Forget the past, remember the lesson

The past often traps us in this overwhelming bubble that seems to hold us back from doing more. Events from the past seem to have a mind of their own. Memories keep recirculating when all you want is for them to disappear. Indeed, how nasty! 

But as I always say, our happiness is our responsibility alone, and not anyone else’s. 

Healing is a process, and like any other process it takes time. Just like to heal a wound we need to stop touching it, to move on with life we need to let go of the past. So many times we feel that things could have gone better and so we feel anger, guilt, or shame. These feelings come because the actions we did or the things that happened to us are not in line with our current morals and values. But if anything, these are cues to push harder. I always like to believe that even the worst of things have something to teach us, and while it can be difficult to always apprehend this, living is a process of developing oneself which only happens when we continuously learn. And the truth is, there is always something to learn, and there is no better way of getting out of this bubble and moving on than to learn from the past. We all have our weaknesses, which when left unaddressed, limit our potential for impact and significance. Discover them – and that can only happen when reflecting upon the past. Every new day presents the opportunity to become a better person on a better road destined for a better future. The talents we use to navigate and provide value to this world define the lives we live and the change we can offer. And by recalling our strengths in the past, we can recognise our opportunities in the present, in a better way.

Because after all, that which does not kill us outright makes us stronger. Our pasts have the power to bring us down to our knees, but an even stronger power to make things better. Accept that, and trust that! 

“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” – Jean Paul Sartre

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You are your own boss

So many times we find ourselves in a rut. The continual pressure to look good, to perform well, to compete for affection very well puts our body and mind in stress.

But somewhere down the line I realise that each day we are given a choice of taking control over our life, or of letting external things control it.

There is a brutal truth that not everything is in our hands, and that is often understood when people treat us a certain way, or when things unexpectedly happen to us. Infact, events in life rarely go exactly as planned. But unfortunately, that’s the way life works – there will always be people to tell you things you don’t agree with, things you will get disappointed about, things that will derail you from perusing your dreams, things that will literally bring you down on your knees. But our job in this world is to accept, and flexibility requires having a mind that is open to changes, open to disasters, and yet still willing to move forward. It also just happens to be that nobody can do it for you. The choice to keep moving forward, to repaint our life, to react positively to knockdowns are decisions that only we can make. So at times when life is not sunshine and rainbows, taking control, moving on with full incentives, being proactive, creating goals, making plans, being productive will all help in stepping back to regain your perspective – what you are doing and what you want to achieve.

And to achieve big things, it is important to stay positive even when life throws you offtrack. Albert Einstein once said, “We all need to see the Universe as friendly.” This is true wisdom coming from a great man who knew more about the nature of things than anyone. So it can be difficult to always stay on course, and everyone gets stuck in a funk from time to time and it’s not always easy to shake it off. But remember that you are the captain and you can navigate your world to better doors of success!

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The Power of a Smile

When we smile, our body releases endorphins. Dopamine, serotonin are all the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters that get activated.

The mere act of smiling can change our brain chemistry too, and spur a powerful chemical reaction in the brain that makes us happy. According to Ron Gutman, the author of ‘Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act’, British researchers found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulations as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate, (I find that hard to believe!). There are numerous health benefits associated with a smile too, in dealing with stress, panick attacks, blood pressure, and even living a longer life. (A study from London University College stated that happy, cheerful people are 35% more likely to live longer). Moreover, smiling adds luminosity to our face, and makes us have a ‘natural glow’.

All that being said, there is so much magic a flash of a smile can do!

I recently read a chapter of the book, ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ by Dale Carnegie. In that, he explains a really profound example of the inducing power of a smile. So here’s a short story:

There was a veterinarian whose waiting room was full of clients waiting to have their pets inoculated. No one was talking to anyone else and everyone were just hoping they would be anywhere but there, sitting and doing nothing. There were about six or seven people dejectedly waiting when a young woman with her nine months old baby and a kitten entered the room. She sat down next to this distraughted gentleman who was irritated by the time taking service. A few moments later, the nine months old baby just looks up at him and gives him a big, heartwarming smile and the next thing he knows, a smile strikes across his face too! Very soon, the entire lifeless room lights up and boredom is converted into happiness.

So we can very clearly see that this outward sign of contentment is even capable of influencing others around us. My sister and I sometimes also like to play a game where we smile at people and see how many people smile back. Most of the time, there are so many people who give a genuine smile back to us 🙂

I also find people who smile so much more attractive than people who have dull, tedious, subdued looks on their faces. Many people have a gloomy, despondent outlook on life. They are sour, cynical as well as cantankerous. On the other hand, when you smile, people treat you differently. You are viewed as someone who is attractive, relaxed, optimistic and sincere. A study published in the journal Neuropsychologia reported that seeing an attractive, smiling face activates our orbitofrontal cortex, which is a region in our brain that processes sensory rewards. So when viewing a person smiling, we actually feel rewarded. What’s more, I’m pretty sure we all have heard that smiles are ‘contagious’!

This was just a short insight of the magic behind smiling, as I like to call it: The Power of a Smile, indeed capable of doing a lot. Share your smile with the world.  After all, it is a free therapy, good for you and even better for influencing others around you!

“Beauty is power, a smile is its sword” – John Ray

Insecurity – What holds us back

We all doubt ourselves sometimes.

Thoughts like I am not as attractive enough or I’m not as smart and intelligent enough or not as well-situated in life as I should be. Even the feeling of having all the potential in the world, but that something being there to hold us back.

Comparing ourselves to the people around us, and that just makes it worse.

I find myself in these infuriating situations all the time. In fact even after achieving what I want to achieve, these questions still come, am I really good enough, is this person better than me, am I really there yet?

What I have also realised is that a lot of my insecurities exist where I have yet to prove myself to myself.

These are all examples of insecurities and self-doubts.

But what I have learnt (and am learning) from all of this is that if we push ourselves to do the things that we are afraid of (but really really want), then we slowly cross items off that mental list of things that make us feel insecure. What we fear about the most often shows us what we care about the most. Hence, overcoming the fear lets go off the insecurity (constantly wondering if you’ll ever get there and what people think of you).

Many times our insecurities tend to tell us that we are not capable of achieving something great. However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go for it.

In fact my insecurities often make me want to go for it and prove to myself that I actually can do it.

Something that makes us feel even more miserable is when we think that everyone can see our insecurity. However, after all it really is something that is invisible and no one can see it but you. While it truly makes us self-conscious and self-doubtful, only we can see what our mind tells us, and what we can deliberately work upon.

On a slightly different note, dealing with our insecurities can become a lot easier when we slowly start to discover ourselves.

For this, I recently researched about something known as the Johari Window.

 

This is a simple illustration of what a typical Johari Window looks like.

It was actually created in 1955 by two psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham. It is an exercise that helps people to understand their relationship with themselves and others better.

In the first block “known to self and known to others”, you can list adjectives and characteristics that describe you. These are the characteristics that you recognize in yourself but that also others mention when they talk with you. This block is called the arena (or open, as it describes the attributes that we usually feel most confident about). We can express them openly, and others apprehend them clearly.

The second block is “known to self and unknown to others”. Here you can write down things that are a part of you but that you do not show to others. This block is called the facade or hidden because these are the things you prefer to hide from others. For example, you might hide a strong will to compete but you keep it to yourself in favor of pleasing others – a very common situation.

The third block is “unknown to self and known to others”. This is the Blind Spot and it can be very difficult to manage, and can cause others to talk behind your back. This is because they can see something that you don’t.

The last block is “unknown to self and unknown to others”. This is hence called unknown. Which means it will never become the subject of discussion.

Knowing who you are is an essential part of achieving a meaningful life, and the aim of this Johari Window is to know your true self through analysation.

Yes it has other uses like in businesses, etc, but I thought I would include it in this topic too as it has some correlation.

“Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes, in the middle of nowhere, you find yourself.”

More about Happiness…

 

We define mindfulness as the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present .

Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi studied this state of being and coined the term Flow.

His research suggested that money and luxury doesn’t bring people happiness.

He found that humans are at their happiest when in flow.

Now, what is this flow? 

Being completely absorbed in an activity for its own sake, giving your heightened attention to just one thing.

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This is an example of a diagram that Mihaly illustrated in one of his books :

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

What this shows is that based on the intensity of challenges and skills, If what we do has a high level of challenge and we use our skills at the maximum level, then we enter the state of flow. This is a state of deep happiness, where one  exhibits their creativity, potential and be accomplished, in control with an intrinsic motivation.

Achieving the flow involves certain factors.

Choosing a task. A single task that can be done in solitude. There are endless examples like playing the piano, running, writing, dancing, singing, etc. 

Allowing enough time. Setting aside a lot of time so that the mind can be fully immersed in that one task. 

Setting clear goals. What you are doing and why you are doing it? 

Near balance of a challenge-to-skills ratio. Flows exist near the midline of boredom and anxiety. If the task is dull, you disengage. If it is too hard, fear spikes and we look for a way out. The challenge needs to be slightly greater than our skill so that we stay in the sweet spot.

The flow is important to not get distracted by little things and being able to focus on one task to complete it. It’s a great way to bring peace in our daily lives and living every moment to the fullest with lasting satisfaction.

“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” – Bertrand Russell

Saania Saxena 🙂 

Fearing the future.

Feeling uncertain about the future and muddled up with the present…

I have quite often been there.

Worrying about what is going to happen next…

The prospect of not knowing if something good or bad will happen to me in the near future produces so much stress and discomfort.

Now the philosophical question comes, how to deal with it?

The number one thing that I have realised is that most of us worry ourselves with things that are most likely never going to happen, or basically that our worst fears will rarely ever come true. There are sure some situations that we think could adversely affect our lives, but usually even those aren’t life shattering. So we should ask ourselves what is the worst that could happen. Let’s take an example. Imagine that you are in a class of people. Look at the people around you and figure out what is the worst that’s happened to them. There will be things like this person got low marks in a test, or that person lost an important match. Generally speaking, there won’t be a person who has been kidnapped, or a person who has been diagnosed with a serious disease, or a person with a severe injury. For most of us, most of the time, life’s challenges are actually the small little things, which would hardly be relevant a decade from now. So after figuring all that out, drop the topic!

There would also be times where there is really nothing you can do about the future. I mean you can only do what you can today, and if there is nothing you can do about it, you are better off just going for a jog or taking a nap than worrying about things that are not even in your hands. There is actually a theory known as the circle of concern and the circle of influence. Letting go of things that are outside your circle of influence, and only focusing on things that you can control. For example, you can’t exactly control the traffic in Mumbai! But you can very well control your own behaviour and actions.

So for items you can control (things inside your circle of influence) , turn worries into work. For situations where you know for sure that you probably won’t achieve what you want to, there is no point in fearing about it. And I realised that working on it is the best antidote to worrying about it. Trying to make a better future by working on getting positive outcome for next time. This step takes a lot of courage to accept and do what you can, with what you have, and more importantly, believe you can face your fears to make a better future.

All that said, there will realistically be situations where your brain just refuses to be so logical and you feel that restlessness about what is going to happen. And that is where our dear old friend meditation comes in …

Meditation helps to stabilise us in the face of fear to help us understand it more clearly. With breathing and meditation, we can actually understand ourselves, our emotions and our fears, dig deeper into our thoughts and feelings.

So fear is a choice, you spend time worrying about it or you spend time understanding and getting over them…the choice is ours. 😊

– Saania Saxena

Breathing and Meditation…

From studies to doing exercise, keeping up with friends to attending classes.

In the midst of all this madness, I started wondering…

Ever so often we get terribly caught up in our busy lives. Responsibilities , priorities, conflicts, tiffs… lacking all peace, calm and tranquility. Just so many different thoughts rushing here to there in our little brain, with serenity having no place whatsoever.

I have good days which are full of delight and bliss, nothing going wrong, just everything being in place. Contrarily, I have bad days (or bad times) wherein things just seem out of place, my mind has so many different thoughts zooming here to there and I just lack headspace. Teenagers are perhaps under more pressure today than in the previous generations, with the constant distractions of social media and increased competition.

The effects are for all to see. We laugh less and blow up more. We age faster. We fall sick due to the mind-body linkage. My father and I play this simple game when we go to any restaurant. Just look around and count the number of ‘happy’ faces. Sadly, 8 out of 10 families near us lack any smile and are often busy in their individual gadgets. I mean why come to an expensive restaurant if we still don’t find our contentment?

So what is the way out?

We have to learn to be in the moment, learn to relax, and not stress the small stuff. Enough studies have shown that meditation or yoga can preserve anti – aging parts of cells called telomeres and reduce cellular stress. So this post is going to be on exactly that…

First of all, let’s talk about Breathing…

I’m not going to bore you with any detailed yoga techniques or anything but the main idea here is to be rhythmic and conscious about it. Breathing gives you the strength and power to do what you couldn’t do earlier.

The best link between our mind and our body is our breath. It follows the flow of our thoughts and helps us to live in the present.

You can do this by going out in the nature, and just breathing. Inhaling and exhaling, while only thinking about everything in life that makes you happy right now, forgetting about all the misery the day has been giving to you. To be honest, whenever there is either too much studies, or I just need a break from people I just go outside and cherish nature while breathing it all in. And realistically in that moment there is nothing else I would ever want. So much peace just automatically comes to me, and after that, doing my homework or whatever becomes so much easier. Or when I am about to shout, just watching my breath go in and out suddenly changes the perspective and lets the moment pass without the need to burst out. Even having a jog around does exactly the job.

The only little technique I will suggest is to breathe into your stomach (so it stretches out when we breathe in), and crunch your stomach when you exhale. This way, while exhaling, it is almost as if the entire stress inside is being thrown out.

Then there is Meditation and Yoga…

Meditation is something that relaxes the mind and eliminates negative thoughts, anxiety, and worry. It helps us to control our mind and our life and discover our true nature. Whenever you feel like your mind is filled with too many thoughts, out of your long long day, even setting aside 30 minutes to focus on the brain lets go off any confusing , exasperating thoughts all compressed inside.

Also giving a go at the thing you couldn’t do earlier becomes a lot easier. While meditating, you try not to think about external things, the idea is to focus inwards, perhaps even our breathing. In meditation circles you’ll often hear the term “monkey mind.” The “monkey” refers to how our primate relatives are able to swing from one branch to another with awe-inspiring skill. Similarly, our minds bounces from one idea to another, but rather than inspire awe, this restlessness and lack of calm often fills us with anxiety.

So by meditating your mind, you declutter it, exactly how you clean a closet and it starts to look better, your mind feels a lot cleaner too. And that’s something anyone wishes for, whatever age they might be, which leads to another thing that meditation can be for any age. Meditation leads to a happier and a more sorted life. (And even calms that little monkey down!)

Then there comes good thoughts…

The final piece of advice I’ll give is to have Gratitude. No matter what’s on your mind, let go off all the negative thoughts and be grateful for what you have. I mean, I see homeless people every single day on Mumbai streets who, no doubt have much much bigger problems in their life. And when we shout or get irritated on little things, we often don’t realise that our problems are not even close to theirs. Real serious problems like having a major health issue or death in the family doesn’t really happen to most of us. So I often wonder what right do we have to complain.

Also, learning how to forgive people lets go of some stress. It is said when we forgive, we help ourselves much more than the other person. If you’re really angry at someone for any reason, all those negative thoughts will keep on coming into your head. But simply forgiving that person will chill your mind and theirs too.

Correcting your mindset leads to a positive life and being in that state of bliss, and for many many situations, you can have control over your mind. So breath in…breathe out… and get ready to conquer the world 🙂

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