Personal Growth - What Stopping You
by Megha Bajaj
Self-help books crowd bookstores. Health tips are offered for free across all newspapers and websites. Spiritual masters are available in scores. There are examples of rich and famous people all around, who began at a lower step on the material ladder than even us. Stories and gospels from the lives of legends like Buddha or Jesus Christ, and pearls of wisdom from these great masters are scattered around us for the picking. And yet, why is it that so many of us lead mediocre lives, chasing peace of mind, health, money, fame, and spiritual evolution – which seems to be just beyond our reach? We can see it, long to reach it, but somehow we don’t always attain our goals. Why does a long, uncertain ... pause come between what we want and what we have?
Twenty-two-year-old Yamini Sharma works for an advertising agency, and is doing well for herself; in fact, she recently won an international award for an ad campaign. However, Yamini is unhappy. Her dream is to get an MBA degree from one of the top universities in America. Even after scoring a brilliant 790/800 in GMAT, she met with rejection from all the universities. “So what’s stopping me from having what I want, to live a better life, is external. I want to be in a college which has rejected me in spite of my best try. I feel depressed.”
“I want a good, healthy, long life and what’s stopping me is the fact that I have rheumatism. I am in pain and anguish, and I often wake up in the middle of the night crying because it feels like my bones are crushing. I didn’t do anything to get this disease – yet it came to me. In fact, as far as possible I have tried to help others, yet this is the fate that God has chosen for me!” said Ramila, almost trembling with rage.
Forty-four-year-old Akhil Mirchandani has dreamt of finding an ideal life partner ever since he was in college. He wants a girl who can be his best friend for life. And yet, this woman from his dreams has always remained just that: a dream. He says with a defeated shrug, “I have tried everything. Matrimony sites, meeting girls who friends and family suggest, and even random chatting on websites to find her, but it’s just never worked out. I have lost hope.”
“What I want is different from most others. I don’t seek fame or money or health. I want to feel one with God. I seek a spiritual union. However, the harder I try to feel divine, the further divinity moves from me. The more I try to feel love for all, the more anger arises. It’s a hopeless situation to be in. There is actually nothing I can do to get what I want,” says a Calcutta-based seeker.
As I heard the above responses, I realized all of our desires can be categorized in four broad groups – wealth, health, relationship, and self-fulfillment. Also, I learnt we often operate as victims of situations, moving the objects of our desire even further away with negative emotions. The Secret, a movie for self-empowerment, clarifies, “Whatever it is you are feeling is a perfect reflection of what is in the process of becoming.” You constantly feel sad because things aren’t going your way, well, more not-okay things are just coming your way. You keep feeling dejected because your spouse isn’t understanding your emotions? Stay with this thought, and it’s guaranteed your partner will become even more distant. Between want and have, if there are a lot of negative thoughts, followed by unhealthy emotions, be assured that the process of reaching your desires will be elongated and painful.
Dr Minnu R Bhonsle, a well-established psychologist/counselor from Mumbai, says, “One can broadly divide the challenges people face into three categories: physical, psychological and social. For instance, taking the scenarios mentioned above, not finding a spouse or getting into the college of one’s dream can be viewed as a social challenge, ill-health as a physical one, and not finding divinity within one a psychological one. However, to feel like a victim in these situations is the individual’s choice alone.” These challenges are real. They exist. They come suddenly, and stand as hurdles in the walk of life. But although we cannot always control what happens to us, we can control fully, what happens within us.
Said Victor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, and survivor of the Holocaust, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance. ” Even before we understand the various roadblocks we face between wanting and having and ways to bulldoze through them, we need to realize that the first step is to choose a positive state of mind, irrespective of the current situation in life. Only then will we even begin to bridge the gap between the two posts.
“Sometimes I feel I am living Bollywood,” says 36-year-old Shalini, with a chuckle, “Just a few years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. While I was going through the treatment, expecting my husband to be my pillar of strength, he filed a divorce against me. “Just when all that sorted out, my sister and I had a major fight over property, and ultimately she took it all. I was left with Rs 20,000 in my bank, no place to stay, nowhere to go as both our parents had died long back. Somehow, even through it all, the one thing that didn’t leave me was a smile. I would weep to distress once in a while, but most of the days I was smiling, cheerful, excited to be alive. I had little, but I had life. And that seemed enough.”
Admittedly, it seems rather tough to remain cheerful through it all: tempers and tantrums, travails and traumas. However, I realized for the first time as I started writing this article that anyhow I have to cross the bridge between wanting and having. Either I can do so hopefully and happily, or I can do so depressed and dejected. So why not choose the gladder option? Having armed ourselves with optimism, we next come to five of the greatest challenges that most humans face on their way to attain anything:
Lack of Responsibility
The minute the word ‘but’ appears after any positive sentence, the goodness nullifies. “I would have progressed but for my selfish colleagues”. “I would have been healthy but for my busy schedule which gives me no time for exercise”. “I would have been a great father but for my recalcitrant child.” And so on. In all cases, you have reached a dead-end because you believe the solution to a problem is not with you; try as we may, there is only that much we can change another, or control an external situation.
The entire business of achieving goals is useless if, in the first place, you don’t believe you, and only you, can make that life of dreams a reality for yourself. The minute you leave that responsibility in the hands of another person or a situation, you have let go of your infinite power to create all the things that you want in life. The biggest challenge that most of us face between wanting and having, is believing we can have so and so only if he/she/the situation is agreeable. Once this belief is shattered, and one takes responsibility for everything – the good, the bad and the ugly happening in our life – we can start taking action towards our goals.
The best way in which one can take responsibility towards our life is by believing in the precision and absolute order of the Universe. We tend to see things from our limited vision, asking God why I was born with this disease, why I must suffer as a widow, why I was born poor. However, the Vedanta Society in California explains, “Vedanta takes the problem out of God’s court, and places it firmly in our own. Nothing happens to us by the whim of some outside agency: we ourselves are responsible for what life brings us; all of us are reaping the results of our own previous actions in this life or in previous lives.” “As ye sow, so shall ye reap,” said Christ. Said Buddha, “All living beings have actions (karma) as their own, their inheritance, their congenital cause, their kinsman, their refuge. It is karma that differentiates beings into low and high states.”
Believing in karma does not mean you don’t exercise at all, fall ill, and then claim it was karma. It’s simply an understanding of how the universe works so you may accept all that comes to you as your responsibility, and then actively respond to create a new karma for a desired life. Says Ramila, a few months after she went to a discourse where the theory of karma was explained beautifully, “I started looking at rheumatism as my responsibility. I started eating better food, doing my exercises without complaining, and being more positive about it. Can you believe the pain has already lessened by about 25 per cent? I now believe I can make it go down to zero, and even if I don’t, I feel like I have a good life already.”
Lack of Goal Setting/ Planning
Most of us want to be rich. However, rich is a subjective word. For a beggar Rs 500 could mean abundance, for a billionaire even a core could seem a pittance. So many of us fail to achieve what we want, because we don’t set clear goals for ourselves, with clear time lines. A study shows that approximately 80 per cent of people never set goals for themselves. Even more surprising, of the 20 per cent of the population that does set goals, roughly 70 per cent fail to achieve the goals they have set for themselves. If you get on to a train and tell the ticket collector you want to go somewhere and reach anytime, in all likelihood he will think something is wrong with your brains, and make you get off on the next station. The same way in life, you need to have a clear goal of where you want to be in how much time.
“I was a college dropout, and today, at 24, I head the IT section of a reputed firm, earning Rs 2.25 lakh a month and heading a team of 10 people. The only way this was possible was by setting yearly and weekly goals. Yearly goal is nothing but the larger vision of where you ought to be, and weekly goals help you keep the pace and consistency. Every Sunday, write out a list of to-dos and next Sunday check what all has been done. It works miraculously,” says the young and dynamic Raj Chaudhary.
Lack of Focus or Commitment
Alternatively, it’s even possible that some people have too many goals, but no focus or commitment towards any one. It’s like they’re standing in front of a dartboard with three targets in mind. Hitting just one target is difficult enough; hitting three targets simultaneously with one dart is impossible.
Determine the one goal you are focused on, and move forward with that one goal only. Eliminate other goals that are secondary. This is not to say that you should never have more than one goal. Rather, you need to realize that you have only so much time and energy. Therefore, choose the goal that will give you the highest ROE (return on effort) and focus on that one goal first. Once complete, you can then focus on other goals in sequence. Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, on speaking about the power of thought, says, “When you write something on a blackboard where a million things have already been written, nobody can figure out what you have written, nor can you know what you have written after some time. So you must clear the space and then generate a thought, consciously. When a thought is conscious and held in clarity, it can be infused with energy.”
Yes, good old tamas, inertia, complacency, call it what we may, finds its residence in our lives no matter how hard we try to avoid it. Says Sukoon Rajani, a young student, “I know I will get better marks if I study hard. But the point is I will get passable grades even if I don’t work hard. So when life is anyway going on well, why should I bother?” Mumbai-based Pooja weighing 128 kg, feels the same way. She says, “I have good friends. I have money, a lucrative profession. I don’t feel the urge to sweat it out and lose this excessive weight.” This lazy monster’s favorite two words are, “chalta hai”, a philosophy that can lead to absolute chaos. Shubhra, a CA from Chennai, could not agree more. She says, “Out of laziness I would keep shifting my deadlines to the last minute. It became an attitude. Then a habit. And then almost an addiction. I started lying to cover up; however, soon I was exposed and faced the extremely embarrassing situation of the boss firing me in front of a room full of colleagues.”
Interestingly, Minnu explains that a phenomena called discomfort intolerance takes place. She explains, “We get habituated to some things. Say, sleeping for x number of hours; now if you sleep lesser than that, you will experience discomfort.” She adds that we have comfort zones which we get used to, to do anything outside that creates irritation within our system. The reason most of us don’t do what we want to is because while dreaming is within our comfort zones, reaching out for our dreams seems outside our security region where anxiety, not knowing what lies ahead, and discomfort is to be expected. The solution is to focus on the benefits of doing a certain thing, and also in realising the harm of not doing it.
Swami Brahmavidananda, a Vedanta teacher for over 25 years, says, “If you can allow the positive to be a pulling force, so strong and powerful, that the negative cannot stand before it, you can achieve all that you want. For example, if your desire for health is very intense and great, almost naturally you will rise above the inertia to exercise. If your desire for having beautiful relationships is phenomenal, you will work on loving yourself and others daily. If you want to have a spiritual awakening intensely, you will invariably attract the right master in your life. Keep thinking of what you want, so much so, that it becomes a motivating force for you. Visualise yourself having what you want. Imagine how it feels. Be intense. Feel passionately. And watch the miracles take place.”
“One of the biggest blocks I experienced in doing all that I wanted was fear. Fear of failure, fear of what people would say, fear of what lay ahead, fear of humiliation. Fear of all kinds and types, which seemed larger than life and stopped me from living,” says Tasneem Khorakhiwala, an educated housewife. Aditi, a Hyderabad-based psychologist says, “Some people are afraid they will fail or, even worse, that they may actually succeed. As such, they don’t even bother trying to attain a goal. Such people lack belief in themselves and in their potential. In their mind, if they fail, everyone will think negatively of them. And if they succeed, people will be envious, and think negatively of them. So it becomes a lose-lose situation no matter how they look at it.” She adds that she came across a lady who was physically abused by her husband but continued to remain with him due to the fear that if she left him and got re-married she may find someone who beats her even more. Fear leads to insecurity, low self-esteem, lack of faith in one’s ability, and overdependence on others’ opinions.
I myself was a person who could be considered synonymous with fear. And yet today, just with the help of a single mantra, given to me by my spiritual mentor, my entire life has turned around. The magic lies in the sentence, “Replace fear with love”. I was scared of falling ill, I changed the thought to feeling love towards my health; I was afraid of aero planes, I trained my mind to imagine my love for flight; I was scared of God, I began to love Him and spiritual experiences started flowing in; I was scared of losing loved ones, I started loving the moments invested with near and dear ones. Fear and love, I realized, are such powerful emotions that when one exists, the other cannot. Steve Wharton, in his book, How to Feel Great about Yourself, says that studies have been done to measure wavelengths, and it is seen that the energy waves created by fear are disturbing to the mind and body, and attract more fear, whereas those of love are soothing, calming, and attract all good things, at a high vibration frequency into your life.
Although you could face more than one of the above, usually one of these is in the forefront. Take a minute before you flip on to the next article. Take a piece of paper and pen, write your desire, choose optimism as the easier way, identify what’s stopping you, and find its solution.
And nothing can stop you from making a want into a have. Robert Cooper, New York Times bestselling author of The Other 90%: How to Unlock Your Vast Potential for Leadership and Life, says, “The way I see it, there are two kinds of dreams. One is a dream that’s always going to be just that... A dream. A vision that you can never really hold in your hand. Then there’s a dream that’s more than a dream. It’s like... a map. A map that you live by and follow for the rest of your days knowing that someday you’re going to stand on top of that mountain holding everything you thought of right there in your hand!” Use this map, create your dreams.
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