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“Dream is not what you see in sleep, is the thing which doesn’t let you sleep.” 

I remember my dad teaching me the power of language at a very young age. Not only did my dad understand that specific words affect our mental pictures, but he understood words are a powerful programming factor in lifelong success.

One particularly interesting event occurred when I was eight. As a kid, I was always climbing trees, poles, and literally hanging around upside down from the rafters of our lake house. So, it came to no surprise for my dad to find me at the top of a 30-foot tree swinging back and forth. My little eight-year-old brain didn’t realize the tree could break or I could get hurt. I just thought it was fun to be up so high.

My older cousin, Tammy, was also in the same tree. She was hanging on the first big limb, about ten feet below me. Tammy’s mother also noticed us at the exact time my dad did. About that time a huge gust of wind came over the tree.. I could hear the leaves start to rattle and the tree begin to sway. I remember my dad’s voice over the wind yell, “Bart, Hold on tightly.” So I did. The next thing I know, I heard Tammy screaming at the top of her lungs, laying flat on the ground. She had fallen out of the tree.

I scampered down the tree to safety. My dad later told me why she fell and I did not.. Apparently, when Tammy’s mother felt the gust of wind, she yelled out, “Tammy, don’t fall!” And Tammy did fall.

My dad then explained to me that the mind has a very difficult time processing a negative image. In fact, people who rely on internal pictures cannot see a negative at all. In order for Tammy to process the command of not falling, her nine-year-old brain had to first imagine falling, then try to tell the brain not to do what it just imagined. Whereas, my eight-year-old brain instantly had an internal image of me hanging on tightly.

This concept is especially useful when you are attempting to break a habit or set a goal. You can’t visualize not doing something. The only way to properly visualize not doing something is to actually find a word for what you want to do and visualize that. For example, when I was thirteen years old, I played for my junior high school football team. I tried so hard to be good, but I just couldn’t get it together at that age. I remember hearing the words run through my head as I was running out for a pass, “Don’t drop it!” Naturally, I dropped the ball.

My coaches were not skilled enough to teach us proper “self-talk.” They just thought some kids could catch and others couldn’t. I’ll never make it pro, but I’m now a pretty good Sunday afternoon football player, because all my internal dialogue is positive and encourages me to win. I wish my dad had coached me playing football instead of just climbing trees. I might have had a longer football career.

Here is a very easy demonstration to teach your kids and your friends the power of a toxic vocabulary. Ask them to hold a pen or pencil. Hand it to them. Now, follow my instructions carefully. Say to them, “Okay, try to drop the pencil.” Observe what they do.

Most people release their hands and watch the pencil hit the floor. You respond, “You weren’t paying attention. I said TRY to drop the pencil. Now please do it again.” Most people then pick up the pencil and pretend to be in excruciating pain while their hand tries but fails to drop the pencil.

The point is made.

If you tell your brain you will “give it a try,” you are actually telling your brain to fail. I have a “no try” rule in my house and with everyone I interact with. Either people will do it or they won’t. Either they will be at the party or they won’t. I’m brutal when people attempt to lie to me by using the word try. Do they think I don’t know they are really telegraphing to the world they have no intention of doing it but they want me to give them brownie points for pretended effort? You will never hear the words “I’ll try” come out of my mouth unless I’m teaching this concept in a seminar.

If you “try” and do something, your unconscious mind has permission not to succeed. If I truly can’t make a decision I will tell the truth. “Sorry John. I’m not sure if I will be at your party or not. I’ve got an outstanding commitment. If that falls through, I will be here. Otherwise, I will not. Thanks for the invite.”

People respect honesty. So remove the word “try” from your vocabulary.

My dad also told me that psychologists claim it takes seventeen positive statements to offset one negative statement. I have no idea if it is true, but the logic holds true. It might take up to seventeen compliments to offset the emotional damage of one harsh criticism.

These are concepts that are especially useful when raising children.

Ask yourself how many compliments you give yourself daily versus how many criticisms.. Heck, I know you are talking to yourself all day long. We all have internal voices that give us direction.

So, are you giving yourself the 17:1 ratio or are you shortchanging yourself with toxic self-talk like, ” I’m fat. Nobody will like me. I’ll try this diet. I’m not good enough. I’m so stupid. I’m broke, etc. etc.”

If our parents can set a lifetime of programming with one wrong statement, imagine the kind of programming you are doing on a daily basis with your own internal dialogue. Here is a list of Toxic Vocabulary words.

Notice when you or other people use them.

Ø But: Negates any words that are stated before it.
Ø
Try: Presupposes failure.
Ø
If: Presupposes that you may not.
Ø
Might: It does nothing definite. It leaves options for your listener.
Ø
Would Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen.
Ø
Should Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen (and implies guilt.)
Ø
Could Have: Past tense that draws attention to things that didn’t actually happen but the person tries to take credit as if it did happen.
Ø
Can’t/Don’t: These words force the listener to focus on exactly the opposite of what you want. This is a classic mistake that parents and coaches make without knowing the damage of this linguistic error.

Examples:
Toxic phrase: “Don’t drop the ball!”
Likely result: Drops the ball
Better language: “Catch the ball!”

Toxic phrase: “You shouldn’t watch so much television.”
Likely result: Watches more television.
Better language: “I read too much television makes people stupid. You might find yourself turning that TV off and picking up one of those books more often!”

Exercise: Take a moment to write down all the phrases you use on a daily basis or any Toxic self-talk that you have noticed yourself using. Write these phrases down so you will begin to catch yourself as they occur and change them.

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow, Learn as if you were to live forever”

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Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated.  The first day in college is one of them.  When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

 Where do these sparks start? I think we are born with them. My 3-year old twin boys  have a million sparks. A little Spiderman toy can make them jump on the bed. They get thrills from creaky swings in the park. A story from daddy gets them excited. They do a daily countdown for birthday party – several months in advance – just for the day they will cut their own birthday cake.

 I see students like you, and I still see some sparks. But when  I see older people,  the spark is difficult to find. That means as we age, the spark fades. People whose spark has faded too much are dull, dejected, aimless and bitter. Remember Kareena in the first half of Jab We Met vs the second half? That is what happens when the spark is lost.   So how to save the spark?

Imagine the spark to be a lamp’s flame. The first aspect is nurturing – to give your spark the fuel, continuously. The second is to guard against storms.

 To nurture, always have goals. It is human nature to strive, improve and achieve full potential. In fact, that is success. It is what is possible for you. It isn’t any external measure – a certain cost to company pay package, a particular car or house.

Most of us are from middle class families. To us, having material landmarks is success and rightly so. When you have grown up where money constraints force everyday choices, financial freedom is a big achievement.

 But it isn’t the purpose of life. If that was the case, Mr Ambani would not show up for work. Shah Rukh Khan would stay at home and not dance anymore. Steve Jobs won’t be working hard to make a better iPhone, as he sold Pixar for billions of dollars already. Why do they do it? What makes them come to work everyday?

They do it because it makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel alive. Just getting better from current levels feels good. If you study hard, you can improve your rank. If you make an effort to  interact with people, you will do better in interviews. If you practice, your cricket will get better. You may also know that you cannot become Tendulkar, yet. But you can get to the next level. Striving for that next level is important.

Nature designed  with a random set of genes and circumstances in which we were born. To be happy, we have to accept it and make the most of nature’s design. Are you? Goals will help you do that.

 

I must add, don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.

There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions. 

 You must have read some quotes –  Life is a  tough race, it is a marathon or whatever. No, from what I have seen so far, life is one of those races in nursery school. Where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same with life, where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.

 One last thing about nurturing the spark – don’t take life seriously. One of my yoga teachers used to make students laugh during classes. One student asked him if these jokes would take away something from the yoga practice. The teacher said  – don’t be serious, be sincere. This quote has defined my work ever since. Whether its my writing, my job, my relationships or any of my goals. I get thousands of opinions on my writing everyday. There is heaps of praise, there is intense criticism. If I take it all seriously, how will I write? Or rather, how will I live? Life is not to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? It’s ok, bunk a few classes, goof up a few interviews, fall in love. We are people, not programmed devices.

 I’ve told you three things – reasonable goals, balance and not taking it too seriously that will nurture the spark. However, there are four storms in life that will threaten to completely put out the flame. These must be guarded against. These are disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loneliness of purpose.

 Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask. You will feel miserable. You will want to quit, like I wanted to when nine publishers rejected my first book. Some IITians kill themselves over low grades – how silly is that? But that is how much failure can hurt you.

But it’s life. If challenges could always be overcome, they would cease to be a challenge. And remember – if you are failing at something, that means you are at your limit or potential. And that’s where you want to be.

 Disappointment’s cousin is  frustration, the second storm.  Have you ever been frustrated? It happens when things are stuck. This is especially relevant in India. From traffic jams to getting that job you deserve, sometimes things take so long that you don’t know if you chose the right goal. After books, I set the goal of writing for Bollywood, as I thought they needed writers. I am called extremely lucky, but it took me five years to get close to  a release.

Frustration saps excitement, and turns your initial energy into something negative, making you a bitter person. How did I deal with it? A realistic assessment of the time involved – movies take a long time to make even though they are watched quickly, seeking a certain enjoyment in the process rather than the end result – at least I was learning how to write scripts  , having a side plan – I had my third book to write and even something as simple as pleasurable distractions in your life  – friends, food, travel can help you overcome it. Remember, nothing is to be taken seriously. Frustration is a sign somewhere, you took it too seriously.

 Unfairness – this is hardest to deal with, but unfortunately that is how our country works. People with connections, rich dads, beautiful faces, pedigree find it easier to make it – not just in Bollywood, but everywhere. And sometimes it is just plain luck. There are so few opportunities in India, so many stars need to be aligned for you to make it happen. Merit and hard work is not always linked to achievement in the short term, but the long term correlation is high, and ultimately things do work out. But realize, there will be some people luckier than you.

In fact, to have an opportunity to go to college and understand this speech in English means you are pretty darn lucky by Indian standards. Let’s be grateful for what we have and get the strength to accept what we don’t. I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai, but I have two boys who I think are more beautiful than her. It’s ok. Don’t let unfairness kill your spark.

 Finally, the last point that can kill your spark is isolation. As you grow older you will realize you are unique. When you are little, all kids want Ice cream and Spiderman. As you grow older to college, you still are a lot like your friends. But ten years later and you realize you are unique. What you want, what you believe in, what makes you feel, may be different from even the people closest to you. This can create conflict as your goals may not match with others. . And you may drop some of them. Basketball captains in college invariably stop playing basketball by the time they have their second child. They give up something that meant so much to them. They do it for their family. But in doing that, the spark dies. Never, ever make that compromise. Love yourself first, and then others.

 There you go. I’ve told you the four thunderstorms – disappointment, frustration, unfairness and isolation. You cannot avoid them, as like the monsoon they will come into your life at regular intervals. You just need to keep the raincoat handy to not let the spark die.

 I welcome you again to the most wonderful  years of your life. If someone gave me the choice to go back in time, I will surely choose college. But I also hope that ten years later as well, you eyes will shine the same way as they do today. That you will Keep the Spark alive, not only through college, but through the next 2,500 weekends. And I hope not just you, but my whole country will keep that spark alive, as we really need it now more than any moment in history. And there is something cool about saying – I come from the land of a billion sparks.

 Thank You.

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