First question, who is “that guy” we are talking about? Is he some notorious bad person like the gangsters in Hollywood movies? Well, he is not a bad guy at all. On the contrary, he is a nice and caring guy whom everyone falls in love with. He has all the qualities of a perfect person. He is punctual, modest, has a lot of money, has happiness , health everything. He has got a happy family which you can see only on the magazine covers.
Then why is this guy killing you? The answer is – he is killing you, by making you run after him, to mimic him and become like him. Or wait a minute…. is he killing you or you are killing yourself by running after him. Also, are we trying to make our near and dear ones also run after him ?
The question is : Who is killing whom here?
Now let us break the suspicion about this guy and declare his identity. All of us have a mental picture of a “perfect person” who we want to be. This picture might not be same as the described above. It depends on your imagination of what you think is “cool” ….. This is the guy we are talking about.
All our lives we are tying to be somebody else rather than being ourselves. This “somebody else” is the guy we are talking about.
We form a mental version of a perfect person after seeing highly successful (in some aspect) people around us or after reading about these people through various media (blogs, biographies, autobiographies, news papers etc.) or through the stories in self-help material, which is most of the times regarded as highly successful blog or a best-seller book. We do not realize that the reason behind a book being best-seller is not because it is practical. The reason people buy it in huge numbers is because it gives the opportunity to its readers become someone else mentally when they are reading that book or it promises the quick fixes for their problems – social band aids or aspirin. As an example, several people who lack in productivity, read productivity books and try to implement the systems and ideas from them, in their lives. A person who doesn’t like lists starts maintaining lists. He may start with analog medium i.e. paper and pen. Then he gets bored and feels that analog medium is not for him. Then he buys software or gadgets to implement this. He enthusiastically revives his dead lists and does it regularly for few days or weeks. Then he starts procrastinating about adding action items to lists and moving/clearing out the old items. Disappointed again, he decides to invest in seminars and workshops to handle it. But, the actual problem is not with the systems or gadgets, the problem is within him. He doesn’t like maintaining a list. He may never have maintained a list or he maybe lazy or it could be the habit of procrastination. In other words he is trying to work on the symptoms (unable to maintain list) of the problem than the actual root of the problem (dislike for maintaining the list or other Habits).
Apart from our own definition of a perfect being, this “somebody else” can also be the product of someone’s else’s imagination. For example everyone has a perfect mental version of an ideal husband/wife. And in almost all cases the husband and wife are always fighting and trying to mould each other to conform to their respective versions. So your spouse and other relatives might be trying to make you adhere to their own mental versions about a “perfect you”. Then there are distant people like neighbors, community and colleagues who are doing the same to you. The result in all situations is resistance and stress to various extents with each person.
But this is not the end of the story. Just like all of these people around us, we also have your own mental versions of perfection about all of them. And we are also trying to continuously impose our versions on all of them. This increases resistance and stress in all these relationships.
To summarize this is what happens:
- All of us have a mental version of a perfect human being(somebody else) which we try to impose on ourselves
- All of us have mental version of perfect relationships(somebody else) which we try to impose on others.
- The others also have mental versions (somebody else) for us which they try to impose on us.
To make things worse, these mental versions are not in sync with each other. A mother might want her son to be an obedient son, while the wife may want him not to be a mamma’s boy.
This race for perfection where you are trying to run in different lanes going in different directions, is what wears us down and makes us victims. Same time it makes us culprits as well when we try to impose our mental versions on others.
How does this somebody else kill us:
Stress due to faking: For this point the people who come to my mind are the front desk executives and call center employees. They have to greet the people at other with fake smiles and fake courtesy no matter how they are feeling at that time. The same thing happens at some levels in our communities and homes where everyone is supposed to behave in a certain way. Similarly we may be stretching our resources to be the perfect guy in a given situation.
Suppressed emotions: In many situations, trying to be someone else leads to suppressed negative emotions like anger, disappointment etc. The problem with suppressed emotions is that they come out at wrong time and with more force. And this also leads to:
Stress in our relationships: The suppressed emotions and fakeness are the causes of the stress in our relationships at home and work. This leads to continuous irrational fights or resistance, employee dissatisfaction, job dissatisfaction etc.
Lack of trust: When our relationships are stressed, it is hard to trust the other side due to the hurt it (the other side) has caused us.
Stress at workplace: At workplace our managers want us to be more productive and produce more. They preach multi-tasking and being proactive etc. People try to cope with this in order to stay in job or to go to the next level. This is what managers are paid for. They are like those workers who would run their machines 24/7 to produce more without maintaining it. They are not worried about the well-being of machine. But as mentioned earlier our brains are not designed for this kind of work. So people try to create more time for the work… how? By taking few hours each day from their personal lives. I have seen people who leave the home when everyone is asleep and by the time they return home everyone has gone to bed. This leads to:
Work-life imbalance: Most of IT professionals (and their families) today suffer due to work-life imbalance. The reason is due to the high demand at work place. The managers are paid to run machines(i.e. employees) non-stop for 24/7 and extract as much output from them as possible. The employees who do not comply are considered unproductive as compared to the others (who are toiling round the clock). This forces people to take the time out of their personal lives and give it to an organization which doesn’t have any concern/respect about the well being of the employees and their families.
Health issues: When people are working round the clock or suppressing emotions a lot they end up using health issues – both caused by wear and tear of the excessive work as well as due to emotional imbalance e.g. psychosomatic issues. The family also suffers due to lack of emotional support and sometimes ignoring the health of family members as well.
I can think of many more points to add to the list… but most of the readers would have got the idea.
What is the Solution?
Now what can be done about it?
Stimulus-response theory: Above examples, fall under what is described as stimulus and response model. Someone wants us to behave in certain way and we cave in. Someone else wants us to behave in another way and we comply. We have stimulus from outside and our response is that we comply to the irrational demands. Being in IT professionals, how many of us tried to “Multi-task” because our managers gave 100 reasons to us. Have we ever pondered whether the kind of work we do in IT industry does really render itself to the multi-tasking? Can you write code on two projects at same time? Can you execute another test case on an unrelated feature when the show command of the one test case is executing? As I am writing this post, if I switch to my email then will it make me productive or break the flow (and call for more effort and time to regain it back)?
(Note: there are certain circumstances where the so-called multi-tasking can be implemented, but multi-tasking is most overused and least understood term in IT industry. More on this in later posts)
Stimulus-choice-response theory: Stephen R Covey, cites the example of Viktor E Frankl in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Viktor was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. He was a jew and he was sent to one of the Nazi camps. All his relatives except one sister died in the camp. One day he was thinking about the situation in the camp and suddenly it dawned on him – that he cannot control what Nazis are doing to him (stimulus) but he can control his response to it(choice). His experiences have been thoroughly documented in his book Man’s Search for Meaning.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. ~Viktor E. Frankl
Very often we blame others for doing things to us and being the cause of our stress and worries. But the reason we are under stress or suffering is not because what others did to us in the past, but because of the response we chose in our past to those stimuli. We are suffering because we allowed ourselves to suffer. Viktor E Frankl survived the holocaust because of the choices he made. During his stay in Nazi camp he would imagine himself telling the students about his experiences after the war. The torture rendered on him became a learning experience. He chose to take it differently. No one can take your freedom, unless you choose to give it to him.
We need to remember the same lesson:
“Between stimulus and response lies the man’s ability to choose”.
When we find ourselves being manipulated by someone or by our own mental version of perfection, we need to pause for sometime and choose our response based on the true principles and values rather than emotions. Similarly when we find ourselves manipulating others for our short-term gain, then we have to pause again and choose the course based upon the right principles.
What are the right principles?
In my view, we can ask few questions to ourselves and that should clarify whether we(or others) are following the right principles:
- What are the long-term implications of what I am doing
- Whether my family will be proud of myself for this
- Whether my child will be proud of myself when he/she knows about it
(In some places, the last two questions are also mentioned as mama and baba test. You as yourself (1) whether your mother will be proud of you when she comes to know about it (2) Whether your son/daughter will be proud of you when he she finds you.)
With these thoughts I am closing this post. This topic is definitely going to surface in many posts again and again. I would like to hear your thoughts about above situation and how do you handle or plan to handle it in future. Please leave your thoughts in the comments section.