An Ode to Supportive Strangers

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As a kid, you’re told not to talk to strangers. But with experience, I have come to the realization that talking to strangers is not such a bad thing after all. In fact, I would say, out with the old “don’t talk to strangers” and in with the new “reach out to more strangers.”

It all started with my first blog. I received the most support from strangers.

Then came my business (now defunct). Again, I received incredible support from strangers.

At each phase of my life, I was indebted to the fact that strangers have always been more kind to me than the ones I personally know. With some observation, I realized this is the story for a lot of people. Strangers often tend to support more.

Is this because strangers are more kind? Or because more strangers than friends/relatives are on the lookout for what you have to offer? Maybe distance makes the heart go fonder, and up-close we are full of blunder? Or perhaps, it’s because strangers know how it is to feel unseen, to be treated like a stranger.

The world is vast, and people are boundless with distinct personalities and mental models. If our content does not cater to the needs of a small group of friends/relatives, instead of sticking to the archaic scripture of not talking to strangers, we should, maybe just maybe, reach out to more. The ones who would eventually become your tribe. The ones who understand your thought process and techniques.

I often feel intensely grateful to the strangers who have taken the time out to support me, often juxtaposed with an uncomfortable question, “Why are the people I know less supportive?

Some of these kind strangers have moved on, but in that short span of time, they have offered me more love and encouragement than any person I know. I am armed with the knowledge that strangers can be beautiful, and probably this is why I am more open to newcomers joining any close-knit community that I am in, whereas others appear to be wary or hostile.

I am convinced that this is why the universe sends us strangers—to play an important but short role in our life. So we don’t lose hope in our core beliefs, the ones we would love to passionately share with the world.

An Ode to Wise Words From Ian Tuhovsky on Improving Communication Skills at Work and Otherwise

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Ian Tuhovsky’s Communication Skills book is more than the quotes on this page. He mentions tips and tricks for effective networking, creating a unique personality in business, remembering names, giving a great presentation, and so on. But more than all the how-tos, it’s his need for us to understand our fellow humans better, which truly resonated with me. He wants us to acknowledge the fact that everyone has a different mental model uniquely formed by their own experiences and that it’s not fair to judge them through our personal filters. Only a deeply empathetic person can write this way.

The most intriguing part of the book to me was his take on reading people’s eye movements to analyze their thoughts better. I have never tried it out, so I can’t really say for sure if it holds true. As we all know, non-verbal communication speaks as much (if not more) as verbal. By keenly observing others, we can improve our communication skills.

Here are some of my favorite quotes, stories, and thoughts from the book. They provide a lot of insight into how and why we need to communicate in a certain way at work or in our personal lives to achieve desired results.

We all are programmed to give and receive love, fulfilling our needs at the same time. When someone is not doing that and behaving in a way we don’t like, it’s not natural. They’re probably suffering and that’s what makes them hurt other people. The reason for that is they just don’t get it. They don’t have the skillset to cope with the situation, they don’t have the right tools or they don’t know how to use them. Very often, when you change your perspective, the things you look at literally change.

When you accept and understand it, you notice that every human being has a different map of the world. Eventually you’ll come to the realization that every person on this planet has different life experiences, different beliefs, different values and expectations. Interpretation of the same information may be completely different when made by different people. There is no one objective truth. Everyone is right according to their own map of the world.

What people say to you—it’s about them. When you say anything, it’s about you. It reflects who you are. It’s all about the way we are perceiving the events, the reality.

Anything people say to you doesn’t have any meaning except for the meaning you give it.

Our brain does not really recognize negations—a proposition not to think about pink elephants will end up with failure, because what you hear (despite the negation), the brain will process anyway. Next time, when someone tells you, “I do not want to get at you, but…” you will know that they most probably want to get at you. Instead of saying to your employee: “Don’t respond to a customer that way,” explain how exactly you want that person to respond. Rule number three: what you say must be positively formulated.

When someone isn’t seemingly very intelligent and has never acted too smart in many areas of life according to your opinion, then you can’t really transplant their brain, can you? However, what you CAN do is refer to their behaviors, because these—as opposed to inborn capabilities or personality traits—are quite easy to change. Additionally, it’s much harder to offend someone when relating only to their behavior. Instead of, “You are stupid,” say: “When you go to meet your client next time, please read much more about their company so you really know what you are talking about, okay?” Instead of, “You are so intelligent!” it’s sometimes better to say: “When you expressed your opinion about that book yesterday, it was so immersive and well-detailed, you really inspired me to read it!”

The problem is that when someone thinks they have done something wrong, they will not have the opportunity to empathize with your pain. They will allocate all of their energy into defending themselves. Therefore, there is no point in blaming others when we feel bad. It makes no sense at all on a practical level of reason. If we want to solve the matter constructively, we have to allow that person to understand what is going on inside of us, how we really feel. To express your anger wisely, it is worth it to restrain yourself from throwing swear words, plates, cutlery and photo frames.

The mere act of smiling, even artificially, causes the release of endorphins in the brain. Activity of the muscles responsible for smiling is so strongly associated with our well-being that it works both ways. So if you want to feel better in a second, just smile a couple of times, even if you do not have the desire to. Try it yourself, even now.

You should never look people in the eyes for more than seven seconds, non-stop. It’s a typical communication-newbie mistake, kind of a creepy thing to do, even though we’ve been conditioned to look people in the eyes in our Western culture. Also, remember not to open your eyes too wide (the same thing, sign of aggression…or psychosis).

Don’t treat people the way you like to be treated, treat them the way THEY want to be treated. That’s a big rapport take-away to remember!

In his book Introducing NLP, Joseph O’Connor writes: “A good speaker forms his message the way it fits the other person’s world. He uses language compatible with their metaprograms, changing the shape of information in advance and making sure that they will be able to understand it easily.”

An Ode to Taking One Step at a Time

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I always get anxious when I think of a big task or chore. I look at the outcome and its tediousness instead of focusing on the small steps that can lead to the result.

When you shift your attention to each step, things appear simpler. The overwhelming burden of the goal dies down, and you feel more energized to begin the task. On the other hand, shift your focus to the task in its entirety, and you are sure to feel stuck, without any motivation to move any further. Yet, this is what I end up doing – concentrating on the big, chunky, mammoth of a task instead of slicing it down into small digestible bites.

Last year though, I had decided on some resolutions, and I broke them all down into achievable steps.

Here’s how they went.

Walking 10,000 Steps

I had gained a bit of weight because of work stress. I hardly moved from my seat, stuck to my never-ending workload day in and out. This weight gain affected my mental and physical health. That’s when I decided to take things back into my control and I started walking. I set my goal as 10,000 steps, 5 days a week. Sounds overwhelming, right? It certainly was for me – someone who has never walked anywhere near 5000 steps, let alone 10,000.

I decided to go easy on myself.

The first day, I walked 2000 steps and continued it for a week. The following week, I increased my target to 4000 steps. I kept doubling it every week until I reached 10,000. I continued this for one whole year without a break. It worked; I lost the flab. My immunity and metabolism also improved considerably. I did not end up looking like a supermodel with my walks, but I now feel healthy, and that’s what matters.

Here’s the secret to how I could sustain my walks for one whole year – I had decided I would not complete all my steps at one go. Instead, I would distribute it throughout the day. That way, I was constantly moving without exerting too much pressure on myself. It also did not take up too much time in between work. When you force yourself to exercise only at a scheduled time slot, it eventually sucks the joy out of fitness (at least it does for me). When that happens, you are naturally tempted to stop exercising after the initial enthusiasm dies down.

The book, Ikigai, talks of how the Japanese, ever-famous for their longevity and happiness, thrive by walking and moving throughout the day, engaged in their hobbies and interests. They do not sit still for long, as opposed to most of us. Our routine may or may not allow us to follow the Japanese mantra, but we can try to get up from our seats every one hour and walk around for 5-10 mins. It might make a considerable difference

Completed a 60-Hour Long Online Course

I am a working woman with a full-time job. I love to write a bit on my blog (right here) during my spare time. It keeps me energized. Other than that, I do not get much time for anything else. I love to learn new things, but I never found time for it. Last year, I finally decided to take up a course to help me understand my work better. It was 60 hours long. A bit overwhelming for someone who hardly had any free time. But I completed it (yay!) by slicing it down to small lessons each day.

I would dedicate a learning timeslot that would range from 10 to 20 minutes, depending on my energy levels. It’s not much, right? But look at what 10-20 minutes every day can do. It can help you finish an entire course. It took a lot of time to complete overall (one whole year!), but never once did I feel overwhelmed or tempted to leave the course midway.

Started Learning a New Language

The only foreign language I had any chance of using for real was Arabic. I travel to the Middle East now and then. I wanted to learn the language so that I could understand the shop boards and converse in simple Arabic if required.

I dedicate 10 minutes every day to learning new alphabets or words.

I am still not fluent, but I can read and understand basic sentences. Again, all by committing just 10 minutes every day.

Conclusion

Anything can be achieved if we break it down into small achievable steps.

If you want to start reading more, spend 10-15 minutes every day. From experience, I can tell you that you will end up surpassing your allotted reading time.

If you want to start waking up earlier, start by waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual for one week. Then, 30 minutes earlier, and so on, until you reach your target.

If you think this way, you can achieve almost anything without losing steam. You are being kind to yourself, so there is no chance of fatigue. You won’t get far (at first), but at least you will be a step closer to your goal. After a while, when you look back, you will be astonished at how much progress you have made.

Sometimes, all we need is a push to take that first step.

Do not look at the outcome and enjoy the journey. Relish the whole process, and the results will automatically follow.

An Ode to Being Aware of the Two Most Unfair (But Less-Talked-About) Comparisons

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His job profile is the pits. He is not earning much.” (Comparing the person’s job to someone else’s probably one’s own.)

I enjoy my work and my salary. But almost everyone I know is changing their jobs, and I am feeling restless.” (Comparing our job to someone else’s.)

The things we get in our country are far better than this.” (Comparing two countries that are poles apart socio-economically.)

My friend is visiting a lot of places. She’s so lucky!” (Comparing the friend’s “travel luck” to your own.)

Comparison is the ultimate joy stealer. And I do not mean just comparing yourself to someone. I also mean comparing others and their situations to our mental model of “the perfect life.” I have seen people comparing themselves to friends, relatives, acquaintances, some random person on social media and making their life miserable. I have also seen people feeling miserable right after hearing someone’s comparison. In the first instance, we are unkind to ourselves. In the second instance, others are being unkind to us. Either way, rest assured, comparisons bring no happiness.

Still, people just cannot seem to stay away from comparing, sometimes unintentionally. There are many types of comparisons, but some of them have been normalized beyond our conscious awareness, so much so that we don’t think twice before blurting them out.

The Most Notorious Comparison—”We Are Better Off Than You”

When we say something like, “The chocolate we get in our country is far superior in quality,” we are not exactly sharing any valuable information with the other person. We only sound like an elitist. It is akin to saying, “I have tasted something far better, and you, my dear, will have no easy access to it.” The info might be accurate. The chocolate might be of better quality. But the person we are talking to might have a reality that is different from ours. For them, this particular chocolate might be of the best quality—because they have no other options to compare it with! In my opinion, to destroy that sense of joy in someone is the most insensitive thing one can do.

Unfortunately, this type of comparison is notoriously common. I am sure we all have heard something of the sort. The listener can only nod in agreement when such comparisons are made. They do not want to be rude by disagreeing, or they genuinely have no idea if the information shared with them is valid.

People pass judging comments without thinking twice about the interlocutor’s feelings. “Would they benefit from this info?” “Would they feel better after knowing these details?” Of course not. Yet, this is a type of comparison that is notoriously common.

Recently, on a news channel covering the unfortunate Ukraine-Russia war, a woman said in a state of shock, “The unthinkable has happened. This is not even a developing third-world nation. This is Europe.” She compared Ukraine’s situation to that of war-torn developing nations. It was a privileged, unkind statement, making it seem acceptable if poor countries face violence and unrest. She might not have intended it as such, but for a person from a “third world nation,” listening to such statements can be a harrowing experience.

Similar types of comparisons include:

  • “{Insert Country Name} has a superior standard of living. This is why I chose to settle there instead of staying in {Home Country}.”
  • “Food tastes better in {Insert Country Name}. In {Home Country}, everything is of low quality.”
  • “The quality of education is poor. So are the wages. I left the country due to these reasons.”

Sometimes, the listener might have chosen a life that is different from ours (like staying back in their home country). For them, these comments may seem like an insult. While advocating for something we believe in, it is equally important to not sound disrespectful (unintentionally or otherwise) of the life choices made by another person.

“I Am Happy, But Should I Be Happy?”

Everyone seems to be in the midst of a job change nowadays. Pay packages are on the rise, especially in the IT industry. This is inspiring a lot of workers to make that much-needed career shift. And why not? Without an iota of doubt, people should chase their dreams—we have only one life after all.

But then there are people like me, who are happy with their jobs, doubting their happiness, because everyone seems to be in a rush to exit their current companies.

Are you still working for the same company?” asks an acquaintance. It almost sounds like I have sinned by staying loyal to the company that I’ve enjoyed working for so far. This made me doubt my happiness—another unfair comparison.

In all aspects of life, and not just work, the happy wayfarers eventually start comparing their life decisions with the next person’s ambiguity, wondering, “Am I truly happy? Is this really what I want?” The hysteria around can make you question your well-thought-out decisions.

This is a type of comparison we should be wary of. We are getting swayed by someone else’s dreams and ambitions—and forgetting our own goals in the process. Your dream may not be another person’s dream and vice versa. Sometimes, we make impulsive decisions based on external factors and end up regretting them. It helps to double-check yourself whenever you face such doubts. Outline your core requirements (necessities that can make you unhappy if absent) and ask yourself whether the new path fulfills each of these demands. This self-questioning helps to build more clarity and to confirm whether you are following your own dream or someone else’s.

Let’s Take a Step Back..

It helps to take a step back and introspect our opinions before dishing them out to the next person.

As Haresh Sippy said, “Comparison is the root cause of all evil. Why compare when no two people are alike?