The mindfulness experiments – 1

A few months ago, I decided it was time to incorporate some mindfulness into my day. Now this is a much used (and some say abused!) term today – and a novice like me can add to the woes easily. So let me at the outset define what it means for me – and then go on to share what’s been happening since I gave it a test run.

To me mindfulness equals being “aware”, of “noticing”consciously. Note that I am not trying to “improve” anything – the effort on my side is only to notice. The very act of noticing consistently can perhaps provide insights for change – if and when required – to begin with, its only about taking stock of my state.

So in short, if I could witness myself being angry, being happy, being sad, walking, talking – whatever be my state of being or activity- I could call the experiment  a success. Quite a modest goal you say huh – perhaps it is, it just wasn’t as easy as I thought it to be though – let me explain.

On a given day – we meet many people, we do many things. And through the day, we experience emotions. Plenty of them – with everyone’s talking/feeling/trying change  – and disruptive change at that. And without your even noticing it, all this seeming volatility can get to you – it can affect your mood, it can drain you out, and even leave you unwell. And it was this sense of feeling mentally fatigued, a touch angry and too often (a little unusual for me!) that got me curious about what was happening – and I started maintaining a nightly journal.

Every night before turning in, I would rewind the day as best I could remember and jot down how I felt. Writing stuff down brings in clarity – and the first few days provided enough fodder for me to realise how many moments through the day I wasn’t proud of. There were moments of fleeting negative emotion – some expressed, some withheld – both of them leading to some composure ruffling. And then before you could settle down and let the emotion go, off you were on another jaunt -more emotions coming your way. A few times, you expressed something uncharacteristic – but before you could make amends or clarify further – the next meeting was on. And so I moved from one unresolved emotion and unfinished business to another – and it was all these unclosed events that led primarily to the energy drain.

I felt better immediately post the journaling (and indeed laughed at some of the events) – and where some course correction was warranted (say – apologise/ clarify/ maybe even just spend some more time with the person involved) put it down on my next day’s task list. Very quickly, the “unfinished business” list was coming down. And indeed, I felt awesome.

Miracles come in small packages to your aid when you are trying some positive stuff. Sukumar gifted me a little doll (designed after a Japanese ritual) that had two large eyes. You made a wish, coloured an eye and placed it somewhere you could look at it often.  And every time you caught the doll’s eye, it would remind you of what your wish was – and you would be “nudged” toward your desired effort. in my case, it was to be more mindful – and with the arrival of the doll, twice a day i reviewed my day – a significant improvement from the nightly journal.  And the benefits began to accumulate. The sense of being “overwhelmed or touchy” began to dissipate and more importantly I could now clearly notice what were aspects that touched a nerve. And once you noticed these, without realizing you made adjustments in your life to limit the exposure to the toxic situations, people, tasks – basically stuff that gave you no sense of accomplishment at all, but did have significant emotional overhead. This following wonderful Naval Ravikant  served to be the scale on which I reviewed my day primarily:

“What you choose to work on, and who you choose to work with, are far more important than how hard you work.”

Its important to notice that I wasn’t focussing on the interventions required for improvement here – just noticing how different events made me feel made the difference. Indeed I was not adding – but actually subtracting stuff resulting in gaining me more free time to focus on things I cared about!).


A quick summary of the above for all you super busy folks: – If you feel there’s too much going on in your work life (feeling overwhelmed/ touchy etc. etc) – try the following:

a. Start off by journaling in the nighttime (rewind the entire day – you’ll be surprised by how much you remember). If there’s any event you’d like to course correct (say call a colleague who you were a touch upset with for instance and talk it through), put that on your list

b. If the above works for you, try to have a few more “check ins” – just before lunch and before leaving for the day are perfect – to rewind and take stock. You can drop the nightly journal at this point.

The story doesn’t stop there though. Last month, I was gifted 2 more invaluable aids to further the practice. The 1st was a workshop on evolving change happily using “tiny habits” – by Sukumar and Kumaran of tinymagiq. It’s a course that will change you one little habit at a time – and happily at that!  It certainly warrants another follow on post. The second was a wonderful book by Thich That Hanh on the “4 establishments of Mindfulness”. This book breaks down mindfulness itself into 4 parts (and therefore allows you to remember the day a lot, lot better across these areas). as I work  on this ‘mindfulness” journey – I continue to be amazed at how rewarding it is – and at the same time, how much more there is to travel.

The good part though is that the journey is as (if not more) rewarding than the destination (per all the gurus in this space). If you are on a similar journey, would encourage you to adopt any of the above techniques too – and do let me know how they work!

If More trust equals More success, how can we inspire more trust? An amble through the Covey framework

Deepavali – the season of colours, crackers and sweets is here. Its also the season of sharing gratitude and wishing each other well. So here’s wishing each of my readers’ abundant success propelled by the magic potion of TRUST; for it is TRUST that makes the world go round.

So what is trust really? A question which brings me neatly to the topic of this post — this post presents an insightful framework on TRUST from Covey’s wonderful book “The Speed of Trust”. And TRUST as he defines it (and we will see as we move further down this essay) includes not just honesty and such stuff which are nice but don’t produce tangible results- he also includes a multi-dimensional view allowing TRUST to inspire mega- success. So let’s get going already.

Here’s a wonderful picture from him elaborating the framework:

Stephen Covey's framework of TRUST

Stephen Covey’s framework of TRUST

1. Integrity:  He’s talking about congruence — where our thoughts, words and deeds all are integrated. Beings with integrity inspire trust — across fields — of course we all remember Gandhi and Mandela as symbols of integrity who spoke from their heart and walked their talk. But other folks — our young Nobel winner this year (Malala), the most successful financial genius of our times (Warren Buffet), maverick entrepreneur (Elon Musk and Steve Jobs before him) — all of them — when you think about it — are congruent in entirety. Integrity while not visible, holds the very foundation of trust (which is why its depicted by the roots)

2. Intent: Do you think win-win consistently? Do you have the welfare of your client, of your team-members, your peers — whoever it is you are dealing with — covered? If not, others will quickly sense this and wouldn’t be comfortable trusting you. The book has a wonderful example where Warren Buffet closes a deal sans lawyers — because he trusts the other team — and the whole deal gets closed much, much faster. Thats the power of intent at work for you!

3. Capabilities:  TRUST also needs capabilities when you think about it. If I am a good guy at heart, you’ll like me — but will you trust me to run your finances? You’ll want to make sure of my capability here. So upscaling continuously is critical to ensure we stay at the top of the game. When we look at the best sportsmen, this becomes clear. We know they have their hearts in the right place and are focussed on winning — but if they want to represent the best teams and be counted among the elite, they have to continuously train and stay on top of the game. Business is no different.

4. Credibility: Let’s say a friend has a health condition that requires a complicated surgery. A young surgeon has graduated at the top of his class (capability), has a great work ethic and inspires trust in his dealings with the medical fraternity and patients (integrity and intent) — wouldn’t we still hesitate to let him operate if this happened to be his first surgery? That’s detailing how critical credibility can be — a track record that establishes credentials and therefore trust is integral to successful partnerships.

Thats one powerful framework in a wonderfully easy-to-remember picture(needless to say, any errors in interpretation are mine alone too!). The book also details a set of behaviours which enable trust to be built (and even a few tips on regaining lost trust) and has a few questionnaires that help you evaluate and orient yourself to a target – in short it leads you by the hand on the steps toward a world of greater trust. Let me reiterate, this is a life changing book — and written well. Do grab a copy when you get the chance — and in the meantime here’s wishing you success in developing all the four dimensions and becoming the epitome of TRUSt for all those who come in contact with you.

Performance Management time – ramblings from the other side!

Its that time of the year again – the time when managers get to play judge (or god if you will!) and sift through their teams – leaving the successes on one side and the not-so-successful on the other.

Yes, I am talking about the promotion cycle – when men and women suddenly find themselves deciding another’s destiny. Many – infact most of the folks I know – dread this period. While you can take pride in the fact that a few from your team will now play wider roles, the emotional drain is massive.

“You wouldn’t have this problem if you set the right goals and criteria” – say the management gurus. And they are right – in their own way. But there are other aspects, consider:

1. Many of your Colleagues have morphed into your friends. Joys and worries have been shared, laughter and sorrows have been shared. Families are friends, sometimes thicker than relatives. The thought of your friend having to tell his/ her young one that he isn’t the chosen one this year is heart wrenching. I had a leader on my team almost in tears last year when he got the “promotion list” for his team ready (based on very extensive analysis and as he said “to the best of his ability”) – it meant leaving a very hard worker (and very trustworthy guy) out. He checked back many times and was convinced he did the right thing – that just didn’t make it any easier for him.

2. A large part of today’s life is uncontrollable. An oil crisis, a climatic phenomenon like the El Niño, a landslide election mandate, a president’s veto or the bank’s response to inflation, a friendly client deciding to move on – can (and do) change success outcomes dramatically (unless like steve job’ you decide the “journey is the reward”) – and it is extremely complicated to decide who the winners really are. Are the results we are seeing the effect of “causation” “correlation”? Who decides?

3. There are people who will make some noise, who will cajole, threaten consequences, plead if they don’t make it. There are heroes who sleep for a while and then when their project is in crisis mode – turn things around brilliantly. There are others who will perform quietly – always green – all signal, no noise. These guys wont even pop up on your radar (unless you are listening very intently with your ears to the ground). Differentiating between these categories is really tough – and sometimes – you may be tempted to take the easy route and go with the noise (after all thats how the world runs for the most part right – follow the noise!)

And on and on……

We understand performance management, and its certainly essential to the well being of the corporate world. People want to perform well and be rewarded for their performance. Its but the right thing to do.

While its the right thing to do. its not easy to do. Or easy to accept. And the mental energies required are immense. As a friend quipped

“when I lose out on a promotion, I certainly take it hard. The world seems a less sunnier place. Friends and family see me brooding. However, we humans understand life is unfair – there’s always a readily available sympathetic ear nearby. My family takes extra care of me too.

The challenge is when I am not able to get someone else promoted really. Everyone on my peer team has a favourite they think should have gone through instead of the final list – and they really cannot understand how you couldn’t have not seen such a simple thing as this! Boy, are they disappointed! And everyone agrees unanimously that those who didn’t make it on your list deserve a sympathetic (and many times hard conversation) with you – the emotional drain on you is immense. Don’t we also need some empathy for the guys who play judge as well?!!“.

Amen to that!