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happiness at workBe Resilient, Motivated, and Successful—No Matter What
By Srikumar S. Rao
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2010 Srikumar S. Rao
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat you need is a paradigm shift
At certain milestones—the two most common being birthdays and New Year's Day—people decide that their lives will be different from that day on. I bet this is true of you. At different times, you've probably resolved to eat healthy, exercise regularly, stop procrastinating, catch up on your backlog, stop watching junk TV, get enough sleep, and so on. How long did it last? Odds are you were back to your old habits in short order until the next milestone, when you repeated the cycle again. And again.
There is a reason for this. When you try to bring about behavioral change by an effort of will, you actually do violence to yourself, and the chances are very good that you will not succeed. This is so universally true that you can actually make money from it. Gyms cheerfully and unabashedly sign up many times more members than they can handle in early January. They know there will be open slots on treadmill sign-up sheets by February.
If you have a strong will and persist in your new behavior, you will likely encounter side effects you would rather not deal with. If you stop smoking cold turkey, you may eat too much and put on weight. Then you starve yourself to regain your ideal body weight, and your crotchety temper ruins relations with your family.
Violence to yourself is not a good way to go.
My methods produce lasting behavioral change without unpleasant consequences, because the change does not come from an effort of will. It comes from examining your deep-rooted beliefs of who you are and how the world functions. As you examine these beliefs and make changes in them, you literally become a different person.
And once you're a different person, you behave differently and change happens naturally and effortlessly. Best of all, it lasts. You don't have to worry about sliding back.
When you change enough of your beliefs about "this is the way the world works," the cumulative effect is massive. You will find your own tipping point on this. When you do, you will experience a paradigm shift in which you'll see the world so differently that nothing is the same again. We are not talking about putting a Band-Aid on a cut. We are talking about genetic re-engineering on a massive scale.
This book is designed to help you bring about such a paradigm shift. The chapters are short, but the lessons are powerful. The shift in your consciousness will happen only if you do the exercises provided.
To illustrate the power of a paradigm shift, consider this ancient parable:
* * *
The abbot of a once-famous Buddhist monastery that had fallen into decline was deeply troubled. Monks were lax in their practice, novices were leaving, and lay supporters were deserting to other centers. He traveled far to see a sage and recounted his tale of woe, saying how much he wanted to transform his monastery to the flourishing haven it had been in days of yore. The sage looked him in the eye and said, "The reason your monastery has languished is that the Buddha is living among you in disguise, and you have not honored Him."
The abbot hurried back, his mind in turmoil. The Selfless One was at his monastery! Who could He be? Brother Hua? No, he was full of sloth. Brother Po? No, he was too dull. But then the Tathagata was in disguise. What better disguise than sloth or dull-wittedness? He called his monks together and revealed the sage's words. They too were taken aback and looked at each other with suspicion and awe. Which one of them was the Chosen One? The disguise was perfect. Not knowing who He was, they took to treating everyone with the respect due the Buddha. Their faces started shining with an inner radiance that attracted novices and then lay supporters. In no time at all, the monastery far surpassed its previous glory.
* * *
That is how it works, and you can begin harnessing this power. Right now.
Have you ever been driving to an appointment in heavy traffic when someone cuts in front of you and nearly causes an accident? Then you watch as this person continues to weave through traffic, instigating many near misses and angry honks?
What do you feel? A hot flush of rage? Surging blood pressure? A need for spontaneous profanity? Do you give the offender the finger—or want to? Road rage has caused heart attacks and led to murderous assaults. Not a pleasant feeling.
Now imagine this: The person in that car has just received news that his son was involved in an accident and is seriously injured. He is trying desperately to get to the hospital before surgery begins and is crying as he contemplates the real possibility that he may never see his son alive again.
Now how do you feel? Do you experience a gush of sympathy? Do you wish a fellow human being well and send thoughts of strength and goodwill?
You don't know whether that person is an ill-mannered jerk or a distraught parent. Quite likely you will never know. And it doesn't matter. What matters is that you get to choose the emotional space you occupy when you contemplate what happens to you. You probably didn't realize you have that choice, but you do.
And by the way, you don't expose yourself to the risk of suffering an accident. If you see the same car again later, you expect erratic behavior and are on guard against it. You just don't have the emotional garbage of rage and dislike.
Think of how many times in your life you have had such a choice and voluntarily decided to occupy a room with anger, frustration, jealousy, or hate. It happens much more often than you realize.
how to choose your emotional state
Whenever anyone does something that causes you to react with anger or distaste, take a deep breath and pause. Think about whether there is any possibility that what set you off was actually a well-meaning act or an honest mistake.
It does not matter whether your instincts were accurate or not. The mere act of considering whether there was a more benevolent explanation for what happened is enough to dissipate the violent emotions that bedevil you. You will be more calm and deliberate, and your actions will be more effective.
Chapter TwoDon't stick a label on it!
There is something you do that hurts you a great deal, and you don't even realize you do it. If someone points it out to you, your tendency is to deny it. Even if you acknowledge it, you don't feel particularly troubled. It seems innocuous. Everyone does it. In fact, doing it is embedded into our culture.
What is it that is so common and so deleterious?
It is your habit of making instantaneous judgments about everything and then sticking a label on whatever happens. In particular, I am talking about the labels "good thing" and "bad thing."
Observe yourself as you go through a typical day. Stuff happens to you. As it does, you immediately judge it and label it. Dozens of times. Hundreds of times. So often that you no longer recognize that you're doing it. It is a deep-seated habit. Consider these fairly typical situations:
* You go to the coffee machine, and only the dregs of the previous pot are left. If you want fresh coffee, you have to clean the pot and brew it. ("bad thing")
* Your assistant calls. Her son is ill, and she has to take him to the doctor. She expects to be in but can't say when. ("bad thing")
* There's an unexpected crisis in Asia, and your boss has to leave immediately to sort it out. Your meeting with him, which took two months to set up, is canceled. ("bad thing")
* The canceled meeting means the report you're working on doesn't really have to be completed by the end of the week. ("good thing")
* You get a voice mail from your biggest customer. She wants you to call her back immediately. What could she want? ("probable bad thing")
* Your hard drive crashes, erasing the document you were working on. ("bad thing")
* The tech guys say that the crash is pretty complete, and they can't recover the files for you. It costs several hundred dollars to send it out to a forensic PC specialist who may or may not be able to help. ("bad thing")
* The PC specialist can recover about half the files on your hard drive. The ones you really need are in this set. ("good thing")
* Your new PC is set up so that all your files are automatically backed up every night. The most you can lose in the future is one day's work. ("good thing")
* You learn that your company's CEO called to set up an extended meeting with your colleague. You haven't heard from him, even though you've left a message. One of the two of you will be promoted. ("very bad thing")
* You receive a six-figure bonus. ("very good thing")
* Your teammate, the one you dislike, gets a seven-figure bonus. ("very bad thing" that makes your own bonus slide down from "very good thing" to "OK thing")
You get a call from your spouse. Your in-laws are coming for dinner on Friday and may stay the weekend. ("bad thing, very bad thing, super bad thing")
Your daughter's SAT scores came in; she got 2390. ("good thing")
* If she hadn't flubbed that simple math question, she would have had a perfect score. ("bad thing")
* Your doctor calls. Nothing to be alarmed about, but he would like to rerun some tests. What does he mean, nothing to be alarmed about? What tests? Why does he want to do them over? ("very bad thing")
And so it goes on, minute by minute, day after day. Most people use the "bad thing" label three to ten times more often than they use the "good thing" label.
Each time you use the "bad thing" label, no matter how fleetingly, you're adding a tiny bit of stress to your life. You may think that's trivial. It isn't. You may even claim that it has no effect on you. You're wrong. Cumulatively, it has a huge impact on you.
When you label so much of what happens to you as "bad," it reinforces the feeling that you are a powerless pawn at the mercy of outside forces over which you have no control. And—this is key—labeling something a bad thing almost guarantees that you'll experience it as such.
If you look back on your life, you'll find many instances where something you labeled a bad thing turned out to be not so bad after all and perhaps even a good thing. Such as the time you called everyone over for a football party and your TV blew, so you played charades instead, and everyone had a complete blast. Here is a perfect example of how difficult it is to know immediately whether something is good or bad.
* * *
He was a good swimmer, a very good swimmer, and was training to compete in an important meet. He slipped on a patch of ice and broke his wrist. For weeks and weeks his coach kept him on the sidelines kicking, while his teammates practiced furiously. Initially, he was devastated and felt that his career was over. Then he simply buckled down to doing what his coach told him to do.
At the meet, in one of the crucial events, his opponent swam the race of his life. He was quite behind at the halfway mark and should have lost. But the weeks of kicking had given him muscles he'd never had before. He kicked even harder and touched the finish wall a whisker before his inspired opponent.
* * *
The swimmer was Michael Phelps. The event was the 100-meter butterfly in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. He beat Milorad Cavic by 1/100th of a second to win his seventh gold medal. Frame-by-frame photographs showed a tired Cavic gliding with his legs trailing while Phelps gave a final kick. It was one of the closest finishes in athletic history. And without that extra spurt, Phelps would not have won eight gold medals in a single Olympics to beat Mark Spitz's record.
So when Phelps broke his wrist in the midst of his most intense training, was it a bad thing or a good thing? Who knows? A case can certainly be made that that injury was the best thing that ever happened to him.
how to stop using unhelpful labels
Observe yourself closely. Notice how you immediately judge what happens to you and label it a bad thing or a good thing. Focus on the bad things. See the many ways in which they are not so bad and perhaps even good.
Even if you can't see how something can possibly be good, refrain from labeling it "bad." If you break your leg, don't label it a bad thing. If you have to stick a label on it, use "I broke my leg." This is descriptive and neutral. Be generous with the "good thing" label.
It may take you a while to get the hang of it and even to recognize how many judgments you pass. Persist.
See how your life changes when you stop using the "bad thing" label.
Chapter ThreeWhy positive thinking is bad for you
OK, I USED A LITTLE bit of license here. Positive thinking is not really bad for you. It's simply not as effective as something else I will show you.
Imagine you're in a hurry, in the lobby of a tall building, and you have to get to the top floor. Positive thinking will have you run up the stairs with a resolute heart and unflagging determination. Your legs pump and your muscles ache, but you keep going. You'll eventually get to the top, but it will take longer than you want it to and you'll be exhausted when you get there.
With my method, you simply take the express elevator. You'll get to the top faster and find yourself fresher and better able to take care of whatever business you have.
What is the method I advocate? I'll tell you in Chapter 4, but first let me explain why positive thinking is an inadequate strategy.
"Positive thinking" is embedded in our national psyche as an appropriate response to the curveballs life throws us. Parents and relatives urge us to "think positive" and "look on the bright side" when we're down. Doubtless more than one person has told you to "make lemonade when life gives you lemons." Well-wishers say that "the darkest hour is before the dawn."
They're all correct. But you don't realize that, by doing what they suggest, you are effectively taking a car with eight cylinders and disabling four of them. Sure, the four working cylinders will still take you where you want to go, but you have given up a lot of the power and speed.
Don't get me wrong. I readily concede that positive thinking has benefited many people. It has enabled them to kick destructive addictions; get derailed lives back on track; recover from financial setbacks, relationship breakups, and similar disasters; and cope better with the vicissitudes of life. But there is still a problem with it.
The problem is that it sets up a duality and encourages you to embrace only one part of it. This duality is embedded in the name itself. If you embrace "positive thinking," you are—by definition—spurning "negative thinking." So it's as if you were on a teeter-totter and are trying desperately to put all your weight on one side—the "positive thinking" side. You have to muster all your energy and throw it into weighing down the "positive" side because you are scared deep down that the "negative" side you've created is quite strong and may actually "win" this battle. This creates stress. And there will be many occasions when you don't succeed.
Think of how this duality permeates all the well-meaning advice you're given. When you look on the bright side, you're acknowledging that there is a dark side at which you are choosing not to gaze. If you think that the darkest hour is before the dawn, you accept that you are moving from darkness to light.
To a certain extent, you're kidding yourself. To a large extent, you're dissipating your mental energy to overcome an obstacle that you've created yourself. You created this barrier by labeling something as "undesirable." You then tried to see the best aspect of this "undesirable" thing. You're much better off using that energy and focusing it on the task you're engaged in. You don't have to dissipate your vitality overcoming "bad" things if you don't label them "bad" in the first place.
Consider a mouse in a laboratory maze looking for cheese. It takes a wrong turn and bumps into a dead end, promptly turns around, and tries another route. And another and another, until it gets to the cheese. Now imagine what would happen if every third time it reached a blind alley it had to sit down and recharge itself. If it had to convince itself that the cheese was there. That it had to try harder and not take failures into account. That the dark days would turn to light when it found the cheese. That the "bad thing" of yet another dead end was actually the "good thing" of greater knowledge of maze pathways.
Don't laugh. You can readily appreciate—when it's presented this way—that the mouse strategy of simply getting on with it is superior to using positive thinking.
This is equally true for you. Even if you don't recognize it, you have already taken the first step on this path. You started when you did the exercise in the last chapter and began avoiding putting labels on stuff that happens to you. Especially when you avoid putting the "bad thing" label on whatever you confront.
Excerpted from happiness at work by Srikumar S. Rao Copyright © 2010 by Srikumar S. Rao. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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