Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Limits to Goodness

Goodness is the only investment that never fails
-        Henry David Thoreau

Goodness is a virtue that is highly valued in our society. ‘Be good’ tells every mother to her child as he sets off for school, ‘do good’ is what we always hear great people say. It is no surprise then that we all aspire to become ‘good’ human beings. And we all like to believe that we are good human beings.

In a book I recently read, the protagonist was faced with a tricky situation in her life. Mulling over this, she realised that ‘there are limits to her goodness. She could have gone through her entire life without knowing these limits.’

Limits to goodness? This phrase made me sit up straight and start thinking …… what does that mean? The more I thought, the more it slowly started making sense to me, and made me wonder: what are the limits to my goodness? Do I know them? I believe myself to be a morally upright, ethically sound, and essentially good person. But just how far does my goodness go? Do I know it? If I am faced with a very real dilemma between what is the right and good thing to do, would I do that right and good thing even if it meant doing irremediable damage to a loved one?

We all think we know ourselves, but every once in a while, Life throws up situations that stop us dead in our tracks, that make us question everything we have ever believed in. Situations that show us a side of ourselves that stuns, and at times, even shocks us. Is this me thinking like this, we ask ourselves.

By the time we are out of our teens, most of us have a fairly stable value system in place. There are things that are key priorities for us, goals that we wish to achieve, and the various means that we are willing to explore or use in order to achieve these goals. We go through most of our lives more or less using this value system implicitly or explicitly. Of course, there will be times when temptation will come our way, and there will be times when we will give in to temptation, abandon momentarily our values, and then do course correction. After all, most of us are mortals with mortal minds and mortal resolves, and we don’t always pass Life’s exams with flying colours. As long as we remain aware and open, we can assimilate these experiences without too much difficulty and keep moving forward in Life.

Consider Reena’s situation.

Reena has been a conscientious teacher for over 14 years. She prides herself on her integrity and uncompromising honesty, and has always instilled this in all the children she has taught over the years. One fine day, going through her husband’s computer looking for an important file, she finds irrefutable evidence that her husband has been embezzling funds from the organisation he works for, stealing away hard earned money of the company’s clients. Reena, who has never tolerated any student cheating in exams at school, is now wondering what to do? Her entire moral code recoils at what she has found out and were it anyone else, she knows she would have had no second thoughts turning in the person to the authorities. But this is her husband of 12 years, whom she loves with all her heart. What to do?

Her values and morals would tell her the right thing to do is to report him to the authorities.
But then, what about her responsibility toward her 6 year old child? Is it fair to deprive him of a father?
And what about her marriage? She has loved her husband and they share a good, strong marriage? Is it right to sacrifice everything for the sake of some abstract values?

What seems to me is that, most of us would like to be good. Some of us are almost always good The very notion of ‘goodness’ assumes being good to others. However, when being good to others comes in direct conflict with being good to someone very close to us, that is when our limits get tested. If Reena has to be true to her values and be good to her husband’s clients, then she has to turn her husband in, and then she is not being good to him. Is she? Isn’t she?

There clearly is no one right answer to such moral dilemmas. If you catch your loved one (a parent, a child, a spouse, a close friend) doing something wrong, immoral or bad, what happens to you? What would you do in such a situation? It is a good idea to ask this question to ourselves every once in a while. More than that; it is important not to judge the actions of any other person, for we have no idea what inner battles he or she has fought before doing or not doing certain things. And ….. never know when the tables will turn, and we will find ourselves face to face with the limits to our goodness.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Beat the Exam Blues

Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
'Till you find your dream!

With just about a month left for the Boards to commence, it is now time to pull up your socks and give your everything to studies. Whether you have been studying sincerely all through the year, or you have just woken up in panic, if you manage this one month well, you will still come within reach of that goal that you have set for yourself. So let us look at how you can make the most of the time remaining with you.

  • ·     Revisit Your Goal: What is the target that you set for yourself at the beginning of the year? How close to it are you as of now? By now, you are well aware of the true state of your preparation. Is that goal (your desired percentage in the boards) still achievable? Do you need to lower it? Increase it? You need to push yourself just right in order to do your best. Under stretching or over stretching won’t help. So once again, revisit that goal and finalise it in your mind. Go by your own capabilities, and your current state of preparation. Don’t get influenced by friends and media.

  • ·     Aim to Surpass Yourself: This is the time to beat all your own past records and achievement, and do the best you possibly can. Stop comparing and competing with peers and competitors. It’s your future and your life you are working toward, so focus your thoughts and efforts on how best you can better your own past performance. Be your own benchmark. This will not only reduce your stress significantly, it will also free up mental space to focus on your studies. 

  •   Become More Efficient: From this moment on, it’s all about time management! Prioritise, schedule, organize, plan, detail out – the better you are able to schedule your day and the time available to you, the more you will achieve. I know, I know, ‘time management’ sounds easy, but how do you actually do it? Well, take one step at a time, and you will soon be there! Here are a few tips on how and where you can start working on Mission Time Management.

o   Plan! If you can create a comprehensive time table for the month you have with you, nothing like it! But if you are not someone who works as per time table, then try to plan at least week-wise, and have a sort of mini plan of what you want to achieve every day. This will help you remain abreast with how much you need to cover and at what pace.
o   Make Sure to Budget in Your Sleep. Don’t compromise on your sleep in this vital period. We all know that about 8 hours of sleep is what you need, and that is what I always recommend.
o   Create a Routine. Have fixed study time, depending on your own body clock and your most alert time periods. So if you are an early bird, plan to get up at a certain time every day. If you are a night owl, plan up to what time you will sit up every night. Having a fixed routine and schedule makes the process automatic and the brain then does not need to engage in when, how, at what time. Once these mundane things are taken care of, the brain can focus entirely on studies.
o   Pace Your Studying. All said and done, you have limited time available with you, so you can’t possibly spend forever on one topic. Before beginning on a topic or a chapter, decide how much time you will dedicate to it, and then pace yourself accordingly.
These are just some ways to manage time better. You can of course start with what works best for you.
  •  Focused Action: Studying randomly will not take you toward your goal. You now need to work in a focused manner. How much time to work on each subject / topic, what do you need to practice every day, how to revise, all this needs to be organised and planned. Concentrate on your weak areas. Is Math the devil for you? Are languages your downfall? Now is the time to tame these demons. Use your best or most alert time period to work on subjects that you find difficult. When tired or bored, yet when you know you need to still study more, take up your favourite subject. You can’t ignore your strengths. Many students focus entirely on their weaker subjects after the prelims, and as a result end up scoring lower than expected on their strong subjects. Don’t let that happen to you.

  • Use Positive Affirmations: Visualise yourself doing well and achieving your goal. Write down your goal statement in a simple, short, positively worded sentence and put it up in such a way that it is the first thing you see when you wake up and the last thing you see before going to bed. Remember to keep it simple and in the present tense. For example, ‘I put in my best efforts every day to reach my target’ instead of ‘I will put in ….’ Frame the sentence in a way that resonates best with you, that sounds perfect for you. Every time you find yourself getting distracted, repeat the affirmation to yourself.

  • ·        Practice Digital Detox: Detach yourself from all gadgets and technology – be it your mobiles, your I Pads, your laptops, or your Play Stations. Bid a temporary adieu to them from now till the time you finish your last paper. This is not to say that you should not enjoy any breaks. But let your breaks be non-digital. By all means, when tired and exhausted, listen to music, fool around with your siblings, exercise, go cycle or play a few minutes of ball. But avoid watching TV, going on that favourite YouTuber’s channel, or chatting on WhatsApp or SnapChat. A screen break is not a mental break. It continues to strain your eyes and your brain, and also opens up numerous mental hyperlinks.

  • ·    Take Care of Your Health: Or rather, allow your parents to! Make sure you are eating those veggies and downing that glass of milk without cribbing. A healthy, wholesome diet, a good night’s sleep, and some fresh air are what are going to keep your body healthy and vital. And we have all learnt that a sound body houses a sound mind.

Apart from these critical aspects, there are some other standard tips which you would have already heard ample number of times from teachers, parents, and relatives, but they are worth repeating:
  • ·         Put in at least 8 hours every day.
  • ·         Stop those coaching classes and now focus on self-study.
  • ·         Solve past papers to assess yourself and know where you need to work.
  • ·         Know your textbooks thoroughly.
  • ·         Practice Math and Grammar on a regular basis.

Most important of all, have believe in yourself! If you have confidence, and you put in your best, even sky is not the limit for you. So what are you waiting for? Get going, and climb this mountain, ford this stream and just beyond it, you will find your dream coming true!

Good Luck!