Roots Revisited

Finally America has a president who has some interesting ethnic roots. The ethnicity of the previous 43 presidents was either boringly similar or very well hidden. I was pleased and surprised to see that America could accept such non-conformity with tradition. For all the innovation and entreprenuership that thrives there, many of its traditions are as sacred as cows.

Notice the white shirts that CEOs, presidents and bankers wear. Notice the slavish devotion to quotodian fashion. Notice the big jewellery and firm lipstick of all Oprah wannabees. The rules that say that shorts are worn on beaches, female voices should be high-pitched for presentations and visiting cards validate the person.

Every nation has its own, no shame in it at all. They often define the stereotype, which, by definition does not mean everybody is like that. These are the characteristics that outsiders observe the most, either because these traits are so common within a group, or because they are so different from other groups.

What I find interesting here is the possibility that these patterns are so ingrained in us that in our unpretentious moments or in times of crisis,when we react by reflex, then these will determine our responses. An urban myth that I heard from an army officer – under torture, a person always calls out in their mother tongue. Another saying – you will turn into your mother (if you are a girl) and your father (if you are a boy). The behaviour patterns that you observed were absorbed by you and are a natural response to familiar stimulus, whatever role you are performing at that time. Here is another one – you always marry a person who is like your parent, or somebody who will turn into them. (I did! or at least, I thought I did not, but he did turn into my dad!) There is no significant data to support hypotheses like these above, though many of us continue to believe them.

Our roots often define who we are, both due to nature and nurture. Our genetics, our received behaviour patterns, our values and beliefs determine most of our behaviour in life. Our decisions are often based on misty memories of what happened before – often regardless of whether it worked well or not, often regardless of changing circumstances. It seems natural to do things in a particular way, call it a habit or call it a tradition. Conversely, it seems wrong to do things differently, it just feels unnatural.

Some of these patterns may be useful for us. For example, some traditions such as festivals bind a family and community together, especially if done in exactly the same way each time. They create patterns that resonate with emotions from yesteryear and acquire deeper meaning and comfort. Other patterns that helped us successfully manage stress before a big exam or match are very useful.  Other patterns are not very helpful – say, a smoking habit is definitely damaging. A pattern that causes us to react with anger each time something we expect and want is not achieved is not very useful. A pattern that leads us to lower our self esteem each time we face failure is quite dangerous, especially if we tend to repeat it.

Are we condemned to repeat the patterns that we inherit? Must we continue to do things the same way? Easy to say no to traditions – and outward signs of patterns. Even Obama managed to underplay his middle name during the election. Of course we can have blue lights instead of yellow this festival season. Of course, you can stop covering your head and walk with your head held high – though this one must necessarily be tougher than the lights. Why? Because the lights merely affect memory and surface emotions. The covering of the head went deeper than that and was linked to values and beliefs.

The ones that are slightly tougher to change are the beliefs that we build for ourselves that often damage us in the long run. Beliefs like: ‘when I have too much work to do, I get stressed and smoke.’ Or a belief like,’I am no good at sports’, or ‘I’m not lucky at all’. These beliefs are debilitating. They create barriers and hurdles to success. They must be kicked out. But can they?

It always boils down to choice. You have to recognise that every action of yours represents a concious choice that you make. When you cross the road to go towards your office, you are making a choice. A good choice – to be a productive member of your community. When you let your boss get you down, you are making another choice – a bad one this time – of ceding emotional control to another person. Awareness of this freedom of choice in behaviour patterns is your first step to change.

The steps after this one follow in quick progression. What is good for me? Does it help me achieve my goals? Does it make me happy? Does it validate or conflict with my chosen values and beliefs? Will I look back on this with pride? Soon these questions become part of your daily habit, and soon each decision each behaviour will lead you on to freedom and success.

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Anxiety to Success

All of last week, I was in a room full of people who recognised that they could be very successful if they were not afraid of their hurdles. (Sort of coach retraining for me) We worked on techniques to remove the fear of those hurdles and be able to go past them. The techniques were wonderful, really effective. But the whole day left me wondering – how silly can we get? Is that all it takes for us not to be a success? Just a bit of fear?

Just felt like I was in one of those persian riddles that my (Indian) grandfather was so fond of: What is the smallest and biggest thing on earth? Answer: Fear. Anxiety

(I made this one up, of course)

That too, is a part of the issue. Fears are so irrational that very often you cannot tell anybody about them at all. They demean you and disempower you at the same time. You recognise that and then of course, the fear is a bigger issue than ever.

I hate this anxiety thing. It stops me from doing things, getting things. My rights, my joys, my life.

It’s got to go. Its ridiculous. Its a Boggart (for you Harry Potter readers), and the the strongest charm against it is “Ridikulus!!”  With faith and conviction. With the realisation that laughing at it shrinks it.

There we are: we are able to control it already, its ours to play with now.

Have you tried that?

No, not a self deprecating laugh, you stuck-in-your-ways! If you know how to laugh at yourself, then do it properly! Make it a circus laugh. For you are a clown, if you give in to that silly (got to pop that balloon of) anxiety! Pin it down with laughter, go on, pop that silly balloon!

Sorry dear, did you want to keep that balloon? Its gone now.

If you want another one, you will just have to blow another one up for yourself. Too much work to it though. I would’nt bother.

If you really like balloons, lets blow one and fill it with sparkles and fun. Lets fill it with a bit of hope, a bit of good, a bit of love. Anything else?  We can blow up lots of good balloons whenever we want to. We can surround ourselves with them.

Sounds Facetious? Try it. It works beautifully.

Will it last? Of course it will, if you want it to.

The anxiety is as much a figment of your imagination (and faulty forecasting systems) as the balloons are. None of them is real.

What is real is the jobs you have to do. The goals you have to achieve. What is real is the people around you and the good you can do to them and to yourself.

Get on with it!

(This glimmer of resolve, this spark of a goal is your first success, celebrate it)

(c) This material is copyrighted. Please ask permission before re-using. Please use the comment box below. The above is a partial rendering of a coaching solution. Any use is the responsibility of the user. I will be happy to discuss more and offer my complete professional assistance to clients.

Pretentious, Unending Gab