Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Stress Management

With so much hustle-bustle and frenetic time scheduling in IIT, comes the important of stress management. ‘Stress’ itself is a hi-fi word for students and if somebody even says that “I am stressed out”, he gets laughed at by others. This is because, in IIT, we students lead a ‘chilled life’ (couldn’t find another word for it!). We cannot blame anybody but ourselves for deadline pressures, academic pressures, or even extra-curricular pressures. So we need to look at stress from another perspective. We face stress in the form of being unable to play Age of Empires, or play table-tennis, or go for quizzing and so on. Of course, academics is primary, but academic pressures are secondary, and become chief concern only at deadlines.

Moving on to the definition of Stress Management we once again invoke Mr. Wikipedia:

“Stress management encompasses techniques intended to equip a person with effective coping mechanisms for dealing with psychological stress, with stress defined as a person's physiological response to an internal or external stimulus that triggers the fight-or-flight response

In simple words, stress management involves methods for coping with stress. For that, we need to define stress, which is understood from the reactions of a person to a given problem.

On a scale of 10, I would shamelessly give myself a 9. That would be a statement “in general”

  • I would not say that I don’t face stress at all, or react neutrally to stress. Even I am a normal student, I make exclamations of excitement or throw curses at the situation. But internally, I believe that I can stay calm in most situations.
  • I believe I am rational enough not to think about taking foolish measures like taking to alcohol, smoking, drugs which others fall prey to, or in some rare cases even suicide.
  • My stress management is not direct, just because I believe that things get done when they really have to get done.
  • Things that I do to calm down can be as ordinary as going to Nescafe for a quick coffee, starting a ‘short’ game on the laptop (which rarely ends up being short), watching a good video or a movie, and best of all, spending time with my friends.

What really catches my attention are the lengths to which people go to manage stress, taking breathing exercises, attending encouraging talks, or even going to the lengths of shelling out huge money to listen to a celebrity author giving tips on the so-called ‘stress management’, which I can go to lengths describing. I wont do that here, because I don’t believe in them, and that’s my conscience talking. People say they benefited them, yes I wouldn’t disagree, but I fail to believe that they can boost my confidence in my lifestyle or reduce my stress.

I certainly wouldn’t deny that I face stress, its just that stress management is situational for me, and in most situations, I am able to manage stress pretty well. Living the life of a hostel student has definitely taught me to judge stress factors and coping measures. If you are satisfied and able to remain calm from within, then nothing else matters to you.

Time Management

I'm fairly sure all of us are familiar with the fact that IIT has some pretty awesome classes and extra-curriculars to participate in. (If this comes as a surprise you may have been looking for that other college/institute...) But one of the largest challenges, at least for me, has been finding the time to try and ‘report’ all that needs to be ‘reported’, whilst having plenty of time for movie-thons and Counter-Strike. There's a popular saying: "Academics, Friends, Sleep; pick two" and having been here for almost a year and a half I can certainly see how that applies. But it IS possible to balance it all, and in fact that can be part of the challenge that's so exciting. I mean, would you really want to do nothing but study all day? Of course not! And neither would I. So with all these things begging for my attention, it's not surprising that my humanities teacher asked me to write on time management.

As it turns out, managing your time is a fairly easy process.

Let’s begin by defining Time Management.

“Time management is commonly defined as the various means by which people effectively use their time and other closely related resources in order to make the most out of it” (Thank you Wikipedia)

Removing the flashy words, time management is about having confidence in how you use your time in the best possible manner according to you. Feeling comfortable with your routine is basically what time management is all about.

On a scale of 10, I would rate myself as 7. Reasons follow:

· A lot of days, I fail to do any thing, accomplish any target, achieve any goal, or even begin doing anything. I easily get drifted away, and when the deadline is upon me, then only I begin doing it. Same goes for this assignment.

· On other times, I can prioritize things in the order of importance and approach targets confidently, and not feeling bad about low priority activities not getting done.

· Things keep rotating in my head most of the time, and sometimes I have and sometimes I lack a clear vision of what to do next.

· But I am able to find time to do sufficient preparation for the same.

To improve, here are some basic principles of time management I've observed are most important which me and in general everyone should follow:

1) Make a schedule: You really do have more time than you think if you write out all the things you do in a week. You'll see gaping holes of time that you don't know how you wasted. Start by taking a weekly schedule and putting in all the things that don't change from week to week. Like, say, class times, sleep times, breakfast/lunch/dinner times. That way when you go about scheduling your week you don't have to try and remember all the same things, you can focus on the new stuff you have to make time for.

2) Find a method that works for you: Some people are post-it note people. Others are calendars, some using digital calendars like mobile, laptops, alarm clocks and what not. There are still a majority of ‘others’ who prefer using their heads and taking it out when time comes (that’s me!). Your particular system of organization doesn't really matter to anyone but you, but make sure it's working for you. If it isn't don't be afraid to try something else (use it as leverage to get a smartphone from your parents: "mom, you want me to be organized don't you?").

3) Stick to it: By far the hardest part. It's easy to get inspired and motivated from a seminar or a new technology, but you've got to stick with it after the newness fades. Same goes for your time management technique. Make a desperate attachment with your new schedule plan. Take it everywhere, in your words, in your actions. And just do it, no matter what.

If you can manage all that, you'll start reaping the benefits soon enough. Grades will improve, you'll get more sleep, emotionally you'll feel better for being more productive.

Time management can’t be so difficult after all…

Why Blame The System ?

We all love to play the blame game. Bad marks? Blame the teacher. No water/electricity? Blame the government. Traffic jams? Blame the roads. Crime problems? Blame the police. Caste riots? Blame politics. Shamelessly we go on. And yet feel proud about it.

Owning up responsibility requires a certain amount of courage and will, and here lies the biggest fault of our system, i.e. the inability to create responsible citizens. When people contemplate on a problem, the easy way out is to just blame and get away with it.

When we are school kids, the only authorities guiding us are parents and the school. However, both are working at their maximum efficiency in building our character, yet we blame our teachers for the bad performance in exams. We are unable to truly appreciate the fact that they have our best interests in their mind. Even in most situations, they would never mean selective harm to us.

As we grow up, in later stages of our education, we say that the rat race for engineering/ medical colleges and the associated coaching and tuition is caused by lack of quality institutions in the country that are able to compensate for the increasing demand for higher education. We blame the government for not providing infrastructure, but we are unable to exploit the facilities to their full potential.

On a parallel note, this fact becomes increasingly evident when we observe the government mechanisms, especially democracies. Here, every decision requires approval of all members of the decision making body. Even so, the opposition party often criticizes the government for any kind of mistake. This is well publicized by the media as blame-passing of politicians. The truth, however, is that its the job of the opposition to blame the government, to ensure its strict functioning. Also, the babus are lazy enough to ignore pleas of change in the system. They are ready to criticize other agencies for their own faults.

This case finds it strength especially in an academic environment such as IIT. As far as I have observed, every discussion here tends to end on ‘blame the system’ note. We have all kinds of passionate outbursts against the system which end up benefiting no one. On the other hand, no one bothers to channelize these energies in finding feasible solutions to these problems and getting them implemented.

This mindset of letting things be and constant procrastination ultimately leads to half-finished jobs, for which tomorrow, someone else will blame you, or, you yourself will start finding excuses. Determination and will are the keywords here.

Seriously, the tendency to blame the system is a convenient way of leaving no one accountable, and the faceless identity called the system gets a beating, which gives you a false sense of accomplishment of pinpointing the error in the situation


When we are angry (which is often), we need to release our tension. Typically, we do so by blaming someone.

Some of our problems are NOT: the hostel mess; an election rally speech; or the sports captains not procuring sports goods. Our problems ARE, respectively: people not getting quality food; words that do not lead to actions; and poor performance in sports.

Blaming fails to "cure" or even change anything for three reasons.

1. Blaming is seductive. It vents our anger and frustration at a specific target. They: made bad food; said one thing but did another; did not equip the players properly. Fire/Sack/Dismiss them!

This may feel good but does it: Get us better food? Match words with deeds? Improve our players?

2. Blame is usually placed on the wrong person or group. The problem is the system, not the mess secretary. It feels good to blame a specific person with a name badge, a weak personality, and an accident-prone character, but the system is too vague and amorphous. Blaming ‘the system’ does not satisfy us.

3. Blaming lets us off the hook: We fantasize that we actually did something. We identified a bad guy, punished him or them; and that solved the problem. Oh really?! When something is wrong, blaming does not make it right.

Fight vs Adapt

For proceeding to solve the problem, we must decide whether we have to fight the problem or adapt towards it. We can choose to either make efforts towards changing the existing situation, or change your own thinking approach for the situation. The first approach requires considerable time and effort, whereas the second method is much more feasible and easier to do. I shall describe both in detail.

The ‘Fight’ Approach

Fixing the problem requires identifying the real cause (not the person), and changing the circumstances so the cause ceases to exist. If market analysis was done and bills were passed on time with consultation of the seniors, the procuring of sports goods would have been a small task. If you really started making constructive suggestions to the mess committee, then you would feel part of the process and be less inclined to blame others for it.

We need to identify some real people or real political forces and not just some faceless entity that you call the system. We need to resist the urge to ‘Blame Someone’ or nothing will ever get better.

The ‘Adapt’ Approach

I feel that satisfaction has a greater self component than group component attached to it. It comes from within. We need to learn to get the best possible output from the opportunities provided to us, which I am pretty sure there is no dearth of. There are usually more than one way of approaching a task, and the search for these alternate ways often gives us advantage over others.

Instead of cursing on the bad mess food, we should appreciate the fact that we are at least getting three meals a day, which is a luxury compared to the street children fighting over bits of food just outside the campus.

We should have a strong sense of character judgment which cannot be swayed by the marketing tactics of the political leaders. Of course, if they are disturbing and intruding upon your daily activities and your choices, then that is ultimately their own loss, they are not getting your vote!

Real sportsmen seldom care about the lack of equipment. They can enjoy the game minus complaining equally well. If you are complaining, then that is plain egoism. Instead of complaining about the lack of facilities, we can always strive to perform better with the existing services.

No matter what stumbling blocks are thrown on the pathway let's use them as stepping stones to keep going and keep striving, and when one door closes be assured that another one will always open. Stop pointing the finger of blame. When we blame, we give whoever we blame the power over us. We are saying they are stronger, greater and have the power to keep us down.

Let us show that we will not curse the problem, we will be the agents of solution, and with our persistence and determination, the problem will come to curse us.

Case Study 2

1. Background Information:

The subject for this study is an 18 year old male engineering college student. He is from a well to do middle class family. An active student at school, he would be the eternal attention grabber. Having spent early part of his years in Moscow, Russia, he had developed a very distinctive and open outlook towards society and culture when he moved back to India when he was 10 years old.

He would start questioning things that are quintessentially a part of Indian traditions and practices. Many things came as a culture shock for him. However, he adjusted quite well to the best of his capacities. He gained a high sense of confidence, which often came out at the time of problems and difficulties. He developed a cherubic, outgoing and talkative personality, which made him quite popular among girls too. In short, he was highly extrovert and took part in all kinds of social activities.

After getting reasonably good marks in class X boards, he moved to a good school with a modern outlook. There, he was a nobody. This sudden change of environment made him change his habits and personality. He moved towards westernization of thought, words and actions. Brand labels, mall hopping, rap music, disco nights attracted him. He was often ridiculed for his elitist thoughts and fake pretensions.

He would indulge in activities that were taboo, or at times, immoral. In the process, he flunked his school term exams as well as coaching tests. Not being a part of the engineering exam rat race gave him a unique sense of liberation and independence.

Being the smart guy that he was, he realized that it wasn’t possible for him cope up with the huge amount of syllabus that he had piled up. In the process, he started staying indoors and instead of aiming for a topshot college, he changed his goals in time for a college that was decent enough and started training for it. He started regaining overall confidence, and was able to enjoy the last of his school years thoroughly.

He got into the college he aimed to study in. He still has drinking problems, which I hope he will realize and rectify soon. But he has become much more focused on his study goals and aims to get an MBA degree, which will put him on a much stronger foundation, and will give direction to his communication and socializing ability for an excellent future ahead.

2. Emotional Analysis:

  • Being an extrovert, and quite socially active, he rates high in amount of Positive Affectivity measures.
  • He has a high degree of variation and control of emotions.
  • He has emotion-focused coping approach which he actually uses very effectively to get out of sticky situations.
  • He is emotionally intelligent, in the sense that he can easily identify and react to emotions of other people.
  • His self-esteem, which was once very low, has now increased considerably in college

3. Cognitive Analysis:

  • He has a non-autotelic personality, and so gets easily distracted, and does activities superficially.
  • However, he is a highly creative personality, and infuses creativity into everything he does. This is evident from his interests, that include music / DJ Mixing
  • He often shows mindfulness in his activities, however, he can attain much higher levels of attention control and curiosity.
  • He has high level of positive optimism, even for the immediate future.

4. Behavioral Analysis:

  • Self Efficacy component is very high in him, i.e. he has full belief that he can complete challenges put to him
  • Sometimes, he is unable to generate workable pathways to achieve his goals, in other cases, he lets his motivational level fall down easily.
  • Ability to set short term and realistic goals and achieve them is very high in him
  • He often lives in an illusory world where he thinks all his needs are fulfilled. However this is his short term behavior, and behaves realistically most of the time.

5. Why I chose to study him:

A conclusion that I can observe from his history and profile is that the present free will of an individual is important. Certain environmental factors can affect us in different ways, but overall, we grow the way we choose to. Good and bad are subjective, but we always have certain shades of grey. It is the manner how we cope with them that is important.

Pehchaan kaun??

Case Study 1

1. Background Information:

Subject is 18 years old and a student at IIT Delhi. He has been a physically healthy teenager. He was born in a well-to-do family and has enjoyed their love and affection. He has never been a problematic child for his parents. Before IITD, he went to school regularly without fail, studied hard, got good marks at school consistently, and took part in various extra curricular activities also. He is a highly creative person, and can use creativity in emotions also effectively. He is a highly autotelic personality. Overall, he remains quite optimistic about his future.

2. Problem Faced & its Symptoms:

However he faces a problem i.e. his nagging character. After interacting with him, it was found that he became overenthusiastic in any activity, and became easily irritated when what he wanted was not given to him. He was good in making friends, however, they couldn’t stand him for his useless talk, and nagging character. When he finds a competitor in an activity, he puts all his (mainly verbal) energies in defeating him/them (as is said in Hindi, “Neecha Dikhana” ) and neglects everything else. When he cannot defeat them, he starts denying his loss, and finds excuses for explaining himself. He cannot take jokes made on him lightly and interprets them as a character attack. He behaves saintly only with his room-mate, for reasons unknown, and often treats others (mostly friends) as little more than timepass. He starts shouting (for no reason at all) in his daily conversation with friends, which often comes across as rude. He has a dominating and short-tempered character. And for some reason, he cannot seem to control himself.

3. Diagnosis:

· He has emotion-focused coping approach. This is evident from his character of denial and excuse making nature.

· It has also been observed, that his demographics (he hails from Chandigarh) also go against him, as that place is often scrutinized by his friend circle. They have made a general opinion about the people from that place being losers. Thus, his behavior is heavily affected by environmental factors also.

· Resilient Ability: When faced with a crisis, a negative resolution leads him to become pessimistic and even more irritated.

· It also seems that he lacks optimum emotional intelligence i.e. his ability to regulate emotions. Specific problem areas are emotional understanding and management.

Pehchaan kaun??

Hmm (or is it hmmmmm...) !?!

Opening blogspot after a long time, (call it writer's block, or the lack of it), forced me to update my own empty and discarded blog. So it took me days of thinking of what pieces of crap I had written all over my computer that I could upload here, and besides computer programs (dont jump the gun, they were programming assignments), there was only one thing that came to my mind.

My humanities assignments from the course: Positive Psychology. It was a course we all loved to hate..

So here I kick off my series of mindless copy-paste sessions from my various assignments, which I am proud to say, I wrote myself (or do I hate myself for wasting time?)