Ten ways that make me

Our ways of thinking, feeling, behaving and decision making define us and make us the person we are. I am sure we all attempt to define ourselves professionally quite often but seldom at a personal level. I always wanted to make a disclosure to my daughter, Aanya at someplace in this blog about this personal side and describe it briefly. This is my chance.

So, here are 10 ways, in no particular order, that I believe make me the person I am and also influence my thinking, my work and my relationships:

1. Pursuing Self-enquiry

Since my school days, I have been in awe of the universe and life on earth and wondered what is our place and purpose here. I have asked myself these fundamental questions and sought answers to them. Who am I? Am I my thoughts, my actions, my sensations or am I someone more or different than these. Am I what I am because I think so? And so many such questions have nudged me on this journey of self-inquiry. With exposure to evolutionary and humanistic psychology and the ancient Indian wisdom tradition of Vedanta, I finally seem to be making progress and am beginning to put together a coherent, integrated and contradiction free worldview and life philosophy.

2. Committing to Mentors and Spiritual teachers

Through my childhood days to this date, I have felt the need to approach those accomplished few amongst us to guide me with the best course of action when faced with ambiguity or help me think more systematically and rationally. A school teacher, a friend of my father’s, a priest, a reclusive old man, a preacher, a professor, a boss, a philosopher, a scientist, a Saint, a spiritual teacher- they have come in many forms to me and helped me think clearly when I needed guidance, motivation and a little hand-holding from time to time. I have never shied away from seeking such people either. When I think back, a lot of good life decisions that I made were in association with mentors, teachers and coaches. I can also see some bad decisions that I took which did not involve any guide or mentor. I have learnt so much from these teachers and mentors and will be ever grateful to them.

3. Health over gratification

If and when I am faced with a choice between a lifestyle disease and a lifestyle change, I have and will always choose lifestyle change. I would rather change my behaviour than depend on medication. I understand sometimes we need to take recourse to medication to bring about a quick recovery and that is totally fine. But I also believe, with changes in food choices and activity levels, the medication should taper off to a zero or maintenance level at some point. I have diabetes as well as hypertension running in my family and it seems at some point one or both of these might affect me. But I know both of these can be reversed and managed with lifestyle changes. If I have to choose, I will choose health over medication.

4. Challenging own beliefs

Every generation inherits a basket of beliefs from their parents and another from social and news media. Beliefs that challenge current beliefs are many a time-challenged but seldom are inherited beliefs. Many of the beliefs we hold are largely a result of conditioning during our upbringing. But how many of us really question the beliefs we hold on dearly to our bosoms? I always have. From belief in an omnipotent God to rituals, afterlife, morals, ethics and even values. For me, it is not just enough to scrutinise them but also important to put them to the test. Besides, I even challenge holding beliefs that may contradict each other. Also, cognitive dissonance – the uneasiness caused by the gap between beliefs and behaviour bothers me. For many of us, it is easy to compartmentalise beliefs and behaviours without bothering much about how they integrate. I find it extremely hard to do.

5. Prioritising learning and self-development

In recent years I have tried to dedicate a substantial amount of time to learning and acquiring new knowledge and skills. I spend about 10% of my active time every day studying, reading, researching or taking an online course. I could easily attribute a lot of good things and progress I have done at work, to this habit.

6. Reason over Sentiments

Sentiments and emotions play a big role in day to day life of Indians and influence everything from politics, parenting, relationships and business. In an extreme form, sentimentality is defined as exaggerated and self-indulgent tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia. This is a tendency I seem to have grown out in the last ten years. As a college youth, I once subscribed to a popular spiritual tradition of India that thrives on the followers’ emotional weaknesses,  with its founding principles grounded in sentimentality. I was rather conditioned by them to become one. This and some other experiences where I really burn my fingers taught me to always put reason above gross sentiments. Sentimentality may have its advantages as such people may come across as more loving or lovable but the reason is a superior guide most of the time. The reason is the power of our minds to think, understand, and form judgements logically. Today, I put reason above sentimentality. Hurts people sometimes, but in the end, it serves them well too.

7. Choosing mindful engagement over mindless entertainment

I have grown up watching the people around me dedicating the best times of their lives to watching cricket and tennis. It is a passion millions share in our country to this date. To top up on this we have daily reality TV and Live News which put the last nail in the coffin of imagination and creativity. I find it extremely hard to subscribe to this routine. There is simply too much at stake. We can neither participate nor contribute to what happens in sports or television or events. I could never subscribe to the idea of being a passive spectator Sitting on the sidelines and cheering cricketers and politicians. Either you play or you coach in sports or vote in an election- watching it is not really doing anything. But that’s just my take. Yes, I have been a victim of Netflix binge-watching a couple of times, but that’s really about that. I probably binge read but that I don’t consider mindless. Time is precious and the most limited resource we have. I wish I could make every day count in some mindful way.

8. Love of Reading

My love for reading came partly from being an introvert who loved solitude and partly from my never-ending curiosity to know, to find things out. When I started reading outside my curriculum in school days I was deeply fascinated by the universe and all the mysterious bodies that float in the endless ether. The deep oceans, extinct civilizations, lost treasures, voyages of discovery, the inventions and discoveries that made our century, the great historical personalities and their biographies- I would voraciously drink from these books. This is a love that I carry to this day, even more so since I can now afford to buy books that I may not ever read! I have never seen my parents even read magazines. My grandmother was a voracious reader of fiction and trivia magazines.

9. Applying mental models across contexts

We think in terms of mental models. All of us construct these mental models of reality through which we make sense of the real world. We also learn new models in our academic journeys. These could be psychological models, business models, economic models, strategy models, parenting models, leadership models and so on. A familiar model could be the Varnaashrama model from the Bhagavad Gita or Maslow’s hierarchy of needs model. I love to think in terms of models, apply these models and put them to work in my professional as well as personal life. Besides, I am fascinated by taking a great mental model from one context and applying it in completely another context of life. For eg, we know the model of compounding that we apply in finance. I find it fascinating to see how we can apply this to our habits, learning and even relationships. Trust me, there are so many great models already proven in certain contexts and are simply waiting for surprising outcomes when applied in a different context. Proceed with some caution and common sense though!

10. Pursuit of freedom over bondage

I for one have always been in favour of individual freedom- the right to think, speak and act as one wants as long as you are not hurting others. Freedom also means that I am not enslaved to another person’s beliefs and control. One step further, freedom for me also means I am not enslaved to my own emotions, biases and cravings. Any binding desire or expectation is enslaving. And I have always sought to be a free man, to be from being a wanting person in the first place, free from emotional dependence, Moksha, the ultimate freedom from all kinds of bondage. I always believed this kingdom lies within us ready and waiting only to be claimed one day. This yearning has defined me and made me the person I am today. Maybe that’s why among all the above this is the most unique, defining trait of mine.

I know Aanya will grow up to be her own person one day, perhaps a lot different from me. This post will tell her that it is okay to be so. I wish that she inherits whatever little good I have and not my defects and  I hope she becomes a much better person than me in every way. I thank my parents for letting me become my own person and make my own choices.

I hope the readers can use this post as an example of how they can articulate what makes them be the person they are and for those who know me already or do not quite know me yet, this post can be of interest and help. 😊

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