Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Nambudiri Funda

One of my favourite stories is the Nambudiri Funda. What does that title mean?!!? Funda is short for "Fundamental", that means it is a fundamental truth. Nambudiri are Brahmin priests from Kerala in South India.

A Nambudiri was walking along the riverbank when he saw a Mahout giving his elephant a bath. He went up to the Mahout and said "I have always wanted an elephant, can you give me yours." The Mahout said "Nambudiri, the elephant is my only source of income and I use the income to feed my wife and many children, I am sorry but I cannot give you this elephant". The Nambudiri patiently listened to the Mahout and calmly proceeded along the river.

A man was walking behind the Nambudiri and observed the whole incident, he came up to the Nambudiri and asked him "Nambudiri, How can you just ask for an elephant, did you really expect the Mahout to agree." The Nambudiri smiled and said "I did not own an elephant and the Mahout said No, so I still don't own an elephant. But if he had said Yes, I would own an elephant."

This story has many important lessons.

1. If you don't ask, you don't get.
2. Don't let the fear of rejection stop you from asking for what you want.
3. Reject without anger.
4. Accept rejection calmly.

My friend Rajesh told me this story and since then it helped me to achieve something important - giving Vandana space.

In Accepting your wife in marriage, I mentioned the importance of giving your spouse "space". When families were larger you could find yourself space, but it is very hard in today's nuclear family.

Here are some variations on the story to see how things could have proceeded.

First some positive variations

The Mahout says "In fact I have too many elephants and was wondering how to feed them, I will be overjoyed if you accept this elephant as a gift"

When the Mahout says no, the Nambudiri says, "I am conducting an important ritual for the next 30 days, and the ritual needs an elephant." The Mahout says, "Nambudiri, I am unable to gift you the elephant but willingly loan you the elephant for 30 days."

Then some negative variations

The Mahout starts shouting and abusing the  Nambudiri. The  Nambudiri starts a ritual fire to set a curse on the Mahout. The Mahout gets frightened and makes the elephant throw the Nambudiri into the river.

The Mahout is frightened that the Nambudiri will curse him and as soon as he asks for the elephant agrees to gift it to him, even though it means that his entire family will starve to death.

The Nambudiri says, "That is a beautiful elephant, How much space do you need to keep such an elephant." The Mahout says,"You need at least half an acre of open space." The Nambudiri says, "Oh there is an half acre just behind my house which is going waste." The Mahout does not say anything. The Nambudiri is upset the Mahout did not understand his hints and later in the night places a curse on the Mahout.

In a marriage, we suffocate our spouse by making each request an emotional dead-weight. We make it worse by burdening ourselves with emotional baggage if there is a no.

Ask lightly, Answer lightly, Accept lightly.

Suddenly life together becomes a joy.

This is simplistic and just the starting point. It does becomes easier if you have sensitized your mind with positive perceptions about your spouse.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Creating Positive Perceptions

In the last two posts I discussed  how The Fundamental Attribution Error and Confirmation Bias form a dangerous pair, creating a negative image of your spouse in your mind. This pair affects all 'ongoing' relationships, including your relationship with your colleagues.

I chanced upon a wonderful book called Miller's Bolt by Thomas Stirr. It is about a process for improving relationships with colleagues. But it is very general and can be used in all circumstances.

Some key insights from the book.

In Patiala in India some years back the police tattooed 'jeb katri' or 'pickpocket' on the foreheads of a few women. Imagine you are chatting with somebody who has pickpocket tattooed on their forehead. Will it affect your behavior? In most cases - yes.

We put a negative label on our spouses, affecting our behavior with them, and they do the same. It is a vicious cycle. The ONLY way to break out of this vicious cycle is you take a decision to change your attitudes and behavior. It cannot be 'conditional'. You have to commit to changing without worrying about whether the other person will change.

No relationship is static. It is either in a vicious cycle and becoming worse over time or it is in a virtuous cycle and becoming better over time.

The process given in the book is simple but you have to follow it exactly.

Take a piece of paper.
Write down all the words that come to your mind when you try to describe your spouse.
On the other side of the paper write down the words that describe your interactions with each other.

Look at the words and pick the words that have a negative connotation and replace them with words which have a positive or neutral connotation.

Here is an example of this with a few words

Stubborn (Persistent)
Pessimistic (Realistic)
Picky (Detail Oriented)
Insensitive (Straight Forward)
Careless (Absent minded)

Spend a few minutes every morning meditating or deep-breathing. Replay or Anticipate some incidents in your mind and visualize yourself responding positively to that behavior, using an affirmation.

The book gives a useful acronym to create the affirmation.
WIPE out your old behavior

Want (What you want to happen)
I (Make it personal)
Present Tense (Use the present tense)
Emotion (Use a positive emotion)

So this is a hypothetical example of how I used it. The actual situations are a little personal :-)

Assume your spouse has been after you for the last 3 months to do something that you don't want to. You have been thinking stubborn b***** and behaving in either of these ways

a. Pretending to be hard of hearing
b. Snapping angrily - Dont bug me
c. Agreeing to do it and not doing it

The affirmation could be
I appreciate his / her persistence. I speak calmly and find out what is motivating him / her.

So every morning, meditate or do some deep breathing and use a few positive affirmations.

As we have seen in the Confirmation bias post, your brain only 'notices' what is has been sensitized to notice. This process of deep breathing and making positive affirmations will change the sensitization of your brain.

Another key lesson in that book is that this is an ongoing process. You have to meditate and make positive affirmations everyday for the rest of your life. Do I still do it, yes I do. I am blessed with a long commute, I spend the commute with my eyes closed, meditating.

Miller's Bolt was a gateway book for me. After reading that book, I have learned so much more but the simple process given in the book is certain to make a difference.

I will share more options and thoughts on how to change a negative relationship to a positive one in my future posts.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Confirmation Bias

Sometime back I wrote an post called Accepting Your Wife in Marriage.

There was a critical step mentioned in that post - You "accept" a person warts and all. This is difficult. I already wrote about how The Fundamental Attribution Error makes you create a negative image about other people. That is just the beginning.

Carry out an experiment. Ask somebody to count the number of black cars they see during a trip, maybe on their drive to office. After they are done telling you how many black cars they saw, ask them how many red cars they saw. Most people will not be able to answer.

There is a famous video of people passing a basketball, if you have already seen that, try this one. I tried the second video on Vandana, she definitely has an eagle eye :-)

Your brain only notices things that it has been sensitized to notice. What does this means in relationships? Once you believe your spouse behaves in a particular way, your brain will only notice behavior that confirm this belief.  You will NOT notice behavior that contradicts this belief. This is known as Confirmation Bias.

Let us take an example. Because of circumstances, your spouse complains about something two days running. The Fundamental Attribution Error means you will ignore the circumstance and you will convert it to a statement of innate nature. You will think "whiner". Now your brain is sensitized to this belief, if your spouse complains once a month, you will become certain - definitely a "whiner". Your brain will not register the 29 days that went by without complaints :-)

That is the Confirmation Bias in operation. In combination with The Fundamental Attribution Error it is deadly. You are certain you know your spouse's "nature". And you remember many instances that "prove" this belief.

Vandana was certain I was "insensitive" and I was equally certain she was "careless". We used to have endless arguments; she would point out instances when I was insensitive and I would hit back by giving her instances of careless behavior.

How do you overcome this dangerous pair, I will share how I did it in my next few posts.