Dissolve Your Ego For A Happier Life

Photo by h.koppdelaney
Photo by h.koppdelaney

The other day I was swimming in our building’s pool. After a few minutes, I noticed a stranger get into the pool and start to swim next to me. I am not sure why, but I instinctively felt the need to swim faster. After two quicker laps, I started to wonder what I was doing and how silly I was being. What had suddenly made me behave this way? My ego.

That’s what makes us feel slighted when our kids don’t necessary follow our instructions, feel upset when our colleagues give us critical feedback, or experience envy at a friend’s success.

Ego

Fundamentally, ego is a misplaced sense of self. In denial of who we truly are, ego exaggerates our sense of importance as a separate entity. It overlooks our reality as an integral part of an interconnected cosmic consciousness. Because we see ourselves in isolation of everything else, we naturally consider it our primary goal to protect and enhance ourselves.

As we grow up, the ego arising from this sense of separation gets further corrupted. Unable to emotionally cope with life’s challenges, we build a shield of unhealthy ego to protect our vulnerabilities. We show off to establish our importance; avoid an argument to protect ourselves from the risk of being disliked; and judge others to protect and enhance our self-image.

Ego is central to unhappiness

Ego makes us self-absorbed. We become too attached to the ideas of ‘I’, ‘me’ and ‘mine. We obsess about benefitting from all our actions. This is a key source of stress in our life. Since we cannot control all outcomes, results that differ from our desires routinely create anxiety, anger and sadness.

Besides, we take everything personally. We perceive our lucky breaks as a product of our smarts and the unfavourable events as a reflection of our limitations. This further bruises our emotional well-being. Obsessed with our individuality and free will, we fail to recognize the role of cosmic intelligence in…

Capitalism Needs A Soul


“We are not here to merely earn a living and to create value for our shareholders. We are here to enrich the world and make it a finer place to live. We will impoverish ourselves if we fail to do so.”  ~ Woodrow Wilson

Adam Smith, a pioneer of modern economics and author of Wealth of Nations (one of the foremost books on free market economics), wrote another book before that. The Theory of Moral Sentiments was based on the idea that intentional virtue and goodwill are the foundation of both an economic system of free enterprise and a political system of a representative democracy. He acknowledged that if individual virtue deteriorated, neither the free market nor a democracy could ultimately survive.

Capitalism refers to an economic and social system in which the means of production are predominantly privately owned and operated for profit. Besides, all aspects of an enterprise are determined through the operation of a market economy. It is usually considered to involve the right of individuals and corporations to freely trade in good and services, labor and land.

Some of the defining features of capitalism are: high focus on individual (ownership and advancement), pursuit of profit (or wealth creation) and efficiency (determined by competition and free market dynamics). While this system has delivered enormous progress for the better part of last century, I believe it needs to evolve to better respond to the social challenges of our time. Here’s why.

Focus on individual progress

The sharp focus on individual economic progress, as one of the core elements of the system, has led to an all too familiar approach of ‘winner takes all’ – with disproportionate and instant rewards for individual success. According to a report published by AFL-CIO, an American labor organization, the top executives in America earned on average 354 times as much as the average worker. The similar figures for Denmark, Norway and Japan are 48, 58 and 67 times respectively. While this approach has produced some of the highest achievers in diverse…

Meditation And The Myth Of Thoughtlessness


Photo by h.koppdelaney

Do you feel disappointed every time you meditate but don’t experience thoughtlessness? Do you wonder how some meditators seem to routinely enjoy this calming blank space between thoughts? Have you given up your practice because you had too many thoughts while meditating and couldn’t seem to shake them off?

Be anxious no more! In this post, I would like to deconstruct the myth of thoughtlessness and clarify the real objective of meditation. However, before we examine this myth, let’s understand why do we have thoughts in the first place.

Why do we have thoughts

Thoughts are an outcome of our desires which in turn emanate from two key sources. Firstly, they are rooted in our sense of identity. The identity of an independent self, the ‘I’, which is experiencing everything from pain and pleasure to sadness and joy. This identity is intertwined with our human experience. As long as we are in a human body form, we stay attached to this identity and continue to have thoughts.

Secondly, the human form contains the intelligence of our past karma. That’s the storehouse of the net psycho-spiritual effect of all our cumulative intent, volitions and actions across all lifetimes. It includes the seeds of all our desires, aversions, and attachments. This karmic imprint also dictates our judgmental nature – our tendency to judge everything as good or bad.

We remain a prisoner to our desires and attachments. This coupled with our preference for what appears favourable and distaste for the seemingly unfavourable, continually generates new thoughts and emotions.

Myth of thoughtlessness

There are innumerable meditation techniques out there – from chanting, observing the breath and mindfulness to transcendental meditation, zen and vipassana. Irrespective of the specific practice, a commonly held belief is that the aim of meditation is to experience thoughtlessness. Given the extent of constant mental chatter we experience, this sounds like a really attractive goal.

But it’s quite misleading! When we make thoughtlessness the central objective of our meditation…

Combating Our Inner Demons

Photo by h.koppdelaney
Photo by h.koppdelaney

Do you struggle with anxiety, fear, self-doubt, guilt or envy? I continue to – although nowadays perhaps with greater awareness. Anxiety about the impact children’s certain traits may have on their future, judging others and myself harshly, aversion to setbacks, fear of social disapproval, attachment to favourable outcomes, or even the unending doubts about my swing on the golf course!

Key human challenge

Any strongly felt negative emotions are our inner demons. We all have our fair share of them. They collectively operate like a convincing inner voice that significantly influences our every day thoughts and behavior. A majority of our inner demons are inborn. It’s kind of our karmic imprint. With childhood and other life experiences, they evolve. However, unless we consciously work towards resolving them, they continue to haunt us.

One of the key reasons we are unable to shake them off is that we are simply caught up in our outer and visible life. We pay disproportionate attention to our material growth and strongly identify with that progress. In the process, we loose sight of the inner journey – the need and the opportunity to reform our inner selves. Besides, we obsess about how we are perceived by others. We routinely judge others and in turn worry about being judged by our peers and social network.

While material progress is important, it’s not the core purpose of life. Alongside playing various visible roles at work, home and in our community, we have a deeper purpose to fulfil. It is to overcome our personal inner demons and to steadily replace them with courage, trust, love, compassion and mindfulness; and through that, discover our true potential for living a happy, balanced and meaningful life.

Impact on effectiveness

Our professional and personal effectiveness is directly and negatively impacted by the hold these inner demons have on our mental make-up. Elite sports psychologists repeatedly highlight that performance equals potential minus interference. True in life too. Our mental…

Mahatma Gandhi Revisited: Life Lessons For You And Me


Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. 

I just finished reading Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography, My experiments with truth. Not sure why I did not get to it sooner, but I am so glad I finally did. Reading it has been delightful and inspirational. Amidst a global shortage of leadership role models, revisiting Gandhi’s life offers rich lessons towards creating a more meaningful life.

He once famously remarked ‘My life is my message’. Indeed, his life, values and ideals raise the bar for every human being on what’s possible and what to strive for. Here are my five personal life lessons from the book. Notwithstanding his unmatched contribution to India’s independence, these lessons draw on Gandhi’s life journey– the man that he was.

1. Relentless search for truth

There is no God higher than truth.

First and foremost, Gandhi led a life driven by a strong sense of purpose. He was a lifelong seeker of the truth about life – the deepest principles that govern life and make it meaningful.

His strong personal beliefs around self-control, acceptance, equality, love and non-violence were not based on an intellectual understanding of the ideas. They were founded on personal trials, tribulations and experiences that he chose to put himself through – so that he could get closer to the truth. Through his life, he continued to experiment, learn and refine his beliefs and was unabashed in pursuing them irrespective of what people around him thought.

He voraciously read about all religions and philosophies. For him, morality and being truthful, in actions as well as thoughts, were critical foundations towards building a purposeful life. He had immense faith in the power of the universe (God) to support those living a principled life – he narrates several personal experiences as proof.

This brings home the relevance of living by strong values and principles in life. What core principles do you live by that are non-negotiable under any situation? How often have you let convenience get the better of truth?…

Life Hack: Consider Shifting From Fixed To Growth Mindset

Photo by h.koppdelaney
Photo by h.koppdelaney

There is nothing in a caterpillar that tells you it’s going to be a butterfly.” ~ Buckminster Fuller, Author, Designer and Inventor.

Far too many of us live with a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset assumes that our skills, intelligence, talent and capacity are in-born and hence largely fixed throughout our life. On the other hand, a growth mindset presumes that our skills, intelligence and talent are changeable with conscious effort; that they can be acquired and honed.

A person with a fixed mindset would think or say: I don’t have the talent to be an engaging presenter; I can never be super fit; my child has a gift for numbers but not for languages; or this colleague has limited future because of his low EQ. Subconsciously, believing that our smarts, relationship skills or motivation levels stay the same through life. If we are a certain way as an adult, or even as a child, we would stay that way forever.

A growth mindset appreciates the inherent potential for people to change. A person with a growth mindset would think or say: What can I learn from great presenters to be a better presenter; with commitment and proper training, I can become super fit; if my child develops a love for reading, her language skills can improve dramatically; or if I can support this colleague to become more aware of his limiting emotional responses, he can enjoy much better relationships.

Wide-ranging relevance

The idea of mindset as a psychological trait, first introduced by Stanford’s psychology professor Carol Dweck, has wide-ranging relevance. It directly impacts our work and leadership outlook, parenting style, quality of relationships, personal well-being and level of happiness.

Children and parenting

This trait gets built early on in our childhood. Parents with a fixed mindset tend to praise children for their talents rather than for their efforts. You are a natural at tennis or you are born to be an engineer. These messages inadvertently instil in the children the…

Obsessed With Self-Improvement? Try Self-Acceptance

Photo by h.koppdelaney
Photo by h.koppdelaney

“No amount of self-improvement can make up for any lack of self-acceptance.” ~ Robert Holden

Many of us are driven by an excessive need for self-improvement. Surely, being focused on self-improvement has many positives. That’s how we strive to become a better professional, parent or spouse. We deepen our self-awareness and reform our limiting beliefs and behaviours. That’s how we evolve as a society.

The dark side of self-improvement

However, an obsessive need for self-improvement is unhealthy, primarily because it usually originates from a sense of inadequacy within – a feeling of not being good enough. We then try too hard – not only because of an intrinsic motivation to get better, but also to enhance our sense of self-worth and to prove it to others.

We seek perfection in everything – it’s our subconscious attempt at feeling complete in our own eyes and those of others. However, despite any progress, we are always short of our ideal (which we are incidentally constantly upgrading). Needing external validation, we compare ourselves with others and are routinely disappointed as there’s always someone richer, smarter, more successful or better looking than us.

Healthy balance between self-improvement and self-acceptance

Excessive focus on self-improvement without sufficient self-acceptance makes us self-critical and reinforces our sense of inadequacy. On the other hand, high self-acceptance without any consciousness towards self-improvement makes us complacent and arrogant. The sweet spot lies in building a healthy balance between the two.

We then don’t pursue self-improvement from an orientation of lack or inadequacy, but from a place of confidence and completeness. While we are aware of our opportunities for improvement, we fully recognise our strengths. We don’t judge our true thoughts or feelings and deny or suppress them, we acknowledge and accept them. This helps us be more at peace with who we truly are.

Such self-acceptance requires greater self-compassion. With that, the journey of change becomes less stressful and effortless. We experience a healthy dose of contentment and progress. Besides, as we learn to unconditionally love…

Insightful Lessons From Our Body’s Innate Wisdom

Photo by h.koppdelaney
Photo by h.koppdelaney

We all possess enormous innate wisdom. Our bodies are a living example of this intelligence in action. How our heart beats 24/7 providing essential fuel to all parts of our body; how our digestive system digests foods its never been exposed to and yet breaks them down to their key nutrients; and how the egg fertilises into a human baby in a mother’s womb.

In our everyday busyness, we are largely disconnected from this intelligence. We live in our minds, not in our bodies. We chase after acquiring the latest information about the external world, but generally lack awareness of the miraculous intelligence that resides within.

Thriving community within

Concealed beneath our individual persona is a thriving community of over 30 trillion cells. Each of these cells is a living being, with its own life and defined role. Importantly, each cell lives an highly evolved life, while meaningfully contributing to the broader community of cells constituting the human body.

Reading Deepak Chopra’s The book of secrets recently, I was reminded of the insightful revelations of this community. We can learn an awful lot from our body’s innate wisdom residing in these cells. Here are six key lessons that maybe worth contemplating.

1. Healthy coexistence

Every cell of our body exists in complete harmony with all other cells. Each cell also realises that its existence is dependent entirely on the healthy survival of every other cell. If some of the brain cells become dysfunctional, it impacts the rest of the body; likewise, unhealthy liver cells impact the digestive system, which in turn can lead to many illnesses. Most notably, each cell considers and treats every other cell as an equal, without any hierarchy or bias.

We start life as dependents, relying on our parents, and become more independent as young adults. However, we don’t always make the wise move to becoming interdependent – we remain too self-centered in our independent self. We need to discover our higher self where we are grateful for everyone else’ contribution in our…

Five Keys To Managing Interpersonal Conflicts

Photo from h.koppdelaney
Photo from Andy Zeigert

Learning to manage interpersonal conflicts is critical to professional and personal effectiveness. Any situation that involves two people or more carries the potential risk for some form of interpersonal conflict. Whether these show up as minor disagreements or a strong animosity, they occur routinely in the workplace and in our personal lives.

When not addressed appropriately, they lead to breakdown of communication and trust in relationships. They adversely affect achievement of common goals. Besides, they create heightened levels of negative emotions, like anger, frustration and of being wronged, for all those involved.

Understanding the possibilities

Interpersonal conflicts do not necessarily have to result in dysfunctional relationships. Before I lay out the five keys to managing interpersonal conflicts effectively, I would like to draw your attention to the possible outcomes of any such situation.

As the pictorial adaptation of the Thomas-Kilmann model on the right highlights, there are five possible outcomes of any conflicting situations.
Our relative levels of concern for our own needs and those of the others determines which outcome we subconsciously strive for.

While we do not always follow the same approach, we do have a subconscious preference for one of these. Generally, we are either too aggressive (wanting to win every time) or too permissive (willing to give in to avoid a confrontation). The ideal approach is to leave our ego or insecurities aside and look for a win-win solution – that not only meets our needs, but that of the others too.

Five keys to managing interpersonal conflicts

1. Choosing to deal with it

All too often, we avoid directly addressing conflicts. We are averse to uncomfortable conversations and wish our differences would somehow go away. Like a wound that festers, so do unresolved differences. People grow distant in their relationships and in extreme scenarios leave a job or even their marriage. The first step to managing interpersonal conflicts is choosing to deal with them.

This requires making a mental commitment to resolve the…

Discover Your IKIGAI, Create A Life

Photo by wolfgangfoto
Photo by wolfgangphoto

The Purpose of Life Is to Discover Your Gift. The Meaning of Life Is to Give It Away.

IKIGAI (pronounced ee-ki-guy), is a Japanese concept meaning ‘the reason for being’ – the very purpose for which an individual exists. Ikigai signifies the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai and discovering it and living a life aligned to one’s ikigai adds contentment and meaning to one’s life.

Besides, research suggests that staying connected with your ikigai has a noteworthy influence on your health, vitality and longevity. Research by Dan Buettner of National Geographic of over 73,000 Okinawans, who have the highest percentage of centenarians in the world, highlights ikigai as a key to their longevity (alongside active life, healthy eating habits and social connections). A clear sense of purpose is also known to improve cardio-vascular health and emotional resilience.

The idea of ikigai has great relevance to how we choose our life’s work – not merely our professional pursuits, but the very direction of our life. Among all the roles we play in life, which of those is central to who we are and what we want our life to be about. Is nurturing your children to their potential your ikigai or is it serving your community; is creating innovative solutions for your clients or providing a financially and emotionally stable family environment?

Powerful relevance to professional life

The concept of ikigai can further be adapted to significantly guide our choices in our professional life. It is equally helpful to a youngster starting out in her professional life and to a person who in his middle years is keen to create a meaningful second innings. While the idea of following our passion inspires us, but then we struggle to identify enough role models who have made a success of doing so and we quickly resort to pursuing what would make us financially successful. Over time,…