Simplify your Work & Life Forever – The Only Choice that Matters

Work and life is often slave not to the really big decisions but to the small little choices that keep battering you every day, every moment. They keep eating into my bandwidth and, according to scientific research, mental capacity too.

Some decisions I eliminate from my life (inspired by Obama’s standard grey/blue suits), millions of micro decisions are left to my brain’s powerful, yet not fully reliable, autopilot mode and the big ones always manage to get the necessary attention they need. Yet there remain moments each day when I make choices, not always easy ones.

I recently found the answer to all my troubles (literally) in a status I’d put up on facebook three years ago. It has helped simplify my life so immensely that even at the risk of using a cliché that I so dislike I would call it a mantra, a hack, a shortcut to my dilemmas. And here it is.

The only choice that needs making is choosing between what you want NOW and what you want MOST. For every business decision that seems tricky, every time temptation crosses your path, every time you feel unfocussed, this question will put things into perspective like magic –  How does what I want NOW impact what I want MOST?

The NOW is tempting and will beckon you like a siren. A simple mental reminder of what you want MOST is sometimes all it takes to rewire the brain’s response. The vision of achieving what you want MOST can protect you from the lure of giving in to the NOW. The power of this choice is so amazing that every decision has become easier. From the business decision that will yield powerful long term results over the short-term foolishness to going to the gym instead of lolling about, it takes care of it all.

Here’s wishing you power, productivity, discipline, focus and crystal clear perspective as you focus on what you want most.

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6 Neuroscientifically Proven Habits to Enhance your Mental Powers

By Shweta Handa-Gupta

Now, more than ever, we need mental super powers as our brain struggles to be agile, to innovate, connect, focus, remember, learn, strategize, be present… Here is a list of the six most powerful habits that will help you supercharge your mental powers.

I. Reflect – In our execution driven busy lives, we often neglect to pause and reflect. Taking out time to reflect, to simply sit and think, helps us in multiple ways.
o Reflecting on our experiences allows us to draw lessons from them.
o Reflection on our learning helps create mental connections and moves them into our long-term memory where they are available as retrievable wisdom and generate powerful insights.
o Self-reflection or introspection leads to higher meta-cognitive accuracy or, in simple words, higher self-awareness. Higher meta-cognitive accuracy has been shown to increase grey matter in the anterior pre-frontal cortex (involved in problem-solving, exploring alternatives, planning, attentional resource allocation etc.).
Start by keeping aside 10 minutes a day to reflect on your experiences, key lessons and, most importantly, introspect. Writing down or journaling can further enhance the results.

II. Read – Reading is powerful brain exercise since it is a complex task that requires several regions of the brain to work together. In a study at Stanford University MRI mapping showed a noticeable rise in overall blood flow to the brain the moment participants began to read. To maximize the brain benefits of your reading try to get out of your comfort zone and expand your reading list to include unfamiliar topics.

III. Question – Curiosity is the cornerstone of genius ability for it keeps the mind in an active mode. Curiosity when expressed as constructive questioning makes your mind more observant and magnifies your learning from every experience. It also helps you be more flexible by diminishing the brain’s natural resistance to new and unknown ideas.
Staying curious is not easy since we naturally seek certainty. Doubt is an uncomfortable state and ‘knowing’ is always more comfortable. Next time you catch yourself slipping into the comfort zone, remember, recognizing that you don’t know is the first step to ‘knowing’.
Use questions not only to explore and understand the world around you but also question yourself. Question your long-held beliefs, behaviours and feelings to understand their origins and influence. You might be surprised.

IV. Stretch Your Mind – Play complex games and solve puzzles to keep exercising your mind. Remember, your mind, like the muscles in your body, will only develop when it is stretched to its limit. Continuously increase the difficulty levels of the game or puzzle to keep challenging your brain.
Also, reduce your use of simplifying devices such as the calculator, GPS etc. to only when it’s absolutely necessary.

V. Exercise – Scientists have linked physical exercise to brain health for long. Exercise releases a host of chemicals and hormones that help reduce stress, improve cognition and promote brain regeneration. Aerobic exercise stimulates the production of a protein known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BNDF) that has been associated with preserving brain cells, improved memory function and neurogenesis (growth and adaption of new brain cells).
Simply, physical exercise helps generate both grey matter and white matter (white matter connects grey matter areas & carries nerve impulses between neurons). If you prefer weight or resistance training, remember to add a bit (10 minutes) of aerobic exercise to your routine to jumpstart your heart and sweat glands.

VI. Fantasize – Imagination exercises use a neural network that engages all four hemispheres of our mind.* Using your imagination, spinning stories and weaving fantasies strengthens neural connections, improves brain function and significantly enhances your capacity for original thought.
Interestingly, research has found that thinking about an activity triggers the same part of the brain used when we actually perform the activity. This means that you can use the power of imagination at any time to further enhance your brain development. (This does not mean that you substitute imagination for real practice!)
These habits will serve to super-power your Brain and none of them needs to occupy too much time in your schedule. Reflection, questioning and using your imagination can be integrated into your daily activities and performed at any moment during your day. Start small with reading, exercise and solving complex puzzles and build up as best you can.
Even as you practice all of these, do not compromise on your sleep. Sleep is consolidation and regeneration time for your brain and helps improve learning and memory. Sleep is also essential to creativity since it helps you form novel connections to seemingly unrelated ideas.

Wish you a contemplative, imaginative, curious, active and challenging day.

 *The logical left and creative right brain is a Myth! To know more about how most activities we perform in life need intricate integration of both hemispheres visit the QuadraBrain® Whole Brain Thinking tab here (

©2015 Shweta HandaGupta. All rights reserved

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Put the ‘Strategic’ Back in Strategic Leadership

You must remain focussed on your journey to greatness       ~Les Brown

Leaders by definition are people who guide or direct, who influence people and provide strategic direction and purpose to people or businesses. Every manager today is expected to be a leader and every company today is seeking ‘strategic leaders’ at the CXO level.  Yet studies have shown that most leaders spend less than 20% of their time making strategic decisions or providing direction. A large number of leaders today spend more time dodging the hurdles than charting the course. The answers I get from the CXOs in my leadership coaching and development programs have brought forth some valuable insights and common traps that pull us into the day-to-day.

To share an interesting example, Mr X was the business head for a particular channel in his organization.  He often shared how he was always planning innovative ways to achieve his targets – from promotions to incentives. Well, one particular year he was particularly excited because his MD had put targets for 4 new solutions in his KRA, something he saw as a vote of confidence.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t!! The MD had got tired of waiting for him to take the initiative and think of new solutions and ended up doing the thinking for him. I can actually hear some of you saying “well, his MD should have clearly told him he expected him to think of new products and solutions” in response to which I’d remind you that Mr. X was the ‘business head’ for this particular channel. Many of us have been conditioned to keep our heads down, waiting for the right direction and authority to come our way but the rewards go to the one who spots and seizes the opportunity to make a difference using whatever formal and informal power and influence (s)he has. A leader, to me, is one who can balance driving the excellence in execution with the all important strategic thinking to take his function/department/team/business to the next level. So here are some thoughts to help us put the ‘strategic’ back in your leadership style.

What are you planning? Many of us feel proud of our planning when we speak about being strategic. More than 60% of us are just planning the best way to achieve our KRAs and targets for the next year.  Great I say, but the answer is in WHAT we are planning. Are we just planning tasks, activities, the next quarter, next year OR are we also looking at the larger business landscape and working to make our organizations even better. Are we looking for the next great thing beyond our portfolio or are we going to wait for someone else to do the thinking for us, like Mr. X mentioned above?

Take off those blinkers. It is normal to focus on that which is right in front of us but it is the leaders’ peripheral vision that provides them the break-through information that will transform the landscape. Most business strategists have similar mental maps but we need to search beyond our current boundaries since the best strategic opportunities are often hard to spot and even harder to execute. We have to Question conventional wisdom, the safe opinions and common beliefs, even our own.  The most profitable opportunities might need a mental leap because they may be difficult to explain and justify, may need us to change the way we work and would definitely need for us to battle a natural resistance to change within ourselves and in the people that we work with. But we can either be the Game Changer or Mr. X above :)

Break the vicious fire-fighting cycle. You may not be surprised to know that this has been identified as one of the major factors pulling down the leadership quotient of organizations.  We focus all our energies and processes towards the urgent and important tasks often ignoring other important items on our agenda till they become urgent and thus get into the vicious cycle where nothing gets our attention till it’s urgent!! In fact, we often feel a sense of accomplishment after having ‘doused the fire’, often subconsciously seeking the high and the praise that comes with it. Know that if you need to spend too much time fire-fighting, something is off track and you should put in efforts to fix that. Consciously divide your time and energy between the urgent immediate tasks and the important ones that are not urgent yet.  Foster the planning and pro-activity required to break this cycle and prevent the new fires before they alight.

Be decisive and stop wasting precious hours on unfocussed discussion at the cost of timely decision making. While it is important to foster open dialogue, as leaders we need to:

  •  Be aware of what drives other people’s agenda and what biases may influence the decision making process
  • Speak about the tough issues
  • Keep Operational and Strategic Discussions separate
  • Ask questions that take you to the crux of the matter and avoid endless discussion
  • Put real choices on the table
  • Be prepared to take a well informed stand in face of divergent views

In your journey to greatness as a strategic leader, I think nothing sums it up better that Leonardo Da Vinci’s words “…people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Looking forward to each of you actively setting aside time for the thinking and strategizing that can transform your work and life even while you keep an eye and delegate effectively to ensure the tactical doesn’t suffer for the strategic :)

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Are You the Right CEO for Your Business?

Founder & CEO – A number of business owners prefer this designation (and role for that matter). Most are brilliant and capable entrepreneurs but questions that really needs answering are – are you the best person to be the CEO OR  till what size are you the right CEO for your own business. With increasingly young entrepreneurs, it has almost become a fashion to critique the founder’s ability to be an effective CEO after the first stage. In fact, if you opt for funding, the investors may insist you hire an external CEO at some stage.

The skills required to be an Entrepreneur and CEO may overlap but are different. However, it would be unfair not to remember numerous founders who ran the mile with their businesses with great success…Bill Gates and Narayan Murthy come immediately to mind. While I have met enough and more founders who should definitely move out of the way and let in external expertise, I have met a significant number who are functioning equally effectively as CEOs.

The determining factor for me is a founder’s honest ability to assess their expertise as a CEO and adopt the designation not just because they have the authority to adopt any designation they wish but because they really are the best person for that job. So here are some questions for the enlightened entrepreneur to think about while taking this decision.

  • How do you see your entrepreneurial journey? Do you feel allegiance to an  idea and would want to stay with your company as it grows or are you a serial entrepreneur who would want to see the company reach a critical mass and then move on to the next idea? If you fall in the latter category, that is the first sign that you need to bring in an external expert to handle the tactical requirements of this business while you move on to explore the next opportunity. Remember, the idea is to move on! Do not to breathe down the neck of the external CEO which may adversely impact his/her performance. Maintain a discreet distance and request only essential, SMART and truly representative reporting.

  • Do you have the necessary skills to be the CEO?While founders may have the great ideas, a CEO needs to effectively articulate them to energize the workforce and take hundreds of people along the journey. While you can hire talent to do the managing, organizing, setting up processes for you in the role of COO or other suitable designation, a chief executive necessarily needs the ability to lead, build performing teams, identify and deploy the right talent, have a vision for the future and most of all be able to let go and delegate when required.

  • As the business grows, can you really handle it all? This is often a crucial question in the debate. Is the person who brought the business to this level, the right one to take it ahead? I am afraid there is no right answer to this one. My first instinct is use the same standards to evaluate performance as for an external CEO. Why have different parameters for the founder-CEO who grew the business. Identify the incremental requirements of the business as it grows in size and honestly assess the potential skill, performance and personal bandwidth gaps. These will provide direction to decide whether you need an external CEO or you can achieve the same level of success by complementing the CEO role with additional resources.

  • If you may need funding, will you be able to inspire confidence in investors with your existing skill set, experience and team? Investors need to see a leadership team that inspires confidence, even if that means hiring an experienced CEO or COO to showcase the organizational capabilities. You want to ideally have thought of this and planned for it before you set out to seek funding.

  • Last but not the least, would you be willing to hire external expertise to ensure you get feedback and invest in self-development? The founder CEO often flounders in the absence of honest improvement feedback which is rarely forthcoming, especially in the Indian context, from within the company. A self-improvement orientation, ability to handle criticism and willingness to hire a coach or appropriate neutral external person with awareness of the realities who can facilitate the improvement efforts would be essential along this journey.

As we discuss how the skills required for an Entrepreneur and CEO are different, it also explains why all CEOs don’t make very successful entrepreneurs. So as the entrepreneurial bug bites you, read The  Entrepreneurship ADVENTURE to consider what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.

The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism ~Norman Vincent Peale

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Three Key Filters to Help you Find the Right Coach!

By Shweta HandaGupta

You have a lot of options if you decide to hire an executive, personal, life coach or even a coach who specializes in a niche or subset within the same! The right coach can be vital to the quality and outcomes of the coaching engagement and the surge in this profession can make the decision of choosing a Coach quite difficult.

The biggest challenge a few years ago was that anyone could call themselves a Coach, and as online searches showed, thousands did! This challenge still exists but another one has gotten added to this list. With the proliferation of coach certifications and coach certifying bodies, the ease with which a coach certification can be obtained has increased without the necessary quality checks! A canned or one-size-fits-all approach has become popular in coaching classrooms which takes coaching away from its core.

Here are a few tips which will help you choose wisely:

I  Important Attributes to look for – In my opinion really good coaches share the following characteristics

- Have a passion for helping others. They truly love people.
- Truly and genuinely care for your success, even on an emotional level
- Are well-informed and have points of view that they aren’t afraid to express
- Have a Coach and self-development practice themselves. A person who isn’t clearing the cobwebs in their own mind is unlikely to be able to help you clear yours
- Are original thinkers. In a world where imitation is no longer frowned upon as strongly as it used to be, original thinking is not as easy to find. This quality is important because original thinkers will be able to ask powerful questions in the moment when you need them.
- Have more holistic exposure, knowledge and understanding of leadership, human behaviour, psychology and the human mind.
- Are insightful & intuitive – Coaching is as much an instinct and an art as a developed practice. No amount of coaching tools or techniques can help if a coach can’t draw on their intuitive strengths to create what is needed in the moment.

II  Chemistry & Rapport are Crucial – The best coach in the world may not be the right coach for you. Coaching is a partnership that thrives on deep trust and coaches and clients often develop a strong relationship while working together. Good coaches are able to inspire confidence and trust from very early stages of the interaction and the chemistry or rapport between the coach and the client is an important determiner of the success of the coaching relationship. First impressions are important but remember that anyone with good communication skills can project an initial positive impression.

Spend time to get to know your Coach. Ask what his/her values are. Does he/she come across as an authentic person? Simply, are you comfortable letting him/her into the deepest recesses of your mind? A reputable coach always provides the first interaction free of charge because they know rapport is important and the first session also functions as an initial discovery and understanding discussion.

III Training, Credentials & Certification – Yes, these are important as they provide a minimum benchmark to ensure you are working with a Coach who has made the effort to obtain the right knowledge and skills through a rigorous training program. Credentialing from International Coach Federation is a useful benchmark to seek. Having said that, it is important to note that credentials have become more of a basic hygiene factor than an assurance of quality. Some of the best coaches in the world are not necessary credentialed but are easily identifiable by their excellent work, writings they’ve published etc. Do research the coach online, see the kind of work they’ve done and whether they’ve displayed original thinking. Don’t forget to check testimonials or ask for references.

Before you start the Coach search, there are some important aspects you need to consider which will allow you to make a better decision. Here is a list of questions you might want to ask yourself first.

  • Why do you want a Coach? – Write a paragraph on why you want to work with a coach. This will help you find the right fit and also align your expectations with the coach.

  • Are you prepared to take a hard look at yourself, work on creating what you desire and change, if required? If not, drop your coaching plans now.

  • How much contact do you need or want from the Coach? – Having an initial idea on this will help you have a better discussion with potential Coaches. Would you like your coach to be available to you for small discussions outside of coaching sessions.

  • How will you know your coaching was successful? What outcomes are you hoping for?

  • What is your budget?

These answers will also provide you a framework for your initial discussions with the Coach.

©2013-14 Shweta HandaGupta. All rights reserved

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