Thursday, 15 June 2017

Predict Positive Outcomes - Ask your Counsellor

[This column written by me was published in the Deccan Herald Education Supplement of June 15th, 2017]

Dear Madam,
I am studying in Class 10. I am really tense about the board exams next year. I have difficulty in studying Maths and Science. I don’t know if I should take up extra coaching. I am an average student who scores between 75% and 80%. I am always distracted during studies. Please give some advice on how to score good marks and concentrate on studies.

Dear Arjun,
I understand that you are tense about your upcoming board exams. It may be useful for you to pause and think about what is your biggest fear of these exams. The reality is that no matter what the worst thing we predict to happen, if we can rationalize our thoughts around it, and learn to think about things a little differently, we will be able to live beyond that episode. What do you believe about yourself and your worth? That is what will give you the confidence and power to succeed in life, not your marks. 

So, remember to put your marks into the perspective of your whole life. One week, one month, or one year after you get them, do they hold any relevance in your life? Study to learn, enjoy and understand. Put in your best effort, because that is the only thing you can do. Don’t focus on marks and don’t let the fear of marks drive you to inaction. Enjoy the journey. Anxiety happens when you predict a future negative outcome. Stay in the present. You do not have fortune-telling powers to predict the future. And even if you do, why do you choose to predict a negative outcome? If your anxiety is unmanageable, it will be helpful if you consult a counsellor to develop a more helpful perspective on life. All the best.

Dear Madam,
My son has just turned 13, and I see many behavioral changes in him. He is more into video games and doesn’t do his school work properly. When I discussed this with him he said he wanted to enjoy life and would choose fun over studies. He has become cranky and is always in a lazy mood. He has lost interest in reading too, which once was his favorite pastime. How should I go about to bring in a positive change in him. Please advice.

Dear Kala,
As children grow into adolescents, it is irrational for us as parents to expect them to be the same person that they were as children. Interests change, influences change, priorities change. While we can influence these changes to some extent, the parental influence and control only decreases from now on.

The most important thing you can do is to develop and maintain a level of communication that allows you and him to have meaningful conversations. And to let him know that home is his safety net while he experiences the world; that you accept him non-judgmentally for who he is; that as he grows he will make choices for himself, but with the freedom to choose also comes great responsibility, and that he has to face the consequences of his choices.

You need to be able to set your parental anxiety aside, or deal with it outside of your parent-child relationship. 

We often focus on fixing behaviours. We need to remember that behaviour is always a result of thoughts and feelings a child is experiencing. It is far more effective for us to focus on trying to understand the thoughts and feelings that are resulting in the behavior, than to try and fix behaviors in the absence of that knowledge. And when you are struggling on this journey, please reach out to a counsellor for support. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I have joined my first job recently. I am on many WhatsApp groups and interact regularly on WhatsApp with friends and relatives. Thus, I have the habit of checking the messages frequently to see if people have read my message and responded to it. Sometimes, I feel that it is affecting my quality of work. How do I overcome this? 

Dear Usha,
While technology has its advantages, it is proving to be a big distraction and addiction, something that people are struggling with. Try and understand what need this constant checking of messages is serving. Are you interpreting it to be a sign of validation for yourself? Are you seeing it as a way of trying to find out how much you mean to other people? Are you feeling you will miss out on ‘life’ if you don’t check them? Understanding what is driving you to do it will help you change the pattern.
You will probably need to take some steps to change behavior gradually, maybe by keeping the phone out of sight and reach for small chunks of time and gradually increasing the time you are able to do this. You may want to take the help of a peer to support you. Find your reasons for the addiction, find your motivation to end it, and get on with living your life and doing your work meaningfully. And if you are struggling to do this, take the help of a counsellor.

Dear Madam,
I am a teenager, and until recently, I was an enthusiastic student with many interests, and excelled in most of the subjects. In the last two months, I have lost interest in studies and want to have fun. I want to watch movies, gossip with friends, play video games. Nothing else interests me. I don’t feel like spending time with my parents. I am in Class 10 and I am worried that this will affect my performance in the exams. Please help.

Dear Manoj,
As children grow into adolescents, they feel a need to create an identity of their own and distance themselves from their parents. Peers become more important and everything peers do and say become a ‘must do’ and everything parents do and say become a ‘must not do’. Feeling that way is entirely normal – the only difference is a question of degree. It is up to you to make choices in your life. Beyond a point, this is, and will be your life to live the way you choose, and you must be prepared to face the consequences of your choices, whatever they are. So you can make choices that have a higher chance of driving you to success, or choices that make your attempt at success more challenging. Whatever your choices, they are choices you make for your future life – they are not choices you make for the happiness of your parents. The happiness of your parents is a byproduct of your happiness and success. 

So find your motivation. Discover and recognize your strengths and interests. Maybe talk to some adults and mentors. And carve your path forward, one step at a time.

Dear Madam,
I am a college-going student. Though I have good friends, some people in class ignore me. I feel very low when I realize this. Also, I keep remembering my interactions with friends, thinking if I was at my best or not. This distracts my attention from studies and I am not able to concentrate on anything. Please help.

Dear Meena,
Don’t worry about what others think of you — focus instead on what you are thinking of yourself and what are you telling yourself about yourself. The world ultimately reflects to you what you think and feel about yourself. If you keep doubting yourself, then, you will always look to other people to validate you and tell you that you are good enough, and you will always interpret what they say and do to mean that you are not. If you believe in yourself and your abilities, you will not look for validation from others. Find your strengths. Discover and recognize your worth. Ultimately, it is your assessment of yourself that will determine your path and its outcome. Don’t let other people decide if you are good enough or not. That is one decision you want to take for yourself. It is helpful to take the help of a counsellor on this journey. If you are unable to access one, please call the Parivarthan Counselling Helpline at 080 6533 3323 and you will be able to talk to a counsellor on the phone.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Ask your counsellor - Q&A column

[The following column written by me was published in the Deccan Herald of May 24, 2017]

Dear Madam, 
I am active in the extracurricular activities organised at the school and at outside platforms. However, I often find myself lagging behind in my studies. Most of my good grades are because of last-minute cramming. I do try to plan a schedule, but it often never works out. What is the best way to achieve a balance between the two? 

Dear Sebastian,
If you are able to manage good grades along with all the other activities that you are involved in, I am not sure why you think there is a problem and things are not okay. The fact that you have a schedule and/or that you follow it is not important, it is the end result that is important. 

If you were just wasting your time and procrastinating, and there being able to only do last-minute cramming, there may have been a problem. 

But if you are doing things, that in my opinion may actually add more value to you than a few extra marks ever could, and you are still able to attain good grades, then where is the problem? You are in an enviable situation and many others would love to be in your shoes. All the best.

Dear Madam,
Thinking before acting has never really been my forte. Neither has been listening. This often results in fights between me and my close ones. Kindly guide me as to how I can remedy this and ensure better listening.

Dear Anonymous,
The first step to change is to acknowledge that there is something to change. And I see that you are already acknowledging that. So that’s great! Once you know what you would like to change, it is easier to change it. After any event when you have acted before thinking, stop and reflect on the event. 

Initially, you will only be able to reflect after the fact, but gradually you will be able to catch yourself in time and reflect before the fact. Reflect on how you acted, and how you could have acted differently if you had thought of what to do. And compare the end result of what happened now, and what could have happened if you had thought before acting. How would you have been better off if you had thought before acting. Remember to respond, not react.

What often prevents us from truly listening is the fact that we tend to listen to respond, not to understand. Most of the time when someone is saying something to us, we are already getting ready with the answer in our mind and our emotional energy is taken up in getting our response ready, rather than in trying to understand what the speaker is actually saying and feeling. 

Active listening, in a way that people can experience the fact that you truly listened to them, is an art and a skill that takes effort to cultivate. It involves putting the other person first, and that is not always easy for many of us. It also does not seem to come naturally. 

But like I said before, for us to make any change, we first need to be aware of what we want to change. And you have already taken the first step. So good luck on your journey.

Dear Madam,
I am a Class 8 student who wants to eat out, watch movies and play with friends during school holidays. My parents want me to volunteer or take up some course or new learning during holidays. But I feel holidays are not for studying but for spending time leisurely. My parents get annoyed when I get up late and laze around. How do I convince them? Kindly guide. 

Dear Sharan,
Before you take an opposing position to what your parents are saying, it is important for you to understand their perspective and why they want you to take extra classes. You don’t need to agree with them, but you do need to try and understand them. And the same holds true for your parents. They need to understand your perspective and needs, and why you feel it is important to use your vacations to unwind.

You will find that if you are able to have this conversation with them where both sides are trying to understand the others perspectives, you will be able to arrive at a path that will work for both – you and your parents.

Don’t view this as a battle, you win – they lose, or they win – you lose. You are not on opposing sides of the situation. You and your parents are on the same side of the situation, and that is wanting the best path forward for you. So this is not about confrontation. It is about collaboration. And that’s an important life skill to learn, so why not try to develop it at home first.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Relationship is a journey - Ask your counsellor Q&A column

[This column written by me was published in the Deccan Herald Education pages on April 20th, 2017]

Dear Madam,
I am a teenager and I like playing video games. My friends spend at least one hour every day on this during holidays. I play for about half an hour. My parents get angry whenever they see me playing on the mobile. They feel that such games are addictive. At times, even I feel that what I am doing is not right and that I am wasting time. Still, I am not able to restrict myself. Will it affect my behavior and studies? Please guide.

Dear Rakesh,
Technology can be addictive and a lot has been written about it. It is now becoming quite a big problem for young people. However, if you are mindful of it, and are able to limit yourself to 30 minutes a day, and are also able to pull yourself away from it when there are other more pressing needs, then it is okay.

It should not be controlling you — you should be controlling yourself. You should be able to focus and prioritize other more important things when the need arises.

It is okay to enjoy and relax during your vacation and 30 minutes a day does not seem too much, however, it is important for you to be able to self-monitor and not lose your control over your mind to be able to pull away from it when the need arises. Good luck!

Dear Madam, 
I am struggling to overcome love failure. Though I try to forget my girlfriend, I am not able to do so. It is affecting my studies too. Please help me.

Dear Adarsh,
I think it will be very helpful for you to see a counsellor who will be able to help you gain new perspectives on what you are experiencing. It may be helpful for you to not call it a love failure, but rather a relationship that did not work out. Failure is a very loaded word and implies that you made some mistakes or did something wrong. Whereas in reality, that may not be the case — it may just be that the chemistry didn’t work, or you both had different expectations out of the relationship.

A relationship is not a battle that you win or lose, it is a journey that you undertake with another person. And in a journey there is no success or failure, just a path and a direction.

People come into our lives at different points in our journey and stay a while. No one is with you in your journey for the whole distance, except for yourself. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I have written my Class 10 exams and anxious about results. I studied hard for one year and did well in the exams. But I am not confident. My parents have supported me a lot during my studies. I don’t want to let them down. 

Dear Anjali,
Your exam results are just an external objective assessment of your performance. The more important assessment is your own internal subjective assessment of the effort you put in and the learning you gained in the process. That is the key thing. Your exams are not something you need to do well at to keep your parents happy. Your exams are something you should put in your best effort for if you want to for yourself, and you believe it is important for your future.

You should do the best you can to achieve your potential, for yourself – not something you should try and maximise only to keep your parents happy.

Keeping your parents happy can be a by-product of your performance, but must not be the goal of your performance, or even a goal in itself. If you can honestly tell
yourself that you put in your best effort that is all that matters. Your success in life is not dependent on your marks, and your parents’ happiness also should not
be dependent on your marks. Good luck!

Dear Madam,
My son is in Class 7. Earlier he was regular with homework. Of late, he has grown lazy and doesn’t study at home. When asked, he said that many of his classmates don’t submit the assignments on time and they don’t get any punishment. 

He also said that his classmates mocked him whenever he submitted the assignments and he felt left out. As a result, he feels that there is no point in doing homework. I have discussed this with the teachers. Can you also guide.

Dear Priya,
I think the issue here is not that your son is missing his work deadlines and therefore, your possible fear, that his performance may get affected. The issue here is building his self-esteem to a point where he can stand up to peer pressure and do what he believes is right, not what is mandated by the peer group.

It is generally very helpful to work with a counsellor to help your son see what is happening and give him tools and techniques to counter the situation, and to develop his own sense of self-worth – not one that is defined by the peer group. All the best.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

For, I truly forgive thee...

[My article from Deccan Herald supplement - Living on April 8, 2017]

IT'S OKAY: By holding onto grudges and resentment, you will only hurt yourself.
Forgiveness is often talked about, but little understood. So, what really is forgiveness? It is the letting go of intense past emotions and recognising that you don’t need grudges, resentment, hatred and self-pity. Forgiveness is no longer wanting to punish the people who hurt you, and accepting that nothing you do to punish them will heal you. To put it very simply, forgiveness is moving on. And most importantly, forgiveness is something you do for yourself, not for anyone else.

However, people are often unforgiving, because forgiveness does not come
easily. And the thought of doing it is not easy to accept, because, not forgiving has a positive payoff — the illusion that if that dreadful thing hadn’t happened, your life would have been perfect. It becomes an easy explanation for everything that is wrong with your life.

Why we do it
Not forgiving helps you compensate for the powerlessness you felt when you were hurt. You have the power to keep the person who hurt you locked away in the prison of your mind. You feel powerful because no one can force you to forgive or stop holding a grudge. Not forgiving also protects you from being hurt again by the same person. By keeping the pain alive, you keep your guard up and are always on the lookout for danger. But you should know that this can be debilitating in the long run.

Collecting injustices, holding grudges, and walking around with unresolved and unexpressed anger that is boiling inside you can take a toll on your physical and emotional well-being. They create stress, elevate blood pressure, increase your heart rate and stomach acidity, contributing to ulcers, colitis and arthritis. Your grievances metaphorically hang around your neck, giving you backaches, chest pain, anxiety attacks and migraines.

Forgiveness is not just a formality, but a state of mind that can lift you from mental and physical burdens. It lowers your cortisol level and reduces stress. It also reduces chronic back pain. Some researchers believe there is a strong relationship between being unforgiving and living with persistent pain. Being unforgiving also prevents you from doing and becoming all that you could, and saddles you with addictions and compulsive behaviours, relationship issues, burnouts at the professional level, negativity, ineffective parenting, lethargy, depression, and abusive, violent or suicidal behaviour.

You have difficulty maintaining relationships and become intolerant of others. You become suspicious and hypersensitive and are always ready to start an argument. Your negativity and bitterness alienate and isolate you. This may not be where you wanted to go, but this is always where holding a grudge takes you.

According to Sidney B Simon and Suzanne Simon in their book, Forgiveness: How To Make Peace With Your Past And Get On With Your Life, there are several myths about forgiveness. The most important one being that forgiveness means forgetting. By forgiving the people who hurt you, you do not erase painful past experiences from your memory. Nothing can turn back the clock and remove the unpleasant incidents from your history. Forgiveness will not do that, nor should it. After all, those experiences and the pain they caused, teach you a great deal.

The second myth is that forgiveness means condoning the unforgivable act. By forgiving people who hurt you, you are not saying that what they did was acceptable or not bad. It was bad. But when you forgive, you lessen the impact of the past on your present and future. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you let people off the hook and absolve them of all responsibility for their actions. They are still responsible for what they did and must make peace with their past.

Forgiveness is not about swallowing your true feelings and tolerating people who hurt you. Actually, forgiveness cannot be given half-heartedly and is not a clear-cut one-time decision. You can’t just wake up one morning and decide to forgive someone. It can’t be forced and scheduled. It is what happens naturally as a result of confronting painful past experiences and healing old wounds. While everyone’s journey to forgiveness is unique, it will pass through six stages.

How it unfolds
First, there is denial, where you play down the importance of your painful past and bury your thoughts and feelings about those experiences. Then there is self-blame, where you try to explain what happened as somehow being your fault. If only I had been different or done things differently, that would not have happened, you tell yourself. You then become a victim and recognise that you did not deserve or ask to be hurt. This makes you indignant and you want the people who hurt you to suffer, just as you have. You then become a survivor and recognise that although you were hurt, you did indeed survive. Your painful past took things away from you, but gave you something too.

You become aware of your strengths and start taking an interest in things other than your pain. You start recognising that all things considered, you did the best you could. The final stage is that of integration, when you are able to acknowledge that the people who hurt you may have been the best that they could be, too. That is, just as you are more than your wounds, they must also be more than the inflictors of those wounds. With this knowledge, you can release them from the prison in your mind and reclaim the energy you used to keep them there. You can put the past in perspective, without forgetting it, let go of the pain, and get on with your life, unencumbered by excessive emotional baggage.

So, how do you know if you have truly forgiven someone? If the first thought you have about them is not the hurt they caused you, and you are able to have normal thoughts about the person occasionally, you have probably forgiven the person. Ask yourself if you would help them if you knew they were in trouble, and you were able to offer assistance. Would you in your heart want to see them prosper, or would you still want to see harm come to them? Can you think positive thoughts about this person? Are there good things you can come up with about them? Have you stopped looking for them to fail? If you have truly forgiven someone, then, just like you would for anyone else, you would want them to succeed, or at least do better in life. In short, forgiveness means you have stopped keeping a record of the person’s wrongdoings.

It is important to remember that holding a grudge does not fix anything. The hot coal you hold onto is just burning you, not anything or anyone else. You need to throw it away so that you don’t get burnt. Letting go makes you feel less depressed, makes your relationships become healthier, and improves your self-esteem. All in all, your psychological well-being is positively affected. You need to forgive, for your own sanity.

Akin to sorrow
In some ways, the process of healing through forgiveness is similar to the grieving process. The most significant difference though is that, in this case, the person doesn’t cease to exist. Even though they may be dead now, they didn’t die immediately after they hurt you. And neither did the hope that they will do good by you some day. One of the reasons forgiving is so difficult is that you still expect those who hurt you to someday heal you and make up for that hurt. But this never happens and you get as wounded by these unmet expectations, as by the original hurt.

This pain lives on until you accept the fact that you cannot get your needs met now by the people who did not meet them in the past. But those needs are still valid and you must find new ways to meet them. So, accept that the past is gone and focus on the needs you have now and how you will fulfil them. It is your responsibility to take charge of your own life and make the choices that will enable you to heal and create a new and more productive version of you.

When you begin to make these conscious choices to fulfil your needs and enhance your self-esteem, your healing process leads you towards forgiveness and a better life. You may decide to start therapy, or end self-destructive behaviour. Whatever it is, you are doing it consciously to help yourself heal. And at every crossroad and turning point in this journey, you must reflect on where you are now, where you would rather be, and what is the next bold step you need to take to get there?

Self-reflection forms a very large part of the healing process as you begin to understand where you are now. What are the dead-end streets you have been going down because of the hurt? Have you been sleeping too much, drinking too much, binge eating too much, or keeping yourself too busy? Sometimes, you need to ask yourself a tough question – how does not forgiving serve you? Is what you get from not forgiving truly worth what you have to give up?

A vision of the life you hope to lead, and an image of the person you hope to become help the healing process. Your vision may include punishing the people who hurt you. That is a vision, but it is not a healing vision. A healing vision describes the positive attributes you want to develop and what you want to do as a result of the healing. So, design a healing vision for yourself.

Any burden becomes lighter when you share it. You do not have to heal all by yourself. You can take the help of a counsellor or any supportive person in your circle. You can also read and learn and become more self-reflective about your own journey and the path you want to take going forward. This is a journey you need to take for yourself, not for anyone else. The person you need to forgive is not a part of this journey. 

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Define where you want to reach - Ask your counsellor Q&A column

[The following column written by me appeared in the Deccan Herald Education Supplement of March 23, 2017]

Dear Madam, 
I am a mechanical engineer and have done a PG Diploma in Fire and Safety. I am now working in a construction company as a safety officer. After getting the job, I now feel that the safety field does not have as much scope as the technical field. I am confused and depressed about my career. Please help me.

Dear Vinod,
I understand that you are confused about your career path and choices. Unfortunately in life, the future is never clear and obvious, and we can and must create our own path, not just follow a pre-defined path. So, if we can and have to create our own path, we are free to make our own choices. So whatever path you choose, it does not have to be the only path you will go on for the rest of your life. The important thing to remember is that you have control on the path that you decide to go down. Some paths may be financially more rewarding than others, some may give you better opportunities than others. The important thing is to analyse what you want, how you define success for yourself, and what your strengths and weaknesses, opportunities and threats are. Gaining that level of self-awareness will help you choose a path that is the best fit for you — leveraging your strengths and minimising the negative impact of your weaknesses. Sometimes, it may be helpful to work with a counsellor to do this analysis and introspection to gain right perspective and insight. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I am a diploma student studying in the fourth semester. I did well in Class 10. My academic performance is very good even now. But I am not an achiever in sports, cultural events etc. Sometimes, I am not confident and don’t have the courage to go up on stage. Can you please suggest how I can overcome my fear and be confident. 
A student

Dear Student,
One fears the judgement of others when one is unable to make a positive judgement about oneself. When you don’t believe in yourself and your worth, you worry about what others think about you. When you believe in yourself and your worth, then what others think about you holds no meaning. Please read my article published earlier in this newspaper on this topic ( I suggest that you take the help of a counsellor, to discover your own worth and live up to your own potential. Please remember that no one’s judgement of you is as important as your own judgement about yourself. We are often our own worst critics and when we are able to think of ourselves in a positive light, the world starts doing that too, because others merely reflect what we think of ourselves. 

Dear Madam,
I am a Class 10 student. Though I am good at studies, I get angry easily. Even in class, I grasp the subjects quickly and am always in a hurry to finish work fast. Sometimes, I get restless waiting for others to complete their work. And while my teachers appreciate my work, they also feel that I don’t go deep into the topic. While playing games too, if I feel that someone has not followed the rules, I get angry and act out, thus spoiling the game. My parents and teachers feel that I should learn to adjust to be a good team player and leader. How can I go about this? Please guide.

Dear Nesar,
I think it is very helpful for all of us to try and understand ourselves and our emotions better and I am impressed by your courage in wanting to go down that path. Anger is a valid emotion, but the expression of anger sometimes needs to be managed. To be able to do that, it is helpful to understand your anger — what is causing you to get angry, what needs of yours are not being satisfied, or what feelings are triggering the anger. Getting answers to these questions will help you become a better team player, and also not be so hard on yourself and on others. But getting these answers is not that easy and I suggest you take the help of a counsellor who will go down that path with you. If you do not have access to a counsellor, call the free Parivarthan Counselling Helpline at 080 65333323 to reach a counsellor who can get you started on this very rewarding journey of self-discovery. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I am studying for my Class 10 exams. I am under immense pressure to score well and as the exams are nearing, I am not able to eat or sleep properly. I am not even able to concentrate properly on studies as I start daydreaming or easily get distracted when I start reading school books. Sometimes, I feel like watching a movie or reading fiction. As the exams are nearing, I am getting nervous. Please help me.

Dear Nachiketh,
I have written extensively in this column on the topic of exam-related anxiety. You can read some of the articles on the topic at, and I think it will be very helpful for you to go through them. It will also be helpful for you to reach out to a counsellor who may help you understand your anxiety related to exams. If you do not have access to a counsellor you could try accessing the free parivarthan counselling helpline at 080 65333323. It is important to be able to understand what your fears are and whether those fears are rational or not. All the best.

Dear Madam,
I am a BSc student and am studying for my final semester exams. But I lack motivation to study as there is no clear path ahead for my higher studies. I am confused as to what to take up next and it is affecting my studies now. Please guide.

Dear Mala,
It is up to you to create a clear path ahead of you. You can define your path. Life is not necessarily about following a path that has been identified by someone else. It can be about creating an entirely new path that you have found for yourself. So don’t think about your higher studies as the next defining thing that someone else has to give you clarity about. 

Think about what it is that you ultimately want to do and become. Visualise the life you want to lead and how you want to get there. And then choose the path of higher studies that you want towards that end. There is no one right path that you need to follow. There may be several equally good paths that you can choose from. So, define where you want to reach and then choose the path. And in the process, remember to enjoy the journey.