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All we want to do is sail rather than fail

Yesterday I attend this session after work and took some notes. Sian is a great presenter and possesses wealth of information.

Topic: How Mind Works Under Stress

Presenter: Sian Beilock (Author of books Choke, How the body knows the mind)

Venue: Heller Auditorium Francis Parker School.


What happens when we fail to reach our potential? Do we feel like we are choking under the pressure? Why we fail to perform under pressure? Sian’s research is about finding techniques to overcome this choking effect and perform better.

Frontal cortex, front part of brain, is much bigger in humans than any other primates. It defines us as humans. This defines what we are capable of. FC communicates with other parts of the brain. Under stress FC stops this communication and results in weird consequences. During stressful situations, FC goes haywire but it does that in a predictable way. We have to find that pattern; Paralysis by Analysis.

What happens under stress situation is that we second guess our ability and pay detail attention to things that should be on autopilot. We become very conscious of ourselves. We start breaking down the details of our skills. Focusing on the outcome instead will give better results. All we want to do is sail rather than fail.

A Study was done at Cornell University with medical students. They divided the group of medical students of the same age and level into 2 groups. One who is preparing to take their board exams and one not. They measured the brain activities showing how the brain gets ready for board exam compared with other people not having exam. What changes in the brain? Study showed people who were excessively worried about the exam performed bad at critical thinking problems. Study also concludes that stress in one area of life effects other parts of the lives.

Now let us talk about what can we do help our brain perform at its peak.

  • People are more likely to get the answers if they walk away from the difficult problem for a while. This is taking a step back and view the problem differently. Mind resets and you get the connection back.
  • Sleep is an important for our life. Mind does not stop working even when we are sleeping but it works on its on things. It makes new connections from the information we gathered in our waking hours.
  • Talking out your problems to someone who does not know the answer will also help you solve the problem on your own.
  • Our emotions also messes with Frontal Cortex’s functions. When we are under pressure, FC does not keep the negative emotions away and gets us. In teens, FC is under developed, it completes in 20s.

fMRI, Functional MRI (Magnetic resonance Imaging) is one way of testing brain activities. It shows functioning of brain in real time. People who are nervous about Math problems were told they are going to solve a math problem. The part of brain that lights up when we are physically harmed lighted up for these people who were fearing Math problems. To them anticipating Math was as painful as they have been pricked by a needle. This is caused by lack of blood supply to Neurons in the brain. If you tell them ahead about the problem, fear shuts down FC and they don’t perform better.

What can we do about this negativity? Every time negative emotion comes, practice changing it with one thing that you can change. The practice is important. Behavior will change gradually. How we think about ourselves matters very much. If we think we are better at something, chances are we will do better in that in that task. Asian girls did better on Math problems when they thought they are Asian and therefore better at Math than when they thought they are girls and therefore not good at Math.

  • Taking walks in nature is beneficial for brain and helps focus our attention. Even looking at pictures of nature will give some of the benefits.
  • Practice being in the stressful situation and when actual stressful condition happens you are more ready to cope and perform better in it. Simulating the actual situation will help.
  • Your body language send other messages weather you are ready or not. It also gives message to your own brain. So keeping your posture upright also keeps away negative emotions.
  • Journaling is best way to get the negativity out. This opportunity to download you thoughts on paper helps you give perspective.

Family Vacation 2015 – Canada

After much planning and cajoling, we finally were on our way to vacation to Canada.

Saturday, Jun 13th

We left home (Glenview, IL) at 7:30 AM (half hour later then planned) and arrived in Detroit, Michigan at 1:30 PM. Time moved ahead one hour. On the way, we stopped for 30 minutes for gas and food. We stayed at La Quinta Inn and Suites hotel and were very impressed by the high standards of this place. They offered free parking, breakfast, outdoor pool and a small gym.

We checked in and changed and left to see Belle Isle, a 36 minute drive from the hotel. We saw the oldest North American aquarium, fishing pier and a conservatory. We took lots of pictures; some of which I will share here. We then just drove to downtown Detroit and looked at the city’s architecture. Tigers (Detroit’s baseball team) was playing against Cleveland Indians at Comerica Park. We saw stadium was full and people cheering.

We at fishing pier  near Detroit, Michigan

We at fishing pier at Belle Island near Detroit, Michigan

Belle Island Conservatory

Belle Island Conservatory

For dinner we went to Chilli’s restaurant and afterwards we did some shopping at GAP and T.J Maxx stores.

We came back to hotel, changed and went to the fitness room and worked out for 30 minutes.

Sunday, June 14th

Everybody was refreshed after the comfortable night’s sleep and substantial breakfast in the morning. We resumed our driving at 9 AM and arrived at Niagara Falls, Ontario at 1:30 PM.

We stayed at Marriot Gateway on the Falls hotel. Our room was on the 26th floor with full view of the Niagara Horseshoe Falls, American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls. We could see the New York side of the Niagara Falls Park also. Weather was cloudy so the usual fireworks at 10 PM was cancelled that night.

We booked a fully guided and narrated tour with Magnificent Tours and they took us to the 3 attractions; Skylon tower, Journey Behind the Falls and HornBlower Niagara Cruises. There were 12 people on the bus including us. We met a very nice family of 3 consisting of a grandson (age 16) and grandparents on this tour and most of the time we stayed together.

Skylon tower was 775 feet tall and gave us the crystal clear views of the city of Buffalo, NY and Toronto. We could see the falls from the top, Rainbow Bridge, Goat Island etc. We took lot of pictures.

View from the Skylon Tower

View from the Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls Behind the Scene tour was an exciting and humbling experience. Tunnels were built under the falls and there were different viewing windows where you can see the falls from under them and can experience the power of them.  It was like a hands on Falls museum with various historical facts about the place such as how those tunnels were built how deep was the fall in 1676 and every hundred years after that, showing how much corrosion and erosion has happened etc. Many times I feared that if this tunnel caved in today, there will be no sign of us.

Behind the Falls

Behind the Falls

Behind the scene view of the fall

Behind the scene view of the fall

Look! how much fun I am having.

Look! how much fun I am having.


Observation deck at “Journey Behind the Falls”.



The 25 minute tour on the boat which took us close the Horseshoe fall was once in lifetime one.

Falls from the boat

Falls from the boat

We dined at the magnificent Milestones restaurant at hotel where we were staying.

We in the elevator mirror, en route to Milestones

We in the elevator mirror, en route to Milestones

Monday, June 15th


Dynamic Public Speaking Training

Two days ago, I attended a one day training session on the topic of “Dynamic Public Speaking” from the company called National Seminars Training by Rebecca Pace.

Following are some of my notes from that session. I like to take lots of notes so I can remember most of what is taught and presented. Life is so busy that if you do not take time to note down things, you will forget it very soon.

Though I am not a presenter, but there are many occasions where I have to speak such as explaining to my boss why we need to upgrade SQL server, show developer why something is cool and solves problem easier than the older method, also communicating with other vertical teams.

Rebecca started the session by asking participants, what they like to get from this session. She gave lots of tips and tricks to each one of us. This took 1 hour and it was immediately evident to me that this session will be interesting. I will be listing my notes in the forms of the tips and put them in various categories. I hope reader of this page will find them useful.

Fear and Nervousness:

  1. People who come to listen to you are either in agreement with you or will be providing resistance. It is better to know your audience beforehand and particularly useful is to know the type of resistance you will be getting.
  2. If you fear, you are going to black out, use index cards. Only jot down few words in bold and big fonts as a reminder cue for yourself.
  3. Another trick to calm yourself down during the presentation is to put 3 personal items at different location beforehand in the presentation room. So when you are nervous look in the direction of one of your item and it will give you connection to yourself and relax you.
  4. Remind yourself frequently that what you have to say is valuable to others.
  5. To make your presentation your own like a worn out pajama, you need to present it 6 times.
  6. When preparing, always target to the middle of the intelligence level of the group. That is why knowing your audience ahead of time is important.
  7. Audience want to know you as a person. So be yourself. Your accent, ethnicity and any other cultural difference make you more unique. Play it to your advantage. Be creative how you present yourself.

Audience Retention Problem:

  1. Do not try to force feed your audience. Lay low on information overload. As a speaker you worry that you don’t have enough content and you over prepare and then you want to give out all this information.
  2. Be conversational with your audience. Engaging and creating personal connection is more important than the content itself. Because an engaged audience is going to listen and understand your presentation.
  3. Leave the technical jargon for the slides or the handouts. While you speak use common words and simple English.
  4. Let your audience take notes, don’t give them everything on the slide and give them handouts toward the end of your presentation. By taking notes they will pay more attention and will retain more.

Tips on Presentation Slides:

  1. How many slides should you have in a power point? According to Rebecca, for an hour long presentation you should not have more than 5 slides. The reason being you want your audience to engage with you more that with the slides itself. Give additional material in handout. Use lots of colors and visuals. Remember less is more and a picture is worth a thousand words. Use less words.
  2. Have 8 facts about yourself on the last page. Preferably 4 of them regarding your professional\business and 4 business\personal details.
  3. If you are giving a 30 minute speech, about 4 minutes should be opening to hook the audience to your talk. And if 1 hour talk use 6 minutes. This is a rough guideline.
  4. If you are showing video clip, make sure it is not more than 3 minutes. It is very important that you explain what audience is going to see and after the clip engage to get the understanding of the audience.

Before Presenting:

  1. Presentation takes lot of energy from the speaker. You need to be rested and prepared. You have to project your voice to each of your audience. Bigger audience means you will spend more of your energy.
  2. Use coffee, or tea with peppermint oil drops, or Singer secret throat spray to dilate your larynx. You will have a richer and more powerful voice. Read book “Voice and the Actor”.
  3. If you have a habit of talking fast, then take a notebook on the podium or table and turn pages that will slow you down.
  4. Eat some complex carbohydrates before the presentation to low down your energy level if you are a fast speaker.
  5. Wear clothes (even undergarments), shoes, hair etc. which are comfortable and forget about them when presenting.
  6. Practice editing your face by keeping mirror in front of you when talking on phone. Smile more.
  7. Don’t shoot for 100% perfectness in you presentation. Shoot for 85% or greater. Be flexible and ready to roll if conditions changes.
  8. For practice, do it before mirror, record yourself, and notice your postures and gestures. Do you look confident? Fake it till you make it.
  9. Listen to great speakers like Martin Luther King, James Earl John. Listen to comedy shows. Another example is to notice the difference in Whitney Houston and Dolly Patron delivery of the same song (I love you).
  10. Do your homework.
    1. Whom I will be talking to?
    2. What are the circumstances?
    3. How long is my presentation going to be?
    4. Where will the presentation occur?
    5. Why I am doing this presentation?

During Presentation:

  1. Include a little ice breaker in the beginning, even if it is not related to the topic, just to get audience connect to each other.
  2. If some people are running late, ask audience if you should wait for them or begin.
  3. Speak with more animation that your normal voice. Create more volatility in your voice.
  4. During presentation, make eye contact with as many people as you can.
  5. Communication Pie
    1. 55% is what you see
    2. 38% is what you hear
    3. 7% is the language you choose (use spicy adjectives to grab attention and create mental pictures). For example: “This is what we achieved…..” versus “This is the red velvet of achievement…..”
  6. To create personal connection with your audience, use any of the following.
    1. Appropriate short personal story
    2. Invite people to comment and ask questions
    3. Mingle with your audience 5-10 minutes beforehand
    4. Be your authenticate self
  7. Improve your communication by listening during your presentation.
    1. Listen to what is being said, even if you don’t agree,
    2. Be quiet.
    3. Allow time for discussion.
    4. Keep an open mind.
    5. Don’t plan your response while the other person is talking.
    6. Minimize interruptions.
    7. Remain objective, don’t get emotionally involved.

At the end:

  1. End your presentation with succinct summary, or a quote or the benefit of the product or idea. End on a positive note and try to get the emotion from the audience.
  2. Some resources to continue your learning and development as a presenter
    1. Oriental trading toys for icebreaking or other games
    2. Hallmark blank quotation cards, write quote’s
    3. Book: Secrets of power Negotiating
    4. Book: Psychology of Achievement by Brian Tracy.
    5. Singer Secret throat spray.
    6. Spirit Gum to train you face muscles.





Happiness is the Cart and love is the horse

Speaker: George E. Vaillant, M.D.

Date Wednesday May 6th, 2015

Speaker was 82 year old, professor of Psychiatry, Harvard medical School. Study “Adult development” from 1928 to present.

Notes from the lecture:

It is basic human hunger to be recognized, heard and seen. Without which it we would not thrive as a human being. Sometimes our sensitivity about ourselves becomes too much in this complex world and we want to step back. People do crime, or drug, or suicide, or drown themselves in work etc; in order to cope with anxiety.

We are interdependent on each other to survive and thrive. War are seeking comfort, respect and safety. We are never satisfied and full. Hunger for more constantly grows. Mind is never at peace and we constantly juggle for balance. This is where mindful meditation can help us. Come out of orbiting thoughts and sense where your body is and keeping this awareness even as you are listening, talking or doing anything. This is like pausing constant buzzing of mind. This is remembrance and not thoughtlessness.

Being aware of what mind is doing, brings peace of mind. This is because now you feel safe and seeing things as it is and not some fabrication of your mind. With patience, tranquility and contentment comes. Take this to next level by engaging into interpersonal mindfulness conversation.

Six steps of Insight Dialogue:

  1. Pause
  2. Relax
  3. Open
  4. Trust Emergence
  5. Listen Deeply
  6. Speak the Truth

Taken together, these guidelines offer essential support for awakening amid the rich challenges of interpersonal encounter. Each guideline calls forth different qualities, and all of them are complimentary.

Pause calls forth mindfulness; Relax, tranquility and acceptance; Open, relational availability and spaciousness; Trust Emergence, flexibility and letting go; Listen Deeply, receptivity and attunement; Speak the Truth, Integrity and care.

In everyday life, the guidelines can be taken up as needed to support a kinder and more mindful way of relating. In meditation groups or retreats, these instructions are introduced individually in an atmosphere of dedicated practice and mutual commitment.

Define what is attention?

“Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought…It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others.” (Principles of Psychology, 1890)