and truthfulness.
Language: Many times, stakeholders like if you use their language/use of words etc. e.g mirror their styles without imitating or speak the same language as he/she is speaking (this is very important in India being a land of diverse cultures and many languages). However, salespeople must guard themselves against use of special accent/slang language (as if they have just landed from some western countries), use of jargons should be avoided. Use language which is simple to understand.
Smile: Perhaps the most important ways to impress the stakeholder. However, a smile should come from within. A salesperson should really enjoy being in this profession be passionate about selling, have empathy towards customers, only then a profound smile will come naturally on his/her face. Anything fabricated is immediately caught by the prospect. Smile is something which you cannot fake. A pleasant, sincere smile tending towards a grin, a twinkle in eyes are the best ways to make the first impression. We all get naturally attracted to people who smile. So, be aware of your facial expressions and wear a smile as you meet your prospect.
Voice tone: Like a smile, your voice tone also can decide whether you are liked or disliked by the prospect. The tone of voice should be neutral and soft, but audible and clear devoid of any regional accents. Your voice tone must be friendly and upbeat. Put up a smile and it will reflect through your voice.
Politeness: People who are rude, impolite and discourteous are unlikeable. Use basic manners when you talk and present yourself in front of the stakeholders.
Listening: Another quality of great importance as a salesperson, if you want to be likeable. Never obstruct the prospect when he is talking. Sales are not about only talking, in fact, it’s more of listening- empathetic listening. People who listen attentively and focus fully on the person who is talking, are more likeable.
Punctuality: Be on time or before the time for the appointment, but never late. Prospects don’t like people who don’t value their and other’s time. You cannot take the prospect for granted.
Enthusiasm: A salesperson must display a lot of interest and passion himself/herself in the products and the company they represent. Enthusiasm is infectious. A word of caution though- don’t show OFF any insincere enthusiasm, it will be a put-off. Don’t go overboard to show that you are ‘full of energy’.
Confidence: Unless you have the confidence and the self-belief in yourself, your products/services and the company, you will not resonate the same feelings with the prospect. Again, don’t go overboard to show that you are too confident tending it towards arrogance. At the same time, if you appear to be too weak, you lose respect and will be not likeable.
All salespeople must understand and accept the fact that unless they are able to connect and relate to the stakeholders, their likeable quotient and hence their win probability plummets, irrespective of how good the product is or how effectively your solution can solve the stake holder’s problems.
One of my very good trainer friends* once shared his very inspiring life story to me. He has seen a lot of ups and downs in his life and each time he has tide over them and has been successful in his life to date, both professionally and more importantly in his personal life as well.
His struggle started when he was just 16 years old when his father passed away in 1977. He had no time to express grief. Apart from going to college, he had to start working in a transport company to support his family and also for his own education. He worked in that company from 1978-83. Being passionate about meeting and connecting with lots of people, very soon got himself self-employed with India’s largest NBFC (Peerless) in 1983. He was looking to settle down in life and even bought his first car in 1992, a Maruti 800. He worked there for about twelve years but unfortunately, the problems started in the company due to government policy changes, and he had to leave this assignment. He was now unemployed.
In the meanwhile, just before the problems started in his career, he got married in 1995, an arranged match. Now with a family to support and all of sudden no income, he was forced to sell his car. That was the time when one of his earlier senior colleagues and friend helped him to a pharma distribution agency in Dombivali. During those days he used to sell pharma products from shop-shop on a bicycle, to make his end’s meet. As everything seemed to be going smooth, tragedy struck upon him once again. He realized that his in-laws had concealed some things about his wife’s mental health before the marriage. But he decided to carry on with her and like any dutiful husband, he started medical treatment for her with a psychiatrist, in a hope that one day everything will be fine one day. In 1996 during all the turmoil he was going through, he was blessed with his bounty of joy- twin daughters. However, to his dismay, our friend found that his wife was totally uninterested in her daughters. Now, the new challenge with him was who will take care of these kids (those too young girls) apart from his very less income. He used to get anxious to have left them and had to make rounds to home during the day to check if both were safe. Somehow, he dragged it along for three long years but found it difficult to continue in this manner. He had to leave his job rendering him unemployed once again.
He was finding it very tough in his marriage, as he would be continuously worried about his twin’s safety as he would leave them with their unpredictable and violent mother. She was not interested in taking care of her twins because of her mental health and finally, in 2001 they both got divorced. Thankfully, he had got the possession of his twin daughters from the court.
This was a real tough time for our friend. A failed marriage, unemployment, and the responsibility of bringing up two young daughters aged just around 5 years, he was mentally, physically, and emotionally devastated. He was also under tremendous pressure to run the house with very less income and just an aging mother for moral support.
He then started network marketing as it gave him the flexibility of working hours and was also able to be with his kids, although the income was very less. He was finding it very difficult to continue and bring up his kids as a single male parent. He had no other option to sell his flat and shift to a rented one. In the meantime, the daughters were growing. He gave them education to the best of his capacity. Daughters, too are very understanding of their dad’s plight. They were seeing their dad slog for them and they were showing maturity which was much more for their age. They never asked for anything and were very happy with whatever their dad gave them. He continued this way till 2005 when ultimately, he got a settled job in a well-known life Insurance company. Although he was beyond the age of recruitment as per the company policies, he impressed the management by his never-say-die attitude, patience and perseverance, some of the qualities required for a successful salesperson, and seeing his past experience and excellent past record in Peerless, the company tweaked their rules and he bagged the job. He continued working there till 2017, with his daughters now graduated and looking for further studies.
But again, struggle and our friend going hand in hand. While he was an ace performer in his company, most of the old people were replaced with new ones and corporate politics was at its peak. He was a victim of these politics. Some bosses in the new management wanted their own people to be inducted, and he was transferred to Cuttack. Again, it was just not possible for him to leave his daughters alone in Mumbai as they were still in the college nor it was possible for him to take them to Cuttack, a totally unknown location. Nor he could have kept them in the hostel. But he had the courage and the conviction in self and anyway, with only two years left for retirement, he decided to leave this company to pursue his passion of training which he had to keep in the back burner for over two decades, for the sake of his daughters. He completed the ‘train the trainer’ advanced diploma in Dec-2017 and has now made a niche for himself as ‘Law of Attraction’ trainer and a life coach.
When I heard his story, three very prominent qualities I saw in him apart from, his ability to bounce back ‘n’ number of times in life, were his will-power (never-say-die attitude), super confidence in self and 100% faith in the almighty. He is a regular reader and follower of the ‘Bhagwat-Geeta’ and tries to follow its principles in his day to day life. (*Our friend’s name is Milind Pai)
Another real-life story is of a joint family which I have been a very close witness of. A family that had a man with his two grown-up sons, married, having kids, and earning enough to keep their respective families quite happy. They all stayed together in a small village. The elder son runs an automobile parts shop and the younger son was a doctor and had his clinic on the same premises as the automobile shop. The father was head of the family and would assist the elder son in his automobile parts business. All three of them would leave the house together in the morning and came back together in the evening and all would happily have dinner together along with the kids. A perfect picture for the storyline of a Hindi feature film. But destiny had different plans.
Although they all stayed together, disaster struck this family in terms of safety and security to their business and hence the lives of their families. For no fault of theirs, they were forced to take a decision to relocate from the village overnight to another nearby city, leaving behind their nicely built big bungalow, the property where they had their businesses and also some of their relatives and friends. For some time the head of the family was totally devastated (and ultimately died of a heart attack after a few days of relocation), as his two sons were picking up the pieces to start all over again from the scratch. The elder brother started a small shop of only two-wheeler auto parts and the younger one had to start his clinic about 30kms away from the city in another small village.
Both the brothers worked hard and within a span of about two years, the elder brother was able to open a big showroom for a big automobile company and the younger brother was referred to by other doctors for their patients which they were not able to treat. The life was on track once again as the two brothers bounced back and how…. Soon as their children grew up, and they have joined in their family business and now scaling new heights every year.
Many times, we may take inspiration from our own self or from the real-life stories of our very close friends, in addition to the stories of the famous and celebrities. Most of us will have our own experiences to share and to look back to when we are pushed against the wall. We can help others from our experiences and others too can learn from the mistakes we committed or the knowledge and the wisdom we applied to tide over the difficult times to return victorious.
The figure below shows that in each of the resilience stories, there are some common factors/qualities which help these real-life heroes to bounce back in life:
Be realistic: bad times, calamities, catastrophes, and natural disasters never give you the notice to prepare for them and you need struggle, overcome obstacles and once again get the life train back on track.
However, if you have a chance as in day to day life to set your goals, objectives, and life targets, one needs to be more realistic rather than set very aggressive or in corporate terms which are called BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals). It sounds good to say that we have our BHAGs, but more often than not these goals fail. Hence, even the top management gurus have been advising the corporates to have goals that should not be too easy to achieve, however, must be achievable with some hard work and teamwork. As a leader, you need to have the capacity to assess the ground realities, understand the immediate situation, and be practical.
Either in professional or personal life, you are the driver of your vehicle called life. The key to success or at least to reduce the possibility of failure is to keep aiming for small targets so that the possibility of achieving them is far more and the possibility of failure is that much less. Each small win will take you closer to the big goal.
Also, the time frame for achieving these goals is critical. Keeping it too long for say 10-12 years may result in losing focus and breed complacency. Keeping targets with a too short time period can overwhelm the team and demotivate them as they are sure that they will not achieve them, so why even try?
2. Self-esteem: it is the measure of how you think and feel about yourself, your abilities in relation to the situations that will determine how much you like yourself. As the expert on self-esteem, Dr. Nathaneil Brandon put it “it is your reputation with yourself.” Self-esteem is all about how much you consider yourself to be valuable and worthy of.
After a setback, if a person thinks that, he was not worthy enough to try and reach out for that goal, means that his self-esteem is low and gives up on his goals easily whereas, a person with higher self-esteem uses his failures as learning lessons and responds to challenges as opportunities with more determination and the need to be successful.
One of the keys to improving your self-esteem is the way to talk to yourself. Positive affirmations such as “I accept myself”, “I accept myself” or “I like myself “, “I like myself” 100s of times in the day goes a long way in building your self-esteem. As you feed your subconscious mind repeatedly with these positive affirmations, it accepts this message of self-liking, and your self-esteem increases with your ability and the fire to perform against all odds. You tend not to give up very easily with increasing resoluteness and tenacity.
3. Self-confidence: This can be said as the twin brother of self-esteem but slightly different. While self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, confidence is the conviction and a strong belief on capabilities of self and trusting your own mental, physical, and emotional strength to achieve anything you desire or put your hand at, and overcoming all the obstacles in the path of your objectives and goals, to return victorious.
How much you achieve or have the will power to continue against all odds, will strongly depend on the level of your self-confidence. When you have enough self- confidence you will try and achieve almost anything you dreamt.
Points to remember with regards to self-confidence which will come handy in your times of crises helping you to fight against problems and hurdles in life:
a. First of all, remind yourself that its only human to fail and only those fail, who try something big in life. You may fail many times in life, each time have the resolve to stand up and start all over again towards your goals. The key here is to learn from your mistakes and not repeating the same mistakes again.
As mentioned in point no.1 “Be realistic” confidence-building is a process and it comes with small wins. Break each big project into small milestones and work towards achieving them step by step, with each small step moving you closer to the big goal. In this way, you will not be getting bogged down by big figures and they won’t demotivate and depress you. Even if you fail in getting those small milestones, it won’t be treated as a complete debacle or fiasco.
b.Work as a team: On a professional level, as a leader, one should build confidence in others and create an environment of mutual trust and faith in which each team member feels valued, all working as a cohesive unit. Boost the confidence of others by, i) recognizing and making the team members understand their strengths, and ii) through mentoring and training them. As a leader, try to be a giver rather than just being a receiver, which will increase self-esteem and happiness among the team. As you support your team members, they will also support you in your times of crisis, be it professionally or personally.
c. Anticipate setbacks: confidence is not about being in the state of denial that in the end, everything will be alright. If you can identify possible vulnerable points along the journey towards your goals, you can be better prepared to handle failures. Have plan “B” (and even plan “C” if the project is too critical, stakes involved are too high, timelines are very strict, etc.) in place for every important stage or the milestone of the project/ your professional/personal goal and keep the dependency on the most critical point to a minimum.
As a simple example say, you want to move into a 2BHK apartment from a 1BHK for which you have taken a hefty loan which is in addition to your existing car loan. Your son is in the 12th standard and aspiring to get admission to an esteemed University to pursue computer engineering and his results are just around the corner. Now, just imagine you lose your job. Your wife is also not working. Have you done all your financial calculations considering this possibility? How long can you sustain this situation? Do you have enough savings to take care of your son’s first year engineering admission fees?
4.Grit:There will always be a temptation to give up after a major set-back or obstacles faced towards your achievement of goals. That’s the point where you will require all the inspiration and the motivation to just carry on how so ever, the path may be full of pebbles, thorns, and the how so ever the journey is full of adversities. When caught in such a situation, I always remember Rahul Dravid. Not for nothing he is called the “The Wall” of Indian batting, as he would just dig in and camp on the pitch for hours together and wear out the opposition away by his grit, resoluteness, determination and never say die attitude. Not surprising that he has faced the highest number of balls (more than 31500) in test matches for his more than 13000 test runs. He always put a very high price tag on his wicket, making it very precious. The bowlers over the world very rarely got him very cheaply. They literally had to earn his wicket with a lot of hard work.
Similarly, we too are precious and if we can put a very high price tag on ourselves, the negativities, laziness, boredom, self-doubt, fears about failures/future and attitude of giving up will run away from us if we are gritty enough towards our goals or facing obstacles or even adversaries in life.
So, what exactly is grit? It is the ability to show a lot of courage, patience, hard work, and perseverance to continue your lives struggle in pursuit of your goals or even when challenged with difficult/shocking situations in life and that’s when your true character will be tested. (I have written a detailed blog on grit and resilience https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-resilience-and-grit/)
How can you be grittier? As Angela Duckworth put it in her book “GRIT” There are two ways you can do it: “The inside out” and “from the outside in”. In the former, you cultivate your interests, passions, goals, and have a self-disciplined approach towards achieving them. You make yourself strong enough to handle most adversaries in life yourself, with some help from people close to you. However, only you have to be the captain of your ship. It always helps if you are innately serious and passionate about your goals and the purpose of your life right from your childhood. You tend to be more mentally stronger when faced with lives’ problems. You build yourself to be hopeful when everything seems to be lost in life.
Now, in the latter i.e. “from the outside in” approach, you require an external push, a mentor, a coach, parents, guardian, or even a counselor to develop your grit.
So, in either case, it really helps to face bigger challenges of life if you are brought up in a grittier environment either through self-efforts and hard work or by the push from outside.
Many times, you may not have the option (like our friend on the story above), but to grind yourself into resilience and see through the situation for the sake of our loved ones. However, this quality is not available in everybody and one has to work hard to develop it. Just to cite an example, in our area, there was a doctor couple running a small hospital and doing quite well. All of sudden there was shocking news that the man first killed his wife, then his children, and finally committed suicide. On deeper investigation it was revealed that he had taken a lot of loans and was not able to pay back and the lenders were making his life miserable, so he found this ‘easy’ way out to get rid of all his problems. The same is the story of Café Coffee Day owner. These people are basically weak at heart and perhaps no internal hope and external counseling, guidance, and support to help them, they decide to take the extreme step.
5. Patience and perseverance: being in industrial and project’s sales for a long time these two qualities got imbibed in me, as the sales cycle would go on for months to close a big order. The same is the case with life when we are faced with difficulties and hurdles. While you go on struggling sometimes for survival for self and for your loved ones, or towards your life’s goals, you may have no other option but to remain patient, show your resolve, grit, and tenacity as you keep your struggle ON to get your life back on track or to get into the next step towards your goals. As you are working hard, you may still have to wait for success. That is the time when your patience and maturity will be tested.
Perseverance is similar to having the grit. Only that, being gritty is a general quality towards imbibing it into our system and working towards achieving your goals, while perseverance is something related to a particular project or a task to be completed. It is being after some task that you want to complete and not having peace until it is completed. Perseverance is continuous action with a lot of self-discipline towards attaining your objective. When you practice perseverance at its peak, your self-esteem, character, self-discipline, personal pride and self-respect will automatically increase and you are on the path of resurrection or inching closer to your goals day by day. You just need to have a firm belief in yourself that if you persevere long and hard enough, you can tide over any situation and win or achieve your planned goals.
6. Courage: Courage is a very positive emotion and the opposite of fear. It may be defined as facing a threatening, or potentially fearful situation, pain, or grief with a lot of strength and boldness. It is also showing and having the confidence to face any adversarial situation with a lot of bravery. Showing courage many times can change the course of many a life.
Following are some of the methods which can be used to increase your courage:
a. When faced with a disaster or a difficult situation in life where the requirement is to show a lot of boldness, yet you get fearful, ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen? will I or any of my loved ones die? Will I face any worst situation than I am in right now? If the answer to the above questions is NO, (which will be the case most times) then go for it. As Brian Tracy says in his book ‘The Power of Self-Confidence’- Each act of boldness and courage will not only build additional courage and boldness, but it also builds your self-confidence readying you to take on further reversals of life that you may have to face.
b. The more often you dare to go forward to do things which you are fearful of doing, even in face of uncertainty and when the chips are down, the more likely courageous behavior becomes your habit. The key here is to come out of your comfort zone and resist the temptation of going easy on yourself.
c. If you can constantly have those thoughts of boldness and courage, slowly but surely you become bolder and more courageous. The more you implant these thoughts in your subconscious mind, it will become a part of your character and personality.
7. Problem-solving: One of the best problem solvers and managers who may not have taken any formal education (leave alone an MBA degree), is your mother. My boss used to always give her example if I failed short of achieving my sales target. Have you ever seen a mother failing to cook food for her children and the household? She will make all the arrangements to get the raw materials, vegetables, if required go herself to the market, and see to it that we would get our breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Worst case, she will make something out of whatever raw material is available, but will never starve anyone of us. Irrespective of what she is going through, howsoever big the problem she is facing in life, she’s is fighting her own battle daily, most times- alone.
Similarly, we all need to solve our own problems when pushed against the walls. Some of the examples of problems most of us may face after we experience a set-back or find ourselves in difficult circumstances are the following:
Loss of a job and suddenly no income. EMIs, family expenses, children’s school fees don’t stop, they have to be fulfilled.
The sole breadwinner for the family passes away.
The sudden death of a very close family member
Hugh financial loss in business/someone cheats you heavily on money.
Divorce. Having to take care of your children as a single parent and a combination of any of the above reasons. (as in the case of our friend’s story above)
Sudden changes in the organization, takeovers/ mergers/transfers, etc.
While most of us ultimately find our way with the help of our own people, friends, or purely on our own efforts, grit, courage and resilience, the following steps might help in solving problems:
a. Make a list of all the problems as a fallout of any calamity in the family/at the workplace.
b. Prioritize the problems.
c. Think as many alternative solutions as possible for the problem. Also, try to see things from other people’s perspectives and how they would have solved this problem?
d. While nobody can predict the accuracy of your choice to 100%, choose the option which seems best at that moment of time. Your choice has to be based on practical realities, the fair judgment of things, calculated risk, information available, etc. and not on emotions.
e. Now, implement your solution. It could be as simple as taking some tuitions, joining some temporary job, starting a small business which requires very little/no investment, could be anything. Don’t get bogged down with thoughts of “what if this happens?” Or “I should have instead done this”. Accept that you are no almighty or someone who can predict the future. You take decision based on the conditions, fair judgments, analysis, taking opinions of your near ones, seniors, mentors, etc. So, at that point in time, it is the correct decision. Give some time to yourself and your strategy to work. In the end, pat yourself for taking some decision rather than being in the state of indecision.
f. Continue with it, and maybe life itself unfolds and directs you in the near/distant future. In most cases, you will find that problems are getting solved as you get along with life and taking decisions.
8. Hope and optimism: yes, this world runs on hope and optimism and resilient people maintain positivity even when faced with adversity. They accept the fact that there will be difficulties in life, but they have a positive outlook on how things will ultimately shape up based on their own confidence, knowledge, efforts, skills, problem-solving abilities, and recalling how they tackled similar or even worse situations in the past. ( I had already written a detailed blog on hope and optimism https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-optimism-and-hope/)
Conclusion: It is good to look for inspirations from world leaders, historical personalities, the famous and the celebrities, from their struggles in life and how they won against all odds. However, we as common people can always derive that positivity, motivation, and inspiration from live examples of people very close to us in the society we live in. Examples of resolve, grit, courage, confidence, fearlessness, and resilience are ever-present around us. In fact, we can even look inside ourselves and own past experiences when we may have faced many difficult situations, obstacles, and setbacks that we overcame. We can always look into this bank to get the required inspiration to tide over any calamity and set-back in life.
I remember when my son Ajinkya was just about 7-8 years old, like all the other kids, he was very fond of Tv channels like cartoon network and Pogo. Once I was watching some of my favorite programs and that was also the time for his favorite show on the cartoon network. The TV remote was in my hand. He just came in and snatched the remote from my hand and started putting the number of his favorite channel. I was taken totally aback and was in fact very angry at him, in spite of being only about 8 years old. I shouted at him at the top of my voice and just snatched back the remote. I had lost my impulse control on that occasion.
Impulse control is the ability to identify your irresistible urges/impulses, taking a pause to think and then controlling impatience, anger, the attitude of jumping to the conclusions, being judgmental, and being irresponsible. In our day to day life, we may face a lot of situations, where this quality will be tested.
The following could be some of the examples of impulse failures or potential triggers which will really test your patience and your tendencies to react:
You just can’t wait to start to eat after the whole meal plate full of your favorite dishes comes in front of you, never mind all the other people who are with you are waiting for some others to join the party.
A shop-keeper gave the change to you, but you were in too much of hurry to check if its correct or not, only to realize after going home that he had given Rupees fifty less, however, once you go back to him he flatly denies it.
On your teenage daughter’s insistence, you gave her your add-on credit card and you were shocked to realize that she has wiped out all the credit limit.
Your ten years son is not good at studies and on top of that, it’s a regular scene to see that the drawing-room is in a total mess by his toys, books, and other litter. He just doesn’t listen when asked to clean up and make the room neat and tidy again.
Your colleague has just got the promotion/salary raise and you have been denied. Whenever he comes in front of you, in the presence of your other peers in the office, you don’t waste a single opportunity to taunt him, just to vent out the envy bottled up inside you.
Your spouse is irritating you with the same instructions in loud and nasty tone again and again, even when you assured them to do as they say.
There is a wedding going on the complex that you live but those people have the least civics sense. They burst crackers, blow loud music, and go cheering at 2.00 AM in the morning.
You have parked your car on the roadside in no man’s land nor it is a “No-Parking zone” nor it’s obstructing the traffic/pedestrians, still a person comes out of the building outside which you have parked the car and starts fighting with you asking you to remove your car from there as if his dad owns that road.
You have only one weekly off i.e. Sunday and you plan a nice little siesta for at least two hours in the afternoon. You are just about to surrender yourself to the sleep gods, and your neighbor’s pet dog starts barking at the top of his voice.
You have lost your job today. You come home dejected, tense, angry, tired, and full of anxiety/fear about the future. Just as you rest your back on the sofa and spread your legs, a group of eight to ten people comes to your place asking for contributions/donations for festivals like Holi/Navratri/Ganeshostav.
There is some seemingly very attractive sale being offered on some online shopping site and you end up buying lots of those items only to realize that eighty percent of those were not required and now you are anxious and worrying how you will clear the credit card bill due next month.
You have posted your vacation and other photos on face-book and can’t resist the temptation to see every five minutes, how many likes, comments, and shares you have received from your friends. The same is true with other social media handles like WA and Instagram.
There are some casual talk/discussions going on in a group of friends’ when suddenly one of your friends mocks you or taunts you for no reason and other friends burst into laughter making hand gestures and jeering at you.
You have been made in-charge of an off-shore project/installation and commissioning of an hugh equipment and given the authority of spending say up to rupees five lacs per month on the project towards self and your staff sundry expenses like food, snacks, local traveling, etc. One month due to some reason, you saved about rupees 1.5 lacs. You get a strong urge/temptation to pocket that money, by forging some bills.
You are not a habitual drinker. Once you go along with your friends to the party. You like some cocktail very much and already had some drinks but still have the urge to have one more and one more and one last one… it goes on… All this happens knowing fully well that you will have a head-splitting pain the following morning.
You are traveling in the super crowded Mumbai local train in the evening peak hours, having somehow boarded from Dadar, and going towards Kalyan. You are able to barely keep both of your legs on the ground, and your upper body swings in sync with the fast-moving train and the ever-increasing movements of the people. You pray to the almighty that you don’t get suffocated and reach home one piece. That’s when you experience a strong push from behind from an energetic and frustrated man who was late to get ready for alighting at his station and trying to make his way to the gate.
You may have many more examples you experienced yourself or happening around you in society. In all the above examples we may have either lost the self-control/patience or our impulse control has been severely tested or situation is pregnant with emotional outbursts or irrational/ selfish behaviors or behaviors for which you may have to regret later.
Being angry or furious are not the only signs of being victims of loss of impulse control. Any reaction or a tendency to act very fast without much thought, low frustration tolerance syndrome, constant irritability, impulsiveness (in buying anything/taking decisions), excessive greed for material pleasures and possessions, are all the signs of loss of impulse control.
Thus, if you see closely in all the above examples, you are a potential candidate for losing your impulse control due to either of three emotions viz. fear, anger, and desire. Some of the examples of each of the emotions which may manifest into emotional reactions or loss of impulse control:
Fear: Fear of losing your job, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of death, fear of public speaking, fear of loneliness, fear of losing money, fear of losing control, etc.
Anger: the anger of not being respected, the anger of not being able to live the life the way you want it, the anger of not being understood, the anger of betrayal, the anger of being cheated, etc.
Desire: the desire of pleasure, the desire of power, the desire of success, the desire of controlling others, the desire of growth, the desire of security, the desire of approval, etc.
The figure below shows the various aspects on which impulse control is heavily dependent on:
Self-awareness: If you have to control or manage something, you have to know that those things exist inside of you, which can come only by having some self-awareness. If one is not able to peek inside themselves, the least they can do is to ask some of their trusted friends/colleagues for feedback about their behaviors.
I must know my general tendencies to trip on people or go mad at situations, be constantly in the mood of aggression, being impulsive on some purchasing, and finding it very difficult to hold back the urge to react impulsively, get back at something or somebody. If I am in no mood to accept that I go wrong most of the time in my behavior or I am in the constant state of denial, it’s difficult for me to make any changes inside me.
2. Self-regulation: This is one of the most important factors on which impulse control depends. It refers to the act of taking responsibility for our emotions. When you have some degree of self-regulation, it helps us to express emotions without being overwhelmed by them and in developing long, meaningful, and cordial relationships both at professional and personal levels.
Since impulse control is all about your behavior, the key is how much do you value your ‘core values’. Thus, if you have no defined or set values in your life, it is very easy to fall prey to the frequent temptations of money, material comforts, lust, and other attractions. Any violation of the core values may give you instant gratification, but in the long run, it is bound to produce bad feelings, whereas, connecting strongly with them makes you feel more authentic and empowered.
The key is to develop trustworthiness i.e. you trust yourself; you can trust that you will respond to your emotions by doing what is the best for you and for those around you in any given situation. People have the confidence in you that all your actions and behaviors will be inside the strong boundaries set by you and that you will never breach them. People can also trust you even if, in some scenarios, you may show knee-jerk reactions, but they know that your values will hold sway in the end and you will do what is right in the given situation.
3. Identifying stressors: The next important aspect towards impulse control is to identify your emotional triggers- in which conditions they set you off… For that, you need to reflect upon your feelings and behaviors and you will notice that you display a definite pattern the way in which you react or respond to everyday life situations. On the face of it, it may seem to be an automatic response to thoughts and events and the use of the word trigger is critical because the reaction occurs automatically without much self-control. However, if one works on those triggers, the reaction just like everything else we do is a matter of choice.
To be able to manage our impulses, we need to take charge of our emotions rather than allowing them to rule over us, and identifying stressors is one way towards it. The following are some of the stress elements due to which we may lose our impulse control:
a. Internal stressors: these can be temporary and applicable for a certain situation, depending upon your moods, anxieties, fears, and personality traits such as pessimism, perfectionism, and suspiciousness. One thing we must bear in mind is, it is the thought which gives rise to emotion and emotion will give rise to behavior. So, the above factors can distort your thinking and perception towards other people.
b. A person/place or a situation: You may get stressed and hence lose your impulse control due to a particular person with whom you may have some unpleasant past memories or some particular place which can trigger fear or nightmares because of the perceived danger or some situation like facing a dreadful boss/ a job interview can make your nervous.
c. Family issues: you may face some financial issues like a loss of money, loss of a job or being cheated by someone for a hefty amount and you may vent it out on the family quite often. These feelings of anxieties, worries about future/betrayal, etc. can take a toll on your impulse control. Sometimes, relationship changes with your spouse and dealing with unruly teenage children can also determine your emotional health.
d. Work pressure: if you don’t like the job, the office and the boss you are working with and on top of that continuously under the pressure of meeting challenging deadlines, budgets, and targets, you are a potential candidate for loss of impulse control.
e. Change: most of us like to be in the state of the status quo, i.e. our comfort zone. Any change in that, like a change of job, the additional responsibility of a team, change of city, changes in working due to technological changes and challenges in learning them, etc. can decide on how you maintain your composure when triggered with some external event that is deviating from the set norm.
5.Managing relationships: failures to manage your impulses and frequent tripping over the people around you, especially your loved ones like, spouse, children, parents, very close friends, etc. can ruin these very delicate relationships so much that, they may no longer be your loved ones or you may cease to be in their loved one’s list. It’s OK if you are not able to manage your anger and other disruptive emotions once in a while, your closed ones will still be willing to understand you as ‘one-off case’ and let go off, but the problem starts when it becomes your routine to vent out your frustration on others, have contempt and disrespect for people around you, taking people for granted, self-absorbed perspectives, resorting to bulldozing and intimidation tactics in the office, spousal abuse, (both mental as well as physical), etc. The person may realize his/her mistake for losing out on his/her impulses and may even regret later, however, you may find that some bonds are difficult to be repaired once strained.
You will lose respect in your office (in fact, you may also make a laughing stock of yourself) if you throw/break things in a fit of rage as you find it as the easiest way to vent out your anger.
Here again, impulse control success will depend on how much you value your relationships with others. It has to take precedence over your overtly inflated egos, false sense of pride, arrogance, rudeness, conceitedness and being one up over the other attitude.
How do you handle your partner’s emotions?
The relationship between husband and wife can be really tricky and testing the strength of the bond between the two when one of the partners loses it all on the other.
Once I came home late in the evening after having a torrid and not so good day in the office. I expected my wife to keep everything ready and something special made for the dinner. I lost it all on her when she had made the same old vegetable and dal/rice of which I was not at all fond of in those days. I got mad removing all the office frustration on her. But she remained as composed as ever and to come with “by the time you take a wash, let me make some pulao or dal fry and jeera rice for you or should I order something for you?” This loving response removed all the aggressiveness out of me and I said “No, it’s ok, I can manage with whatever is there”- this time in a very soft tone.
The situation could well have boiled and exploded had my wife also lost her impulse control. She tolerated my unpleasant behavior because she knew that something really frustrating must have happened at my office and my mood and behavior will soon change for better. Just imagine what would have happened had she too lost her impulse, and said: “if that is so, then you better cook yourself or why don’t you pick up a parcel on the way home from your favorite restaurant?” But by accepting my negativity for a while and not seeing it as a personal threat, she was able to diffuse the potential tension in our relationships. She’s aware that any relationship has to be a give and take for it to work. She was nice in the situation even though she was not treated with respect. But she knew that when she’s going to remove her frustration or lose her impulse control on her husband if she would have an off day, he would support her in a similar manner.
Such inevitable unpleasant instances are a given in any relationship. However, for the emotional bond to succeed in the test of times, both parties must realize that these relationships are too important to be derailed and life is all about making sacrifices for each other. These sacrifices include handling the small unpleasant conversations which the other may bring to the table.
5. Adaptability: Not all the conditions, situations and people will be in our control and never all the time. There will be occasions where we will be challenged in one, more, or all the above factors when things will not go as per our wish or the outcomes may not be as what we had expected them to be. Nor the conditions will remain the same as they have been. In fact, change is the only constant in life. The key here is to change yourself by managing your impulses to fit in the changed circumstances. Responding effectively to the new challenges and overcoming them and adjusting yourself to the situation and managing your teams while maintaining your composure is all about adaptability.
Charles Darwin wrote: It’s not the strongest of the species nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.
How to be more adaptable while maintaining your impulses:
Practice holding back your first response long enough: It is very usual and easy to use your first natural solution(?) of reacting to any changed or challenging situation at the workplace or even at home. But it would be good to get into the habit of thinking about what could be the better second and third solutions. You need to stay in control by adapting and thoughtfully responding to the situation rather than reacting.
Listen: curb that natural instinct to interrupt in between when the other person is talking, by controlling your impulses. When you listen, you are nonjudgmental and ready to take information which may give you an important breakthrough in deciding your further course of action in handling any situation.
Get feedback on your behavior: people who reflect on their behavior and performance are more likely to be flexible in adapting to changes in their environment and therefore better able to identify alternative ways of behaving to be more effective in given situations.
Try laughing at yourself: Having a sense of humor about yourself will equip you better in handling your impulses, rather than tripping on others when things don’t go as expected. When you fail, reflect on what went wrong, make adjustments, and don’t make the same mistake again.
Reducing the strength of stressors: If you are not able to overcome your stressors completely try to reduce their effect by using the coping mechanisms. Say e.g. you are experiencing very frequent late-night marriage celebrations in your area, rather than losing out on that group, the better option will be to either use earplugs or fix soundproof aluminum windows for your balconies, Or if it is too stressful for you to go through bumper to bumper traffic to reach office, try starting from home very early and leaving office before the traffic starts. If you find it very difficult to carry on with your abusive boss, looking out for a new job may not always be a viable solution. Try making peace with him, talking to HR, or changing the department/ changing the area of territory/ division, etc.
Change your perspective: From experience, you will realize that sight or just a thought of some people who in the past have done something wrong to you, will throw you into a spiral of anger or depression. For such people first have some compassion and try to let go of all those emotions attached with the disturbing memories (It is very easier said than done, though, it’s a process and will depend on the extent of damage the other person inflicted on you). Next, try if you can learn something from those people. E.g. one of my bosses in my previous companies always played divisive politics with me like dividing my team and reducing my responsibilities, targets, and ultimately forcing me to leave the organization. However, I always admired him for some of his qualities like he was a picture of honesty and integrity towards the organization, being always very punctual of time and very prompt in replying to any emails (no mail was kept un-replied for more than twenty- four hours max.). So, whenever I think about him, although for the first few minutes I have all the unpleasant memories, I remember all those things I learned from him, and that have been really helpful in shaping my career in the last few years of my job. This change in attitude towards him negates the negativity, bitterness and helps me to have better control over my impulses before I vent it out on someone else around me. Still, better (now this may seem to be too idealistic to most, but recently I tried it successfully to overcome years of anger and resentment using this technique) is to consider the person because of whom you frequently lose your impulse control, as your guru and have the attitude of learning even from your enemies. This change in your perception will give you better control over impulses. The same technique can be applied when you get angry with your loved ones. e.g. in my case, till not so long ago I use to lose my impulse control over my wife (very rarely though, or do I think it that way, she may have other opinions about me) and get mad on her due to some reason. However, ever since I have become her student at her online Yoga classes, I consider her as my guru which reminds me that I cannot trip on my gurus and helps to manage my impulses.
Prepare yourself: Recognize due to what reasons/habits/ or behaviors of the people around you, you trip on them. Then, where ever possible try to negate those reasons by correcting/taking those actions yourself which those people fail to take in spite of you requesting them to do/not to do. E.g. these days as there are no maids coming home due to lockdown in corona so, like most husbands, I help my wife in washing utensils at the kitchen sink. My wife is habituated of keeping the instrument of cutting vegetables (in Marathi we call it as Vili) near the sink. It blocked, created obstruction for me to wash utensils, and even hit my elbows more than once, hence I requested her to remove it from there and place it somewhere else. However, she never remembered to change its place. Each time I saw it, I would lose my temper. Once I lost it some much that I threw Vili on the ground. However, next time on, having realized that my wife will never remember to remove it before I get into the kitchen to perform my duties, I would coolly pick up that instrument and place it with lots of love and care in one of the corners of the kitchen before getting along with my duty of washing utensils. Now, she has realized her mistake and removed it from that place. Also, never lose your temper by jumping to the conclusions that the other person is behaving in a particular manner just to displace you out of your head.
Living in the present: Most of us go mad or show greedy tendencies because we focus on the fears/uncertainties of tomorrow or the worries and troubles of yesterday. However, if we can choose to live in the current moment, and just focus on today without caring for tomorrow, we can make good of the opportunities that are available. In other words, we need to be mindful of all our activities most of the time, if not always. (kindly go through my detailed blog only on mindfulness https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-5-ways-to-increase-your-mindfulness/)
The more you are mindful and living in the ‘now’ the more is the possibility of you having the impulse control because most impulsive reactions are a result of we having some past beliefs about our self, about people or situations or perceived dangers about the future which most times are not true. With poor impulse control we may be always in the panicky mode.
Conclusion: The key to maintaining impulse control is to have a reality check on whether ‘I become impatient easily’, ‘I often regret not giving more thought to my words, actions and decisions’, ‘I often make impulsive purchases’ ‘people around me have an impression about me that I am always hot-headed’, etc. If the answer to all the above is in the affirmative means you need to work big time on your impulse control.
As we were preparing for our planned tour to America to attend the convocation ceremony of our son Ajinkya, who completed his MS, the biggest challenge was getting through the visa interview. We approached a travel agent (a company known for its good service) and one of its employees gave us the estimate of rupees thirty-three thousand, the total for both me and wife as the package charges for the visa. (I had a fair idea that it cost around the US $160 per head). I was not satisfied and found this price to be exorbitantly high. So, I asked him what were the only visa charges (so that I can derive how much money his company is making as their service charges). But this fellow was reluctant and kept on saying ‘this is all-inclusive, we never give a breakup of the total charge and this includes pickup of your passport from US consulate and also the visa interview counseling charges’, etc. But I wouldn’t relent and told him that unless I get the breakup I wouldn’t be interested in his services and that I would lookout for some other travel agent.
The employee did give me some discount (without revealing the break-up) but I was not happy and only after he expressed his inability to go any further, I directly got in touch with the owner of the travel agency (I knew the owner personally, but never wanted to call him directly as this action would have undermined his employee’s authority). Ultimately, I got a very good discount from the owner for the package deal and the travel agency offered reasonable service charges and we got the best of services from his employee too.
One more recent incident was when some of our school friends met after many years and we decided to have a party at a decent bar in the city. One of the friends who is a non-alcoholic drinker ordered some mocktail which was very highly-priced at rupees six hundred or so. The mocktail was served in a nice conical glass with a long, lanky leg and a flat stand to make it sit comfortably on the table. As our friend started sipping it, it was nice and chilled. However, as he had gulped only two to three sips, he started getting the air sound from the straw. On more close scrutiny, he found that there was a large ball of ice at the bottom of the conical glass which was not visible earlier due to the colorful mocktail. The drink had literally vanished within seconds. We realized the restaurant’s trick of fooling customers by serving just trickles of drink and filling in space with a useless ice ball. It was as though we were paying for the ice ball and getting about ten ml to drink free along with it.
The friend who was having that drink is a mild guy and a submissive character. He said, “it’s ok, leave it”. But we all friends were not the ones to give up so easily. We called the waiter and showed him the size of the ice ball in relation to the drink and asked him to replace it with a glass full of mocktail without any ice. We told him that we will put ice cubes as required ourselves. He did not budge. Then, we called the manager of the restaurant, and calmly explained to him, he was convinced- the result was our friend got a new glassful mocktail without paying anything extra for it.
One more incident which I remember is about fifteen years back when I was working as the sales manager in one of the companies. At one of the customer’s visits to Nagpur for closing a deal, we were surprised when the customer expressed his dissatisfaction with the local engineer in giving the after-sales service for the earlier supplies.
After the meeting got over, I asked the engineer to come along with me to the site where our equipment (a higher rating three-phase Online UPS system) was commissioned. I asked him to list down all the steps that he would carry out if the equipment had a breakdown. Poor guy had it all wrong. Then I asked him who trained him in the factory? To my utter shock; he was deputed to Nagpur without any training on an urgent basis just to show to the customers that we had a local service center, based on which we tried to get some sales orders. On further questioning, he revealed that he didn’t have the full tool kit as well.
I came back to Mumbai and told the whole story to our MD as I was reporting to him directly and it was a small company. He said ok “let’s sack the engineer”. Then I told the boss- “that’s not the solution. If we have not trained the engineer and sent him directly on the field, it’s our fault and not the engineer’s. You cannot send a soldier directly on the war front without fully equipping him through military training”. Boss agreed and the engineer was recalled and put through full one month’s rigorous training at the factory and during this time a substitute engineer was placed in Nagpur.
In all the above three examples, I and my friends showed a quality called assertiveness, one of the most important domains of emotional intelligence. If you have this quality in you, you don’t allow anybody to take advantage of or to take you for a royal ride. You have the courage to call a spade a spade without buckling under pressure from anybody. You are not afraid to stand for yourself and others if you think that anything that is happening around you is not correct.
Assertiveness can be defined as the ability to express your beliefs and thoughts openly by voicing your opinions, and not fearing to disagree with a majority feeling. To take a definite stand against something that is not as per your set values, in spite of being emotionally difficult to cope with or even when you may have to suffer financial losses in doing so. Assertive people are not afraid or shy of expressing their feelings and beliefs and in doing so they will never be aggressive or abusive.
Assertive people are sometimes labeled as being overtly fussy over small things and are advised instead to believe in the concept of “letting go” of everything. But they normally will stick to their stand and see to it that they themselves or their team members/close ones are treated with full respect and dignity.
The figure below shows different aspects and characteristics of assertiveness and are discussed as under. To imbibe assertiveness, we need to have the following qualities as very basic requirements.
Self-regard: is to have the conviction that basically you are good and you deserve the best. You accept yourself with all your limitations and still feel okay about it (no guilt or shame) and are aware of your strengths. People who have high self-regard don’t find it difficult to accept their mistakes and they are confident of asking for help and/or saying something which they may not have understood and ask for more information. They never think that, asking questions such as “What’s that? I don’t know” or “Who is that, can you please tell me more about that person?” will make a fool of themselves. For them, ignorance is not a crime.
They feel fulfilled and satisfied with themselves and their lives. A person with self-regard never shows-off or throws his/her weight around to expect people to bow over his/her big-fat egos. They don’t need to flaunt even if they have it.
People with no self-regard try to get ahead in life by doing it all by themselves and don’t ask for any help from others. They normally fail, because of their inability to unearth their own shortcomings and blind spots- those areas where others could give them feedback/pin-point their mistakes. Basically, these people are insecure and hence find it very difficult to delegate and work as a team with others. Many leaders in corporates fail just because they refuse to admit their mistakes and blame others for those and just blow trumpets of their so-called strengths so as to conceal their own limitations and follies. Such people are not open to criticism and hence their progress in life will be limited.
Self-awareness: since assertiveness means you need to express your feelings openly without any fear or prejudice, you need to be connected to your feelings and be able to recognize them. Unless you have some basic level of self-awareness it’s difficult to push yourself to stand up for your own rights, your own causes, and your values.
Impulse Control: it is very easy to lose your cool and there could be a strong urge to react in the heat of the moment when expressing disapproval. But sometimes the key is to have enough impulse control to get angry (if at all necessary just to send a message to the other party that you cannot be suppressed or forced into submission) only to the extent required, without allowing yourself to go totally mad and engaging/continuing yourself into the dialogue/debate/discussions in a cool but assured way to express your desires in an appropriate manner and intensity.
Communicate/connect: Since we have been talking about being able to express your opinions and feelings freely, the ability to communicate very clearly, to the point and in an unambiguous manner is the whole mark of assertiveness.
Sensitive: while assertiveness is being able to put forth your opinions and points without any hesitation, it doesn’t mean that you can bulldoze others and have your way. Assertive people are sensitive to the feelings of others and while they may disagree with them, they respect the other person’s point of view and are sensitive to their needs. E.g. in the first example of the travel agency, I fully respected the limitations of the employee to give discounts beyond a certain point and never did talk about him to his boss.
This is typically the case in sales when we have a win-win situation when needs of both parties are at least partially satisfied with the customer not squeezing the vendor too much for pricing and other commercial terms like payments, delivery and warranty and still getting the best product and service at a decent price. The vendor is also happy to offer the best product and services without cutting any corners as he is quite satisfied with his margins.
Non- Aggressive: Many times, assertiveness is misunderstood as being aggressive, and hence many people shy away from the idea of being assertive as they think that they may offend or hurt the other person.
Well, as mentioned above, if you are not sensitive to the feelings and thoughts of other people, and try to enforce your decisions and beliefs on others like a dictator, then certainly it is aggressive behavior.
I would like to narrate a story of an aggressive boss and his team member, let’s call him Mr. X when he was at the receiving end of aggressive behavior from his boss. It so happened that Mr. X and his wife decided to go to Goa for a short vacation of three days to celebrate their wedding anniversary. X decided to take an off on Monday to make it happen. So, accordingly, he went to the boss on Friday afternoon to take permission for the leave on Monday. He had not taken any leave for more than eight months and was so sure that his leave will be sanctioned, that he had all travel and hotel bookings done well in advance. But to his surprise, the moment he asked for leave on Monday, his boss got so wild on him and shot back as follows:
Boss: “How can you even think of asking for a leave on a month-end? Don’t you understand the pressure I am under? You are least bothered about the monthly sales figures and just so irresponsible. I have to answer to the top management because of you being so careless.”
Mr.X: Sir, but I have already sent you and factory the list of orders booked and to be invoiced in this month and no more orders are expected on the last day of the month i.e. Monday. Further, I am on course to complete my sales target for this quarter.
Boss: So, you have got the audacity to say that I should not expect any further orders from you this month. Don’t you have any responsibility for the regional target as well?
X: Sir, it’s my wedding anniversary and we have planned to take a weekend off to Goa with all the bookings done. Further, I have not taken any leave in the last eight months.
Boss: Do you think you have done any favor to me by not taking any leave? What should I do if it’s your anniversary? Did you ask me before doing all the bookings?
X: Sir, but these bookings were done by me about three months back to take advantage of the discounted pricing. There was no point in taking leave approval for just one CL (casual leave) three months ago.
Boss: Nothing doing, you are not going anywhere, just cancel the tickets- I don’t care.
Boss just bulldozed X, leaving no room for negotiations. His behavior left a bitter taste in him, not to mention the disappointment he and his family went through for the canceled short vacation.
What would have been a better assertive approach from the boss?
Let’s check this:
Boss: Oh, you want a leave on Monday which is the last day of the month. I know that you have given me and the factory list of all the orders booked and those that can be billed in this month, however, before leaving for home today just check if we can book a few more orders which can be billed immediately in this month itself. We need some quick orders to compensate for the shortfall in other regions.
X: Sure Sir. I will once again talk to some of my regular customers for pending orders and dealers if they can place some stock orders immediately. Let me try and get at least five Lacs worth of orders.
Boss: Good. Please close maximum orders and be in touch with the office, for any last-minute billing help required. Hope you are carrying your laptop and office mobile with you?
X: Yes Sir, I will be always reachable over the phone and mails and can operate from my Hotel.
Boss: Good. Wish you a Happy wedding Anniversary in advance.
X: Thanks a ton, Sir.
X would have been more loyal to the boss and the organization in the future and go that extra mile for him and putting that much more effort, beyond the call of the duty. His boss would have made him feel heard, respected, empathized with, and understood.
But instead, he used his position for being intimidating, demanding, and demeaning X rather than making him a participant in seeking solutions for the problem. Aggressive people only believe in taking and offering nothing or little in return to satisfy their personal agenda. Over a period of time, people develop resentment, bitterness, and ultimately hatred for such aggressors. They become more and more repulsive. People feel isolated and alienated in their company /working under them.
Let’s now summarize the difference between aggressive and assertive behaviors.
Aggressive behavior stems from the feeling of low self-confidence, insecurity, and poor self-regard.
Conclusions: Like all the other emotional intelligence skills assertiveness also can be learned and practiced even if it is not there inherent inside of you. Assertiveness is a state of mind. The key to success is to be clear what you want, believe in, and ask for it without any hesitation or fear. People will be more than happy to give you or help you get what you want as long as you are considerate and respecting the feelings and needs of others.
Remember the 1996 cricket world cup when India played and beat Pakistan in the quarter final? I have fond memories of one incident when Pakistan was cruising along with openers Aamir Sohail and Saeed Anwar going great guns scoring 84 runs in just first ten overs. But then madness struck Aamir when he unnecessarily gestured bowler Venkatesh Prasad as if to throw him out of the ground after hitting him for 2 consecutive boundaries. There was no necessity of these antics, the result was- very next ball Venkatesh clean bowls Aamir and eventually Pakistan lose the all-important quarter final and bowed out of the competition.
Another incident in sports- this time it was tennis when the player lost it all in the mind when Serena Williams screamed obscenities to the line judge in her 2009 U.S. Open tennis match final with Kim Clijsters. She was serving at 5-6, 15-30 in the second set, and faulted on her first serve. She had already lost the first set. On the second serve, a line judge called a foot fault, making it a double fault, which made the score 15-40 and just about gave Kim Clijsters the victory with one more point. Williams “lost it” by yelling, cursing, and threatening the line judge. The judge then assessed a point penalty for a code violation of unsportsmanlike conduct, which meant Williams not only lost her cool but also the match.
Then there was the famous (or infamous) head butt by ZINEDINE ZIDANE in the 2006 Soccer world cup final. It so happened that Italy’s Marco Materazzi sledged Zinedine and passed some dirty comments on his wife. That resulted in Zinedine getting so angry at Marco that he banged his head on Marco’s shoulder and hence was asked to leave the game by the referee as disciplinary action. France had to play with only 10 players and eventually lost the world cup.
Then there was our own Sunil Gavaskar whose behavior almost cost India the Test match against Australia in 1981. In the second innings of the game, Sunil was given out LBW to Denis Lillie when clearly the ball had hit the bat first before hitting his pads. Sunil who was also the captain of the Indian cricket side, out of anger ordered his partner Chetan Chouhan to leave the ground along with him before more sense prevailed and the team manager calmed Sunil and the game went on. Thankfully, ultimately India won the match.
One more tragic incident which happened in one of the Mumbai local trains, about 15-20 years back, when there was some smoke emanating out in the ladies’ compartment of the train. While the train was moving quite fast at around 60kph, most women thought (assumed) that the whole train had caught fire and out of sheer panic, all of them jumped out of the running training to save their lives, only to be crushed under the train running past in the opposite direction at around the same speed. Had at least some of those ladies taken a pause, thought for a second, many lives could have been saved. Why did they act so impulsively?
What is common in all the above incidents? All the concerned players and women (in train incident) allowed their emotions (anger/ fear) to get the better of them and resulted in their or their team’s downfall. (except for the example of Sunil Gavaskar, he luckily escaped, though he was the victim of the following phenomenon). In other words, they were emotionally or amygdala hijacked a term coined by Daniel Goleman in his book emotional intelligence.
To understand this concept, we need to first get into how our brain works and what triggers these irrational behaviors. In 1990 neuroscientist Paul D. Maclean in his book, ‘The Triune Brain in Evolution’ describes the brain in three major parts- The primitive brain, the emotional brain (limbic system), and the rational brain (neo-cortex). The following figure shows the structure of the human brain.
The primitive brain: as the name suggests it was the first one to develop and is responsible for the basic survival functions such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and spatial orientation. It is also known as the reptilian brain because it is similar in architecture to the brainstem in reptiles.
We take information from the surrounding world through our five senses- eye (vision), ear(hear), tongue (taste), Skin(touch) & nose (smell). These sensations enter the brain at this point, which is near the beginning of the spinal cord and is the seat of habits. We form all our habits through imitation, avoidance, or repetition and this brain is responsible for it.
The Limbic system: is also known as the emotional brain because neuroscientists have shown that emotions are not just the matter of the heart, they are also a result of brain biochemistry and thus they named the limbic system the emotional brain. The limbic system/emotional brain stores every emotional experience we have from the first moments of life, long before we acquire the verbal and higher thinking abilities to put them into words. It is like a big warehouse of feelings and impressions which we use in the required context. The limbic system is located at the centre of the brain.
Our body contains millions of cells and messages are transmitted to the brain through these cells. All the sensations enter the limbic system to create bodily sensations that are in response to some external trigger or information and bring about some awareness of what is happening to push us to take some action. (whether the action is correct or wrong, we will discuss in the following paras.) The limbic system contains parts of the brain called the thalamus and amygdala. (apart from that it also has hypothalamus, hippocampus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus but for the sake of simplicity and concerned with emotional hijacking, we will restrict our discussions only to these two parts, although all other parts mentioned above, each have a role to perform).
The main function of the limbic system is to protect our body from any external threats. It helps us to know what to approach and what to avoid. However, since it also stores our memories and experiences right from the beginning of life, it may also signal dangers to us when there are none. This explains why people get nightmares, firm deep-rooted beliefs, and stress/panic attacks.
The neo-cortex or the cerebrum: This is also called the large/rational brain and is the centre for reasoning, analysis, making decisions, questioning, solving problems, generating new ideas, and rational thinking. It is also responsible for symbolic communication and long-term planning. There are billions of nerve connections between the limbic system and the neo-cortex allowing for a free two-way communication and information exchange between the two.
Functioning of the brain related to emotions:
Under normal conditions (no real/perceived threat to the body): As discussed above we gather information from the surrounding world from the five sensory organs, e.g. from say eyes or ears to form electric signals which pass from cell to cell and enter the brain near the beginning of the spinal cord into the primitive brain and these signals/sensations are then transferred to the limbic system (first thalamus then to the amygdala). Signals passing through the limbic system create an emotional reaction to events/threats or information received from either of the five senses. These signals then pass ahead to neo-cortex (on the front side just behind our forehead) where rational thinking is done. The location of the limbic system is kept before the rational thinking brain so that it can act very fast and no time is wasted in thinking in times of attacks or threats to the body.
In response to an external trigger: The antennae are up in the amygdala to constantly scan the environment for anything that may hurt us or we should fear. Now, just imagine you are walking through a jungle and all of a sudden, a ferocious tiger comes in front of you. What will be your response? Obviously, it will be of fear and this triggers the amygdala (inside the limbic system) as a threat to our body and it acts very fast instructing us to flee. In some other event say you get involved in road rage with no fault of yours and the other person starts showering blows onto you, again amygdala sees this as a threat to your body and prompts you to act very fast and in our defense, we also reply with some blows to that person. This response from our end is called a fight.
This survival mechanism lets us react to things before the rational brain has time to mull over the situation. This term, fight/flight was first coined by Dr. Walter Cannon, a physiologist way back in 1920, as a brain reaction for any external threat. Strong fear or immense anger produces a signal that the body needed to defend itself or run away.
While the good part of the amygdala is it warns us from external threats, the downside of this is, it has the natural tendency to act very fast against a trigger to engage in risky, irrational, and even dangerous behaviour in everyday situations. This tendency of the amygdala when triggered with any strong emotion like fear and anger may result into emotional outbursts and is called as emotional or amygdala hijacking. This explains the improper behaviour of the athletes in all the five incidences explained at the beginning of this blog.
The working of the two important parts of the brain, the amygdala, and neo-cortex can be better understood if we look them as a two-way transceiver, a walkie-talkie, wherein each part can transmit as well as receive signals. In the same way, billions of neurons line the path between the emotional (limbic system) and the rational (neo-cortex) parts of the brain. When signals are flowing smoothly between these two parts (trans/receive), you are practicing emotional intelligence. The more this two-way walkie-talkie (and not the unilateral impulsive way of amygdala) is used, the stronger is the connection between the emotional and rational parts of the brain. The more habitual you get in using this two-way communication, the more developed will be your emotional intelligence. In the above example of the train incident, this link between the emotional and the rational parts of the brain was totally missing and once the amygdala was triggered, irrational and dangerous (actually, fatal in this case) reaction resulted in the loss of so many lives.
Self-awareness is the cornerstone for us to think about our feelings and only then we know how to manage our emotions. The stronger the emotional self-awareness, the stronger will be this network connectivity between these two parts of the brain.
If there are network issues (i.e. we are not connected with our feelings), the communications between these two parts will be hampered. Some people either ignore their feelings while others are overwhelmed by them. The key to personal and professional success is to maintain the right balance between feelings and rational thinking.
Understanding the difference between, emotions, feelings and moods
Emotions and feelings are many times used alternately, however, they are totally different brain processes and distinct from one another. We should know the difference between the two because the way we behave in this world is the result of our emotions and feelings. Knowing the difference gives us a better understanding of not only ourselves but also the people around us. However, unless we work on our emotional knowledge, most emotional reactions will be unconscious of us. Nothing can be controlled if you are not even aware that those things are happening.
Before we get into distinguishing between emotions and feelings, we need to understand the duality of the mind. We have only one mind however, it possesses two distinctive characteristics- the conscious and the sub-conscious.
Let’s first understand the difference between these two. The conscious mind is the reasoning mind that chooses and we make all our decisions through the conscious mind. It is that phase of mind wherein we are aware of all our actions which are externally visible to others. E.g. we choose our life partner, books, home, etc with conscious mind. It is the conscious mind that is at work for the quality of thoughts we sow into our sub-conscious mind.
On the other hand, there are some functions that happen in the background such as the beating of heart, breathing, the process of digestion, blood circulation, etc. which we don’t even realize that they are happening. All such systems, which take place automatically are carried out by our subconscious mind through the process which is independent of the conscious mind. The subconscious mind doesn’t understand what is right or wrong, nor does it argue with you for your choices. It just follows the old school of thought “as you sow so shall you reap”.
Emotions are responses or reactions/ triggers to an external event.
Emotions are connected to our biological systems and are designed to alert us of immediate danger or to draw us to something pleasurable.
Emotions are physical and precede feelings, and are instinctual. Emotions can be measured in terms of blood pressure, pulse rate, heart rate, etc. (as you get angry or fearful all these will increase). Emotions can result in physiological changes like perspiration, sweaty palms, tightness in the stomach, headache, etc.
Emotions are intense but temporary/short-lived and egoic in nature.
They are stressful for our body and can result in many diseases like blood pressure, cholesterol, heart trouble, diabetes, etc. if left unmanaged over a long period of time.
Emotions are clear, well defined, and experienced by all the people.
Most emotions give rise to some immediate action from the person experiencing it which may have far-reaching consequences.
While emotions are at an unconscious level, feelings are linked subconsciously to an emotion. As we react in emotion, feelings follow them. Feelings are subjective and influenced by personal experience, beliefs, and memories, and hence vary from person to person and from situation to situation.
Feelings cannot be measured as they are at the subconscious level. They cannot be demonstrated or proven why one feels in a particular way.
Feelings are low key, stable, sustainable, and subtle. Emotions prompt feelings, which may persist and grow over a lifetime.
Feelings are generated in the heart and one can use the internal signals that can help us in what is called the “sixth sense”. Feelings can be used as a tool for decision making and choices.
Feelings alert us for an anticipated danger, (Intuition/gut feeling) so that we can prepare for it.
Feelings are more matured, more thoughtful.
For better understanding between the two, following table will clarify with examples:
Distress, worthlessness, regret, dishonor
Emotions and their equivalent feelings
Moods: A mood is your state of mind at any particular time. Your moods show your thinking and feeling. The mood can be collective of the group or individual of the person as well. (E.g. the mood of the people of the country). There is a difference between emotions and moods. While the former is a result of some reason/event to occur, the latter is more dependent on factors such as environment, surroundings, the attitude of people, etc. Moods are feelings that may last for a much longer duration and occurs for unknown reasons.
Conclusions: We have seen how emotions if not managed, can pose real problems in our personal as well as professional life and can really impede our progress in both. The key to avoiding emotional hijacks is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. There are various ways in which you can avoid emotional hijacks.
Feelings are our internal compass guiding us with our “sixth sense”. On the other hand, emotions need to be managed. (that’s the reason perhaps discoverers termed it as emotional intelligence and not feelings intelligence.) The early we understand the difference between the two, the faster we can be on the path on emotional intelligence.
While we have discussed in some details about empathy, I would still like to discuss more as I discover more and more and try practicing it myself. So, the factors which govern empathy can be listed as under:
Self-awareness: This may sound paradoxical as empathy is supposed to be getting into the shoes of the other person or seeing things from the other’s perspective. However, brain circuits that allow us to think about our own thoughts and hence the emotions that follow, same are used when we try to find why the other person behaved in the way they did or the way they saw different situations. Hence it is very important to understand your own feelings before you understand the feelings of others, which is all about self-awareness.
Selfless: empathy is all about the other person. You cannot have ulterior motives or any vested interest when you try to peek into the minds of the other person. Empathy cannot be selfish.
Attention: One of the most important qualities to have is to give 100% undivided attention when someone is communicating with you. Switch off the TV, put the mobile in silent mode or close the door of your office cabin when your colleague/very close family member wants to discuss some very important point or issue.
Solution: empathy is different than sympathy. Sympathy is when you feel like another person feels. Empathy means you understand how the other person feels though you do not feel the same way. In empathy, you understand the problem of the other person and know exactly how the other person feels, but since you don’t feel the same way, you can distance yourself from the problem and offer some solutions. You are not part of the problem, so you can be a part of the solution. E.g. when a husband comes back home in the evening from a long office day, his wife would offer him with- “you must be tired and hungry working the whole day in office, let me get some tea and snacks for you before we get ready for dinner” or a person may offer comfort to other by saying- “you are feeling sea sickness traveling, let me get a tablet and a wet towel for you, you will feel better”. With empathy, you are sensitive to the feedback from the other person.
Inquisitive: Inquisitive nature fuels empathy. The care needs to be taken of not being interrogative. Some people are very curious to find out and understand the person around them like- what they thought, what they did, why they acted in the way they did, what could have been their compulsions for their reactions, what worked for them and what didn’t etc. Being inquisitive and naturally interested in others helps us to be more empathetic.
Connect: Identifying the emotions of others is a very important part of empathy. For this to happen one needs to connect with the people around looking for the non-verbal communication signals they are sending, picking up something happening at the most subtle level-like a smile on the face may try to stop the tears in the eyes….can you pick that signal? Can you give attention to the tone, volume, pitch, and pace of their voices? How is their body language? Do they radiate confidence/fear/anxiety/positivity etc.?
Focus: there is a difference between paying full attention (discussed above) and being focused on the other person. Being attentive is keeping all the external distractions away and then concentrating on that person fully. Being focused is removing all the distractions of your own thoughts and emotions and engaging all your energies and concentration mentally as well as physically towards the other person.
Intuition: It is very important for us to not only sense how people feel but also find what they need from you without telling you about it. So many times we expect and wish our spouses or doctors to understand the pain we are going through without we actually saying it….This intuitive quality is more pronounced for our loved ones. Say a mother will intuitively experience the distress her child is suffering from as if it was her own.
This is a story about 13-14 years ago when my company took over a small division of another MNC and one of their employees (let’s call him Mr. X) became our colleague. As the days went by, he found that the boss of the zone was not supporting him and was biased towards the original employees of the company the boss would try to corner him at the first available opportunity. My colleague was getting demotivated. It was very regular that boss would never give the credit of good work to my colleague and in fact would strive hard to get self in the limelight of the top management if any big order was booked by Mr. X. This went on for a couple of years so was the frustration, anger, and bitterness of Mr. X. The final nail in the coffin was when X was denied any raise in the salary in spite of meeting his sales targets and his promotion was kept on hold. His resentment was growing by the day and the following year he had to leave his job.
Mr. X was totally consumed by hatred, bitterness, and resentment for his boss. This always used to prop up whenever we had time for any official discussions. He was just not able to come to terms with the behavior of the boss and his perceived feeling of being victimized, did not allow him peace of mind.
Then, I know one more lady (let’s call her Mrs. Y) who years after the incident has feelings of bitterness for a person who played dirty office politics with her. It so happened that Mrs. Y and her colleague worked on the same project. There was a monthly review meeting of all projects called by the top management in which these two were to give the presentation about their project and its progress. Mrs. Y was requested by her colleague to make all the detailed PowerPoint presentation and she completed it quite nicely.
The day of the presentation came and both were in front of the top management. Every time Mrs. Y would complete some part of the presentation, her colleague would stop her and stand up from her place and say “Let me explain more clearly and in detail ” as if to create an impression that Y was not able to put forth the point properly and would always say “since I have worked extensively I know all the details of this project”. It was always “I” and never “we” for her, although Mrs. Y was equally working hard on the project. This used to happen in each and every meeting with the top management. Mrs. Y was getting frustrated. She started developing bitterness and hatred towards her colleague. This thought of being bullied or dominated and ignored by her colleague played on to her mind again and again. She was finding it very difficult to come out of it.
There will be more serious stories when people are not able to forgive their spouses for leaving them for their lovers, or a man not able to forgive his father for abusing him in childhood, etc. All these can have a telling effect on the health of the person and in worst cases lead to his/her deaths as well.
Before we get into bitterness and resentment it is important to understand the difference between the two, which is only marginal though.
Bitterness is a feeling generated inside the person who is hurt and perceives himself/herself as the victim. Bitterness reflects pain inflicted with the intention of wrongdoing and causing grief. It always starts with anger. Normally a bitter person repeatedly ruminates about the past injustices which cause the feeling of injustice to remain. If the person experiences more negative incidences such as loss of a job, divorce, infidelity by the partner, abuse (verbal/physical/both), etc. the sense of injustice makes even more firm ground in the person’s mind. Bitterness can then become a part of their personality and could well define them. They end up becoming victims not so much of anyone else, but of themselves. Some of the bitterness statement is “I didn’t deserve to be treated like this” or ‘How can you do this to me’?
Resentment is reflected in the form of anger when the person does not get which he/she thinks was rightfully his/her. It is a feeling that one gets when something was denied, that person feels he/she deserved it. E.g. “I should have got the promotion this year but it was given to my colleague who actually did not perform as well”. Or “But for my boss being a little more supportive, I would have achieved my sales target”. Resentment normally smells some blame game. Blaming others for one’s own mistakes becomes a habit for resentful people. Such people sometimes even blame the almighty for whatever bad that happens to them. They may blame God if their spouse died of cancer (never mind that he was an alcoholic), loss of a good job, accident in which he/she loses an either limb or anything happens to their loved ones. Did you hear someone say “of everybody in this world, why me God”? Some people feel that whatever bad that has happened to them in life is because of god.
Long-standing resentment and a feeling that somebody else got which should have been mine, gives rise to another disruptive emotion-jealousy or in other words envy. Jealousy is a terrible feeling that can take away our joy for the moment. We get an unrequired awareness of the advantage the other person is enjoying, and we also desire to have the same advantage. Jealousy leads to feelings of rivalry or revenge which in turn will lead to anger and hostility. Jealousy can rob us of our inner peace and happiness.
It is very commonly seen or even experienced by us that we may have a long-standing and deep bitterness for a person who caused some harm to us. But there is always a choice available with us on how we would feel about the injustices/atrocities inflicted on us by somebody else. Did you hear someone say “I just cannot forgive him/her for what he/she has done to me?” “I wish he/she also goes through the same ordeal that I am going through” or “I am going through this physical pain because of him. I wish he never gets peace with his new wife for whom he left me”. Many people carry these feelings of grudge and hatred for years and comfort themselves by imagining that something bad like they have met with an accident or their house is burning etc is happening to their predators. Some people may have the only consolation by thinking that their perpetrators will one day rot in hell.
However, these people don’t understand that resentment for the other person will only hurt them. The one who broods, complains, and has all the hatred, may not realize that those who caused them the pain or hurt are unfazed and least bothered about their own behaviours and may, in fact, be enjoying their lives. So, is it really worth for them to think and give so much importance to such people and lose health, peace of mind, and sleep?
Just as love is the most powerful positive emotion, hatred is the most disruptive emotion. The people who have hoarded piles of bitterness, resentment, anger, and hate have very little love left inside of them. Hatred masks or in fact remove all the positive emotions inside the person over a period of time.
It works this way. Say, you have a five-dozen alphonso mango box in which one fruit is rotten and you keep it in the box for many days. Within no time you will find that all the other mangoes kept in the box have also got rotten nor you have the space inside the box to keep any new mangoes. You need to get rid of the rotten mangoes first, cleanse the box, only then you can place some good ripe mangoes in it.
The same is applicable to your emotional well-being especially when it comes to hoarding grudges, complaints, grievances, and offenses. When there are too many disruptive emotions such as anger, bitterness, and hatred, all thoughts will be affected, not only those related to the offense. The mind will be too crowded by these negative thoughts and there will be no space for any positive emotions. The person gets more mistrusting, pessimistic, angry, and hostile, even depressed in some cases as the pain he/she may have experienced.
If the person has a very strong negative experience, which has remained unhealed with the emotions of fear, disgust, and frustration suppressed for a long time, he/she will tend to quickly latch onto the painful memories. Those thoughts just won’t go and the person dwells in those stories again and again so much so that the disruptive emotions of resentment, bitterness, and unforgiveness make a very strong footing in their minds. The emotional wound would never heal because even if it tries to get dry, the person keeps on removing the cover of forgiveness that might be forming over it.
People who hold grudges or are not able to forgive are always fuming, irritated, and frustrated. They are always in the fight or flight mode, ready to react at the slightest of provocations. They are completely consumed by negativity as negative thoughts pay repeated visits to their minds.
The only solace to all these disruptive emotions of anger, bitterness, resentment, and jealousy is forgiveness. While it may be quite easy to forgive small reverses in daily life such as someone cuts his car through the petrol queue, or someone who makes some obscene gesture, or a shopkeeper talks to us in a rude manner, there will be some deep-rooted pains/hurts/insults inflicted on us which may not be as easy to forgive. These cases will require some time and the victim has to go through a process before he/she can actually forgive the perpetrator.
But before that, we need to clearly understand what is forgiveness and what it is not? Forgiveness is letting go of the feeling of having to take revenge, resentment, and bitterness. You may not be able to forget the pain of hurtfully, however; it will at least blunt its sharpness to a certain degree. Forgiveness may actually lead you to more insights into your misunderstanding of the other person, empathy, and compassion for the person who hurt you.
Embracing forgiveness is for better mental and emotional peace of oneself than doing it for the offender. By committing to forgiveness, you vow to yourself of changing your life. As you let go of grudges, you’ll no longer define your life by how you’ve been hurt.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or excusing the harm done to you or making up with the person who caused the harm. Forgiveness brings a kind of peace that helps you go on with life.
To start with we can follow the following ways towards forgiveness:
Start with small: As discussed above start to walk on the path of forgiveness by forgiving the smallest of offenses against you. E.g. somebody cutting through the queue, a vegetable vendor giving stale stuff, etc.
Remind yourself that you are not an angel: Think of those times when you knowingly or unknowingly hurt someone and you did ask for forgiveness and received it from the other person. You too are not an angel.
Remind yourself that someone was an angel: Think of an incident when in spite of you being angry, rude, and disrespectful how the other person treated you with kindness, respect, and love. Think about our parents who in spite of, we had all the limitations, weaknesses, and shortcomings, continue to shower their unconditional love and kindness on us. Have the attitude of gratitude for those such people in your life who are just as imperfect as you are, however, are still able to let go of their anger and resentment and move on in life. Print on a paper these words in big and bold fonts: LET GO or MOVE ON and stick on your working desk in your office and home to serve as a reminder of your vulnerability.
Remember when you forgave: do we not forgive our very close family members such as a spouse, children, and very close friends for even the grave offenses committed by them? e.g. do you hit your wife back if by mistake she doesn’t see your leg and the chair she pushes, hurts you? Never right? Or are we not forgiving our teenage son for back answering us or being rude with us occasionally when he goes mad? Think if we can extend the same leniency for others outside our homes?
Can you face death in peace: Each one of us will die one day, however, nobody knows when that moment might come? Many people with terminal illnesses think that each extra minute of life they have got is a bonus. Yet, we waste days, months, and years complaining about the small irritations of life. Just imagine you are counting the last few moments of your life. You would surely like to look back at your life without regrets and that you lived it with a lot of grace and to the fullest. As you think of death, think: a. Can you let go of old grudges and tell people that you forgive them? b. Do you need to say something to someone in particular? c. Can you tell important people in your life, whatever happened, happened, but you still love them? d. Do you want to experience that feeling of lightness, free from all the emotional loans that you have been carrying all through your life, or something specific before you die?
Use the Three-position (perceptual) exercise: This is a powerful NLP technique which is actually used for better understanding and relationships. This technique helps you to deal with your feelings and also consider others. The same can be used for forgiving others. The principle is that the more perspectives we take on a situation, the more we have the choice and understanding. And hence the more likely we will be able to think rationally and correctly which is beneficial to all concerned.
There are three primary positions:
1st Position: We see, we hear, think, and feel from our own perspectives. By putting ourselves in this position, we are able to connect with what is important to us personally. We only see the other person and we experience them from our perspective only. Excessive use of this position can lead to a lack of understanding and subsequent dismissal of other’s people’s feelings and ideas. We tend to get more self-centered, more absorbed by our own circumstances at that time, and our own thought alone.
2nd Position: This is a very important position from the forgiveness point of view. In this position, we put ourselves in the 2nd position to understand where the other person is coming from. By putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we experience the situation as if we were them. We try to understand why the other person said those offensive words or did what he/she did or inflict physical pain on us. Was he/she going through any pain/overwhelming situation/challenging circumstances himself/herself and the heat of the moment got the better of him/her? We are able to imagine how it is to look out of their eyes and hear out of their ears and to be in their body such that we see and feel the situation as if we are them. This is empathy in pure terms. When we are able to put ourselves in the person whom we want to forgive, it becomes easier to go through the process. Once we are in this position, we are able to understand and tap into the emotions behind what they said and what and why did they do to you, what they did.
3rd Position: In 3rd position, you have the ability to stand back from the situation and experience it as if you are a detached observer. You try not to have any emotions in this situation and think from an unbiased perspective. Think as if what a third person will advise you in the situation: whether you should forgive the other person or try to take revenge or brood inside self and suppress your emotions of anger, bitterness, and resentment, which will only be harmful for your health in the long run.
7. Loving Kindness meditation: Think of loving-kindness as friendliness towards yourself and others. In this meditation, we let in the feelings of love, kindness, and compassion for the other person whom we want to forgive. Do the following steps:
a. Sit in a comfortable position with your back straight. Take three slow and deep breaths. Focus on your breath. Keep your eyes closed.
b. Now, think of a person whom you respect or admire. This can be someone you know or someone in public or spiritual life whom you revere. Notice how you feel as you think about this person and identify the qualities that you admire about that person. You are connecting with qualities you personally care about and you can yourself get aware of. c. Then, think of someone who is not your spouse or partner but who had treated you with lots of love, unconditional support, kindness, and care in the past. Remember those days/incidents and how you felt in the loving presence of this person and notice how you are feeling now as you think about that person again. Bring this sense of love into your heart, with quite breathing, so that you develop a general feeling of kindness within you.
d. In this step, shift your thoughts to a neutral person for whom you have no feelings either of love or hate. Say, your daily vegetable vendor or local newspaper delivery boy. Reconnect the feelings of love you remembered in steps in b and c above. Now direct those feelings of love for this neutral person. You may feel lots of love, kindness, and compassion flow out from you.
e. Now the very important step: direct those thoughts gathered in step d to the person you are having an old grudge or finding them difficult to forgive. Hold onto the feeling of loving-kindness as you continue to think about this person. Direct this energy to this person through your heart with normal breathing and presence of mind. This practice will consciously create a feeling of loving-kindness about the person whom you have grudge/find difficult to forgive. If you happen to meet that person, you can acknowledge him with compassion and without any negativity. If that person refuses to accept your forgiveness, wish him all the very best and just move on. If the person is already dead, you can pray for his soul and wish its liberation.
8. Join some social club: Involve yourself with like-minded people, get social with them, find time for doing some social service ( like Rotary club/any spiritual gatherings) which will give you the satisfaction of helping people, go on a vacation with your family/friends and just live in the present moment to enjoy life to the fullest. Yoga and pranayama on a regular basis with slow and deep belly breathing, holding on the breath for a count of five, and observing/focusing on the breath also helps in calming down your emotions of anger, resentment, bitterness, and revenge.
Conclusion: Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you are trying to change the other person, rather you are trying to change yourself to attain some peace of mind. To forgive means to accept, acknowledge, and let go of the injury to your feelings and physical body. Forgiving doesn’t mean that you trust that person and doesn’t also make what wrong had happened, to be right. Forgiveness may bring reconciliation if the concerned person is very close to you and willing to maintain the relationship. However, it is impossible to reconcile if that person has died. You may still forgive them. You need to be aware that forgiveness is a process and you may have to revisit it again and again till you fully get over your anger and grudges against that person.
Forgiveness is not forgetting. You cannot let go of your past. But you can let go of the negative emotions connected to the past. These emotions can hurt you more than they hurt the other person.
It was in the summer of 2002 when I called one of my very big customers, a huge multi-national group, who used to give us a business of around Rs. 50Lacs annually. I had some technical as well as commercial queries to ask him for one of their orders, as he was our single point of contact in that company. It was about 11.00 AM and after he picked up my call, I did ask him “was it the right time to talk” and only after the affirmation from him I went ahead. After hearing my questions, he just lost it and started blasting me saying that I should not be asking these questions at this time. His frustration was evident in his tone and words. I was able to even visualize him- the frown on his forehead, the sweat in his palms, and the irritation he was feeling could easily be sensed by me. Thankfully, I was able to keep my cool (actually, not too sure whether it was my cool or my repressed anger, which I was not able to vent it out on him as he was my old client).
But as a thorough gentleman that he was, he called me back after half an hour to apologize about his behavior and then answered all my queries. It had so happened that, when I had given him a call, he was with the excise duty inspector and that fellow was getting under his skin. He was unnecessarily harassing our client and that was the result of his venting it out on me.
Like in the above story, anger can get the better of us due to the environmental conditions on which we have very little control. May be my client was standing in a hot, filthy, and dirty government office which also had very low lit, dusty, and on top of that, the excise inspector was breathing down his neck. If in such trying situations, (when the coolest of the persons can lose calm) you get a phone call, that case is a potential candidate for venting out your frustration. However, if you are at the receiving end, you may ignore such behaviors and probably excuse that person saying “he had a bad day in office” with better self and social awareness.
The other story was when I had lost it on my wife. It was in April-2015 when my parents were about to relocate from Thane to Pune. We had already started the packing and wanted to get rid off of our old furniture and my dad even negotiated with a vendor for it. Some amount was finalized and the said furniture was taken down (from our 3rd floor flat) to our society premises by the vendor, but suddenly he started to act very nastily with my father. He just refused to take the material. My dad was 80 years old at that time and he even told him to take away the furniture free of cost as some society members started taking objection to keeping the material there for a long time. I was able to speak to my dad last at around 2.00 PM on the landline telephone. Immediately after that MTNL disconnected our line in a very swift action in response to my dad’s application to surrender the phone as they were about to leave Thane. His mobile was also not reachable and I was just not able to contact my dad when I very badly wanted to and ask about the furniture vendor’s intentions. I was in the office at that time which was in Vikhroli-east (a suburb in Mumbai), a driving distance of about 15-17mins from my house in Thane- east. I was getting tensed and frustrated with not being able to solve the problem of furniture or to talk to the vendor/dad.
So, I thought let me call my wife and ask her to go to my parent’s place (we stay just 5mins walk from their place) so that I could talk to my dad through her mobile and solve it. But she wouldn’t pick her mobile (silent mode) and since she wanted to have her afternoon siesta, she had removed the receiver of our landline telephone as well. She was not aware of all those things happening at my dad’s place. Now, already annoyed and frustrated at the vendor and anxious for my dad, I was getting mad at my wife and in a fit of rage, decided to rush home. I drove this distance of about 13 km within 9mins and the moment I reached my home, I just blasted my wife and did not allow her to put forth her side of the story. I didn’t just allow her to utter a single word. I was yelling at her at the top of my voice. I had reduced her almost to tears.
What was my wife’s fault? She just wanted to rest undisturbed for about 45mins after helping my parents to pack their luggage whole of the same morning.
Why was I not able to show any empathy for her? I think the reason primarily (apart from off-course the fact that I was worried about how my father would handle the situation at his age and the frustration that vendor went nasty on my dad) was my ego- the thought that ‘how can she not pick up ‘my’ call when I needed her the most to do so?’ ‘How can she sleep when my dad is in trouble?’ ‘Why did she come home back without asking me?’. When it’s only ‘I’, ‘Me’, and ‘Mine’ all the other skills of emotional intelligence like self-awareness, self-management, and empathy are forgotten and this gives rise to anger. I would again reiterate that; thoughts give birth to emotions and emotions will decide your behavior.
Anger- can be a deadly emotion and when a person is engulfed with it, he/she loses the capacity to think rationally and logically. A decision which could have been taken with a cool head, just because of some minutes of madness, cannot be even thought about or a totally wrong decision taken for which one may have to regret and repent for a lifetime. However, anger is a very universal emotion and everyone gets angry. The question is how much and in what duration? i.e. the intensities and the frequencies of getting angry are what matters and it differs from person to person.
In most cases, anger is the result of an expectation or need not met. As seen in my case above, it is also the result of one’s ego not being caressed. Anger may also result in the way a person is brought up from the childhood e.g. a child who is pampered at home and gets everything that he asks for or even what he doesn’t ask for, will get easily mad at people who may not agree to his point of view or if he doesn’t get what he wants as he grows as an adult. Anger can also be nourished by the people around you, as your losing temper may sometimes be viewed as being straight forward and as a very transparent person.
However, such people confuse anger with assertiveness– a quality which allows you to know your strengths and accept your weaknesses and doesn’t allow others to take advantage of you. Getting angry most times is out of lack of impulse control and smells of self-absorbed and self-centered behaviors.
The following figure shows how anger manifests. First, it starts with a thought or the belief which is influenced by EGO, lack of self-awareness, and lack of impulse control. Thought, in turn, creates an emotion (in this case anger), which in turn incites some wrong behavior from you and last but most importantly, is its consequences/implications.
On most occasions, and whatever be the reason, the base of all anger is fear. Fear of losing control over other people, fear of losing self-pride, self-importance or fear of loss of money, relationships, position, etc.
However, getting angry is not always bad. In the following conditions, you have to get angry, else it will be a sign that you have no self-worth, no self-esteem, no self-regard and you care less about yourself, people around you, or about your nation.
You want your anger to move you to stand up for yourself when your talents are being exploited in the workplace.
You would like to use your anger to complain any wrongdoings or injustice say, corruption in your housing society matters and complain against the secretary and the chairman of the society to the deputy registrar of housing societies.
You need to get angry to protect yourself in road rage and return some blows if the other person attacks you, for not no fault of yours.
You want to let anger move you to write a letter to the editor in your local newspaper about some social injustice or these days bring the same out in social media and make the culprits famous and punished.
All great leaders such as Lokmanya Tilak, Veer Sawarkar, Martin Luther King (Jr), Subhash Chandra Bose, Nelson Mandela, etc. were all angry men. But they turned their anger against the atrocities and inspired people to fight along with them.
The above figure depicts the anger in a very positive manner. That’s when anger is required and is good for society. It starts with some injustice, exploitation, or self-protection and in this type of anger, the major difference is the person is fully aware of his emotions and the emotions of others, has lots of empathy and sympathy for the society in which he lives and is a true leader. All true leaders are angry. They are angry against the set wrong rules, regressive mindsets and they are the ones who can bring about a change in the society/nation. People just follow them and small gathering converts into a mass movement in no time.
Constructive anger has its advantages as well. Anger helps you in infusing enthusiasm, energizes you, and improves your communication with other people. The sudden display of anger by a normally cool and calm person, may get you all the attention and since people respect you for your calmness, they understand the gravity of the situation and this might help you to get your job done. Your self-esteem and self-worth increases, if you show your anger for valid reasons. This also helps you to defend yourself against fear and insecurity.
Also, it is worthwhile noting that, on most occasions, we get angry with people who are weak as compared to us or we seemingly have some authority over them. Many times, this seniority is misused to intimidate others into submission to us. E.g. boss gets angry over his team members but can’t display his frustration and anger to his seniors. A husband gets angry over his wife but swallows the bitter pill in front of his friends. He can at best repress his anger which is also not a very good sign. We have already seen the ill effects of suppressing emotions on our physical body in my earlier blog and how it can result in many health issues. If we think that we are at par in strength and power as the other person, that is when the fight or tussle starts and temperatures run high.
Some people can be dangerous with their anger. They may not react immediately for a perceived trivial issue, and you may think that he/she didn’t mind or taken it sportingly and the matter is resolved. However, these people may get revengeful and wait for the right opportunity to get even at you and they will attack either through words, dirty politics, through someone else, or even physically at the right time which suits them. Have you ever heard someone say “I will not talk anything right now, let my time come then I will it to show them”? Such people not only get even with you they seek to reap double the returns they had paid for. We need to be careful about such people.
Before we see how to manage our anger, it is very important for us to understand the different intensities of anger. Anger can be felt mildly, extremely high, or somewhere in between. The least intense state of anger starts from annoyance and can escalate to disappointed, dissatisfied … right up to getting furious. The figure below shows the different intensities of anger. Being able to distinguish (naming which emotion is happening) between these different shades of the core emotion (in this case anger), helps an individual to manage this negative emotion in a much better way and is a sign of high emotional self-awareness. The states of anger are as follows:
Annoyance: this is mild anger caused by a nuisance or inconvenience. Possible actions resulting from annoyance are brooding, passive-aggression, and suppression.
Disappointed- this is similar to getting annoyed with a slightly higher degree when e.g. you are not happy with the action or behavior of the other person and comes to you as a surprise. Normal reactions will be again suppression, withdrawal, or simmer.
Dissatisfied- when you get angry over the other person for not performing as per your satisfaction. E.g. “I am totally dissatisfied with the results of your team for this quarter”.
Frustrated: This is a response to repeated failures in overcoming an obstacle. Or when you find yourself in a state of helplessness and don’t know how to come out of it. The actions which may result will be destructive like insulting, screaming/yelling, quarrel, or undermine.
Disgusted: when someone acts in a shameful or a sickening manner. Resulting actions from the person experiencing this emotion is, avoiding the said person, withdraw i.e. there is no dialogue between the two, or dehumanize i.e. your treat that person as though they are not human beings.
Irritation: This anger is caused by the repeated or strong nuisance. The actions can be all of the above plus dispute or suppression of anger.
Mad: It’s starting to get heated up now. Actions can be all the above plus some violent methods like breaking something or banging your fist on the table.
Bitterness: This is anger after unfair treatment. The possible actions resulting from bitterness are suppress, passive-aggressive, dispute, insult, scream/yell, brood, undermine.
Vengefulness: The desire to retaliate after one is hurt. The possible actions resulting from all the above or using physical force. All the actions are destructive.
Furious: This is uncontrolled and often violent anger. The actions can be regretful and the person may repent for the whole of his/her life for them. All the actions are destructive.
How do I manage my anger?
The following are some of the tested ways in which one can manage anger tendencies and save self and others from possible rupturing of relationships, and other undesirable consequences:
People always say that you must count from 1-10 giving some time for the emotions to settle down and then talk or take any decision. However, do we really remember what to do when we are angry? we even don’t know what we are doing some times. Our brain ceases to work when we are really mad at someone.
The best thing in such cases is to paste the following questions/statements in a prominent place in your bedroom or on the wall robe or pin it on your working table at home and your office. This will act as a reminder when you are about to lose your head on something or somebody. Once you practice this, you will get into the habit of restraining and have the required impulse control to manage your disruptive emotions.
I don’t have the option to undo my actions or pull back my words
Why did I react the way I did?
Did my reaction help me or harm me?
How will my reaction make me feel an hour after? A week after? A year after?
Did I speak/react/do something irrationally in the heat of the moment?
How would I respond in the future to a similar event?
Before taking any action or reacting what would I say to me?
These statements/questions have really helped me and I am more aware now before I talk or take any action against any external triggers.
2. Manage your ego: As mentioned in the beginning, one of the main reasons for anger is ego. Most of your temper issues will get resolved if we can let go of our ego even 50% of the time. However, it is easier said than done. You need to really work on letting go of your ego. It’s no easy.
You can take baby steps towards this at home itself. If there is a fight between husband and wife due to any reason, and there is no dialogue between the two of you, you should be the first one to approachyour spouse for a truce, irrespective of who was at fault. The same can be extended to your friends and relatives. All ego problems and hence the anger start with ‘being right’. Develop a habit of letting go of being right.
Next, you may get attached to some genuine NGO, temple, Rotary club, etc who are doing their bit for the society. Just being there for any of their donation programs or projects for the poor, feeling of compassion will surely ignite into your hearts. You may also donate some fixed amount every month for these causes. You will thank the almighty for everything he has given to you. You will realize how fortunate you are. All your pride, position, and the money power will be forgotten when you see the plight of those people. Service above self towards the society helps you to remain grounded at least to a certain extent.
3. Withdraw from the scene temporarily: If you realize that the other person said something which was really offensive or he/she were angry at you due to any reason and that you were also about to lose your temper, just tell him/her that “it seems you are really very upset right now, let’s discuss this in the evening (or any mutually decided time) when emotions settle down”. You need to employ this approach, as anyway he/she is not going to listen to you when they are very angry. Your words will fall on their ears but not reach to their brain or heart. So, there is no use talking to them at that very moment. However, do remember to take up the discussion on the objectionable point later. Because, as you have deferred the discussions, those emotions of anger, disappointment, frustration, anxiety, etc. will be there inside of you and unless you put forth your point or prove yourself right, it will continue to simmer inside like a pressure cooker, waiting for the first opportunity to burst which can be more harmful. E.g. you may always get irritated when your nasty boss confronts you and you may have the tendency to argue or even get mad at him. Next time when you have a meeting with your boss, just keep observing your emotions and once you get the first clue that your internal temperature has started raising, tell the boss “can I just come back in a little while sir?” This will diffuse the emotion. After some time once you go back to his cabin you may start with “yes sir, so what were you saying?”. You will feel that even he would have cooled in the meantime.
The same can be said regarding office breaks. If one takes regular time-outs (just about 5-10mins) to say coffee or going to another department to deliver some documents, this will remove the stress and irritation that surrounds them at work.
4. Increase your anger vocabulary: As we have seen the various intensities of anger, practice to differentiate, and then label the emotions to differentiate between, annoyed, irritated, enraged, outraged, disgusted, etc. Then mind what you are saying when you are in any of those anger states. Are you saying any of those offensive words? Instead of saying “you are an idiot” say “I feel I am getting furious”.
Also, observe the tone and the loudness of your voice. Are you sounding sarcastic? How many times do we hear people say “I don’t mind doing that extra work for the company, but the tone in which my boss tells me really upsets me.” Or “the way he talked, really pissed me off”. The same is true with loudness. When we are furious, we tend to shout or yell. However, we forget the fact that, the more we shout, the fewer people hear you. Your message gets lost in the overheated dialogue.
Then practice empathy: Before yelling or labeling some adjectives on the other person, think how would you feel if someone did that to you?
5. Does it really matter? Another reminder you can stick on your working desk at home as well as in the office is paste/pin the letters “Does it really matter?”
I was guilty till not too long ago; I would get upset at my wife if something from the original setting was disturbed or was not neat and tidy as I wanted it to be. If some things were not in place, it would irritate me and I used to vent it out on my wife. Sometimes we unnecessarily give so much importance to small things in life and if you think in the hindsight ‘did it really matter that she made some mistake in cooking and the food tasted different?’ ‘Did it really matter if she was not able to spread that bedsheet correctly on the mattress?’ on most occasions, it doesn’t really matter. We get upset with our loved ones on these trivial and useless issues and put an unnecessary strain on relationships.
6. Relaxation technique: we have discussed this technique (slow and deep belly breathing) in my earlier blog on mindfulness. Still, it is worthwhile mentioning here again from the anger point of view.
However, before that, we need to understand how our body reacts to anger instead of responding to it. When we get angry, the brain perceives this as stress and adrenal glands release hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into the blood. Your blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension everything goes up. And since our brain takes anger as a threat to our body, we prepare ourselves for the attack as a means to defend the impending harm from anger. This is how the body physically reacts to anger. We need to calm ourselves by responding to anger to reverse this process. Slow and deep breathing as per the following steps helps in calming down the anger. Taking a few deep breathes immediately relaxes our body and cools down the emotions. However, we need to practice this as a routine exercise, rather than waiting for the anger to get better of us.
Take a slow and deep breath and hold it till the count of five (approx.5 secs) or as long as you can. See to it that your belly gets raised as you deeply inhale through your mouth. Don’t force yourself into breath. It should be as rhythmic as possible.
Now, exhale it in an exaggerated way through your mouth. Again, hold for a count of five.
Continue doing this for another 8-10 cycles. Remember to exhale from the mouth and as much as you inhale.
As you are exhaling, think that you are letting go of all the anger, frustrations, fury, etc. This is your mind’s command to your body for releasing this unwanted tension.
As you practice this breathing technique with full mindfulness and remember to do it as many times in the day as possible, you are always in the mode of slow and deep breathing and when actually you experience anger, you will remember to go through this process as a correct response.
My experience is if you practice this kriya for at least 10-15 mins daily, you gain much better control over your emotions.
Conclusion: Anger is one of the most universal and common disruptive emotions. However, by practicing some of these methods, one can easily manage anger and avoid regrets and other undesirable consequences.
When I was in my school may be in the 7th or 8th std, we had a teacher by the name Singh Sir who would teach us English and geography. He was very strict and firmly believed that the only way to discipline and groom students was to hit/beat them really hard (sometimes black and blue) and as frequently as possible for the most trivial of reasons or even for no reason. He was a terror. Students obviously would hate him for his atrocities. On one of those occasions, I was his victim. It so happened that, we were told to write an essay on technological advances and science. I made some grammatical mistakes as he would check our note-books in front of the class and was beaten badly in front of everybody. And in those teenage years, you are old enough to understand and are sensitive about your pride, ego, and self-worth that you feel ashamed, all the more if you are humiliated in front of girls in the class. The fear of this man had so deeply rooted that I had started hating English and geography. I used to get nightmares a day before this fellow’s class. I guess all the generations before 1990 went through this ordeal at some point in their lives unless they were extraordinarily brilliant students or children of some celebrities/politicians.
Another story that is very common unfortunately in our society is when young girls fall victim to being sexually abused by a known person, a relative, a neighbor, or worst somebody from the family itself. She is threatened not to talk about it or she may have to face even more dare consequences or her younger brother might be killed and she continuous to bear the torture for many occasions. These incidences can leave permanent scars of fear, hatred, and bitterness about men in general in the psyches of these victims for years.
In both the incidences, the victim is caught in fear, the body senses threat to it, but the irony is you can neither fightnor flight. You are too weak to fight and cannot flee (flight). You are perhaps totally frozen (freeze) to take any action and have no other option but to submit to the predator’s attack.
In some cases, fear plays its way into our hearts by way of surroundings and the environment rather than an individual. It could be the fear of staying alone in the house on a dark, no moon night with the only sound of the wind blowing through- an ideal scene for a horror movie. This may happen to a child who is frequently left alone in the house, by his/her parents due to their professional compulsions. I know a friend whose father used to work in the maintenance department of the factory and had night shifts quite often. His mother was a nurse in some government hospital and she too would have night shifts. Both parent’s night shifts would coincide and the poor guy would be alone on so many occasions. Sometimes, there would be grandfather with him though, but he too kept shuttling between Mumbai and their native place for some work. Some children may get even more afraid if the responsibility of their siblings is also bestowed upon them.
Sometimes, these children get afraid of the thoughts that something will happen to them in the absence of their parents. Worst, they may also think that something dreadful would happen to their parents and they might not return. Many children may have the fear of animals imbibed deeply into their psyches. The most common fears are from snakes, crocodiles, tigers, bears, etc. Then there could be uncalled for fears of burglars and dacoits when you are alone in the house. These fears when experienced in childhood could be carried forward as adults though the intensity might get reduced. These un-called for fears are called phantom fears. We all know the experience of thinking a black long water tube in the garden might be a ‘snake’. It is very important to understand how childhood experiences can get deeply rooted and get carried forward into adulthood to stand as major obstacles in one’s progress in career and personal lives.
Then there can be fears and anxieties even when a large community is subjected to an accident or attack. Many survivors of 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US had fallen victims to these fears, that there could be another such attack and they might the next to fall. The same could be the cases in Mumbai after the terror attacks in 1993, 2006(in local trains), or the 26/11 attacks. Fear of the unknown is just as forceful as the fear of the well-known and all types of fears can be deadly. All such fears stem from the uncertainties of economy, personal competence levels or lack of it, upbringing from childhood, lack of self-confidence, and low self-esteem. But in most cases, they might be unreal and false.
So, are fears and anxieties totally useless? certainly not. They alert us, serve as a warning system for any upcoming dangers and threats and it is expected that we take into taking some action to counter them.
Fear and anxiety can be considered as the two sides of the same coin, however, there is a slight difference between the two. Fear is a concentrated short-lived attack of anxiety. It can be considered analogous to a short-term high voltage spike which is triggered by say, a thunderstorm (any external triggering incident). Fear is a response by our body to a real or perceived threat. Most people recover quickly after they have experienced fear. The cause of fear is generally easy to recognize, e.g. the noise in the night, the sudden sight of a snake, or sight of an individual who has caused some harm in the past, a person who suddenly cut in front of you in the traffic or a loud bang of firecrackers in very quiet surroundings.
Anxiety continues for a slightly longer period of time and again results due to some upcoming stressful events, or perceived uncomfortable situations. Anxiety is a general feeling of uneasiness and an overreaction by the individual to a situation that is his/her subjective behavior as any future danger. Anxiety is about some vague concern often difficult to pinpoint and is more felt at the physiological and visceral level. More often, anxiety may not have clear solutions and extreme anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorders, panic disorders obsessive-compulsive disorders, and phobias require professional and medical treatments. (Hence beyond the scope of this blog only mentioned here for information)
However, normal anxieties such as some uneasiness for the upcoming presentation in front of your board or a sales presentation in a quarterly review meeting can be viewed as a positive sign as this means that you are still not 100% confident about your performance and that will spur you into more action, maybe getting in more facts and figures, preparing yourself for probable questions asked by the board members/bosses, rehearsing yourselves multiple times, etc.
Another disruptive emotion related to fear and anxiety is a worry. Worry can be defined as a feeling in which we dread that, ‘that’ thing will happen to us or our loved ones, resulting from not being able to either complete some task, assignment or goal or fear of losing something. E.g. we worry about getting late to the airport and missing the flight, or a mother is worried whether her son will pass through and get into the higher standard, or a father worrying whether his young son will drive home safely without meeting an accident.
Being excessively possessive and panicky about their vehicles is a very common characteristic of some youngsters today. I know of a young man in his mid-twenties who does not allow even his parents to eat anything inside his car, worrying that, even if the smallest of foodstuffs fall inside it will make his car messy and dirty. I know another younger person in our building who was fighting with me the other day when I had parked my two-wheeler very close to his bike. It was not even touching his bike, but this fellow was getting panicked and hyper, that it might touch and create a dent/scratch on his bike, should someone just push it, accidentally. While it is a very good quality to be neat, tidy, and taking care of your possessions, some people take things a bit too far. I know one more person who would waste a lot of time and energy searching for a parking slot under a tree so that once he gets back, the car’s cabin is not hot. Its good to try that but again getting panicky about it is absurd. I sometimes get anxious if I don’t get to park in a ‘pay and park’ lot and even if I have parked my car on the roadside where NO-Parking is not mentioned.
The first very important step is to recognize and acknowledge that you are having some of the above discussed disruptive emotions. For that, we need to build some self-awareness inside of us.
So, having understood what is Fear, worry, and anxiety, now let’s understand how we can manage them. Some methods:
Keeping busy: my experience is when you are getting a distressing thought, if you can get busy and divert your attention to some other activities, you tend to get over at least partially for some time your negative thoughts, that uneasy feeling due to anxiety and fear of an impending event. Honestly, I never tried to get busy mindfully, it just happened and as I looked back, I realized my mental state prior to getting deeply engaged in an activity, and after that was totally different. When you get busy and focused deeply on any task, leisure, hobby or even work especially if it is of your liking, you will not get (or at least the frequency and the intensity reduces) those thoughts which play again and again on your mind like a broken gramophone record.
Mindful breathing: Sit in a comfortable place with your back straight. Close your eyes and take 3 deep breathes. Now, practice belly breathing i.e. as you inhale, your stomach gets raised, and as you exhale it gets lowered just as you fill the air in the balloon and release it. Observe you breathe as you inhale and imagine you are taking in all peace, happiness, joy, confidence, or any quality/ positive emotion you badly need. Then while exhaling visualize all your worries, tensions, stress, fears, and anxieties being let out from your body. Start with 5 mins and as you practice daily, you can gradually increase this time up to 30mins.
Listing your fears and worries: As we are all going through the delicate phase of lockdown due to coronavirus, many of us will have fears about the future, anxieties, and worries about many things going on right now in our lives.
We may have more than one fears and worries at the same time. We may fear that, with the economy going to be badly hit due to coronavirus and the ongoing lockdown, we fear to lose our jobs, loss of business now, as well as even after the lockdown is removed, worries about children’s education, fear about the health of our spouse and other close family members, or worries about whether my college-going teenage son is not with bad company, etc. But most of these fears and worries may turn out to be false and uncalled for.
As an activity, what you can do is, list all the fears, worries, and anxieties that cross your mind, right from the morning after you get up till the time you go to bed in the night, on a plain paper. Include every worry, trivial apprehension about any small matter in the office, tension and the negative thoughts you get because of your boss’s behavior on the phone, any doubts, suspicion on any person that you may have, or the worst that you think can happen to you and your closed ones. Before you fall asleep mark all those fears that you think will come true or rate them on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest possibility of that fear coming true. Paste/pin this paper on a prominent place say on your desk at home or your board in the bedroom so that you can check this list, time to time. In the coming months check for yourself, if any of the fears that you imagined came true. (you may see that almost all your fears and worries were only your negative thoughts and far away from reality and un-called for).
Also, make a note of those events which happened totally opposite the way you imagined. E.g. you may have had a worry that your son may not even get through in his 10th standard exam, however, after the result comes out you are surprised that he has scored extremely good marks. When most or all the fears and worries have had sufficient time to occur, fold the list and put it in your purse or wallet. This paper acts as a reminder to your un-called for fears and worries and you establish yourself as a totally new, confident person who is not afraid of fear.
4. Circle of excellence: This is a very effective NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) technique that can be used to get over our anxiety and improve performance. E.g. at a job interview even the most talented candidate may fumble with words or may not remember some answers which he/she would have answered 100/100 times at home, due to fear and anxiety. The same can be said for any examination, corporate presentation or any situation when you feel nervous and mentally weak. The following are the steps for practising circle of excellence:
Stand upright with a calm and confident posture. Just concentrate on the floor in front of you and create an imaginary circle of about four feet diameter, big enough for you to accommodate.
Take a few deep breathes and allow your body to relax.
You may add some beautiful colours to the border, floor and inside of the circle in front of you. Now add some soothing music which you liked to the circle or the sound of OM, the sound of a flute or any music of your choice.
Then step into the circle with your eyes closed. Think of all the resources/strengths/power you need to achieve your goal or to get over the difficult situation. The resources could be courage, confidence, peace, joy, love, oneness, calmness, etc. Now, recollect all those earlier incidences in life where you did show a lot of courage, confidence etc. and were able to tide over them. Start to project those events in that circle to make it very positive and emotionally confident state. Feel the resources floating in the circle around you, then flowing into you through the soles of your feet into your body, each cell of the body and going right up to the top of your head. Feel yourself being filled with all those wonderful resources mentioned above. Feel the colours and listen to the soothing music as you stand inside the circle. Believe that once you step into the circle, you will feel much empowered with the energy. Allow yourself to soak in as many resources as possible, and when you feel satisfied, step out of the circle.
Look at the circle in front of you- is so beautiful, colourful, inspiring and very attractive. Now, get into the circle again to experience and feel the powerful resources and energies flowing into you. Once you get in, feel the light, music and see the various events as though they are happening live and that you are the part of those events. Stay within the circle till you are satisfied and once done, you may step out of the circle.
To increase the intensity of the highly resourceful state, you may repeat the above procedure 2-3 times.
Now, just imagine any challenging situation where you need any of the above resources, (like courage, confidence, peace of mind etc. to tide over your anxiety/fears/nerves) step into the circle and allow the sound, colours and the resources to flow into you. Once you have soaked in all these inspiring resources, and you are content and satisfied, you may step out of the circle.
The more inspiring and powerful the circle of excellence, the better it will work for you. For that, you may have to practice the above steps repeatedly. Do this exercise each time you feel challenged, in self-doubt, or in need of a powerful resource.
Conclusion: Behind every emotion, there is a thought. Each time our boss calls us, we fear that he will give us the pink slip. We think that my child has poor immunity and worry that he/she will catch some disease. We spend sleepless nights thinking about the upcoming presentation/job interview and get anxious about it. In each of these cases, there is no point in just brooding, we need to take action and get over/change that mental state. Have faith in the almighty and rest all your worries, tensions, fears, etc. on their shoulders after all your efforts to get out of your distress mental state.
How many of you have experienced this- you are going out of your house for a long vacation or to your native place and want to lock the front door of your house in addition to the latch on the door. You pull the door latch and also lock the front door with “Navatal” 64 levers, pick up your bags, go to the station and catch the train. Then from nowhere, you get a thought “whether I have put the lock correctly or just kept it hanging on the door hook and removed the keys without locking?” And you feel that anxiety for a long period of time. Even if you are enjoying your vacation, you may have that feeling of some discomfort, some uneasiness due to the above thought.
Incident No. 2- You realize that you need a particular thing or an object to complete a particular task. However, that object is not in the room you are sitting and you know where it is kept in the other room. You get up from your place and walk towards the other room to get the thing which you wanted. However, once you reach the wall robe or the drawer where it is kept, you suddenly forget why you came to this room or in front of the wall robe. Only after some time you recollect why you came there or in many cases, you may have to go to the original spot, get on with the work and once realize what is missing you repeat the procedure, this time remembering all the way from Room-1 to room-2 what you want to fetch. The distance between the two rooms may not be more than 10-12 feet or so and just about 8-10 secs of travel, but still, why do we forget? The same is the case when you are cooking you start your journey from kitchen platform towards the refrigerator to get some chilies, but once you open the door of the refrigerator, you wonder why you came here?
The same is the case when we waste so much time of our lives in searching for things which we had kept without our knowledge either due to indiscipline or keep those at so safe places that we don’t remember where we had kept. In either case, it is the lack of mindfulness that is at work.
All the above examples are because you were thinking something else parallelly while doing the task in hand. The signals from your eyes have reached your memory center of the brain but, not fully registered there. Or you are having too many other thoughts from your way from room-1 to room-2 and during this travel, they have masked or only faintly registered in your brain the task for which you went into that room. This is due to the lack of Mindfulness.
So, what is mindfulness? In simple terms, it is defined as being aware of or paying attention to what is happening around you rather than just operating in the auto-pilot mode. Mindfulness is actively noticing new things and living in the present moment. Mindfulness is all about engaging yourself and focusing on the work you are doing ‘now’.
Before we get into how we can improve our mindfulness, it is important to understand in brief how our brain works towards interacting with the outside world. By default, our brain has the tendency to get distracted thinking about ourselves or our people when nothing important is happening in the surroundings. Say, for instance, you are enjoying your vacation on the beach and watching the sunset. Instead of enjoying the beautiful colors, the setting sun, and its rays every minute, we think about which restaurant should we go for dinner and whether that one will serve me my favorite dish. It’s the default pattern of the brain which is active when you think about yourself and others- you are mulling about your past and your future. When we take information from the outside world, the relevant part of the brain (e.g. rational thinking of whether things are good or bad, right or wrong are done by the neo-cortex) makes meaning of everything and we add our interpretations and perspectives to it. Hence, a sunset doesn’t become a beautiful scene to be experienced but to be perceived as an end of the day and puts you into thinking about where to go for dinner tonight. This default thinking is active most of the time we are awake and does not take much effort to operate.
But when you are more mindful a part of your brain called anterior cingulate cortex gets activated and responsible for switching your attention. In this mode, you are not thinking about your people or even yourself, past or future, rather you are living in the present, experiencing and gathering information from your senses in real-time. In this mode, you notice the different beautiful shades of the setting Sun, the breeze blowing along and the rays of Sun falling on your skin and bringing the warmth with it.
The extreme case of not having any mindfulness is when you are deeply thinking of the upcoming very important meeting in the office or some emotional turmoil you are going through, you are more likely to overlook a man crossing the zebra crossing as you are driving a car. You are not able to see, hear, feel or sense anything as much when you are lost in thought. Even your favorite drink/dish doesn’t taste good. However, if you focus your attention on the information given by your senses, e.g. feeling the cold wind blowing while driving, it reduces the tendency of going into the auto-pilot mode.
Once you place yourself in the mindfulness mode, you get closer to reality. You perceive more information about events occurring around you. Noticing more real-time information makes you more flexible in how you respond to the world.
How do I develop my mindfulness? Some of the following ways in which I am practicing towards increasing my mindfulness are as under:
Practice to get maximum information from all the 5 sensory organs: E.g. when I go for the morning walk, I try to focus on the rising Sun (advantage of staying in the east side of the city) and feeling its rays going into my eyes, and the chirping of birds ( with practice, I am able to identify some birds by their chirping and even if a crow, crows in between the soothing sound of chirping, it doesn’t irritate me anymore). I also try to sense the typical smell which comes as I walk parallel to the Thane creek and its mangroves.
If you are fortunate enough to stay near a beach, you may walk barefoot on the sand and feel the coldness of the water and the tickling sensation as the sea waves rise and recede. You may also walk barefoot on the lawns near your garden and feel the gently pricking and the morning coldness of the grass. If you have a temple nearby you may drink the teertham or eat prasadam and sense its divine taste with full mindfulness. Once you get used to using your senses more often, you get into the mold of mindfulness in all the activities that you perform.
2. Waking up to a feeling:When you wake up in the morning, don’t just jump out of the bed immediately or start thinking about what all things you need to do today in the office. This will trigger a fight or flight response and release harmful hormones, cortisol, and adrenaline in the blood. Take a general survey of the whole of your physical body. Just scan through right from the toes to head and try to sense if you have any small discomfort anywhere. Practicing this will improve your self-awareness and hence your mindfulness.
Next, spend some time in the bed simply noticing your breath. Try practicing this whenever you get time during the day say, for 10 mins you have been asked to wait at the reception at the client’s office or during lunchtime. To start with close your eyes, relax and sit upright. Now just observe your breath as it goes inside (inhaling) and comes out (exhaling). To help you focus on your breathing, count up to 5 silently at each exhalation. Also, be mindful that you breathe correctly, i.e. practice belly breathing. When you inhale, your stomach should get raised/has to come out and as you exhale it should go in. This action will be similar to filling and releasing air from a balloon. For this, at least in the initial period you can keep one palm on the stomach and the other on the chest to sense the raising and lowering of the stomach on each inhaling and exhaling respectively. Both the palms will be raised as you breathe in and lowered as you breathe out. You may find that your mind is getting distracted, just return back to focusing on the breath. Most important is to allow yourself to enjoy these moments. This is the simplest form of mindful meditation.
Initially, to remind you into this practice, use paper stickers written with bold and capital letters as “BREATHE” “BREATHE SLOWLY AND DEEPLY” at all the prominent places where you normally sit your cubicle/cabin in the office or your working desk at home, your laptop and your cell phone.
3. The other way to remind yourself of getting to practice mindfulness breathing is by setting a timer to ring every hour. When the timer rings stop all the work and do one minute of mindfulness practice. Finally, as the day comes to an end and you are on your way back to your home, apply mindfulness. As you are returning on the train or driving your own car, for 10 mins before you start your car, just be there. Observe you breathe. Doing so will allow you to let go of the stress of the whole day so you can return home and be fully present with the family.
4. Practice Gratitude: recently I attended a workshop on emotional mastery and learned how it is important to express gratitude not only to our parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers but also to all those people we are connected directly or indirectly to us, like the farmer who toils hard so that we can get the raw materials for our food, the milkman, the vegetable vendor, the fruit vendor, the doctors, nurses, hospital staff and all the people working in the government machinery so that you are getting everything that you require for your needs, comforts, and luxuries. It is a good practice to maintain a journal thanking all the people and also the gadgets that you use daily. Daily making a ritual of writing gratitude, will also remind you of your behavior with others and help you to remain grounded as you attain higher positions in your organizations and society.
My experience is, as you get into the mold of thanking people you are more focused on thanking them more from your heart rather than just saying it mechanically. This practice makes you live more in the present and mindful as you talk to people, not to mention the bonds of relationships that you develop with people around you.
Some of the ways to express gratitude at work with your colleagues can be as under:
Develop a habit of saying thank you more thoughtfully in all your communications with your colleagues.
Send colleagues specific and most importantly timely thank-you mails or maybe a thank you card with their name mentioned on it. It is the remembrance shown by you that makes the other person feel really good and in turn, you are living in the moment.
Publicly acknowledge and complement the role played by each of your peers/colleagues in the execution of a project successfully. 5.Practice empathy: We have already seen in one of my earlier blogs https://www.shrikantmambike.com/emotional-intelligence-empathy-part-2/ how we can be more empathetic to people around us. From mindfulness point of view to remain in the now, you can practice the following actions:
Ask some very important and relevant questions in all your interactions and paraphrase important points that others make so that you understand and get clear about their points of view.
Listen intently and with 100% undivided attention. Sync your eyes and body language with the person speaking and show interest in what they are saying.
Before any planned meeting in the office or even in personal life, practice to think for a moment about the person you will be with and what is happening in their life.
Benefits of being Mindful: Having understood what is mindfulness and how we can improve it, let’s now see what are the benefits of being mindful:
Enhanced memory: as described at the beginning of this blog, if you are mindful enough while locking the door and registering that activity in your brain, you will remember things and events much better, as it is easier to pay attention when you are mindful.
You are able to take advantage of the opportunities as they present themselves.
Reduces stress as you avert danger before it comes, unlocks creativity and boosts performance. Mindfulness exercises also help to avoid burnouts, enhance leadership capacity and most importantly steady the mind when in the midst of making important business decisions, career changes, and personal life changes.
You are more popular and liked by the people around you as you tend to be less evaluative
The tendency for procrastination and regret reduces as you know why you are doing something and you don’t blame yourself for not doing something else. You are able to better prioritize your tasks during the course of your working day.
Any activity that is done mindfully e.g. be it having your food, writing a report, appearing for an interview or even playing with some gadget, you will leave an impact on whatever you do. Great maestros, artists, sportspersons, leaders, best teachers, etc are all very mindful people, an indispensable quality required to reach the top in your desired field.
Mindfulness also correctly undermines the buzz word in today’s corporate world- ‘multitasking’. Mindfulness is all about focus and awareness. Focus is something when you say ‘NO’ to all other things when you are fully into that ‘one’ task at hand and awareness is keeping the distractions away while you are doing that task. Mindfulness is all about developing a clear and sharp mind. It helps increase effectiveness, decrease mistakes and as a result enhance creativity.
Once you achieve all the above through mindfulness practice, you can optimize work performance and reach the ultimate goal, each one of us longs for in life- Happiness and fulfillment.
Conclusion: Simply put, mindfulness is being in present and aware, moment by moment regardless of circumstances. Mindfulness exercises help to focus one’s mind on here-and-now experiences and help in reducing anxiety and mental stress. Practicing mindfulness itself requires mindfulness, as you need to remind yourself about it at least initially. Mindfulness researcher John Teasdale said: “Mindfulness is a habit, it’s something the more one does, the more likely one is to be in that mode with less and less effort…. It’s a skill that can be learned. It’s accessing something we already have. Mindfulness isn’t difficult. What’s difficult is to remember to be mindful.”
Thomas Elva Edison was a school dropout at the age of 11 as his teachers did not have the patience and the skill to handle a partially deaf and hyperactive child who was prone to distraction. He didn’t have any formal school education. All that he learned was from his mother at home. As a young man, he was so passionate about his invention of incandescent light, that he failed more than 1000 times but each time he would bounce back with new vigor and perseverance to start afresh. Once a reporter asked him “How did it feel to fail 1000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” He also said that he also learned how not to make bulbs in 1000 different ways.
Japan was totally devasted by America in world war II. Who could have thought that this country would bounce back so strongly and compete with the US in science and technology in less than 3 decades?
Even as a common man, I am sure each one of us will have a personal story of resilience to share. Most of us have the tenacity and the attitude to stand up and start all from scratch once fallen. One such story is of my beloved wife Arti.
When we got married in 1994, she had just completed her graduation (BSc. Microbiology) and was not too sure of what she wanted to do in life. Somebody told her that she should pursue DMLT (Diploma in medical laboratory technology) in pathology and get into a diagnostic lab. She completed that and got a job in Thane where she would be exploited (working more than 10-12 hours daily) and pay was meager. In between there was pregnancy and we were blessed with a son. After about 24 months or so she tried her luck at Medical transcription (which was a hot trend in the late 90s) by first joining training course in MT in an institute, which promised to absorb her in their company itself, but never paid a single penny, still would get the work done from her. Her files were uploaded and sent to their US clients and yet they would say that ‘you still need accuracy’. She had failed to earn any money in more than one year. She then changed a company and started working for another MT company. She toiled hard for one month and was knowing that her files were again uploaded to the US clients, but again no pay. The same thing happened for the third time again, in a company in Thane.
But multiple failures didn’t deter her. She fought her battle and ultimately it dawned upon her that her passion was in Yoga. She completed a full course in Yoga and is now a very successful Yoga Trainer in Thane (near Mumbai). She’s enjoying her profession.
Many failures in our life will bring with it their share of disruptive emotions like anger, hatred, frustration, resentment, etc. Still, the one who picks up the pieces and starts a journey towards their goal again is the one who ultimately achieves success. Resilience is to keep bouncing back from failures. Resilience is one quality that differentiates a person from others when most give up or see it as futile or impossible to continue after suffering a few setbacks.
Resilient people possess the following characteristics:
Acceptance of Realty: Resilient people see things and situations the way they are rather than the way they wish or fear them to be. Optimism is considered to be at the root of resilience however, without being in the state of denial. Resilient people are tuned in to the immediate situation with clarity in perception and thought process.
Make meaning of difficult times: Some people when faced with some calamity will ask god “In all this world why me”? or “How can this happen to me”? Such people consider themselves as victims and living through hardships is a big NO for them. However, resilient people take their sufferings as learning and create some sort of meaning for themselves and others. Many times, we get to know who are true friends in times of crisis. Resilient people build bridges from present-day hardships towards a fuller much better future.
I would like to narrate a story of one of my good Trainer friends Aruna Prasad, a figure of grit and resilience. In her own words, Aruna says she had a date with death about three years back. Being in sales Aruna was used to the month-end pressures of meeting the targets and if it was the last month of the year, only a salesperson can understand the stress we are subjected to. It so happened that, she was told to achieve a sales target of 25 lacs anyhow in December. However, at the beginning of Dec itself, she had to be hospitalized with a life-threatening bout. She was in the ICU for more than a week. While she lay on the hospital, she had only one thought of achieving her target as a team leader, not only for her, but also for the whole team as this would have ensured special bonus for her team members and appreciation for the team, and as No.1 in her company. She was finding meaning in life as she was facing a near hopeless situation.
Immediately after she was discharged, she took rest for only one day and was on the field and her passion for work was so fanatic, that she literally worked for 12-14 hours a day, making personal calls to all the prospects in the funnel and also closing some deals over the phone. The result of her commitment was, she was not only able to meet her target of 25 Lacs but overshot it by 8 lacs to close at Rs.33 Lacs. During this period, she also came to know who were her real friends and who was her ‘so-called’ friends. Real friends had given her all the support, help and motivation that was required in those testing times, while the ‘so-called’ friends thought that since she was in the hospital, they could poach some of her prospects and customers. But gritty Aruna did not allow that to happen. Finding meaning is a very important aspect of resilience and such people have a very strong value system. Aruna had a strong value system in her work commitment and ethics, which saw her through in those challenging times.
One more unknown art of Aruna is she can write poems as well. Based on her above incident she came up with the following 4 liners:
Zindagi ki Chand hasratein ab bhi baaki hai, Ek manzil Tay Karne ke baad duji abhi baaki hai. Shant toh ek din Hona hi hai mere dost, Fasle tu Tay karle jab tak khoon mein rawaangi baaki hai
Which can be translated in English as under:
In Life there are wishes and desires some, new goals are to be achieved one after the other. Death will quieten all of us in one day, my dear friend, better to move forward till there’s life and one can run.
3. Innovation and improvisation: Resilient people have this skill of making the most out of what you have. They are good at improvising a solution to a problem without proper or obvious tools or material. They put objects to unfamiliar use.
I remember when I started working first in the power electronics factory, once there was an acute shortage of some components like electrolytic capacitors for our development project for prototyping an Inverter (a power electronic equipment-industrial). There was also a strict budget constraint on development work as two of our earlier trials had failed and resulted in some loss for the company. We also never wanted to take a chance to make other than the tried and tested. So, our senior manager just went back to the junk area where a lot of old circuits boards and old capacitors were lying. Some of them were hardly used electronically, and just gathering dust. He asked me as a trainee engineer to take all of those, clean up and send it to the inward Q.C for performance and another testing. All of them were found OK by QC, a claim which was again verified when we connected those to our test circuitry and the test results, were exactly the same when tallied with the reference records. We were fully convinced that they can now be used in an actual prototype without compromising the quality and reliability of the product. This type of improvisation on the part of our Senior manager showed his resilience.
How can I strengthen on my resilience?
Building on your positivity bank balance: Having a positive approach for any of the events, interactions with people and gaining from past-pleasant memories are the factors that can boost resilience. Think of all those situations however small the problem would be when you handled it with great tenacity and grit. We build upon our mental bank balance with these assets and expressing gratitude towards them goes a long way in building resilience. Creating such positivity mental bank balance can decrease anxiety, reduce symptoms of illness and improve the quality of sleep. All of which will lead to greater personal resilience.
Keeping record: When we keep a record of all positive interactions, events, and memories into some written or digital format, they register higher value in our brain than the non-written forms of positivity building bank balance. Records can be as simple as maintaining a notebook and segregating it into say, family, friends, work, social contacts, etc.
Review: Periodically review your mental bank balance by assessing which area brings you the most happiness and then concentrate more on that particular area. E.g. you may be spending more than 8-10 hours of your day in the office, however, your real happiness may come from spending time with your family, friends, hobbies, working on your health, serving the community, etc. Once you get to know, you can then focus on that particular area which will, in turn, get positive results in your work/profession as well. I discovered for myself that I am in the best of my moods and it gives me immense satisfaction after I have spent time with my closed group of friends and family.
How do I bounce back after getting reverses in professional life?
Losing a job or being sacked is now very normal in the corporate world. There is nothing to be ashamed of or really sorry/worry about. I also lost my job (very normal, even more in sales) a couple of times and I thought I handled the situation quite well. From some of my experiences I can say that:
Failure is only the beginning or part and parcel of your working life.
Each time I lost my job, I was so relieved to be free from toxic bosses, their corporate politics and their verbal abuses. I considered it was a blessing in disguise for me to have lost my job. Yes, deep down a feeling of uncertainty and anxiety was always there, however, faith in self and more in the almighty gave me the confidence that sooner or later this will pass too.
Networking and established contacts in the industry really helped in getting a replacement job (in fact better than the previous one) within 2-3 months each time.
Friends and acquaintances: played a major role in providing emotional and moral support and advice in the process of recovery. People who really cared for me, helped me gain perspective on the good and the bad choices I made. The key here was I was ready to be vulnerable with those whom I trusted.
Maintaining confidence: After a career setback, it is quite possible that self-doubt/insecurity creeps in. Never allow that to happen. There will be some companies who may try to take advantage and offer you a very little package or smaller position than your earlier one knowing you are not employed. Saying ‘NO’ to such offers will take some courage, assertiveness, and patience.
Trying to getting into new ventures: I was ready to take over the post of Head-operations although never had any experience of it in earlier 20 years of professional life. This proves your inner strength and helps to build shattered confidence.
What is Grit?
As per the definition, grit can be put as passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is staying put on the job and grinding it on without letting up, towards a better future. As per Author Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long term-goals even when we struggle, falter and temporarily fail”.
How do I develop resilience and grit in my children?
Once I had been to one of my neighbor’s place and saw their three-year-old child was playing and running around in the house. The sweet soul tried to run a little faster and fell on the face 1-2 times and would start crying. Each time her mother would try to divert the child’s attention by saying “Oh see the rat is running and just went below the bed” or she would hit the ground with something and tell her child that ‘I had punished the ground for making you fall’. This I thought was the wrongest way of upbringing the child, as he/she grows up as an adult will always get in the habit of blaming others for his/her failures or diverting attention to something trivial rather than addressing the problem.
So, what were the better choices with the mother? I think she should have told her child the reason why he fell. Like “it was because you were not careful while running and you didn’t see the sofa edge on the way” or “you ran too fast in the house where you would be better advised to just walk and maybe when you grow a little older, you may try running but only slowly”. Or “you did not see some water that was spilled on the ground and you slipped on it.” This way the child is groomed to see the various dangers he is likely to face later in life and that it will be full of challenges and you need to overcome those if you have to be successful. Also, this way you are molding your child into positive thinking that you and only ‘you’ are responsible for all your actions and consequences thereof and you can’t blame others for it. These small things go a long way in conditioning your sub-conscious and guides you to handle failures later in life, rather than blaming others or getting into denial mode. Guard them against the illusion that they are talented, so success will be automatic. I always told the story of Sachin Tendulkar to my son. He is a God gifted talented player. But did it mean that he never had to work hard? Far from it. All India knows that even though his first coach Ramakant Achrekar Sir saw the natural talent in him, he was made to drill, play, run, and practice for more than 10 hours each day, and Sachin would get so tired that, the moment he used to come back home, he would go fast asleep, and his aunty had to feed him when he was half in sleep. The next morning, he would wake-up with new enthusiasm and passion for another long-grinding day. This went on for years in his childhood and teenage before a legend was born at the age of just 16 years to take on the most ferocious fast bowlers at that time. The same is the story of nightingale Lata Mangeshkar, even she is an extremely god gifted talent, however, even today at the age of 91 she does her Riyaz without fail. Ditto with Amitabh Bachchan. All these great people did require to work extremely hard in spite of being naturally talented to prove themselves and the world acknowledged them, that they are the best in their respective fields.
Our children are susceptible to this dangerous concept called “talent”. We live in a world of cut-throat competition and if our children failed based on the illusion made by their friends, teachers, relatives, and society in general that they are very talented, there is a possibility that the success goes to their head and they become so complacent on talent alone that they stop working hard and trying altogether. One example which immediately comes to mind is Sachin’s childhood friend, Vinod Kambli, again extremely talented, scored back to back double hundreds in a test matches in 1993 but never played a test match thereafter.
Angela Duckworth in her book “Grit” beautifully explains this concept. She says “Talent is how quickly your skills improve when you invest effort. Achievement is what happens when you take your acquired skills and use them”. She comes up with the following two equations:
Talent X effort=skill
Skill X effort=achievement
If you see carefully, effort factors into calculation twice, not once. The effort builds skill, at the same time efforts make skills productive.
The concept of Grit can also be explained by a simple example of the treadmill as many people make new year resolutions of losing weight and staying fit. (While I have never used a treadmill or even gym as I believe more in brisk walking and Yoga daily for keeping myself fit, I found this example very appropriate here). I know a friend of mine felt little pain and discomfort in the first two days on the treadmill, and then lost interest in going to the gym. Staying on the treadmill is one thing, but more important is to stay committed even when you are not too comfortable. Getting back on the treadmill the next day, eager to try again is more reflective of grit. When you don’t come back to the gym the next day, you are not keeping your commitment to self, your efforts plummet to nil, your skills stop improving and you stop producing anything with whatever skills you have.
Discipline: The key to parenting grit is to be strict with regards to the discipline with your children. I remember when our son Ajinkya was just about 6 years old he had shown some inclination towards calculations and math. So, we put him to the coaching of the abacus which also promised the development of both the hemispheres of the brain. He was also interested in going for Judo-Karate (for which ultimately, he went up to black belt) classes every alternate day. He used to like both initially but as he got into 4th standard, these extra-curricular activities, school, and top of that scholarship classes were quite overwhelming for him. I could still remember his anger and frustration in those days. We never forced him to join any extra-curricular activity, but having joined there was no possibility of going back on commitment. As parents, we both had decided our goal was to teach him discipline and to go at things hard. It is important for kids to understand or rather the job of parents to make them understand that things don’t just happen and you have to finish what you begin. We clearly told him you have to go through all the practices. You can’t say ‘I am bored or tired’. There will be times when you don’t want to go, but you have got to go, anyway. (Thankfully, our child never troubled us much anytime and always obeyed what his parents would tell him to do.) The result of this discipline was he came third in his category at all India abacus tournament in the first year and second in the following year. Having said that, we never pushed him to get upper ranks or compete with other students. Grit is all about competing with self.
Exposure: again, we would give our son as much exposure to the outside world as possible. He would happily go for the camps (around 2-3 days) of karate along with other kids right from the age of 5 years. It is where he learned to wash his inner garments himself, take and eat food independently and sleep without your parents beside and also without bedtime stories. This drill I think was very helpful in shaping him up as he grew older and had to stay without parents during his engineering in Jaipur. This also molded him to take decisions himself and understand the importance of discipline in life. A parent needs to set a stage that proves to the child, ‘I am not trying to just have you do what I say, control you, make you be like me, make you do what I did, ask you to make up for what didn’t do’. It has to be like ‘we are giving you what we have got’. There is underlying selflessness to tough love. Children are like plants, if they are fed and watered in a right-way they will grow beautiful and strong. It’s just a question of creating the right environment. Children carry within them the seeds of their own future. Their own interest will emerge if we trust them.
Unconditional Supporting: Give the confidence to your children that you support them irrespective of their performance, although they must always strive to give their best. Have faith in their capabilities so that they start believing in themselves. That belief comes from self-worth and self-worth comes from how others have made us feel in our lives.
Parenting is not pampering: I have seen many parents who give and shower things on their kids whatever they ask for or even what they don’t ask for and sometimes those which they can’t afford. These parents fail to balance between discipline, firmly enforcing expectations they have from children on one hand and love, affection and respect on the other. Parenting is also not just getting relieved of your responsibilities after you have put them in the best of schools, coaching classes and giving them what they ask for. It is important to see their progress, whether they are disciplined and do they have the awareness of the hardships their parents may be going through so that they are successful in their lives. It is also important to see what company they have, with whom they hang out, what are their views, plans, and passions for their lives, etc. What value system they are developing for themselves and how strongly do they believe in it?
Parenting is not being overprotective: I remember my son would come home alone from school right from 4th standard and in fact, didn’t like that my wife or my mother/father went to pick him up. It also helped that we were always staying close to the school (just about 10mins walk) although it required to cross the busy traffic road three times to get to the school. These days I find parents lifting their children’s school bag themselves and dropping them right up to 8th or even 9th standard. Yes, I do understand that if you have a girl child, you need to be more protective and careful these days for the obvious dangers, however, better/additional option is to make her strong enough to face any eventuality herself by training her on self-defense and martial arts.
We also trained our son to go to the market or grocery shop right from 6th standard to buy small stuff and would ask for all the account for money spent, and returned. This way he was groomed to take care of the money, spend it wisely and keep an account of it. By the 9th standard, he was able to go the bank alone for doing simple tasks such as depositing cheques and updating the pass-book. In his eighth standard, he himself was a member of the Rotract Club taking part in various community and social service activities.
Studies have shown that children who take part extra-curricular activities fare better on just about all the areas-they get a better percentage of marks, have higher self-esteem, are less likely to perceive small troubles as big challenges and tend to have a better holistic development as a person.
The key here is to just leave your children on their own after a certain age, keeping a close eye on their movements initially.
Conclusion: Supportive yet demanding parenting is the key to laying the foundation for grit and resilience in children, as they grow as adults to take on the challenges of the outside world. These parents appreciate that their children need love, freedom for expressing thoughts or actions to reach their full potential. They manage their children on the basis of their wisdom, experience, and knowledge rather than power.