Battery and snowball: that’s how you build willpower

You’re confident that this year, you will persist with your New Year’s resolutions through the year. Come February: “Maybe next year, I’ll show more control. I will give this year a rain check”.

Why are we so bad at sticking to our goals? Why are we so short on self-control and will power?

Willpower is a finite resource; we have a fixed capacity for the trait. A large body of studies exists in support of the limited nature of self-control. Like a battery, you can run out of charge (and risk damaging the device) if you drain it to the limit. You can charge a battery again and start over, but with self-control, each attempt at pushing yourself to the hilt leaves behind a strong residue of negative feeling which makes the next effort tough to start.

The key is in using will power (the battery) in short spurts and building up your resilience (the snowball).

If your resolution is to get fit enough to make a 10 km run with comfort, you don’t start by trying to run the distance on the first day. The fatigue and soreness which follows will dissuade you from trying again. You start by running a small length and stop while you are still feeling good. You increase the distance by moderate amounts every few days, remaining at all times within your comfort zone. Surely, but surely, you will reach the 10 km goal and feel good after it. This positive feeling will sustain your exercise effort over a long time.

If you are starting a weight reduction diet, don’t jump cold turkey into the 800 calories, no-carb programme. You will fail. Start with cutting out sugared drinks first, then the white bread and keep extending the list, a few days at a time, item by item. Weight loss will be slower, but you are much more likely to stay on the diet and shed kilos in the long term. Each sustained success will boost the next onward sally.

There is a welcome bonus to this tactic. When you build muscle, the workouts at the gym are of value when you need to do other challenging physical activities. Likewise, will power gained from one endeavour will extend to other personal changes that you kick-off. Self-confidence and enthusiasm build with each victory.

The bottom line: you have to train yourself to become a snowball using momentum from short bursts of the battery.

Read more: 

Self-control: Knowledge or perishable resource? Journal of Economic Behaviour and Organisation, 2018. Marco A, et al

[Previous studies account for] the mechanism through which self-control affects individual behavior in the short-run, with two competing models. The first model, “ego or resource depletion model” views self-control as a perishable resource, which is depleted following an initial self-control act, hence impeding self-control ability in the short-run. On the other hand, the second model views self-control as a “knowledge structure”, where this knowledge is accessed following any initial self-control act, and it serves as motivation for improving self-control ability in the short-run. (

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


Your attention is priceless treasure. Don’t give it away for free.

There was a time, not so long ago, when, if you wanted a book or needed to research a topic, you had to go to a bookshop or library. Watching a movie meant booking tickets at the cinema and clearing your calendar to be there at the right time and date. You couldn’t do anything else at the time. Music came through radio station programmes which you waited for, patiently. At best, you could listen to a few cassettes containing a small mixtape which you made or scrounged off friends.

Fast forward to the present decades. All of this and more is available right in front of you, in an area of a few square inches, anytime, anywhere.

Inundated by this wealth of choices, we want it all, constantly flitting from one activity to another. We are the most distracted humans of all time. The average attention span today is reported in single-digit seconds.

Not to forget, the rabbit hole of social media where you can fritter away hours at a time, ending up feeling depressed, jealous and drowning in low self-esteem. Everyone else seems to be doing fantastic things and enjoying great experiences while your life is a sad story.

Meet Blaise Pascal

Four centuries ago, Blaine Pascal, the French polymath and genius, nailed it when he said:

Four centuries on, nothing has changed. Stillness and silence continues to make us uneasy. We squirm.

The 21st Century Syndrome

In a recent article, the Guardian talked about the “21st-century syndrome” of inattention and distraction. How did we get here? What can we do to get back possession of this vital commodity?

Technology is blithely blamed as the culprit, specifically the internet. It’s true that one of the greatest inventions in history has come with mixed blessings. But technology is only a tool. It’s not inherently good or bad; it’s what we do with it that matters. You can generate electricity or destroy Hiroshima with the same tool.

What’s the buzz?

Taking a nuanced look, it appears that the problem arises from the monkey-mind of our emotions.

We look for activities to divert us from the anxiety of completing tasks at hand. Why are we anxious? We are afraid of failure. So, we postpone and in the process, accumulate even more anxiety.

You can’t tackle this problem, head-on. Trying to abstain from feeling anxiety is guaranteed to make you feel worse.

“Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.” ― Corrie Ten Boom

How Do You Eat this Elephant?

Like the much-quoted solution to eating an elephant, you have to progress in small bits. Split the task into small components, each of which might take a few minutes to complete. Like David Allen recommends in Getting Things Done, you carry out a series of “next actions”.

  • Don’t look at the task as a whole. You will be overwhelmed. Split every activity into a series of small steps.
  • Carry out one step at a time. Suddenly, you will find that the task is done. The cloud will lift. You will experience an amazing lightness of spirit.
  • Savour this sensation and go for more. Like getting your clothes clean, “wash, rinse, repeat”. You will get better and better at it.

Don’t Let Them Take Away Your Treasure While You are Looking Elsewhere

We fail to realise that attention is the currency of the day. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok: they are all stealing your most valuable possession and making enormous amounts of money out of it. Don’t let them.

Take back what is yours.

“Tell me what you pay attention to and I will tell you who you are.”― José Ortega y Gasset

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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The secret to making good decisions lies in weighing the trade-offs

“You can watch a movie on TV tonight, or you can go to your friend’s house for a sleepover on Saturday. You choose.” And, over the years … do I take this smaller university where I get a generous scholarship or do I opt for the prestigious one which will mean steep fees? You are now an adult with a job. Do I continue at this safe but boring job, or do I quit and join the exciting startup that wants me?

Decisions, decisions!

We make thousands of decisions every day. Most of them hardly reach our consciousness. When they do, decision making often poses a dilemma. You want something, but you have to give up something else: a tradeoff. Some other benefit or opportunity is at stake — the opportunity cos t of your decision.

Yin and Yang

In our lives, there are a few everyday ingredients that require tradeoffs. Here are a few.

  • Time: As we grow in our professions, time becomes a scarce commodity. Many decisions have to be made based on how much time is available. Time spent on the opportunity will inevitably mean that there is less for something else. Stay longer in the office and miss out on your child’s appearance in a school play.
  • Accountability: The more number of people and projects you are in charge, the higher the demand on your mind share. Stress levels zoom up.
  • Opportunity: New horizons mean risks. The opening might be exciting, but your steady paycheck may disappear.
  • People: The role and salary at a new job may be fantastic, but your present boss is a joy and delight to work with. Moving to the other company might mean dealing with the prospect of an unfriendly superior. Relationships are an essential part of job satisfaction.
  • Brand identity: It feels good to mention the name of a well-known firm as your employer, but the competition and lack of personal touch could be a downer. Your present employer is a small, family-owned business but everyone knows everyone and the owners treat you like family.

On the back burner

Tradeoffs aren’t always comfortable, which is why we try to disregard them. We seldom consider tradeoffs when we make decisions. Quite often, the compulsions of the moment do not give us the luxury of time for weighing options.

Tradeoffs can take a while to become visible. They may only show up in the long term. In the meanwhile, life goes on with or without you. As Einstein said:

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”

If we pause to reflect on the options, without losing our forward momentum and balance, we can end up with more satisfying choices. Impulsive choices extract a price. The price may be more than you can afford.

Six of one, half dozen the other

Tradeoffs carry opportunity costs: what you must forgo to get what you want. The higher the value is of what you could be doing versus what you are doing, the larger the opportunity cost.

You didn’t take a vacation because you wanted the money to buy a new car. The holiday is your opportunity cost. Life is full of hundreds of similar examples.

Tiger by the Tail

The consequences of ignoring tradeoffs and opportunity costs play out in the same fashion time and again. Here are some situations where you might want to stop and reflect.

  • You feel like you are always behind, always trying to catch up. There’s no time to stop and smell the roses. Understanding tradeoffs in time usage is an excellent way to cut out unhelpful behaviours and wastage.
  • You are working as hard as you can, but don’t appear to be making any progress. The working day feels like drudgery. You feel trapped in “zero-sum” situations where one gain is offset by another loss.
  • Multitasking doesn’t work. When you multitask, you are constantly shifting attention. This endless flitting between activities has a very steep energy cost. In the long run, you lose. You will be much better off doing them one at a time.

Taming the tiger

There is always a space between the tradeoffs we’re making and the ones we’d rather be doing. Once you notice this gap, it’s easier to work on changing circumstances. Here are some strategies.

  • Reframe the situation: Spending more time at home could be a significant opportunity cost. Your present work situation demands long hours in the office. Maybe you should consider working from home.
  • Alter boundaries: Examine your self-imposed limits. Go to work at transcending them. A lot of things that we think we can’t do are from never trying.
  • Bargain: Tradeoffs are not written in stone. There’s always room for negotiating and reaching a happy compromise. Don’t be inflexible.
  • Accept: You need to be able to let go of not being great at something. “Kill your darlings” — a piece of advice which editors give to aspiring writers holds good here.

Decision Diary

Get into the habit of writing a diary for the more significant decisions you make. Put down brief statements about the following items:

  • The nature of the situation that needs a resolution.
  • A list of the possible routes of action.
  • The pros and cons of each of them.
  • Your choice and why you did so.
  • What tradeoffs did you have to make?
  • What do you expect from this selection?

As the diary grows, review your entries now and then. You will get a good insight into your decision-making process and an insight into your mind.

Ironically, knowing how to make tradeoffs is a valuable skill; those who can do this well, get more out of life than others who aspire for everything.

“There are moments that define a person’s whole life. Moments in which everything they are and everything they may possibly become balance on a single decision. … These are moments ungoverned by happenstance, untroubled by luck. These are the moments in which a person earns the right to live, or not.” ― Jonathan Maberry, Rot & Ruin*

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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Why do I feel so tired all the time? Where has all my energy gone?

“I start the day feeling like a wet washrag. I like what I am doing, but I still dread having to drag myself to work every day. I feel so tired and lacking in energy. It’s reached the stage where my performance at work is being affected.”

Every one of us feels tired now and then; this is normal. It’s a safety mechanism built in to ensure that we don’t wear our bodies out. Feeling chronically tired, day in and day out, is not normal. Energy is more than just a physical issue. Mental, emotional and spiritual factors can impact on our energy levels.

Four Kinds of Energy

Let’s stop for a minute or two and dissect out what “energy” is all about. It’s the sum of 4 elements.

1. Physical energy: This is the element that emanates from our bodies. It is what gives us the capacity to carry out physical tasks. In today’s world, the demand for physical energy is small. Most of us do work at a desk or, at best, minimal amounts of moving around. We no longer need to put in 8 to 10 hours of hard, manual labour at a farm; toil at a construction site or haul loads over large distances. We are well-fed and sheltered from natures inclemencies. It’s only during times of illness that there is any direct diminution of physical energy. We take access to adequate, balanced meals and shelter from common ailments for granted.

2. Cognitive energy: Much, if not all, of the work we do, is carried out through mental efforts. Intellectual activity has replaced physical labour. The critical fuel is cognitive energy. It’s is not always readily available., It can be altered or diminished by outside forces that impinge on our daily activities, over many of which we have no direct control.

3. Emotional energy: It hardly needs saying that our physical and mental processes are frequently affected by emotions. When we feel good — are on a high — we can do things with exceptional physical and cognitive ease, Complex problems can be solved smoothly. Feeling down can convert the most straightforward tasks to Herculean efforts. Emotional energy is even more fickle and unreliable than the previous two.

4. Spiritual energy: Human beings are uniquely endowed with consciousness. We can observe ourselves from a detached perspective and look for elements that the rest of creation can’t: beauty, truth, morality and, most of all, an ineffable entity called “purpose” — an energy source that can render all our actions deeply inspiring or tragically meaningless. Spiritual energy fuels these activities. It is the most intangible, yet the most crucial of the four energies.

Filling the Personal Energy Tank

All four elements have to be nurtured if the human-machine is to perform at peak efficiency. There is no quick fix, however. Many little things have to be done right, now and forever. Here’s the prescription.

1. Physical energy

Food is an essential aspect of physical energy. The problem, for most of us, at present, is one of excess. At no other point in human history has there been so many choices, mostly unhealthy. We are falling prey to the downside of overeating. Michael Pollan, the internationally renowned food writer, gives the best advice regarding nutritional sense:

Eat food, mostly plants, in small quantities Michael Pollan

By “food”, Pollan is referring to meals and snacks that are as close to the natural state as possible: minimally processed, freshly cooked, without too many additives and garnishing. Practically speaking, Pollan advises us not to eat anything that our grandmothers would not recognise or acknowledge as food. The critical portion of the sentence lies in the third component: small quantities. We eat way too much.

Dietary plans, regimens and fads bombard us. It is safe to say that most, if not all, are not supported by scientific evidence. Common sense, that rare commodity, prevails.

Exercise and activity: We overeat and compound the problem by exercising too little. As our needs for physical activity have rapidly declined, we are now paying the price for a sedentary lifestyle: a physical energy shortage of profound dimension. Once again, advice on this matter is everywhere but can be summarised as: “Good quality exercise, (anywhere, anyhow) for 150 minutes or more a week.”

We sit too much. Devices like standing desks are trendy, but there is no concrete evidence in support of their effectiveness. If your job involves prolonged sitting, take breaks every hour or so for a few minutes, to walk around or do some chair-bound stretches and exercises. Use the stairs, not the elevator. Refrain from driving short distances, walk instead. Sitting is the new smoking

Say “No!” to:

  • Tobacco in any form.
  • Uppers, downers and all in between. (Coffee, up to 2 -3 cups a day is OK. )
  • Sugary drinks.
  • Alcohol in large quantities, regularly. There is a robust, recent study that indicates that all alcohol is bad. The jury is still out on this (and I hope, will return a “not guilty” verdict).

2. Cognitive energy

Mental activity is dependent on cognitive energy. Mental blocks are common occurrences. Without exception, the answer seems to lie in moving away from the task at hand for a short spell. A short walk amidst Nature, listening to music or reading an inspiring book can work wonders.

  • Exercise is often the magic wand which breaks the spell. A brisk walk, a short run, a session at the gym: whatever suits you.
  • Quite often sleeping over a problem can be the solution. As you rest, your subconscious mind goes to work, and the answer might spring up when you wake up.

3. Emotional energy

Our emotions are seldom under our control. Both physical and cognitive energy can be sapped to a great extent by strong emotions like anxiety, anger and fear. Feelings cannot be tamed by confrontation; they may worsen when we try. The breath is, under most circumstances, an activity that is under our control. Breathing exercises can be simple, effective methods of controlling powerful, negative emotions and restoring a sense of calm.

4. Spiritual energy

Spiritual energy is elusive. The best way to harness it is the practice of mindfulness — living in the present moment. Here are some suggestions.

Welcome everything. Push away nothing, even stuff you dislike.

Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed that is not faced.” — James Baldwin

  • Cultivate a “don’t-know-mind”. Approach every situation with no bias: with curiosity, wonder, awe and surprise. In the words of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi: Be child-like, not childish. Stay open to possibilities.
  • Don’t wait until the end. Don’t be overcome by regret at kind words left unspoken until there is no time left. Tell your loved ones about how you feel.

It’s not an easy road to walk, but the rewards are immense. Our lives are short and can be meaningfully lived only when we reach and tap the energy source that drives the engine of our selves.

Too many of us are hung up on what we don’t have, can’t have, or won’t ever have. We spend too much energy being down, when we could use that same energy – if not less of it – doing, or at least trying to do, some of the things we really want to do.” ― Terry McMillan , Disappearing Acts

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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5 reasons why you should stop doing everything by yourself

I’m reminded of the story of the monkey who puts his hand into a narrow-necked jar full of peanuts. The greedy chimp grabs as much as he can and finds out that he can’t get his hand out with a fist full of nuts. He won’t give up what’s in his hand and goes berserk trying to get rid of the jar.

We are like the monkey when it comes to letting go of tasks and delegating them down the line. We like to think that we are indispensable, that no one else can do the job like us. Out of fear of finding out the contrary, we refuse to delegate. Productivity drops; stress and frustration increases.

Even Batman had Robin

Effective delegation is one of the most powerful tools for improving productivity. Letting go of activities that don’t need our specific skills, realising others can do that, is the single most important act that can liberate us from drudgery. Today’s world hinges on collaboration.

If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” — John C Maxwell

Failure to delegate is a reflection of a lack of self-confidence. Delegation does not mean abandoning responsibility. There are five good reasons why you can’t do everything yourself.

1. You can’t have all the needed expertise in today’s world

We live in a complex world. No single person can be an expert in anything but a narrow domain. Specialisation has reached a point where experts themselves are unaware of all that is available. Collaboration and teamwork is the route to success in modern healthcare.

We look upon experts as the centre of the knowledge universe with all others revolving around the life-giving sun of the individual. Things have changed. Experts are still relevant but more like a major planet. Collaboration has moved to the centre with all others serving to guarantee the best.

Perform only tasks that make full use of your skill level and delegate all others. It would be best if you were not bogged down attending to matters that can be handled by a lesser qualified but well-trained assistant. A mid-level provider may be a very cost-effective strategy to boost efficiency of service.

2. There may be others who can do things better than you

Accepting this truth can be bruising to the ego, but one of the keys to effective delegation is the knowledge that others can do a task better than you.

Push decision making to the person closest to the problem. Let them decide the best way of doing these things. Don’t get in the way. Rule makers, managers, bureaucrats, and many executives have a tough time with this one.

3. You can’t see down all avenues

As a corollary of the previous statement, you must also appreciate that those closest to a task are also better situated to look down the road of events and consequences. Listen to them. You will end up looking far smarter. 30,000-foot views are wholly different from those of the runway. Both are necessary, complementary.

4, No one has more than 24 hours a day … or less

From CEOs to house-keeping staff, we all have the same 24 hours in a day. We all speak of “quality time”: guarded periods where we can spend time doing things that will deliver the most significant value. Quality time will be available only when we ensure that we are not frittering away our quota doing things that are not meaningful. Avoid busy work and resist the temptation to make it look like you are working at something.

5. You will demotivate those working under you

People expect to be valued for their contributions. They hope to be part of a group where each member performs a unique role. If you do everything yourself, those who work with you will see themselves as mere tools, means to your ends, manipulated to suit the needs and ambitions of the boss.

Letting go of activities that can be done by others can be liberating in many ways.

Stepwise Guide to Delegating Effectively

Delegating cannot be done in an “on-off” manner. Two parties are involved: the one delegating and the one to whom the responsibility is given. Both are probably equally anxious when the process begins. It’s best taken in slow, step-wise progression.

Step 1: In the beginning, the person concerned with the task, only observes what is happening and reports back to the superior. They are testing the water.

Step 2: Based on what is seen and reported, they make recommendations about what needs doing. At this stage, there is still no action. Both sides discuss the plans in detail.

Step 3: The person develops an action plan and implements decisions under supervision.

Step 4: Once a level of comfort is reached, the superior has to let go. He must not only step down but also step out.

Trust is powerful. It is also fast. It can be lost quickly. Trust is also reciprocal. If you give trust, it will be given back to you. Delegation is a result of this trust.” ― Steven R. Covey

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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Placebo power: it shouldn’t work but it does

“There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.” — Soren Kierkegaard

Patient’s daughter:“I agree with your opinion, doctor, that my father has no real problem. He is a bit of a hypochondriac who won’t accept that he is in good shape for his age. Can’t you just give him some sort of a dummy pill to keep him quiet?”

Doctor: “You want me to give him a placebo?”

PD: “What’s that?”

Dr: “A ‘sugar’ pill, so to speak. A tablet that contains no formulation: something totally innocuous, but makes the patient feel that he is taking some medicine.”

PD: “Yes, something like that.”

Dr:“I am not comfortable with prescribing placebos. I feel it is unethical.”

What’s the Harm?

PD:“Why? What’s the harm? You are not hurting him. You may even be helping him.”

Dr: “On the surface, yes, but, I am not being truthful. And that bothers me. I can’t knowingly give someone a sham treatment. The Hippocratic Oath binds us to sharing the whole truth with our patients.”

Do They Work?

PD:” I respect that, doctor, but tell me, do placebos work?”

Dr: “Quite often, and more effectively than we would like to admit. For a long time, we have known that a large number of conditions will respond to any treatment that looks like one: a placebo effect. For an equally long time, we tended to dismiss this important event as being too quirky and unpredictable to be of any use.

Still, the placebo effect is so persistent that it is a requirement that all new drugs that are being evaluated be first compared against a placebo and be shown to be demonstrably better. In many conditions, a placebo can cure the majority of patients. So, the new drug must be better than the placebo to be stamped as valid.

In recent years, there has been a lot of scientific research on the placebo effect. We are finding out that it is definitely there and cannot be brushed away.”

Are Weight-loss Diets Merely Placebos?

There are dozens of weight-loss diets being pushed: Atkins, Mediterranean, Paleo, Keto, Volumetric, Weight Watchers — each one claims to be the best. Each one describes a unique and hitherto unknown principle behind it. The market is, pardon the pun, huge. Books (many on Best-Seller lists), videos, memberships — there’s an industry based on diets.

Curiously, there is only one feature in common between all of them.

  • For the first few weeks or months after starting on the diet, weight loss is consistent.
  • The trend then plateaus and starts rising. At around 2 years, the vast majority of dieters are back where they started.
  • Many overshoot and go above the weight they began at. They get frustrated and shift to another diet. This “yo-yo dieting” is known to be harmful.

This diversity of regimens and unanimity in results, raises the question: “Can all diets be mere placebos?”

Likewise, there are many common conditions, often with no permanent cure, where specific interventions seem to work. Once again, the placebo effect at work.

What If the Patient Knows it’s a Placebo?

PD:“What happens then, if a patient finds out or knows that he has been given a placebo?”

Dr:“Another surprise here. The placebo still works!”

PD:“You’re telling me that the doctor knows he is giving a dummy and the patient also knows that, yet, there is a benefit? The lie, works?”

Dr: “Some years ago, there was a study published in the very respected medical journal, PLoS One, that seemed to show exactly that. The authors of this paper report their experience with the use of placebos in a condition known as the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This common problem can be difficult to treat. A wide range of options are available, none of them guaranteed to work. Patients in this study were randomly assigned to undergo no treatment at all (controls) or to receive a placebo. The important aspect of this study was that patients were clearly informed that the pills had no active compound. Despite knowing that they were taking dummies, 59 percent of the group reported improvement of their symptoms as opposed to 35 percent in the controls; nearly twice as many showed a benefit. The reported improvement rate is almost equal to that seen with the most powerful IBS medications!”

PD:“Doesn’t this shake the foundations of pharmacology and therapeutics? You are telling me that significant benefits can be seen even with fakes. Science depends on demonstrable cause and effect, but you are saying that there can be an effect in the absence of cause. Worse still, that spurious drugs may work.”

Dr: “Not an absence of cause, merely a misunderstanding of what might be the cause.”

Dr: “There is a famous truism: “A doctor cannot just treat, he must be seen to be treating.” Meaning that he must go through the motions of a medical transaction, the most iconic part of which is the writing out of a prescription. The bedside manner may be more of a treatment than we realise. A professional look, a calm demeanour, sympathetic and clear conversation: all this may be what is affecting the cure rather than the pill or injection. We never teach any of this in medical school.”

Before we go about discarding current textbooks of therapeutics, it is worth pointing out that most of these studies are carried out in conditions that have no demonstrable cause — as yet — and often show a natural remission. It would be unwise to extend this finding beyond certain limits. For instance, treatment of conditions like HIV/ AIDS, where we know that drug treatment is effective and failure to take the right medicines can lead to dangerous consequences.

From being dismissed as an unreliable quirk of the human mind, the placebo effect is now the object of serious scientific study. There is something here, something more profound than physical reality — mind over matter.

Exciting times ahead, so stay tuned to the placebo channel.

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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Teleworking: staying visible in the new reality of work

“Mayday, Mayday!” the dreaded call from an aeroplane going down echoed all over the world when the COVID pandemic struck. The Internet was the parachute that brought us down in one piece (at least those of us who were lucky enough to be outfitted with one) — “shaken, not stirred”.

It’s been months since many of us have seen the familiar insides of our workplace. The ability to work from anywhere, anytime has been around for some years. It took an event of this worldwide magnitude to show us the full potential of working from home. Whatever our reaction to teleworking — overjoyed, frustrated, angry or neutral — we have to come to grips with it being a part of our working style for the years to come.

For some, it might seem like having your cake and eating it too, but teleworking has its downside.

We ache for the day-to-day bantering with associates. Many, if not most, of the tacit communication channels that were present in the physical office, are no longer at hand. Water cooler conversations are gone. The office grapevine has collapsed; we no longer know who’s doing what, with whom and where.

“Out of sight, out of mind”: this well-worn aphorism has never been more valid than in the age of COVID. Memories fade over time. We begin to wonder if our colleagues think about us at all.

Visibility is key to success at work. Staying on top-of-the-mind-recall is going to involve a new set of rules and behaviours, some of them awkward for the kind of person you are. We need to take a fresh look at workplace dynamics. Here’s a game plan for the new reality of work, for staying virtually visible.

You, as a brand

I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it. ― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter

You have to learn to sell yourself; this could be disturbing to many. Far from being an attempt at blatant self-promotion, you need to see self-branding as an essential part of the new reality. Unless you do, you will be left behind when it comes to promotions and advancement.

Here’s how

Email is your light sabre

The bulk of all communication, work and personal, happens over email. Hardly anyone puts pen down to paper anymore.

  • Answer all you mail within an hour or two. The closer your response is in time to the mail you received, the better the chance of your reply being seen in the right context. We don’t think about it this way but developing a reputation as a prompt responder is a great way to stay visible.
  • As you come across material — websites, quotes, small extracts —that is interesting, forward it to those who might enjoy reading it. A little trick: don’t just send the link. Precede it with a paragraph or two with your comment or opinion. This way, your message is personalised; the recipient will feel compelled to read the matter and see what made you think that way.
    • Don’t restrict your forwards to dancing cats and other pieces of fluff on Youtube. People may enjoy them but will rarely remember who sent it. There is also a real danger of being seen as a mindless pest.

Linkedin, not Facebook or Instagram

Be active on Linkedin, the premier social network for professionals. There is a popular misconception about LinkedIn being only for job searches and recruiters. LinkedIn offers a terrific amount of good stuff.

Complete your profile with care. There are any number of articles which will tell you how to do it with flair. Google them. Your profile is your resume. Nurture it with care.

  • Scout around on Linkedin Groups and join some which interest you.
  • Be active with your posts and comments.
  • Read articles posted. Connect with people who share similar interests.
  • Hashtags are a great way of locating exceptional pieces. You don’t need a ton of connections and followers to find interesting reading.
  • Unlike Twitter, Facebook and Instagram where your posts have a life of minutes, LinkedIn has a much longer half-life. Your posts stay in circulation for days.

Rather than wasting your hours on Facebook or Instagram, you’d be much better off on LinkedIn. You may not become an influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers, but you will be pleasantly surprised by the number of people who notice you and remember you.

Who knows, if you need to find a new job, all this work will be useful.

Birthdays, anniversaries, events

Start sending personal notes to people for birthdays, anniversaries and other memorable events. Maintain a calendar.Being regular with these notes is particularly important in the days of social distancing where you cannot attend events in person.

Random acts of kindness

  • One of the things that bowl people over is to receive small, sincere notes of thanks and gratitude. Now is the time to start saying “Thank you” for acts of kindness. Think back and pick up on significant events.
  • Volunteer for causes. Pay it forward. Increase good karma in the world.

Embrace Uncertainty

There have been very few eras in human history shrouded in such immense amounts of uncertainty and darkness about the future. None of us imagined in our wildest dreams that we would be witness to such a radical change in the way we work. Mindfulness and living in the moment are the key to maintaining equilibrium.


“I believe that everything happens for a reason. People change so that you can learn to let go, things go wrong so that you appreciate them when they’re right, you believe lies so you eventually learn to trust no one but yourself, and sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall together.” ― Author unknown, commonly misattributed to Marilyn Monroe

Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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Yes, there’s an upside to anger. Learn how to put it to work for you.

Like ice cream, anger comes in many flavours: annoyance, resentment, genuine anger, rage and wrath. As the grade goes up, your awareness of the state drops proportionately. When you rage, you are out of control and beside yourself. You want to destroy things at hand.

Anger always gets a bad press. It’s seen as a dark emotional state, best avoided or kept under control. But, it is a tool evolution has built into us for survival. A lot of humankind’s achievements would not have been possible if there was no impetus from an event that provoked anger. Think about Gandhi in the train in South Africa, Martin Luther King and his sense of outrage at the treatment of African Americans. There are very many examples.

The key, though is in being able to recognise anger and work with it, if not immediately, at least while reflecting on the episode. Ask yourself questions. Probe till it hurts. Go into dark spaces. 

“Anybody can become angry — that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” ― Aristotle

Here’s a list of benefits from anger.

Anger can Motivate Change

We could be working for a particular benefit. Obstacles in the path can make us angry. Harvest this energy as fuel for pushing harder towards the goal.

Anger Invokes Optimism

Funnily, studies show that angry people are, in a way, similar to happy people. They tend to be optimistic about outcomes. The feel that the energy derived from anger can be channelled towards reaching their goal.

Anger can Heal Relationships

People in close relationships tend to suppress or hide anger; this is not good. The other party may be unaware of the problem and continue to do nothing towards mending the situation. Expressing anger can be an effective way of communicating what’s in your mind. Healing of wounded relationships can be a pleasant outcome of outbursts of feeling.

Anger Highlights Injustice

When we reflect on the cause of anger, it is not unusual to see an act of injustice at the root. There are any number of examples in civil society where inequality evokes a sense of indignation and gives us the energy to take action in the direction of correcting this state. The “colour revolutions” of the Middle East were provoked by deep-seated anger at the injustice prevailing in those countries.

Anger is a Useful Negotiating Tool

Exhibiting anger sends signals to the opposite party in a negotiation that you have strong sentiments about some issues. They can sense that you will not budge and may agree to a settlement that respects this position.

Anger can Give Deep Insights into Ourselves

If one has the emotional intelligence to reflect on the episode, we may be able to see aspects of ourselves that we didn’t sense. Reflection can lead to change in our behaviour and improvement of wellbeing.

Dealing with Furious, Raging People

Anger can cross the threshold where people are aware of themselves. Rage is an animal instinct. The emotional state may escalate from shouting and swearing to throwing things and breaking handy articles. Dealing with fury requires an understanding of the mind of the person.

“Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” ― Anne Carson (Translator), Grief Lessons: Four Plays by Euripides

We could learn some tricks from hostage negotiators who are specifically trained to defuse explosive situations.

1. Accept everything — don’t interrupt

Let the person vent. Allow emotions to pour out without interruption.

Don’t stop them during the flow.

2. Abandon logic and reasoning

Raging people are functioning from primitive centres of the brain. Don’t expect them to be capable of rational thinking. Don’t interrupt them with your comments, questions or recommendations.

3. Refrain from judging and labelling

Passing judgement on their actions will heighten rage. “You should have done this…”; “You shouldn’t have said that …”: won’t work. They will not accept criticism in this highly charged emotional state. It will only serve to worsen rage.

4. Show that you are with them

  • Body language is crucial. Lean forward and let them know you are on their side, receptive to their emotions. Don’t lean back, away from them.
  • Nod and affirm as they are speaking. Show agreement with their emotions.
  • Every now and then, repeat and confirm what they are saying.

5. Let them make an action plan

When a reasonable degree of calm is restored, now draw them into saying what they feel should be the way forward. Let them list the steps. Gently nudge them in positive directions. Establish the feeling that the ideas are coming from them, not you.

“Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” ― Mark Twain


Dr Arjun Rajagopalan


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