Interview #1: In Conversation with Aditya Sisodia- Be mindful, focus on yourself and hire a coach

Aditya Sisodia (Picture credits: Quora)

Aditya Sisodia is an executive career coach, business mentor and online behavioral facilitator. He is also a corporate trainer and has worked with professionals in helping them grow personally and professionally. He is a certified coach and a recipient of various awards includingBrave Spirit Icon 2017“, “Youth Icon Recipient 2016” , “National Service Excellence Award 2016” and “National Education Award 2015“. He has also been mentioned in a few leading notable media such as INC42, Femina, Entrepreneur (INDIA), Bangalore Mirror, The Times of India and many others. His experience includes 50,000+ hours that involves facilitation/presentation/training/consulting on a wide variety of topics globally across Dubai, Sri Lanka, UK, Canada, Indonesia, Australia and USA.

Question 1: How does your morning and evening routine looks like?

Aditya Sisodia:  So, there is so much to explore in every waking moment. Talking about myself- I am more of a night owl than an early riser. So what I do is I tend to plan out my things like ‘what is my focus of the day ’, ‘what is my focus of the week’, ‘what is my focus of the month’ and finally ‘what is my focus of the year’. These questions are for me. This allows me clarity in my business as well as in my personal life. I often ask “As a partner friend, how am I using my time?” I know one thing and it’s that I have got the same 24 hours. I ask myself what all can I learn today to make my day productive. And after completing my activities for the day I reflect back on them. Reflection is very important. It is very crucial for the overall well-being of an individual.

There are few things which are totally non-negotiable for me. One of them is exercising every day for at least 60 minutes- be it jogging, walking, stretching, etc. I do check out financial news to keep myself updated. I also follow latest events but definitely in moderation. I also spend some quality time with my family where I just sit with them and we talk and listen to each other. Other than my family there are few people with whom I try to speak even if it is for five minutes because they are my Energizer. I call them my Mastermind group because every time I speak with them it is always a wonderful feeling. These people keep up that fire inside of me.

Question 2: What are some of your favourite books?

Aditya Sisodia: I don’t have any favourite books per say. I am more of a listener. I am into lot of podcasts and the podcasts that I listen to they are dependent on my mood and my focus of the day. One of the podcasts which I listen to is “Valuetainment” by one of my favourite hosts “Patrick Bet David” where he talks about entrepreneur lifestyle and business strategies. There is another one that I listen to- “The Mindset Mentor” by “Rob Dial”. I do have a Kindle and I’ve got a decent collection of books. I feel every title I come across has something to teach me and has something which I can just absorb. I keep revisiting my books and podcasts. I also listen to “Ideacast” by Harvard Business Review where they talk about many case studies. In conclusion I will say that asking me about my favourite book is quite a dicey question.

   

Question 3: When you feel overwhelmed what do you do to come back to your original state of mind?

Aditya Sisodia: One of the things which I have learned is whenever there is an overwhelming feeling it is important to be mindful and the best way to be mindful is to focus on our breathing. It is about centering us. There are times when while speaking to someone we have some emotional triggers due to a disagreement probably. So, in such times we should focus on our breathing. It helps me relax and recharge myself. It becomes important for me to gain a different perspective.

Question 4: You ran a marathon consecutively for 2 years in 2019 and 2020 after your kidney transplant. How did you prepare yourself for that- both mentally and physically?

Aditya Sisodia: One of the things which I have learned is that to be mentally strong you have to be physically strong as well. It is because your mind is as strong as your body. When you are feeling lethargic your mind won’t be able to think straight and the reason I planned for Marathon 42.2 kilometres is because it gave me something to look forward to. Even now I am competing in 100 Days of running where every day I clock in my hours- be it running, jogging, walking, cycling. The whole idea is to be taking care of your overall well-being. I also try to be mindful of the self-talk and marathon helps me to stay in control of my emotions. I don’t care who gets the gold medal and who takes the podium. For me, finishing the marathon gives me a sense of being a winner because earlier in my life I never ran even one kilometre. I wasn’t an active sports player before and now I believe being an athlete is all about mind game. A lot of mental sacrifice has to be done. A lot of control has to be there on the diet. Lifestyle has to be modified. Overall, it’s all about self-discipline.

Question 5: What would be a word of advice for someone who is trying to make a mark in this world?

Aditya Sisodia: Hire a Coach. Hire a Mentor. Make sure that you invest in your personal and professional development. Do not discount. Trust me, the experience you get while working with an expert in your chosen domain is priceless; something which can never be discounted.  You are able to accumulate years of experience just by brainstorming with your coach or mentor. You will be seeing the results eventually.

Humans inclination towards ‘novelty’

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There is a very popular saying that, most probably, we are all aware of. It is” Old is Gold.” I couldn’t agree more with these words. There is some beauty in what is antique and old. But as it turns out that we, as humans, don’t necessarily follow it. Actually, our brains don’t let us.

Does it ever happens with you that you have a phone that is capable of doing every work of yours yet you still crave for that new one whose advertisement you just saw? Or does it happens with you that you are reading a book and are bored of it too soon that you are already thinking of picking up a new one? Do you also keep checking your emails every 5 or 10 minutes even though you know there won’t be another email for the next half an hour or so? Human beings have always been attracted towards ‘what is new’ or ‘novel’. New things make us feel so good that we are always seeking them.

Now the question comes why does it happen? What’s the story behind it?

Novelty and The Human Brain

It is not entirely right blaming people when it comes to their tendency of checking phones quite frequently or buying new gadgets from time to time. Somewhere our brains are at fault. Human brain works in such a way that it ignores what is old and focuses the attention towards what’s new. From the evolutionary point of view it is quite plausible because our ancestors needed to pay more attention towards the ‘new dangers’ to survive and not towards what is already known or familiar.

Research especially in the field of neuroscience has shown that whenever we are exposed to new things (new hair color, new people, new shoes, new watch, new house, etc.) or novelty our meso-limbic dopamine system gets activated. When the dopamine system is activated a neurotransmitter called dopamine gets send across different brain regions. This gives us pleasure but at the same time our brain starts telling us to seek more of novelty. This is the reason why new stuff makes us feel good for the time being. This is the reason why a notification on social media makes us feel good. This is the reason why we are always refreshing our emails. Every new thing causes dopamine to get released and that pleasure is what we are after.

Novelty and learning

While it is true that our tendency to seek novelty make us lives a little disruptive, it is not wrong to acknowledge that, nevertheless, novelty has many benefits especially in learning. Earlier it was believed that dopamine is merely a ‘reward chemical’ or ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. However, recent studies have shown that it is also related to our motivation to seek rewards. These result in brain reacting to novelty by releasing dopamine which further motivates us to explore more of that stuff.

Due to the influence of novelty, plasticity of the hippocampus (which is primarily associated with memory) gets increased while the brain is involved in exploring new things or stimuli in the environment. This causes new neural pathways to get formed, thereby increasing the chances of learning new concepts and ideas. Novelty has also been shown to improve our memory. That is why it is always a good idea to change our environment from time to time while we are working or studying. Working or studying at the same place all the time impedes our progress and by changing the location we improve our performance as brain responds differently (and in a good way in this case) in new settings.

Managing the inclination towards novelty

When novelty isn’t for our benefit it becomes very important that we take control of ourselves and our actions. Whenever we are distracted by new stuff like media notifications, devices and many other things we should be mindful of their usage. We should put a hold for some time and let those cravings and urges pass away. It is quite understandable that it is not easy in any way but with constant practice we can surely get better.

Mental health goes back to over 2,000 years ago

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Philosophy is not everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t mean to be rude but that’s true. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of one’s life. At least, it should be. There is an old story Thales of Miletus who was a Greek philosopher. His friends used to make jokes saying, Those who can, do, others philosophize.” To someone like me who keeps philosophy at the top (other than science and writing) it seems quite offensive. Surprisingly, as the story goes Thales took the words of his friend seriously and made huge amounts of money. Looks like, philosophy does pay off.

Seneca, a stoic from Spain was born over 2,000 years ago. He was a terrific philosopher who made huge contributions to the stoic philosophy. He was the son of Seneca, the Elder. Seneca got his education from Rome and in spite of belonging to a wealthy family he left no stone unturned in imparting his wisdom. He had written a letter in his famous book “Letters from a stoic” where he talked about the importance of mental health. I was a bit surprised when I read that letter because it was hard for me to believe how possibly someone could be talking about such a delicate yet crucial subject such a long time ago. Yet he did. It’s all out there.

There are some key lines in that particular letter Seneca wrote. The excerpts are a clear indication to his efforts of prioritizing mental health. In other words, an attempt to maintain equality between physical and mental health.

  1. “The greater load, moreover, on the body is crushing to the spirit and renders it less active. So keep the body within bounds as much as you can and make room for the spirit.”

I am a skeptic when it comes to ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’. I believe what I haven’t explored and what I don’t understand yet should not be talked about. So, for my peace of mind and to avoid any sort of confusion for the readers I am going to attribute ‘spirit’ as human mind or simply human brain. Seneca has wisely separated the human body and human mind thereby separating two types of health: physical health and mental health. Seneca is not wrong in stating the importance of making some time for our mental recoveries. We are exerting ourselves physically ignoring the mental variable from the equation. Believing hand fracture is a problem while depressed mood for more than 3 weeks just a phase of life is nothing but an invitation to crushing our mental health by all means. If we are merely focused on recovering physically and not mentally or emotionally then everything is going to take a toll on us. That is why we must be careful enough about prioritizing not just our physical bodies but mental bodies too.

2. “There are short and simple exercises which will tire the body without undue delay and save what needs especially close accounting for, time. There is running, swinging heights about and jumping. Pick out any of these for ease and straightforwardness. But whatever you do, return from body to mind very soon. Exercise it day and night.”

Being physically healthy is the need of an hour because we are living in societies plagued with health problems like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, etc. Even Seneca around 2,000 years ago talked about moving our physical bodies to remain active and healthy. He suggested running, jumping, swinging heights out of many other exercises. But he was also very particular about practicing mental exercises. He said ‘return from body to mind very soon’. We may think mental clarity can be compromised with. I think it is the biggest mistakes of one’s life. We cannot move far if our minds are over flowing with baggage. So, in a way I believe if we are physically exerting ourselves once in a day to grow our muscles stronger, we should also exert ourselves mentally to grow our mental muscles.

3. The mind has to be given some time off, but in such a way that it may be refreshed, not relaxed till it goes to pieces.”

Occasional breaks from our busy schedules are very important. After all, there is a limit to everything. Seneca argues in his letter that we must always make time to refresh mentally because we can’t function to the best of our abilities if our emotional reserves are constantly depleting. At the same time, he is very careful about not letting that leisure time increase too much that we become lazy and sloppy. Relaxation is crucial and it is highly needed but too much relaxation is not good. Too much relaxation torn us apart into pieces and then more efforts are required to put those pieces back together.

4. “The life of folly is empty of gratitude, full of anxiety: it is focused wholly on the future.”

I am an ardent believer of practicing gratitude regularly. Even Seneca agrees. He says that life is no good if it has no place for gratitude. People who aren’t grateful for big and small things in life can never manage to stay content. Such people are always focused on building their future. They think future is the answer to everything. They are wrong. Present moments matter more. If we are present in the moment it does not mean that we become completely ignorant towards our future goals and make no plans. It means taking things one step at a time. Be active for your future. But don’t ruminate on it. It is not unhealthy.

History and philosophy have a lot to teach us. We just need to open our minds to let wisdom enter.

Control your bad habits using “The Mind-bus technique”

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Do you like chocolates so much that it’s next to impossible for you not to have a small bite? Do you wish to eat those delicious butter cookies resting at a safe spot in your kitchen? Above all, do you know well enough that such food items have empty calories and yet you eat them to ruin your whole well-planned diet? If you’re like most people I am sure it happens with you. In spite of being aware of the repercussions of consuming refined sugar, you often fall prey to such strong cravings. But need not worry. Thanks to research psychologists who are dedicating a big part of their lives into discovering techniques so that you learn how to act upon your noble intentions.

The Experiment

In the British Journal of Health Psychology a research was published in the year 2013 that gives hope to people who are looking for breaking their bad eating habits. Researchers Kim Jenkins from Swansea University and Katy Tapper from City University London recruited participants for the study. Participants included people who were actually looking to break their bad habit of consuming chocolates. The participants were then divided into 3 groups:

  1. Cognitive “defusion” group: 45 participants
  2. Acceptance group: 45 participants
  3. Control group: 45 participants

In case of first group i.e. cognitive “defusion” group, 45 participants out of 135 were taught that ‘they were not their thoughts’. This is what’s referred to as cognitive “defusion”. The participants were made to imagine that they were actually the driver of a bus and all the disturbing & difficult thoughts were passengers. For the next 5 days the participants were given a bag full of chocolates. They were asked to carry with them the bag at all times and whenever they felt cravings they should practice the ‘mind bus technique’. In case of second group i.e. acceptance group, a technique called ‘urge surfing’ was introduced. In the following technique participants were instructed to accept all the uncomfortable thoughts they were having regarding eating chocolates and not control them. In case of last and third group i.e. control group, participants were instructed to control their thoughts and practice any relaxation technique to overcome the cravings. The participants of the study were asked to keep a diary to record all the chocolate consumption.

In the study it was concluded that the first group ate lesser chocolate compared to the other two groups. In other words, participants who followed the ‘mind-bus’ technique ate lesser chocolate during the period of 5 days when compared with the participants who were asked to control and acknowledge their urges.

Mind-bus technique beyond the chocolate consumption

It is important to note that the mind-bus technique is not limited to controlling chocolate urges or cravings of any bad food for that matter. We can apply it to any situation that involves negative thoughts. So, you can always apply the technique by following these steps:

  1. Think for a while a negative situation you want to resolve.
  2. Write down 3-5 negative thoughts involving that particular situation.
  3. Close your eyes and imagine you being a driver of a bus and all the negative/disturbing thoughts as passengers.
  4. Assign each of the negative thoughts a different voice, a different personality.
  5. Imagine you telling each of those thoughts things like, “Thank you for your kind suggestion. But I am the driver of this bus and this bus is under my control.”
  6. Visualize that you are letting those thoughts get off the bus one by one at different bus stops.

The research is not a panacea to controlling all our bad habits or negative life situations. Definitely, there are many flaws in the research (for an instance, participants selected for the study were already motivated and firm to let go off their consumption of chocolates so intrinsic motivation could have played a role. Therefore, it is not plausible to say that mind-bus technique was solely responsible for cutting down chocolate consumption of the participants). Nevertheless, we can try to become driver of the bus!!

Quotes that make complete sense to me NOW- Part 2

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(This post is a continuation of my previous post).

Quote 4:Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’”- Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor Frankl was a prisoner at one of the concentration camps during the Second World War. His one of the most influential books of all time “Man’s search for meaning” has this beautiful line. Mr Frankl had a ‘why’ to live for and that’s exactly what made him come alive out of the horrendous conditions he was living in which are beyond our imagination.

What Mr Frankl had said decades ago is very true. In life, we all need a purpose– purpose can be anything like helping poor children with education, being emotionally supportive of our close friends & family, not taking undue advantage of anyone, curing people who are suffering from different ailments, etc. It doesn’t matter how big or small our purposes are as long as we have one. It’s what keeps us going when we have no reason to do so. We can overcome any obstacle of life if we are determined to live a life and not waste it. So, have a ‘why’ everyday and you will figure out the ‘how’.

Quote 5: “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

Every time I read this quote I have a mind bending experience. It is very common among humans to project their fears and insecurities. We all do it and saying that we don’t is one the worst lies of all time. It’s our defense mechanism. A lot of times it happens that we are criticized by the people around us whenever we are set to do something. If it’s not criticism then at least a little of discouragement is there for sure. Such people are the ones who don’t hear the music as referred to by Nietzsche. And he’s right. It’s one thing to show someone the right path and prevent them from making a mistake. But it’s another thing to call them insane or mad just because we can’t listen to the same music they are listening to. We all have our preferences. We all have our perceptions towards life. And bringing down their morale just because we don’t understand them well enough isn’t the right way to live a life.

Quote 6: “Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.”- Mark Twain

Anger is one of the most common emotions experienced by humans. When things aren’t as per our expectations we express anger. Sometimes it is okay to be angry because we are humans after all. But many times it is more of an enemy than a friend or companion. I am not going to deny the fact that I struggle with the implications of my anger. I have known this for a very long time. On the other hand, I am glad that I know my problem and trying my level best every day to resolve it. When I first read these words by Mark Twain I knew in that immediate moment that nothing has been more apt for me regarding anger. It gave me such a strong explanation for why I should try to not be angry a lot of times for the reasons I have no control over. When we are angry at someone or something we are eventually harming ourselves because it is our liberty that gets taken away from us. Not the others. It’ like we are punishing ourselves for someone else’s mistakes. So, the next time you are getting really angry for no good reason tell yourself that the acid is destroying no one or nothing but you. Just You.

Quotes that make complete sense to me NOW- Part 1

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We all need motivation to carry ourselves forward. Sometimes we get motivated after reading a good book. Sometimes ‘people’ inspire us & we are motivated. And sometimes our inspiration is a mind blowing quote by a mind blowing person. However, motivation recedes with time. A quote which makes us feel like we are now a completely different person (after reading it) doesn’t seem to matter anymore. It’s like we have forgotten the lesson.

I read quotes- a lot of them. It’s not like I deliberately look for motivational quotes to keep myself inspired enough to lead a good life. There are many quotes that felt amazing to me in the past but they didn’t make much sense. But now when I look back and read them I feel like they are the ultimate truths of life. Thankfully, I am also putting their underlying lessons into practice every day.

Quote 1:The things you own end up owning you.”- Chuck Palahniuk

I came across this amazing quote while watching a movie “Fight Club”. When I first read it I felt it was so great that I was going to live by it. But the reality is that I didn’t quite understand it until a week ago something went wrong with one of my possessions. Nothing was serious but considering my perfectionism the fact that something wasn’t 100% okay with my possession kept circling around in my mind. That was the moment when I realized how true the quote is. I own that possession. I have its ownership and it is good that I own it. I am getting so many benefits because of it. However, there’s another side to it. And that side says when we own something- anything- it comes back to owning us. My possession started taking control over me as I was a little worried. It had such a firm hold over me that until it got fixed I wasn’t completely relaxed.

It happens in everyone’s life and this is exactly why it is important that we are careful when it comes to owning material stuff. The more we own the more we will be losing our sense of freedom and liberty. Be careful what you wish for!!

Quote 2:You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”- Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs was never someone I looked up to for inspiration in my life. It was only when I hit the rock bottom that I understood how truthful he was about life and everything that happens with it. He said we can never connect the dots looking forward; into the future. Rather we can only make sense of things when we look back into the past. I have been living by these words for almost 5 years now. Why? Because these words kept me going when I didn’t have anywhere to go.

So often it happens that we feel sad for everything that’s wrong with our lives. And that’s okay. It is okay to feel sad when the ball isn’t in our court. It is not wise to repress our emotions and not exhibit what we are feeling deep down. What’s so interesting about life, on the other hand, is that it never backs down from surprising us. Whatever is happening in our lives right now isn’t supposed to make sense. ‘Present‘ isn’t meant to make sense. Everything makes sense only when we look back- back to those moments in our past. That’s when all the dots are going to get connected. That’s when we’re going to realize why we didn’t get what we wanted, why we did get what we never wanted or why those good/bad events had happened only with us.

The next time you’re beating yourself up for something that’s happening right now or may be cursing the world for all the happenings, just tell yourself that all the dots are going to get connected soon.

Quote 3: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”- Oscar Wilde

We all talk about how we must focus on remaining who we are and never change ourselves for the world. I guess we have over-simplified this idea and people who are always talking about this idea probably have no knowledge of what ‘self’ is and merely talk about it for the sake of a conversation. Being ourselves isn’t an easy job. Personally it took me time to realize it. Being ourselves demand a lot of courage, self-discipline, tenacity, smartness and hard work. There’s going to be a lot of criticism but if we take the time to filter out bad ones from the good ones then we’re surely on the path of being ourselves.

It is not right to change ourselves into something we were never meant to be. It is not right to stop chasing our goals and ambitions just because someone is projecting his/her fears through us. We shouldn’t focus too much on everything the other person is. Rather focus on everything that we are because there are around 7 billion people on this earth and everyone is here to do his/her job and not waste time in imitating each other.

There’s always some scope to improve ourselves and we must improve every day. But for the good reasons and not the wrong ones. When we become better each day by not losing sight of ourselves that’s when we are being ourselves. That’s what we all need!!