“If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”


When I posted this quote on facebook, I got queries on “how to change the way we think about it?”

I have some comments to make.

The quote simply says, either change what is bothering you or change yourself so that it does not bother you.

Why did we precipitately decide that we can’t change what is bothering us?  Did we make enough effort to change things? If you refer to Mr. Hazare’s agitation, did not a change happen?

Take rules – be it college rules or government rules. Are we saying these cannot be changed, therefore we need to change our attitude towards them?

Did we really try? If we tried and failed, is it because we do not know how to change? Or are we lazy and did not make enough or right effort, or have patience? Either way, suppose we talk about corruption – are we therefore saying we can’t change corruption, so let us change our attitude towards corruption? Are we saying that we cannot change the rules, so we change our attitude towards them?

Let us assuming that we tried to change what is bothering us, be it people, things or ideas. Let us also assuming that we tried different ways, we asked around if others also have the same opinions as us, we gathered support and made an effort to change.

Then comes the second part – changing our attitude or our belief towards what we do not like. to do that, let us first examine our emotions towards what we do not like. What is really causing those emotions? is it the rules or the corruption, or is it our feeling of helplessness? Does the feeling of helplessness come because we have low self confidence, and because we remember past incidents which created such feelings?

This is a root cause analysis of our emotions, to find out the deep-rooted belief that is really the cause of the emotions.  If we do not handle this deep rooted cause of the emotions, we will be dealing with the symptoms, not the real reasons.

So maybe rules in the college remind us of the rules at home or school, which is what we wanted to avoid by joining a college far far away! Maybe these rules remind us of past incidents when we wanted to do things, and other members in a group or other powers of authority prevented us from doing what we wanted? If we do not handle our emotions with respect to those incidents, these emotions will recur.

Our current beliefs are a result of our past experiences and the inferences that we have drawn from them. To change our current beliefs, we need to change the past inferences and our memories of those past incidents.

Kipling’s “If”


I know that I have circulated this before to some batches, but I just love this poem so much, although the conditions in which this was written were less than perfect.


If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master,
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breath a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Emotions and beliefs


If my girlfriend is late  for the movie, I can be anxious if I believe she may be in an accident, or I can be angry if I believe that she does not care for my time, or I can be depressed if I believe that she does not like me any more.

Therefore the same event can cause different reactions based on our beliefs about the event.

Even if I know that my belief is incorrect, why can’t I change my belief?

  1. It may be that I get some benefit out of this belief. For example, it justifies my anger or my continued depression.
  2. It may be that I do not know how to change this belief.
  3. I, subconsciously, may still think that this belief is true. This could be because admitting that I am wrong means admitting that all my previous emotions and actions were incorrect and I may have to correct the impact of those actions on people who were affected. To eat humble-pie in front of all those persons would be terrifying.
  4. I am too involved in the emotion and I cannot detach myself from my experiences. It is easy to advise people on what to do, when they have emotional experiences – because you are detached from the problem. But to do the same to myself means detaching myself from my emotions and that is difficult to do.
Exercises 5 in the chapter on “Managing Negativity”, in my book talks about how to learn the process of dissociation, so that you can learn to detach yourself from your emotions and so be able to advise yourself.

Destressing – better learn to do it


The following blog details what is happening to us in our work life.


We need to learn to relax. Yes, I know we are told this ‘n’  number of times, but the reality is we do not know how. The best way that I have found is by progressive relaxation – deliberately tightening and loosening muscles from the toes upwards to the head. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Progressive_muscle_relaxation

The other is deep breathing – keeping your chest steady and moving your stomach in and out, forcing air into the deeper parts of your lungs that do not get oxygen with shallow breathing.

Try this once every two hours.

The self esteem of a Bhindi


I hate Bhindis (okras, lady’s fingers). When I go to the vegetable market, I pass over Bhindi, even if they are fresh and tender. I do not even see them. Should the bhindi have low self esteem? Should the bhindi start believing that because I have not considered it, there is something wrong with it?

If my boss loves Bhindi and he is coming to my house for dinner, I will pick up the Bhindi. Should the Bhindi now have high self esteem?

The point is, when people ignore me, or do not return my overtures of friendship, I feel rejected. When I feel rejected, slowly I start believing that I must have done something wrong, or there is something wrong with me.
People interact with me when they need me. sometimes they need, sometimes they do not. Some people like me, some do not. Some people have time for me, some do not. Why should I believe there is something wrong with me? Why is my self esteem going up and down based on other person’s reaction towards me?
It is all a matter of taste. There is nothing wrong with the Bhindi

Don’t shoot the messenger – ad hominem attacks


What is effective communication? It is a good composition of the message and its flawless transmission? Is it reception of the message without distortion?

Distortion of the message happens at two points

  • during transmission – physical distortion
  • due to the belief of the receiver

The same message, to two different persons will have different reactions. There are three types of beliefs that a receiver has that can impact distortion:

  1. the beliefs that a receiver has and therefore how he interprets the message itself – this is impacted by the language, the tone and the structure of the message. Sometime the size of the message makes a difference: big emails, short sms, terse verbal responses, long and winded verbal responses (lectures)
  2. the receiver’s belief about the sender and the intent of the sender (even an innocuous birthday wishes will have sinister overtones if sent by someone who I think is my enemy; if you do not like a lecturer or his intent, then even his sincere messages will have different overtones)
  3. the communication medium : in today’s discussion, the messenger. I am ignoring physical media like telephone cables, Internet etc.

Traditionally, we are advised to differentiate the message from the messenger. We are supposed to be messenger agnostic. “Don’t shoot the messenger,” we are entreated.

But the messenger will determine how we receive the message. If we do not like the messenger or the way he delivers the message, we will not care about the content or the sender. If a book is good, but it is presented by a lecturer or a student we do not like, then we do not care about the contents of the book, or its writer. If a person gives you feedback, we will care about the feedback based on who is giving us the feedback.

Does it mean that I have to be liked before I can send a message?

Does it mean that I have to be liked before I can deliver a message?

Does it mean that my messenger has to be liked?

Does it mean the message loses its significance?

Look at the response of the receiver. If he does not like the message, he has choices:

  • attack the message,
  • attack the sender and also
  • attack the messenger

If he does not like the sender or the messenger, he has same choices.

So when people do not do what I want them to do, I need to look at my message, the receiver’s perception about me and the receiver’s
perception about the messenger.

I also run the risk that if people do not like my message, they will attack the messenger – the poor guy

So if a teacher wants the student to study, and if a student does not want to study, he will attack the message (the course is useless) or the sender (the writer is not qualified) or the messenger (the professor is useless and does not know how to teach)

If a group member does not like what another group member is suggesting, he will attack his suggestion or he will attack the person.

If a group member does not like the person delivering the suggestion, even if the suggestion is good, he will attack the person and the suggestion.

Why do we fear, when we know that most of the fears are groundless


Our mind is not designed that way. A baby does not fear the snake, the response of the people around him makes it fear the snake. Our fears are a product of our programming. People eat things that other people shudder to look at. People have learnt responses and behaviours that are acceptable. It is the product of the environment we grew up.

The previous blog gives an idea of how this programming happens.

So what does this mean?
Every time I behave or react to a stimulus, I need to understand why I do that. If I understand what makes me do what I do, or be what I am, I can decide whether or not to change my behaviour or values. The desire to change is based on what impact the change will have in the pursuit of my goals. If I do not have a goal, there can be no change, because there is no reason, no purpose. Goals and purpose are related.
One of the ways of understanding self is to understand and accept my fears. Courage has been defined as a realisation that I am afraid, admitting that I am afraid and still go through with the action. Courage is NOT the absence of fear. As long as we have emotions and can think and imagine, we will have fears.

Sometimes fears are derivative. A fear of public speaking can be because of a fear of ridicule.

A deeper understanding comes from how the fears have been created. For this, I need to look back into my past life (the current one, not the previous reincarnations) and pick out the events where I had similar fears. For each such incident, I need to realise if my fears were groundless or not. Typically I find that most of what I feared did not happen.When we start finding the pattern, we get a sense that most fears are groundless and we have more confidence to face the future. We also find that we catastrophised(made mountains out of molehills) the outcome of each event. If we go further back, we can find out the root causes of our conditioning.

For example, the fear of ridicule could be because people laughed at me when I was performing on stage or at home when I was 5 years old.

Once we know and understand how we are conditioned, we have a choice.

  • We can, of course, blame our conditioning for screwing up our life, and live life like that.
  • We can decide to use ‘extinction’ as a method of modifying my behaviour that resulted from my fear. If I have a fear of enclosed lifts (elevators), I can shut myself in it for 1 second, see that my fear is groundless, and keep increasing my exposure to the fear under controlled situations, until I realise that the fear is groundless.
  • The traditional method of throwing a person into the deep water to teach him how to swim has a risk of additional trauma and the fear of water being replaced by the fear and lack of trust of the person who threw him in.
  • There are other therapies like CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) which could also help. The first one analyses what you think, find patterns in your negative thinking and allows you to logically argue the fallacy of the thoughts. The second one reprograms your thought process by using alternate modelling. Both require qualified professionals.

More on academic pressure


Earlier, I focussed on parents and peers for putting pressure.

One respondent talked about the professors vacillating between academic probity, their institute’s academic reputation, the professor’s professional reputation of being a hard task master and his personal reputation if blamed for the untoward incident. Someone recommended professors making judgemental call on grades based on potential psychological impact, not on objective academic criteria.
While we are at it, let us not forget to blame society, the education system etc. Ultimately, we will do nothing as we cannot take on the system.
When Kapil Sibal took on AICTE and tried to change the CBSE to give only Std 12 board exams (making std 10 optional or locally corrected instead of by the Board), there was a hue and cry from all affected parties.
  • The parents said that their children will have no experience in giving competitive exams. They also said that teachers now have more power as they determine a portion of the final grades and this will create a misuse of their power; that we were now following the American system and look what has happened to America; that they will now have to help their children with the projects at home instead of watching TV which is their birthright after returning from office.
  • The teachers objected saying that because of continuous evaluation, their work load will increase. They do not want to do corrections locally.
  • The children revolted saying that earlier they had to do tuitions and study only for the board exams, now they will also have to study the whole year, listen to the teachers, attend classes…essentially foregoing their birthright of bunking classes.
If you look at the common factor, it is fear.
  • Parents transmit their fear of taking care in old age, not having enough money, starvation etc. Therefore they instil the spirit of competition. Parents have their own fear of their position in society and loss of bragging rights
  • Peers feed on the fear of not belonging as well as not allowing others to get ahead
  • Children have a fear of self esteem also assimilate the parents and peer’s fears
  • Professors have a fear of being blamed and the impact on their career
  • Educational Institutes have a fear on one side of diluting the academic integrity and on the other side of the PR impact. (Maybe, they should put statutory warnings during the ‘welcome to the cream of the cream of country’ speech at orientation that ‘if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’ or ‘we are not responsible for peer pressure, the grades and how you mind perceives both of them’)
  • We have the fear of the unknown; and of change in status quo and our intention of mitigating that fear by having a nest egg, a proper education, job etc…
And then we have Mr. Tagore talking about India, ‘where the mind is without fear’
  1. Most of what we fear does not happen but the mind imagines the worst.
  2. Does it not boil down to having the courage to face our fears, and to control our mind of negative thoughts?
  3. I find that most successful people have this ability to not succumb to negative emotions and the ability to change the status quo. Look at the sales guys, they bounce back after so much rejection!
  4. If any counselling has to be done, it has to be towards managing self and our fears – not to erase the fears (which we can’t) but to manage them. Also to manage relationships and change, and what I call “emotional resilience
  5. Can we as alumni teach them this? What is the benefit of our experience if we cannot tell the students about our fears, and what happens in reality?
  6. Can we as parents change our conditioning and try not to inculcate our values on our children?
  7. Why are we trying this systemic change, the big bang approach, where we have power only to influence a small section of society – the family. Can we start a chain reaction, slow but more permanent?




I belong to this august institution. When such an article appears, it creates a furore and a sense of outrage among the alumni. Here is my letter to them.


Can I put it differently, at the risk of maybe raising the hackles, or maybe a derisive laugh, out of most of us?

I believe that the purpose of our existence to leave mankind better that we found it. Few of us have the means and the ability to uplift large sections of mankind. Most of us can focus only on ourselves and our children.

In our quest for money and fame, did we forget our children? Is it because we were conditioned by our environment, that we value money and foist success in competition and coming first as the criteria for giving favours and our affection? When did we last say, “Don’t worry about the grades?” Why do we look for the best schools, the best that money can buy, when the most important thing that we can give is understanding and support at home? Are we there at home? And when we are, do we sit in judgement based on our criteria or in understanding of their criteria?

Our children’s generation has grown up with a remote in their hand. They are conditioned to change channels when they do not like something. They get gratification instantly and they want quick results. When they cannot get it, they do not know how to handle it. But think…are they responsible for this environment or did we provide it to them? Did we give them the remote? Is it also the price of technological progress – the Wii – that prevents our children from going out and develop social and adjusting skills, the dependency on the internet to think on their behalf?

I do not want to comment on what IITK is doing. All successful organisations or people get defensive when their motives are questioned. That is the price of greatness. Is funding the answer – do we throw money at them similar to what we do at home? An expiation of our guilt – the reason we buy gifts for our children?

The idea of counselling is good, but in this generation and at this age, students want more peer support. That was the original purpose of the counselling service. I remember that even the concept of empathy was alien during our counselling training. That is sorely lacking in an increasingly competitive environment. I know this not just because I was part of the counselling service, but I counsel 20-24 years old students where I teach now. Their biggest issue is self esteem and peer pressure to conform.

How will money help?

The dean keeps asking for alumni to help in counselling. Most of that probably is career counselling – it that about how to get ahead at the cost of others? Are we fostering competition – fighting for the same scarce resources or are we helping students be more creative and find their niche, where they can use their strengths to their and society’s advantage. Some of our batch mates have found their niche – they love what they do and they provide employment while they do it. Are we promoting the argument for creating employment rather than moving money from the needy to the greedy as employees of already large and rich corporations who are downsizing rather than creating employment?

Most of us have 750-plus weekends left in our life. How do we want to spend them? By leaving a larger nest egg for our children to that they never learn to fend for themselves or to help others find their wings?

My apologies if I have wasted your time.


Random Events or Fate – What should I believe?


Take a hypothetical example of a road accident that I am involved in. I am being very careful, driving under the speed limit and being responsible. But the driver of the bus that barrels into me was speeding, had a few drinks and thought he had the right of way. Further, he was trying to overtake another bus, competing with that driver to pick up passengers first. The driver of the other bus too wanted to win. Neither wins, but I lose a limb.

What should I believe?

  • That it was God’s will, that he has some plans for me or some lessons that I have to learn? Is it karma, or consequence of something that I did in my past or current life?
  • That it was a random/ unpredictable/ maybe explicable act, which happened due to a set of mental models created in the drivers who were therefore competing, coupled with their low self esteem which was compensated by the false bravado of a few drinks.

How should I react?

Based on either of the above, should I

  • be inert or
  • actively forgive the driver? or
  • actively avenge my loss of limb by suing the truck company, or
  • get the driver beaten up or any such reaction?

Are events random, or are they fated to happen?

If I look at a continuum of fate vs. deliberate action: 

I could have, on one end, 100% dependency on God’s Will and the philosophy that everything is preordained.

Whatever happens to me, whether good or bad, is not of my making but “that of our stars,” as Shakespeare would say. I may explain my actions by saying that God put this decision in my mind, and at an extreme, Gods talks to me and tells me what to do – whether it is of positive consequences like Joan of Arc or negative like Charles Manson.

On the other end, I could believe that when I react to an event, I do so on the basis of my mental models and my beliefs.

These beliefs have been created based on my previous interactions with the world and my interpretation or learning from past events.

When I react, it is like throwing a stone into the water, and the ripples of my action impact a myriad of people in different ways. All these people react in different ways to my action based on their mental models and beliefs. Since I do not know their beliefs and how they were formed, it is not possible to predict what is the sum total of all their reactions and what will be the final impact of these actions.

It is sort of a Brownian motion, where random molecules collide with each other and therefore change their path. How people interact or react is based on their beliefs and since we cannot see into their mind, we cannot predict the course of action.

Hence, we would seem like a random event. These are inexplicable/ random/ unpredictable events which have a major impact on life as we know it. These random events are called “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell or “Black Swans” by Nissim Nicholas Taleb.

The last such random event was 9/11 according to the Western world.

In the middle of this continuum would be the 50 percent belief, that there is a grand scheme of things, and there is a randomness of nature.

We have to try our best to understand how people would react, but because we cannot be 100% certain, there will be an element of randomness, coupled with an incomprehensible hand of God. We have a tendency, after the event, to try and explain it rationally. If we cannot explain it rationally, we try to explain it as God’s Will, His Grand Plan about us.

The Impact of either fate or randomness

This entire continuum can lead to a belief that:

  1. we should not attempt anything either because God will take care of us, or
  2. the randomness of events will anyway render intended consequences of any of our actions futile.

So we can justify our inaction, our procrastination and laziness.

We have Indian philosophy from the Bhagwad Gita – of our right to action, but not to results. We have a piquant situation where we have a right to action, which (based on where you are on the continuum, has an element of pre-ordained) and no control on results (which is random or unpredictable at best).

Sort of drives the final nail into the coffin of inactivity and inertness.

If things are random or pre-ordained, how will I be motivated?

Motivation is based on

  • the needs of a person, and
  • the probability that the effort the person makes would lead to the fulfilment of the need.

If we say that we cannot predict the impact of the effort, why would we make the effort?

So forget about consequences?

Shall we follow the philosophy of existentialism, live for the moment, with no thought of either the past or the future? I am here and now, and only this is real? So there is no such thing as strategy or long term consequences? If I cannot control, why think about pollution, leaving this world a better place etc. Or it is God’s will?