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How to Overcome Distractions

How to Overcome Distractions


    Many people write to me regarding their inability to carry out their resolve, their vow, to work right to the end, until their goal is accomplished. They are motivated, they have wisdom, resources, capability, yet they let distractions overpower them. Such distractions that cause a tide of emotions to rise, a tsunami of desires, shaking their resolve and crushing their strength to stay course, to stay firm. Yogic and vedic texts talk a great deal about vikṣiptatā, distractions, and how they are great obstacles. They can make all the difference between winning and losing, between success and failure.

    Let me help you understand distractions and ways to overcome them. They are of two types, as follows:

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    1. External distractions triggering inner reactions

    Let us assume, you committed to being a vegetarian and giving up alcohol. Everything was going fine until you were invited to that get together you could not afford to skip. Platters of your once favorite non-vegetarian dishes as well as vintage wine adorned the dining table. You feel tempted. Further, your folks around you force you to have some. You are given all sorts of reasoning and arguments to partake of what is at hand and not worry about your vow. Under social pressure and your own latent desire, you give into the temptations.

    In this case, an external environment, sighting of delicious food, triggered a whole heap of thoughts that weakened your resolve. Till you came to the party, you were at ease, but now, suddenly your inner world is in a turmoil and you let your heart rule your mind. In every likelihood, a sense of guilt will drape you soon after the party. Guilt weakens one’s consciousness.

    There are two ways to emerge winner while battling against external distractions:

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    • Remove yourself physically. A conducive environment helps a great deal in executing any plan. In the present example, avoid going to such places, parties where it is but natural that you will be offered everything contrary to what’s good for you. After all, chances of emerging spotless working in coal mines are but remote. Unless of course, you exercise great caution, extraordinary care. If changing your physical environment is not possible sometimes, follow step b, as below:
    • Make yourself clear. Granted, some people may think you are arrogant, or that, you no longer care, or that you have changed and so forth. Let them. Trust me, let them. If they really love you, they will not think any of these things and if they do not, does it matter anyway what they think? Ultimately, it is you alone who will be bearing the consequences, paying for your choices, at that time, no one else will be able to help you. So, stand by what you stand for. This always worked for me; before I renounced, for years I attended events of all sorts but never even once did I compromise on my own principles. People around me understood and accepted it.

    2. Inner thoughts triggering external actions

    Distractions of this type can be equally hard to manage. For example, let us say, you recently quit smoking. Day-in-day-out, you were living upto your own expectations and you did not smoke for ten days. One day, out of the blue, you just recollect the image of a cigarette, you try hard to not think of smoking but cigarette is what keeps coming back to your mind. You experience restlessness and the compulsion to smoke. The thought of smoking overpowers you to the degree that you get up and buy yourself a pack.

    There are two ways to overcome distraction of this type:

    • Take your mind off. Do not think about not doing the prohibited, instead just take a deep breath and focus your mind elsewhere. You cannot overcome thoughts of non-action by thinking about not acting on it! You must simply, gently, shift the spotlight of your thoughts. Change the scenery, get up, move around, win over a distraction with another one, a better one, if necessary. Do whatever it takes but do not give into the temptation.
    • Exercise patience (postpone). This method is more powerful than you might think. Just give your mind a bait, tell your mind that you will revisit the idea after an hour or two hours or something like that. Just let the storm of distraction pass, let your thoughts settle, let your mind calm down. If you can rein the horses while distraction comes attacking, you will remain focused, winning the battle. You will emerge a winner, stronger and a more confident person.

    Now, regardless of the nature of distraction, let me share with you the two most potent questions you can ask yourself to help you make the right decision, always. Yes, always.

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    1. Is this my best move? A chess grandmaster unfailingly asks one question before making each move in chess, and that is, is this my best move? That often prompts the player to think more, think better, think out-of-the-box and come up with extraordinary moves. Before you give in to a temptation, just before you decide to do something, a moment before taking an action, ask yourself: is this my best move, or, can I play better? If you are honest with yourself, you will find it easy to dissipate your distractions with minimal effort.
    2. What is the most that will happen? One is often not attached to the distraction but the pleasure they get from the fulfillment of such deviation. In removing distractions, you have to ask yourself the golden question- “what’s the most that will happen?”. Let us say you are distracted and really want to smoke, ask yourself, what’s the most that will happen? An ephemeral pleasure of a few hours, if that? Is that it? Is that enough to justify you compromising on your resolve? And if so, is that your best move!?

    Do you know who is your greatest friend, the one who can always stand by you and help you make the right decisions and make sure you tread the noble path? You.

    And your worst enemy? You.

    Ātmaiva hyātmanō bandhurātmaiva ripurātmanaḥ… (Bhagavad Gita, 6.5)

    You alone are your best friend and your own worst enemy.

    (Photo credit: Compass via Shutterstock)

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    Last Updated on October 21, 2019

    How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

    How to Be a Good Leader and Lead Effectively

    U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination, is a reminder of why I am so drawn to leadership as a topic. Whenever I think it is impossible for me to be more impressed with her, she proves me wrong.

    Earlier this week, a former marine suggested that he had been in a long-term sexual relationship with the Senator. She flipped the narrative and used the term “Cougar,” a term used to describe older women who date younger men, to reference her alma mater.

    Rather than calling the young man a liar, or responding to the accusations in kind, she re-focused the conversation back to her message of college affordability and lifted up that “Cougar” was the mascot for her alma mater. She went on to note that tuition at her school was just $50 per semester when she was a student. Class act.

    But by the end of the week, news broke that U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, another contender for the presidency, had a heart attack. Warren not only wished Sanders a speedy recovery but her campaign sent a meal to his staff. She knew that the hopes of staff, donors and supporters were with the Senator from Vermont and showed genuine compassion and empathy.

    To me, she has proven time and time again that she is more than a presidential candidate: she belongs in a leadership hall of fame.

    What makes some people excel as leaders is fascinating. You can read about leadership, research it and talk about it, yet the interest in leadership alone will not make you a better leader.

    You will have more information than the average person, but becoming a good leader is lifelong work. It requires experience – and lots of it. Most importantly, it requires observation and a commitment to action. Warren observed what was happening with Sen. Sanders, empathized with his team and then took action. Regardless of the outcome of this election, Sanders’ staff will likely never forget her gesture.

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    You would have had to work on a political campaign in order to appreciate the stress and anxiety that comes with it. In this moment, staff may not remember everything that Warren said throughout the lengthy campaign, but they will remember what she did during an unforgettable time during the campaign.

    If this model of leadership is appealing, and if you are searching for how to up your own leadership game, read on for six characteristics that good leaders share:

    1. Good leaders are devoted to the success of the people around them.

    Good leaders are not self-interested. Sure, they want to succeed, but they also want others to succeed.

    Good leaders see investing in others just as important as they see investing in themselves. They understand that their success is closely tied to the people around them, and they work to ensure that their peers, employees, friends and family have paths for growth and development.

    While the leaders may be the people in the spotlight, they are quick to point to the people around them who helped them (the leaders) enter that spotlight. Their willingness to lift others inspires their colleagues’ and friends’ devotion and loyalty.

    2. Good leaders are not overly dependent on others’ approval.

    It is important for managers to express their support for their teams; good leaders must be independent of the approval of others. I explained in an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, that:[1]

    “While a desire to be loved is natural, managers who prioritize approval from subordinates will become ineffective supervisors who may do employees harm. For example, a manager driven by a need for approval may shy away from delivering constructive feedback that could help an employee improve. A manager fearful of upsetting someone may tolerate behavior that degrades the work environment and culture.”

    In yet another example, a manager who is dependent on the approval of others may not make decisions that could be deemed unpopular in the short run but necessary in the long run.

    Think of the coaches who integrated their sporting teams. Their decision to do so, may have seemed odd, and even wrong, in the moment, but time has proven that those leaders were on the right side of history.

    3. Good leaders have the capacity to share the spotlight.

    Attention is nice, but it is not the prime motivator for good leaders. Doing a good job is.

    For this reason, good leaders are willing to share the spotlight. They aren’t threatened by a lack of attention, and they do not need credit for every accomplishment. They are too focused on their goal and too focused on the urgency of their work.

    4. Good leaders are students.

    In the same way that human beings are constantly evolving, so too are leaders. As long as you are living, you have the potential to learn. It doesn’t matter how much knowledge you think you have; you can always learn something new.

    I have the experience of thinking I was doing everything right as a manager, only to receive conflicting feedback from my team. Perhaps my approach was not working for my team, and I had to be willing to hear their feedback to improve.

    Good leaders understand that their secret sauce is their willingness to keep receiving information and keep learning. They aren’t intimidated by what they do not know: As long as they maintain a willingness to keep growing, they believe they can overcome any obstacle they face.

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    As both masters and students, good leaders read, listen and study to grow. They consume content for information, not just entertainment purposes. They aren’t impressed with their knowledge; they are impressed with the learning journey.

    5. Good leaders view vulnerability as a superpower.

    It means “replacing ‘professional distance and cool,’ with uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure,” said Emma Sappala in a Dec. 11, 2014, article, “What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable” for Harvard Business Journal.[2] She went on to note the importance of human connection, which she asserts is often missing at work.

    “As leaders and employees, we are often taught to keep a distance and project a certain image. An image of confidence, competence and authority. We may disclose our vulnerability to a spouse or close friend behind closed doors at night but we would never show it elsewhere during the day, let alone at work.”

    This rings so true for me as a woman leader. I was raised believing that any show of emotion in the workplace could be used against me. I was raised believing that it was best for women leaders to be stoic and to “never let ‘em see you sweat.” This may have prevented me from connecting with employees and colleagues on a deeper, more personal level.

    6. Good leaders understand themselves.

    I am a huge fan of life coach and spiritual teacher Iyanla Vanzant. In addition to her hit show on the OWN network, Vanzant has authored dozens of books. In her books and teachings, she underscores the importance of knowing ourselves fully. She argues that we must know what makes us tick, what makes us happy and what makes us angry.

    Self-awareness enables us to put ourselves in situations where we can thrive, and it also enables us to have compassion when we fall short of the goals and expectations we have for ourselves. Relatedly, understanding ourselves will allow us to know our strength. When we know our strengths, we will be able to put people around us who compliment our strengths and fill the gaps in our leadership.

    Final Thoughts

    Being a good leader, first and foremost, is an inside job. You must focus on growing as a person regardless of the leadership title that you hold. You cannot take others where you yourself have not been. So focusing on yourself, regardless of your time or where you are in your career will have long term benefits for you and the people around you.

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    Further, if you want to become a good leader, you should start by setting the intention to do so. What you focus on grows. If you focus on becoming a better leader, you will research and invest in things that help you to fulfill this intention. You will also view the good and bad leadership experiences as steppingstones that hone your character and help you improve.

    After you set the intention, get really clear on what a good leader looks like to you. Each of us has a different understanding of leadership. Is a good leader someone who takes risk? Is a good leader, in your estimation, someone who develops other leaders? Whatever it is, know what you’re shooting for. Once you define what it means to be a good leader, look for people who exemplify your vision. Watch and engage with them if you can.

    Finally, understand that becoming a good leader doesn’t happen overnight. You must continually work at improving, investing in yourself and reflecting on what is going well and what you must improve. In this way, every experience is an opportunity to grow and a chance to ask: ‘What is this experience trying to teach me?’ or ‘what action is necessary based on this situation?’

    If you are committed to questioning, evaluating and acting, you are that much closer to becoming a better leader.

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    Featured photo credit: Sam Power via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Chronicle of Philanthropy: Why Good Managers Overcome the Desire to Be Liked
    [2] Harvard Business Journal: What Bosses Gain by being Vulnerable

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