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Level Up

Business leader Ishika Harekal shares her approach to identifying what you need to do to get where you want to be.

To the reader: in this article, I don’t solve for happiness. I solve for drive, purpose, and fulfilment that come when you live your life the way you choose to. Read this article when you have time. Read it with care. Read it with attention. And then do (as much as you prefer), what comes with reading it. This is a process. And I will take you through it. It has worked for me. And I believe it will for you too, if you give it the chance.

I have been at both ends of the spectrum of people who feel strongly about the New Year. I have been giddy with excitement to change and create a ‘new me’ and after successive failed attempts, I had reached the other end of the spectrum – the cynicism, almost indifference to the turning of the year. I had long since given up the idea that the revolution of the earth around the sun would dictate my life.

This year – 2018 – was different. I started my first ever job, moved into a new home and was living by myself for the first time (literally on 1 January). All in all, the start of the year witnessed quite a few beginnings for me. These changes spurred me on to research which habits I could change in order to be more effective. I picked up a few over the year – waking up at 5am, journaling by hand, and reading daily. I dropped a few – complaining about situations, spending time with people that drain me, and putting an end to the incessant, mindless scrolling through social media (in fact, I deleted all my accounts).

When I look back to the person who was standing at the brink of a New Year on 31 December 2017, she was completely different from the person writing this article today, almost a year later – and we still have a few weeks to go!

On digging deeper, I realised that when you want to find answers or you want to change and you start acting on it – you read more articles, look for mentors to guide you, you do more than what you have been doing so far – something happens. Something shifts. I don’t know the term for it. I know people from different walks of life call it different things. From aligning your energies, to manifesting the life of your dreams or, more recently, ‘learning the subtle art of not giving a f*ck’, or putting in the work – ‘hustling’. You can pick your term – the perfect combination of ethereal or practical for you. But pick it. And stick to it. Because it is the only thing that will help you change anything.

Birthdays and the ‘turn of the year’ give us the momentum and opportunity to make changes for the better. Of course, any day you choose to make a change would be that day for you. This article is for you, at whichever time of the year you choose to read it.

Give yourself four weeks to go through this process. Take your time with it. Immerse yourself. Set aside half an hour each day or two hours three times a week, whatever works. The criteria is to give yourself time for focused thinking and have breaks in the middle to allow your brain to do its thing and let insights come to you.

Like most processes there are three parts to this one:

Step One: Time Travel

Step Two: The Person

Step Three: Game Plan

Step One: Time Travel | Week 1 & Week 2

Earlier this year, I completed an exercise from Tony Robbins’ book, Awaken the Giant Within. It took me through my past, my present, and where I want to be in the future. What I experienced there was something unique – I realised that my past was created by me, I am creating my present right now, and my future will be created by me as well.

How does this creation happen? By what you do and what you choose to be. Doing is a physical act – exercising, eating healthily, getting a task done. Being is a state one chooses to experience – patience, kindness, compassion, powerfulness, happiness.

  1. List down 10 years in the past and 10 years in the future with your age by its side.

  2. For each year, go back in time and live that life for a few minutes. The following are a set of areas from the book to help you structure this:

a) Mentally

b) Physically

c) Spiritually d) Attractiveness

e) Living Environment

f) Emotionally g) Relationships h) Socially

i) Career j) Finances

  1. After living that for a few minutes next to each year, write a paragraph about your state then, your beliefs and the habits you held.

  2. Now dive into the future – your future. Live each year and write a paragraph about your state (the state you’d like to be in), your beliefs and habits.

  3. Most of us (me included) have trouble writing down the details for the future. The details aren’t necessary, the broad direction is. The details will fill themselves in as time passes.

  4. Know this – life is finite. As you can see, each of these years is made up of 365 days. Each of those days is made up of 24 hours. One of the hours is the one you’re currently living. There will come a time when you won’t be living this anymore.

  5. Until then – what do you want from life? What do you want to experience? Do you want to learn a new language? Write poetry? Start a business? To be President? To love someone deeply? Do you want to teach children who don’t have access to education? Write down anything and everything you want.

You might face resistance and not be honest with yourself in listing these down. A part of you might say dreams are for movies and ‘other people’. But do you think Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey or A.P.J. Abdul Kalam knew the future? Do you think they were sure they would be who they became? No one knows the future. They had the courage to dream, to ask for what they wanted from life, and then act. The Reticular Activating System (RAS) (Google it!) is part of our brain. It is the part that focuses your spotlight of attention on anything you deem important. And this happens on a daily basis. You draw into your life what you think about simply because your RAS is actively focusing on it. So when resistance shows up, keep it at bay long enough to let your heart speak the truth. You don’t need to know ‘how’ at the beginning, your mind will find the way. That’s how it has happened for any human so far.

By the end of this piece, you’ll have an idea of how you’ve been living so far, how you are choosing to live today, and how you want to live in the future.

Step Two: The Person (insert your name in the blank) | Week 3

Malala Yousafzai was Malala Yousafzai before she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014. What that means is – the ‘Nobel Peace Prize’ could be a goal/general direction but the most important bit is the person you become as a result of the pursuit of your goals/dreams. Malala was being the person who would win a Nobel Peace Prize before she won it. The Peace Prize was simply recognition of this. She was being courageous, being determined, being honest, demonstrating integrity long before she won the Peace Prize and in all probability, with no intention of it either. She was being this person, who allowed her to act courageously and inspire others.

Now that you have a vision for your life – hazy or clear – you have direction. Based on this, write down who you will have to be in order to achieve the things you want.

Who is the person you’ve got to become?

Imagine that person in your mind. Will they be kinder, more compassionate? What are the habits they will have? The friends they will surround themselves with? The person they will love?

Write down the standards _____ at 20/30/40/50/60/70/80/90/100 would need to live by in order to have the life that they do.

Step Three: Game Plan | Week 4

Jim Rohn, in his talk on the ‘Discipline of Doing’, explains ‘value chain thinking’. It is when you see each task you do or behaviour you exhibit today, not as a singular event, but as the link to the chain of your future – it changes you. You feel encouraged and full of purpose to act better now. Not ‘someday’. Today.

Once you do this, you realise that everything you do today adds up to the person you will be tomorrow. Each moment of compassion adds up to you being an ‘empathetic’ person. Each time you choose to do a task you’ve committed to, it adds up to you being a ‘disciplined’ person. You will feel the drive to stay on the path, to live each day because you know you are creating your future – the one you have chosen for yourself.

You have direction of where you want to go. You have an idea of the person you need to become in order to go to where you want to go.

What’s left? Going there.

And how do you get somewhere? You use a compass.

This game plan is to be your compass. Your direction and vision is to be your North.

What is a game plan? It is a visual representation of your future – of today, tomorrow, the week after, the month after. It is simply a To-Do List. You can use a spreadsheet or graph paper where you list the activities you must accomplish on the left and the days by which you must complete it on the right.

How do you start? By not starting the day before it is finished.

That’s Level 1. Don’t start the day before you have it finished. Before you have listed down all you need to accomplish that day.

What’s Level 2? Don’t start the week before you have it finished.

Finally, at Level 3 – don’t start the month before you have it finished.

Don’t worry about this being the ‘perfect’ plan. The plan you create today will not be the one that gets you to your dream life. However, it will be the starting point. There will be iterations and reiterations. The miracle of modern engineering helps us understand this. The Apollo rocket (example courtesy of Jeff Olson’s The Slight Edge) was actually on course only 2 to 3 per cent of the time. It was off course 97 per cent of the time! A gyroscope is the heart of the computerised guidance system that got the rocket to the moon – it course corrects along the way. As long as you have your vision and general direction (your internal gyroscope) and keep building on the previous day, you will get to where you want to be.

I know that we have the tendency to get over excited and plan the month and fill it to the brim. Don’t start by planning the month. Start with Level 1. Make a promise to yourself to not start your day before you have it planned. When you do this seven days in a row, then start planning your week. When you do that often enough, you can level up to the month. Start now with planning tomorrow, today. And then follow the plan. For doing so will add up and over time, it will turn into the days of the life you want to live.

This may seem like a process that takes time and effort – yes. However, don’t we owe it to ourselves to live a well thought out life? If we don’t do this, in five years we will be doing what we don’t want to do, living where we don’t want to live, and being with people who have shown up by default and who we don’t want to be with.

Steel yourself to be alone with a sheet of paper and a pen. Begin that journey. My wish for you is that you experience the drive, purpose, and fulfilment that come with following your North.

Now, start.


Ishika Harekal is a Business Development Executive working in Cancer Care at Max Healthcare, one of the leading healthcare service providers in India. She also teaches Business and Communication Skills at Craftkari, a social enterprise comprising women from low income backgrounds who make and sell products to be financially independent. She has completed a postgraduate certification in Management Practice and Leadership from The Vedica Scholars Programme for Women after her Bachelors in Psychology.

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