October 1, 2011

5. Watching your thoughts

 (The inner game)
As we mentioned earlier in the discussion on breathing and pausing - communication like all other activities has two components- the external act of talking & listening- and the inner consciousness of it. Most of the problems begin at the level of inner consciousness and only then manifest in the external world. Unless we dont learn to deal with this inner game efficiently, becoming good communicator will be difficult.
We all have noticed that before we actually stammer, there is a sudden thought (“what will it be like if I stammered NOW?”), a sudden fear and a sudden obsession not to stammer at that point at any cost; A determination to resist and struggle against the coming moment of difficulty; Yes, it is a game, to be played and won at the level of inner awareness. Like any other game, you master it by constant practice.
Let us first understand a few basic facts about our brain. First, it does not hear (-fails to register-) negative commands and finds it difficult to obey them. If you say to your mind: you must not stammer in this interview, chances are your mind hears: you must stammer in this interview! (“Not” is simply dropped, ignored). This is why most therapies which directly or indirectly ask you not to stammer in pursuit of fluency, fail sooner or later. You suffer a relapse within weeks or months.
On the other hand, it is easier to get the brain to focus on a positive idea: In the above example, if you said to yourself couple of times- I must look in to the eyes of the interviewer and smile, Chances are high that you might actually do so and improve your over all communication. But being “positive” does not mean saying: “Who, me? No, I dont stammer. It is nothing. It is no issue at all- not for me.” The gap between being positive and running away from the problem through fear is rather fine. Living in denial and hoping that the interview will go fine is not being Positive. It is being unrealistic and foolish.
But practicing a positive affirmation in such a situation may not be easy at times if we have made a habit of approaching interviews with a long face and a thumping heart, as if we were going to face the death squad! This brings us to the second important fact about brain: Good habits are made the same way as the bad habits: through repetition over a period of time.
The third important fact in this connection is: you can change only what you are aware of. So developing awareness in the act of talking, listening, relating to upcoming presentation etc. is critical for success. But this can not be an isolated exercise once in a while. You will succeed only if there is a round the clock awareness at maintenance level through out the day much before the interview in question. In other words, being more conscious of our thoughts and actions, should actually work like an anti-virus scanner, resident in the computer memory and ALWAYS active in the background.
This brings in the need of reviewing our life style and bringing daily practice of some form of calmness and awareness in our life - meditation, prayer, breathing exercises (Brahmavidya, Vipassana etc.). If you have studied round the year, a crash review of a day or two might be enough to prepare you for exams. But if you have not studied at all, what chances a one day crash course has, to help you score 90% in the exam? So, some kind of background “awareness”, running at maintenance level round the clock, is very much needed to help you during the crisis.
Such a life style will help you summon heightened level of awareness during a formal presentation in class, to help you relax, smile, take a deep breath, maintain eye contact, start gently, pause frequently and use all those techniques which have helped you in a clinic or in your self help group. If you dont chat in English in your day to day life, can you suddenly start talking in English during a high pressure interview? So, are you willing to review and modify your lifestyle? Here are some small adjustments which have worked for many:
  1. Go to bed early and read some inspiring book to sleep. Ensure that you get 7-8 hours sleep per day. Early morning hours are best time to meditate or to write your personal journal.
  2. Begin and end the day with 40-50 minutes (or more) of deep meditation or any activity which internalizes your attention, develops intense awareness and helps you to relax deeply. Even being totally quiet will be good. Put everything-TV, computer, music etc.- off for these 40-50 minutes.
  3. Once a week or ten days take a complete day off for the above purpose- silence, meditation, Vipassana, prayer etc.
  4. These activities become easy if you do it with a group. Find such a group and formally join it. Or start one.
  5. Your friends and family can help your efforts, if you tell them what you are trying to do and why, in advance.
  6. Keep a journal- write down your experiences with stammering and your reactions and thoughts. It can be private or it can be in the form of a public blog. Once in a while read the old entries. It will help you realize the progress you have made.
  7. Once in a while challenge yourself by taking up the activity which you fear most.
  8. Develop a long term relationship with a life-coach. Share your thoughts and listen to his interpretations seriously. A good coach will act as a mirror, provide feedback and challenge you, when needed. Our thoughts are so close to us that we can not see them. This is why we need help from a friend, or a coach or a counselor. Talking to them, helps us to understand our fears and deal with them.
  9. If you consistently practice these (especially meditation), a time might come when you may experience separation of Awareness and Thinking. You will be able to see your reactions to your stammering as something separate from YOU. From this point onwards, you can truly start healing yourself. One of the signs of this stage is: you will be much less over powered by moods, criticism, sadness, anger, disappointment etc. Your recovery from such negative emotions will be much faster. Read more on this theme: http://emersonandtolle.blogspot.com/2010/04/clarity.html
A few words about why many people who start on this path, dont succeed:
  1. PWS start with the idea that by practicing Vipassana etc. they will become fluent like Mr XYZ. It is like learning Java only to be able to play Solitaire on your computer! Your idea should be to learn to deal with your mind, rather than becoming fluent etc.
  2. Many people dont thoroughly plan the required changes in life style. They dont turn family and friends into ally. OR they attempt too many changes suddenly.
  3. Few people are ready for the long haul. They stop after a few weeks on some pretext or the other. Dealing with mind is a long term effort than letting status quo persist.
  4. The structured experience over a long time needs a supportive atmosphere: few people have it or try to set it up consciously. Those who are part of a meditation / faith network fare better in the long run.
In our experience, Vipassana (or consistent practice of any meditation practice) can help you develop Awareness. In other cultural traditions, going in long silence, spiritual retreats or solitude can serve the same purpose. When there is nothing to distract the mind- no external stimuli - it collapses on itself, turns inward automatically and we develop inner awareness over a period of time. (More diuscussion: http://www.philosophyonline.co.uk/philosophy-forum/index.php?topic=72.0)
To summarize, communication is a “sport” and like every sport, it has two components – the external and internal. Unless we dont get the hang of the inner workings of this sport, we cant hope to excel at it. To understand how a thought forms within, is shaped up by our beliefs and fears, converted into nerve impulses and finally converted into audible sound- we need to turn our attention with in. We need to become more AWARE of our thoughts. For this, we need to be silent, our bodies still and our attention turned with in. A supportive atmosphere and life style can be a great help.


Er. Umesh 8529982551 said...

Took a long time to finish but give a nice knowledge about inner conscious thoughts. Thanks for sharing sir!

sachin said...

Thanks a lot Umesh! Yes, it takes time, but in the process my own thoughts get clarified, refreshed.. In any case, I enjoy writing as a creative expression..

Ajit chaurasia said...

thanks a lot sir for giving valuable information....
its helps me a lot in my coming soon interviews......:)

sachin said...

Dear Ajit- Okay you enjoyed reading it. Now try out some of the activities described and then get back and share your experience with us..