Thursday, October 16, 2014

The best self-help advice

What's the best self help advice you ever got? I will tell you about mine. This happened over ten years ago, in an airport lobby as I was waiting for my flight. I have a couple of habits that usually make my waits not so painful- I read a lot, and I cannot help but talk to people around me. That day, I was reading a book on Emotional Intelligence, and I also struck a conversation with a somewhat elderly man who was sitting next to me.

"EI...that is a great topic and a useful tool in one's kitty" he said, as I nodded in agreement.

"I have read about EI in the past too" I said "I even attended a seminar about it. I am still not sure how to apply many of the concepts. I am hoping this book would have some practical tips"

He smiled and said "Son, what you've had is education about EI. What you need is training"
I looked at him, perplexed, and he noticed my confusion.

"Look", he said "if you read everything about swimming, would you be able to cross a deep lake?"

"Well, I guess not. I need to have practiced swimming"

"Precisely. Practice. You might have had the education but for results you need to train you body and your mind. Same for EI, or any skill for that matter. Actively do it, until it automatically becomes second nature"

He paused for a moment, I guess, to let me digest this. And continued.

"Take EI, for instance. Do you know exactly how you are feeling right now?"
Honestly, I hadn't contemplated my feelings until that question came about. So, I took a few seconds and replied "Yes. I think so"

"Good, but you must actively keep tab on your own emotions. And actively try and understand the emotions of those around you. It might appear to be a bit of a drag initially, but you will get used to it"

And he proceeded to give me a few exercises to practice EI. His flight announcement was made shortly before mine. Getting up, he gave me a final piece of advice.

"Remember, that this is skill which means it can be gained, but also lost. It needs constant practice even after you become good at it. Sachin Tendulkar still spends hours at the nets every day. So should you"

Since then, I have forgotten his name but, I will remember his advise for as long as I live. Every skill, even soft skills, need practice and exercise. We must train our minds by constantly exercising key skills. And exercise simply means doing something repeatedly and regularly. Let me give an example. We all know that we need to calm our minds when we are in stress. But unless we meditate every day even when there is no stress, and train ourselves to control our minds at will, we won't be able to call that skill when a situation demands it. As a wise General famously said, "the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war".

I could read tons of self-help books, and listen to hours of seminars. But unless I practice regularly, that skill will continue to remain foreign. And that, I think, is the best advise I ever got.