#thecriticaldialogue with your favorite Mullah Naseeruddin.
One day in order to teach a lesson to his disciple Mullah Naseeruddin took him and a pitcher to a nearby well.
The Mullah drew a bucket of water and poured it into his pitcher. Then he drew another, and poured it in. As he was pouring in the third, the disciple could not contain himself any longer.
“Mullah, the water is draining out. There is no bottom in that pitcher”.
Naseeruddin looked at him indignantly. “I am trying to fill the pitcher. In order to see when it is going to be full my eyes are fixed upon the neck, not the bottom. When I see the water rise to the neck, the pitcher will be full.
“What has the bottom got to do with it? When I am interested in the bottom of the pitcher, then only would I look at it”.
My dear young man, you only perceive what you see and focus on. Don’t blame the pitcher for it.
You see, you cannot learn until you are in a state in which you can perceive what you are learning, and what it means.
Hope you were able to get to the bottom of this story and learned something.
Share your lessons and thoughts by commenting, liking and sharing this story.
I had seen elephants uprooting large trees with one push, pick and throw them away like we can a small twig. I was confused when I saw one in the temple with no chains, no fence, just standing there swaying its trunks gently with not even a rope tied to its leg as always described in the popular story of the elephant and the rope. It just had a very long stick resting against its body which had a small hook attached to its end touching its giant ear. It looked like the stick was left hanging to one of its ears.
The mahout was no where in sight and I was terrified if the elephant would just charge at me and crush me to pulp under its giant feet. I saw that the elephant was not paying any attention to me standing close by as if I did not even exist.
When I finally saw the mahout, I asked him how these magnificent animals just stood there and made no attempt to break free and get away.
“Well,” he said, “when they are very young and much smaller we use the same type of stick called the Ankush to bring the elephant under control. We tug at its ear using these sharp edged hooks just so that when they try to move it will hurt them enough for them to stay. It’s a signal that they shouldn’t move. As they grow up, they are conditioned to believe they should not and cannot break away when they have the hook hanging over their ears. They believe the stick which is as good as a twig can still hurt them, so they never try to break free.”
I was angry at the pain and torture meted out to these beautiful and gentle giants, so early in their life, the pain of which they carried in their mind long after they turned into powerful adults.
These animals could at any time break free from their bonds but because they believed they couldn’t, they were stuck right where they were.
Like the elephants, how many of us go through life hooked onto painful past experiences and have struggled to move on?
How many of us have long forgotten our strengths and are leading a life conditioned by limiting beliefs like the Ankush?
How many of us prefer to endure the pain, than break free from the Ankush?
How many of us have avoided trying something new, because our past attempts at change have hurt us?
Worse, how many of us are being held back by the hook of someone else’s limiting beliefs?
What I learnt from this story?
This story is somehow metaphoric of our life.
Am I carry an elephant mindset?
I started to reflect, like the elephants, how many times have I gone through life hanging onto a belief or negative hook, that I cannot do something about?
And that too simply because I failed at it once before! Or I was afraid of it before! Or I was hurt by it before!
I think that every one of us can relate to this story. The feeling, of having failed at something or another over the years really pulls back from our personal growth and development.
Over time, we may have begun to believe that we are not capable enough of doing a particular thing, infact anything.
We accept this as the truth and limit ourselves to a very conditioned world.
So my dear friends, no matter how much the world tries to hold you back with their versions of the ‘Ankush’ please don’t be afraid. Chug along with the belief that you have the strength and will do it, no matter what.
The fear coming out of the pain of past failures, obstacles and challenges you faced should not stop you from getting to success and being happy. You deserve that!
It’s time for you to come out of your “Elephant Mindset”
Hope you enjoyed listening to this story and learnt a few lessons along the way?
I would like to state that I do not agree or support any kind of violent acts, torture or restrain of animals and believe that they have a right to be left alone and grow in their own natural habitats. Thank you for your support.
Lack of self-confidence, low self-esteem, withdrawn, rebellious, picky, lowered attention, aloof, and less talk and demanding…
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It takes teamwork!
Positive Parenting takes effort! it needs time, attention, money, skills, physical and emotional resources.
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Have you ever felt stuck, unable to make the next move?
Have you ever been spoilt for choice, unable to decide?
Have you ever struggled with your decision making?
Then the practice of ‘deliberate ignorance’ can be a great enabler in decision making.
There is so much trash around us, the consequence of the electronic media and the internet. There is so much of distraction which you simply don’t need. Most of the news today is irrelevant to you or the context you are living in. For every need of yours you have infinite options. Information overload is taking a toll on your good sense and completely overwhelming people. Options are plenty which is not necessarily a great thing. Increasing options come with the challenge of making choices which we seldom make. Each time you are near to taking a decision, you are presented with more options which you would like to evaluate. This takes you through a never ending and vicious cycle of reaching a decision point and then postponing it to evaluate more options. Leads to a stage where you freeze with ‘decision making fatigue’.
We assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. However, choice overload makes you question the decisions you make before you even make them.
When you have an overload of information and choices available in front of you, it puts you in a state of stress. You always have a feeling if you are going to miss out on something more relevant and important without evaluating a little more. This happens typically just when you are about to decide.
It’s not just the options available through the media or internet, there are people who would come up to you and provide you with so many alternative ways that you tend to suspect your own competency to make the decision. Even after you have made the decision, you will be made to feel that you haven’t evaluated enough before taking the plunge. You keep worrying about what could have been and what you missed out.
That’s probably the reason why people often don’t decide and keep postponing decisions.
Imagine if there was no internet and no global news via television. Would you have responded differently to the pandemic? Or would it ever be called one in the first place?
Sometimes I feel that ‘ignorance is truly blissful’. It allows you to be in the moment and respond to situations as they happen; to take more decisions than not taking at all and learn more from personal experiences. You wouldn’t be distracted by the noises and agendas around you.
This makes me recall what my Coach once told me. Learn to ignore all the noise around you, stop reading news about what people are saying about you and your team, ignore the hype around the opposing team and you will notice that you will get a level of confidence which will help you respond well in crunch situations.
I learnt it the hard way as I paid the price of not ignoring the unnecessary before a crucial game. I was the go to guy in the team for taking penalties and in the semifinals when I got the chance I messed up badly. I was distracted by all that I read about the opposite goal keeper. That he was the best in the business and had a enviable record of saving penalties, especially in crunch games. Instead of focusing on my strengths, my mind was clouded by all this information added to the fact that only the previous day I heard from someone that our team had never made a podium finish. My mind was cluttered and I couldn’t make the decision about ‘which corner to shoot’. All this in a matter of minutes. Should I go left; right; top corner, straight between the pads, all these thoughts were too overwhelming. In the end, I ended up shooting so wide that the opposing goalie had nothing much to do.
From then on, whenever I am focused on getting something, I try as much as possible to cut out all distraction. I have learnt ‘ignorance’ can be a great strategy to achieve your goals.
Not just in sports but ignorance can be so useful to practice in day-to-day life as well. Think of so many distracting information you receive which may have stopped you in the past, from deciding and succeeding – in relationships, your finances, health, career, personal growth, and even your spiritual pursuits.
I am not suggesting that you ignore, must ignore all options. Having options is a good thing to make choices, however, too much of it can cloud your thinking and stop you from making that crucial decision. Distractions can come in many forms, not just from media and the internet but also from people around. You must learn to even avoid taking counsel from people who do not add any value. Such people offer opinions without having any experience whatsoever about the subject. The current pandemic is a classic example of such a distraction. Anyone and everyone is commenting, offering advice, giving opinions, suggesting therapy, medication and what not, without having the requisite knowledge of the subject. So much so, that even governments are getting influenced and distracted in their decision making with such ambient noise. They seem to be reacting rather than responding to the situation. It’s getting worse.
You must deliberately ignore what you already know is a distraction and protect yourself from the noise. You can save yourselves a lot of trouble and stress as a result.
This global pandemic is a great opportunity to learn and practice deliberate ignorance. It will surely help you overcome the decision making paralysis.
Stop all news, social media and any such activity which will be a distraction for about 15 days and see the difference it makes.
You will start to believe that “ignorance is truly blissful”.
As soon as people receive feedback, they frequently begin to wrestle with the question, “Why should I change?” Do you identify with any of the following negative attitudes that are common after receiving feedback?
I’ve changed a lot from who I was, when I was young. Give me a break
I do not think we must change for every single request for change, in this way we will be spending our time changing and would get little done in the process
If others can’t accept me the way I am then its their problem not mine
No one is perfect, everyone has weaknesses. It’s important how we leverage our strengths. The fact of the matter is that I get things done and that’s what matter.
Feedback usually gives us some good news and some bad news. Most people are willing to acknowledge their weaknesses, but they do not always try to improve them. As a facilitator the comment I’ve heard most often when reviewing feedback reports with participants is, “I knew I had a problem in this area.”
Every once in a while feedback comes as a big surprise, but most of the time, people always were aware of their weaknesses, often for years.
When I ask, “If you already knew about this problem, why didn’t you do something about it?” They inevitably answer, ” It didn’t seem that important, ” or, “I didn’t want to.”
The problem is not that people can’t change. The problem is that they do not want to change badly enough.
The fact of the matter is that change is often possible only when you combine high “desire for change” with “ease of change” as I illustrate in the figure below.
When motivation or desire to change is high and the task difficulty is high, making a change is going to be difficult. But, even when task difficulty is low, if commitment is low, making a change is still difficult. However, when commitment is low and the difficulty of a task is high, making a change is virtually impossible.
Before you begin making some changes, you should first understand a few things about yourself. First, change does not happen automatically. Simply acknowledging the existence of a problem; though it’s a good place to start, does not change the problem.
The key to making lasting changes is to increase your level of motivation and commitment to make the change. Without an overwhelming desire to change, you will only be able to resolve some issues which are easy though with some difficulty.
So what should I do?
Begin working on the changes from your ‘current state’
When I was reviewing the feedback report with one of my participants, I recollect that it indicated that others perceived he lacked the ability to think and act in a strategic manner. He responded by saying that his job didn’t require him to think strategically and the role demanded that he just follows his bosses orders to the tee. I will demonstrate strategic thinking when I have a job or role which demands that of me. In fact I can do better than my boss if given such a role he said.
It seemed like he was thinking that the feedback which was given to him was more to do with the and in relation to the position that he had than his ability.
I asked him, if he thinks that the management would ever consider a person who did not have the ability to positions which demanded thinking and acting strategically. He said “No”. I just told him that he is never going to get the job unless he starts demonstrating the ability to think and act strategically.
Most people end up saying that “I will change when my situation changes” The problem with this line of thinking is that – you will be running for the shovel to dig a well when you are thirsty. That’s not ideal isn’t it?
Change has to be in the ‘here and now’.
Involve stakeholders – stop blaming
In most cultures, we have a learnt and have a tendency to assign blame. It starts at a very early age. For example, when we were asked by our parents who made a mess in the living room, we were quick to point the finger at another brother or sister.
Similarly, I am always amazed that, when managers encounter complex and difficult problems, they frequently solve them by replacing somebody. The problem is still there, but now they have someone to blame.
I am not only amazed by our tendency to blame others, but also by our willingness to accept all the blame ourselves. “I blew it; I’m responsible, ” a manager once told me as we discussed a problem. It’s as if life would be simpler for everyone if someone else could just take all the responsibility.
Involving key stakeholders and building codependence actually helps in the change process. Most of the time you find that it is not always because of the ability or desire to change that comes in the way but it’s a result of others in the social system who keep generating the circumstances which stops people from doing so.
An alcoholic might want to change but the people who live with him have to ensure that they do not create circumstances which will make him start drinking again as an escape mechanism. The whole environment needs to be supportive else change becomes very difficult to achieve.
Learning to change begins with the right attitude toward change. Some of the following attitudes may help you as you navigate the change process
Change is the only constant and it makes life interesting
Change is a skill that you can master
There will come a time when change is useful and I might as well prepare for it
The key skill successful people possess is that they look to improve continually and keep seeking feedback from the environment to do that.
Seeking feedback is the most powerful tool to identify and reduce your blind spots. It will help you to develop your weak areas and leverage your strengths.
This post is an outcome of an incident from the recent past.
A friend of mine had put in his papers after years of work in a company which quite didn’t value his contributions. For him it reached a tipping point after delivering results year on year, his promotion was always kept in abeyance and the increments were as he wished to call it “pittance”. Call it office politics if you may.
He got a great offer from another company which was willing to pay twice as much for his expertise with a position which matched his expectations.
The MD of current employer then had a 1:1 with him and understood his position, claiming that he was ignorant of the injustice meted out to him and blah! blah! and made a counter-offer which not just matched the offer from the competitor but also gave him a position. Assuring him that the mistakes of the past will be corrected and stating how much the organization values his contribution.
The poor guy fell for this game of great ‘deception’ and rejected the offer he got from the competitor. I call this deception as after about 6 months he was fired from his job for non-performance and also alleging that he has passed on sensitive information about the organization to the competitor during his interactions with them.
Now he is jobless for the last 6 months and feeling depressed over this alleged deceit. He had found out that they had only bought time to groom another understudy before letting this guy go.
I realized that this is not an isolated incident. I’ve been myself through these games of deceit attempted on me in the past. Fortunately, I didn’t succumb. I stuck to my guns when such counter-offers came. My point was if they felt that I was worth the offer being made after I put in my papers, why didn’t they do that before? Once you have put in your papers, mentally you have switched off and have already carried a lot of baggage which is difficult to offload easily. Plus the additional factor that many organizational leaders do not like the fact that you are going on your terms. There point is “how dare he go on his terms? It’s me who decides the terms of employment and severance as well” It’s an ‘ego’ trip.
Such employers also trouble you post leaving your job by delaying paperwork, amounts due etc., in one pretext or the other. There are plenty around in this world.
Have you been a victim of such ‘deceit’? How would you respond to a counter-offer?
What would you do if you are suckered into staying?
Learning or competence building is a cyclical process. All of us go through it and almost all of the time.
Where does it begin?
Let me explain using the example of ‘cycling’ as a competence. When we are born or in early childhood, we wouldn’t be aware that there is something like a ‘cycling competency’. This stage is called the unconscious incompetence, where there exists a competency and I am not aware of it either. Once we grow enough to see the world around us and learn more about it, we find people cycling around. That’s when we realize or become ‘conscious’ about the competency of cycling, however in this stage we are not having the competence yet to cycle ourselves. This stage is our conscious incompetence stage. Once we are through this stage and decide to acquire the necessary skill sets or know how we go about learning the process of cycling and start to do it ourselves. You might have felt or observed, we are however very conscious of the way we are holding the handlebars , the time to up-shift or downshift a gear and very tight in the way we ride our bicycle. This stage is what I call the conscious competence stage. Here we have the necessary competence but are tentative.
When we have done it over and over again for many days and months, it becomes part of our sub-conscious or natural. We just pick up our bicycle and start pedaling away as if it is an extension of our body. In this stage you are so conditioned to the act that you are not really conscious about the how, and might be thinking of several other things in your mind. You still take the right turn, avoid obstacles without really concentrating much. This stage is our unconscious competence.
Therefore its important to understand that when ever we take up a new skill or competence it goes through the whole cycle of learning up until it reaches the last stage. Mind you it is cyclical as well. Maybe after you see a circus artist perform some stunts on his bicycle, you will again reach a stage of conscious competence and then if you so decide go through the entire process once again.
I always therefore tell my students to not expect miracles at the end of a course. It takes time and the cycle of learning to reach a state of unconscious competence.
I was having a counseling session with one of the employees in my client organization and this is what he had to say about why he feels highly stressed at work.
“My boss keeps giving me assurances about a possible raise based on my performance and when I take up the issue with him he refuses to acknowledge that he ever made such an assurance”
“I don’t know how harder I need to work to prove myself?” “He seems to ignore me in meetings and refuses to give any space for me to air my views” When I confront him, he says that it was never his intent to hurt me and he likes the way I work. When I ask him to clarify as to what he expects from me at work, he says I am doing fine and if there is anything he will let me know.
“I have started to feel incompetent as all my attempts to improve my situations are to no avail”
I could clearly see a case of ‘gas lighting’ by the boss here. A kind of emotional abuse by making a fellow team member get into self-doubt and despair.
I’ve found that this is the beginning of workplace related depression in people and the worst is that it all looks normal and nothing to be too worked up about.
Gas lighting can happen in any relationship, between co-workers, partners, family, in school and other social setting.
Have you been a victim of ‘gas lighting’? How did you recognize and deal with it?