Saturday, December 14, 2013

Maintaining Strong Unwavering Focus – Conquering Vikshepa

The man who chases two rabbits catches neither. ~ Confucius

We can acquire a lot of wisdom simply by listening to other people’s experiences. During one chance interaction, I came across the case of a company X which was painstakingly setup by the owner from scratch. He literally built the company brick by brick and it was not easy going in the beginning. With passage of time, the fundamentals started looking good, business was sound, cash was being generated and a small bunch of people were gathered as a team.

However, in due course of time competitors came up and started eating away into the revenue pie. And soon they began to dominate the scene. Company X continues to be in business but has not managed to reach those hallowed levels of success which it was destined to achieve. What went wrong with the company? It is definitely not the product or the market or even the economy since others are doing well in the same space. This is a typical case of small businesses where the owner gets distracted from the business vision and goals thus losing vital edge.

In Patanjali’s Yogasutras there is a term Vikshepa. Iit stands for distraction or wandering of the mind. It starts with one losing focus on the task at hand like watching the milk boil in a tumbler while wasting time doing unnecessary things. Eventually one’s performance starts faltering, efficiency and productivity take a hit. Then the person starts hitting a spiral by blaming the surroundings, circumstances and situations beyond ones control and slowly believing the excuses to be true. People resort to wasting time and invoking divine powers to intervene and resolve the situation but seldom do they introspect. Honestly, it is very easy to lose focus. It is identifying the problem and addressing it which is the real challenge.

Zig Ziglar rightfully said - “Lack of direction, not lack of time, is the problem. We all have twenty-four hour days.”

Wandering Mind

Wandering mind is not a major problem per se. Our minds are full of thoughts, vivid imagination and situations which cause us to think and ponder. But when the mind wanders while we have an important task at hand then it becomes a problem. It is like time taken for setting up a machine and starting production, then facing a disruption due to say power cut (focus lost) leading to quality problems, waste, loss of brand image in larger acute cases and chipping away of the precious bottom-line.

We often get distracted but it is our discipline and purpose in life which should bring us back to concentrate on what we are doing or supposed to be doing; on the goals and objectives that we have set for ourselves. It is easy to lose control. Everyone does at some point in time. Success embraces those who are able to keep the focus intact through all odds.

A Vikshepa never manifests in its “full glory” from the beginning. It usually starts with minor distractions and then leads to becoming a major impediment. In its exalted form it can easily cause severe lasting damage.

Let us say a small business owner slowly relegates day to day activities to another person. This is the first level of losing control. Quite often people start enjoying the delegation of duties to others and slowly become dependent. However, if he continues to keep an eye on the numbers and operations data, the chances of allowing the system to slip out of his hand is remote.

In business, one cannot afford the luxury of losing focus. The owners have to chalk out the long term strategy, the goals and doggedly go about achieving them every single day. Concentrate on the greater purpose and never lose sight of the daily essentials. One cannot do multiple things at the same time. Multi-tasking is a grossly overrated term which is a common cause of failure.

How do we ensure that our focus is unwavering? Understand the Vikshepas that entrap us.

The most common Vikshepa is illness and listlessness which are usually linked, and not entirely avoidable but remedial measures can be taken fast.

Doubt, cravings or greed are more psychological and complex to identify and address. People often live in denial thus complicating the issue.

Carelessness/ negligence and lethargy or laziness is often intertwined. The good part is one can take action to remove these Vikshepa. In some cases lethargy is due to illness where root cause should be addressed.

Failure is acceptable because not all outcomes are in our control but inability to make progress and instability in maintaining the momentum are again damaging for anybody.

A very dear friend had gifted me a copy of The Road Less Travelled. I had read the book thoroughly but the main takeaway for me was Dr. Scott Peck’s advice against Procrastination. The reason for lack of progress is most certainly procrastination by the owner.

People who are delusional are in the direst need for an intervention. In my opinion, it is one of the most damaging Vikshepa and probably the bane of any business or person’s existence. If someone’s mind starts believing a certain aspect to be the fact to the level of being delusional then it is surely a downward spiral from that point onwards.

In the case of Company X, the owner had slowly started believing that he was just a figurehead and the business was basically being run by others after he delegated his daily duties. He felt that others They were the cause of all success. He also shifted focus from the details of business performance; the reason why emergence of other stronger competitors did not pique his thoughts.

What Happens due to any (or all) Vikshepa
There are four common resultant of Vikshepa – Pain, Sadness, Anger and Breathlessness.

It all starts with pain and the feeling of sadness as things start getting out of control. One is unable to come to terms with the problems caused by the Vikshepa and the feel that the there is nothing much that can be done and all is lost. It soon turns into anger; first channelized outside and then the profundity of one’s action (or inaction) hits home and the anger is directed inwards. Breathlessness is a state when one is consumed with the feeling of knowing it is only the self who is to blame and the damage that has occurred could have been avoided. It is a feeling of being trapped.
Luckily for Company X’s owner, there was some help on hand. Few people identified the issues and rolled up their sleeves to rectify the situation and turnaround the company. It is work in progress but the initial highlights are encouraging.

Conquering Vikshepa विक्षेप

We have to accept that we are humans and Vikshepa will affect us from time to time. What we need is a continuous Action Plan to circumvent them and aim to prevent them.

Here are few workable pointers.

Human beings are prone to live in denial which is the root cause of all troubles and crisis. We have the famous Kübler Ross Model of Five Stages of Grief. There is Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and hopefully Acceptance in the good cases. Some linger in the intermediate stages for too long and need intervention. We need to get over the “this can’t be happening to me” feeling. The first step is identification and then acceptance that there is a problem. Half of the battle is won.

What Vikshepa provokes is the need to change. One can replicate The Stages of Change Model originally developed by James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente at the University of Rhode Island. They were studying how smokers were able to give up their habits or addiction. The only warning is to ensure there is no relapse.

The process of change is quite simple. Align thoughts in one line preferably write down and prioritize the list. Understand the cause and effect relationship between the list items to ensure the root cause is targeted in the beginning. Choose well among options and follow it up with dedication and faith. You can either expand your business vertically or horizontally at any point in time. Trying to do both can be a sure-shot recipe of a royal debacle. Do the first things first. Focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is an overused non-productive term. It is simply a waste of energy. Identify on what is important, what is of more value, what is more fundamental.

There will always be distractions, noise and crowd. You have to tune it out and remain focused like Mahabharata’s Arjun towards your goals in life.

"You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength." ~ Marcus Aurelius

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