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Summary - Embrace the Chaos (How India Taught Me to Stop Over-Thinking and Start Living)

Book summary of Embrace the Chaos - How India Taught Me to Stop Over-Thinking and Start Living by Bob Miglani, Berrett-Koehler © 2013, 154 pages

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Summary - Embrace the Chaos (How India Taught Me to Stop Over-Thinking and Start Living)

  1. 1. Embrace the Chaos How India Taught Me to Stop Over-Thinking and Start Living Bob Miglani Berrett-Koehler © 2013 154 pages Out of Control You have less control than you think, and that makes you anxious. You “overthink,” overanalyze and hope that your future will unfold as you envision. But life is not predictable. You “can never really conquer the chaos,” you “can only embrace it.” Accepting that life is uncertain exposes you to experiences you would never otherwise have and helps you discover abilities you never knew you had. Recognize that the only aspects of life you can control are your actions and perspectives, so “let go” of the rest. The everyday lives of Indians in a land of more than a billion people exemplify how to cope with and relish life by determining realistically what you can control and what you can’t. Indians manage to find joy and contentment despite the odds. They exemplify three principles to follow in your effort to let go: 1. “Accept” – Life is unpredictable, uncertain, imperfect and complicated: Accept that. Stop thinking about obstacles and abandon negativity. For instance, an Indian taxi driver knows he cannot trust anything but his own abilities and the collective abilities of other drivers to keep out of harm’s way. He focuses on doing what he must and doesn’t worry about what other people do – a better approach than letting chaos overwhelm you. 2. “Don’t overthink” – When you “overthink,” you can lose sight of what you really want. Overthinking causes you to hesitate, which may do more damage than undertaking something you think is risky. People and conditions you can’t control cause a lot of the situations you’ll encounter, so “why create worrying about something that might or might not happen?” 3. “Move forward” – India’s roads prove that safety and security is an illusion. They often lack street signs and traffic lights, and the drivers follow no rules. Indian drivers move forward in the direction they chose, “whatever may come.” They learn ways around barriers, rather than focusing on them. “Searching for God at Five Thousand Feet”
  2. 2. Your plans may not work out. That could bewilder you. You might seek a scapegoat, whether someone else or yourself. You may blame circumstances and wonder why fate is victimizing you. You could feel paralyzed and invent reasons why you should not attempt anything else at all. If so, think about the eight million Indians who visit the Himalayan shrine Vaishno Devi every year. Pilgrims ascend more than 5,300 feet as they walk more than seven miles from Katra, a city in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. This arduous hike can take eight hours. The trek can go spectacularly wrong. Visitors must not carry any items made out of animal skins. They must leave their leather purses behind. If you are prudent, and tuck some money elsewhere, you’ll be fine. Imagine you visited the shrine, left your purse behind and find yourself stranded in a little town with no idea how to return to Delhi. Agonizing about your predicament and the unfairness of it all will not help. If your return flight is delayed before you can reorganize yourself, you could be in serious trouble. “They’ll never tell you a flight is canceled. They’ll say that it’s not operating today – I guess because ‘canceled’ is very definitive and nothing in India is ever definitive.” Your only hope is to jump in and make friends with local people and the staff at the airline. More often than not, people are willing to help. Lonely in a Virtual Crowd You live in a “hyper-connected” society, in constant contact with others via instant messaging, texting and videoconferencing. Yet you might yearn for “face-to-face” interactions. To feel connected and satisfied with other people in the real world, begin “accepting people as they are.” Try not to “fix,” “control” or “judge” your fellow human beings. “Accept the person” you find, not the one you hope to find. Retreating into yourself is difficult in India, a compulsively social country. You are expected to attend celebrations like marriages, naming ceremonies for children, birthdays and funerals. Such togetherness, while not perfect, helps you cope with an increasingly unpredictable world and replaces more ritualized religion. Indians are comfortable with open displays of affection – men often hold hands with their male friends. Most Indians are not afraid to tell their friends and family their innermost hopes and dreams. Such sharing builds strong human connections that give people resilience and persistence in the face of the most trying circumstances. You learn that “it’s OK to be pushed outside of your comfort zone.” Don’t Overthink Stop “overanalyzing,” overplanning or trying to predict what will happen tomorrow. Not even a genius can foretell the future. Even making good guesses is hard, because the world changes so quickly and is so interconnected. Your search for more data can actually do more harm than good, leading to decision paralysis. Refusing to act until you find an optimum solution can bring you to a standstill. Instead weigh one option against another.
  3. 3. Constantly trying to plan your next move reduces your consciousness of the present. That may lead you to miss out on the best parts of life. Don’t excessively ruminate about other people. Apply that energy to what you can control – your own actions. Trusting your instincts and judgment will lead you to make better choices. As you rely on your instincts, they will fine-tune themselves and lead you to your goals more easily. Indians learn to “adapt and improvise” because they live in unpredictable circumstances with few resources. Most Indians have arranged marriages. Relatives and friends select a suitable bride or groom. In the past, the two did not even meet until their wedding day. Arranged marriages work because younger Indians grow up with the knowledge that life is difficult. They believe they can sort out their differences with other people and they don’t expect a perfect solution. Simple Celebrations Society teaches you to believe that you must work hard to provide your family with comforts without which they cannot be happy. This notion is false. What you work so hard to provide may not guarantee happiness. Instead, you could be blind to far simpler things – a shared moment of hilarity, a carefree dance or a simple treat that you and your family enjoy together. Indian Weddings Indian weddings are chaotic. No one ever holds a dress rehearsal, yet everything falls into place. You must accept minor imperfections like a missing horse, tardy caterers and relatives who decide to stop to enjoy a drink though everything is woefully behind schedule. The bride and groom get married and everyone has fun in the meanwhile. If you focus on things going wrong, you’ll miss out on the magic and unexpected pleasures. Meditation Every morning, most Indians spend a few minutes in prayer. They recognize the essential uncertainty of life and believe in a greater power. Many Indians visit a temple during the course of the day. Indians encounter as much anarchy and complexity in temples as they do elsewhere; India has many gods, and people worship them in different ways. When you visit a temple, you must purify yourself and participate in a number of rituals. Numerous other worshippers are there with you. In India, praying is individual rather than collective. Indian meditation and prayer almost force you to cease conscious thought and get on with doing things. “Navigate the Chaos” To work your way through confusion, you must act. Taking charge of your intentions – how you think and react to situations – provides greater certainty than trying to control everything around you. To be more confident, stop thinking excessively and start doing. Take Tushar, an Indian pharmaceutical
  4. 4. representative in Mumbai who faces a competitive market where products may not vary widely – except on price. No amount of traditional sales analysis can change his market or his harsh working conditions. When Tushar attempted all the prescribed sales methods, he ended up more frustrated. He has to manage a situation in which he has little control. The only way he could cope was to stop worrying about things he could do little about. As he says, “Rather, it is better to fix yourself and your mind than to try to understand other people. You can get lost in trying to think about what others say, think or do.” He learned from his “guru” that being too concerned about what other people said or did was pointless. Rather, the guru suggested, he must focus his energies on trying to become a better person. Timing Most people have a problem with timing and want it to be precise. Yet, they wait for the right partner, right job or the right home. Recognize there is no perfect anything. One way to learn that is to visit Delhi and try to board a local bus. The Delhi Transport Corporation runs hundreds of buses. They are always heavily overloaded with, apparently, no space for new passengers. Their drivers never come to a complete stop. When a bus approaches, you have to start running alongside and jump on. This is scary, but once you’re safely on board, the sense of achievement is immensely uplifting. “There is real joy and freedom in seeing something coming and, no matter how imperfect it seems, reaching out to take action, and in having some assurance” that when you begin to run and “grab on tight, helping hands will often help those who help themselves.” A Higher Force You may face problems so overwhelming that you want to give up. Deep within you is something that can help you through: your ability to help someone else. External disturbances may sometimes drown out this understanding. Dr. Thakor Patel retired from the US Navy. While in the Navy, he worked on ships that provided disaster relief. He created a program to provide basic health care to villages in India. The program trained health care workers, like Prakash, to conduct simple medical tests and to spread awareness about hygiene. Prakash does not make much money – the program pays him about $100 a month – and he has little security, because the program’s funding depends on the generosity of donors in the US. Prakash placed the needs of others over himself and that drives him to continue working. God’s Way Many people visit Indian gurus for answers to questions that plague them. One such guru lives two hours outside the Indian city of Pune. He will ask you if God answers you when you worry about a question that perplexes you. If you say God does not answer, he will tell you that is God’s way of giving you
  5. 5. the time and silence to look within yourself. What you seek is not somewhere out there – in India, for instance – but within you. No Straightforward Path You cannot follow some smooth, straightforward path to your goals and happiness. Life more closely resembles walking through a great web of “chance” and “coincidence.” Don’t obstruct the flow that got you where you are today. Given life’s “sheer luck, randomness and chance,” you didn’t reach the present “in a straight line” and the path forward won’t be straight, either. The Butterfly Effect No one has mastery over life. When circumstances force you to a standstill and you give up wanting control, things will change. If you see yourself “as more than human and feebly attempt to make predictions, to cast aspersions, to scheme and overplan,” you will “get stuck, because chaos spares no one.” You can reach your “fullest potential for a fulfilling and happy life” by relinquishing your egotistical efforts and “accepting the unpredictable nature of life.” About the Author Bob Miglani, whose family moved to the US from India when he was nine, is an executive at a Fortune 500 firm and the author of several books.