Wednesday 29 November 2017

Concept of Control

Problem with concept of control is simply this: people, in general, think of control as one concept - overarching on their entire existence. That is: either people think they can control everything, or the other extreme that nothing is in their control.

In my view, simplistically, we need to think of control at two levels (not one) - external and internal. External control is over others, over scenarios, over life in general (etc.), and internal control is over self - my views, my thoughts, my reactions, my actions (etc.). Most people mistakenly think they can control the external, and not focus enough on controlling the internal. In reality, people need to do the exact opposite - control the internal (self-control) and stop worrying about the external.

This distinction is important to understand - more in today's environment because there are many self-proclaimed gurus preaching that control is an illusion. "Control is an illusion" has become a mantra - being talked of in corporate circles to better manage stress. In this instance, logic that flows is this: accept that the outcome is not entirely in your control, thus don't be stressed about it. However, usually, these self-proclaimed gurus forget to highlight the need for reducing the thought of controlling the external and at same time increasing the level of controlling the internal.

Stress may be a by product of so many different factors (personal, professional) and may / may not be anything to do with feeling in control or not...or even wanting to be in control or not. In order to better manage stress, we need to understand why are we stressed, remove the elements that are not in our control (usually external causes, let's say - we have only 24 hours in a day, we have only one body etc OR clash of priorities set by seniors in the organisation to our plans / thoughts - things not in our control) and focus on what all is in our control (usually internal, for example - our emotions, our reactions etc). Essentially, let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and focus on improving control over the internal.

In our daily lives, we exercise some degree of self-control almost all the time. We don't say everything we want to, we don't do everything we want to, we don't punch everyone that we think deserves one...yes, we constantly live with self-control.

Because we are wired in a manner, and society further helps us learn self-control (by punishing lack of it, mostly), some degree of self-control happens in auto-mode. But it leads us to believe in the concept of control, and further creates the illusion of control over external.

Although self-control happens in auto-mode, it takes energy away from us. It is exhausting to always be in control - stop self from doing things that we want to. This energy-sapping element working on auto-mode depletes our ability to improve self-control - build it so, that it comes in our conscious decision making, not merely auto-mode. We get restricted to controlling our societal (in public view) actions and words, but not work towards controlling our emotions. Lack of control over emotions leads to lack of on-demand control over our reactions, which brings out outbursts that cannot be controlled by auto-mode self-control.

There are different cycles that we enter, with each of these choices we make. The cycle when we live with the illusion of controlling the external (to human levels), we often find ourselves to be disappointed, hurt or angry at something someone did (or equally much, did not do). Because we did not work on improving self-control, our emotions rule our reactions - our exasperation makes us irritable. People see that in us, keep their distance from us. As people grow distant, and the more control over external we want to exercise, the more hurt we get by the behaviour of others.

The other cycle that we could enter into is this: we let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and work on improving self-control. This relieves us of pressures that are, at times, unnecessary and will not go away just because we are worrying about them. Also, because we work on improving self-control - we become relaxed and more pleasing in public setting. This may lead to people reacting to us more positively, and for us to get more of what we need from them.

There is no route, or suggested course of action that I want to prescribe here for how to achieve any of what I have stated above. Simple reason - what worked for me, might not work for you at all (if not worsen things up). My aim with this post is to highlight an issue, break it down a bit and to leave the thought with the reader - for the reader to introspect and find the best combination solution that works for her / him. From personal experience I say this: it is freedom to let go of the illusion of controlling the external, and focussing on controlling the internal.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Keep It Simple - The Best Advice I Ever Received

Not often do we realise the value of advice given to us, at the time that advice is given to us. In my experience, self-confidence (in this context - over confidence) is the usual culprit. Add to self-confidence, other reasons contributing to our disregarding advice range from the lack of respect we have for the person giving advice (if I don't respect the person, I am less likely to take his / her advice) to obviousness & simplicity of the advice given that leads us to miss its deep meaning or its long-term implications. However, there are times when we are reminded of an advice that was given to us in past and holds good in our present scenario - just wish we had paid attention to that advice when it was given to us.

One such advice, which I didn't take seriously, came from a colleague at the start of my career. I was simply told to keep things simple!

As an early 20-something, in my first job, with all the euphoric feeling of independence and responsibility (as much as junior-most guy in any team can enjoy), I wasn't matured enough to think how such a simple advice could be valuable - I didn't value simplicity because I was gunning to do more, have chaos around me and have my fingers in as many pies as possible. It didn't take many years for me to realise just how important this simple-sounding advice was.

As I climbed the corporate ladder, and personal responsibilities increased as well (i.e., got married) I was reminded of these very sound words - keep things simple!

I found myself surrounded by the chaos that I once worked hard to get around me. The pressure of responsibilities seemed to be crushing my spirit, which only led me to worsen my performance...and so began a vicious cycle of chaos, pressure and poor performance.

Post-realisation of value of these words, I didn't know what I could or should do immediately to make things simple. Although I knew that I had to do something, I knew in my gut that moving away from chaos, and towards simplicity will help me immensely. This started a journey, showed me a path that I walk on even today - not only in my professional life, but also my personal life.

With some amount of pain and a lot of time spent on introspection - I realised two areas that caused me most difficulty: a) the illusion of control, and b) attachment. The former broke my heart, and confidence every time there was a fuck-up, and the latter forced me to live in the past, rather than be fluid & moving ahead.

Such a realisation is neither simple to act upon, nor easy to verbalise. It took a lot of effort, some rather big fuck-ups, and luck to find the path of simplicity. Essentially, I gave up the illusion of controlling every aspect of my life - rather focussed on controlling my reactions & emotions (as much as possible given the situation). Also, I started to understand what attachment meant to me - where it was required, and where I could completely let it go.

Keeping things simple has freed up my time for things that really matter, has provided a compass for decisions and directions I want to take, and has renewed my confidence. There is a lot, still, that I need to improve on to further simplify in my life, but I am glad that I have found a path and am walking on it. I am constantly reminded of the learnings I have had since I started on this journey - I still falter, but an internal kick comes to stop me from wandering off-course for long.