For a stress-free CAT '11
September is the time of the year when students dive headlong in their CAT preparation. Study material, classes andMock CATs are the perfect recipe for success and for some of us, also for stress. Stress management expert, Hiren Shah, tells you how to keep stress at bay without letting it affect your performance
In today’s fast paced, competitive, world characterised by information overload and constant bombarding of information from different media; people from all works of life are susceptible to stress. Students can be even more vulnerable to stress because of the competition that they face today and their inability to deal with real life situations practically and manage stress. A lot of the stress that students face is exam related. Much of the stress is because of the perception that their entire future rests on one exam. However, with experience one realises that this could not be further from the truth.
An MBA degree with sense and sensibility
When I used to be a student, my father is often credited with turning around a sick company used to tell me how he would rather hire somebody who is smart rather than someone who only has academic achievements. In his book, Successful Intelligence, Robert Sternberg points out the difference between creative, analytical and practical intelligence and says that practical intelligence is the most important and it is impossible to succeed without it. A recent article in the Times of India, brought to light how some companies are keen on recruiting candidates who have not completed their graduation but are already displaying leadership potential. The book Ancient Wisdom for Management puts it very bluntly, “Academic degree is just an entry pass and nothing else in any job.”
From my own experiences
I saw this being put into practice at one of my earlier jobs where I learnt an important lesson from an administrative manager in the company in which I worked. He told me that qualifications may be good for getting in, but once inside, it is every man for himself. In my very next workplace, I saw somebody from IIFT get six promotions in one year whereas three others from the same institute could manage only one promotion.
The gentleman in question is a very successful businessman now.
In her book, Business Maharajas, Gita Piramal states “Dhirubhai Ambani himself admitted that for management tasks, he gives more attention to who takes more initiative and gets the job done rather than ‘paper qualifications’.” The Harvard Business Review, in one of its leadership books, states that academic achievement need not guarantee functional talent. This is not to say that degrees and qualifications are not important. However, one should be wary of according too much importance to them as this can lead to unnecessary stress. One should keep in mind that ultimately it is an exam and just a means to an end and not the end itself. Everybody has the potential to succeed and the true tests of your potential are real-life situations and not an exam.
Choose your career based on interest
Even Bollywood seems to have realised the importance of realising potential with movies like 3 idiots breaking all records. The movie depicts how success in the long run is more dependent on being able to identify what one really wants to do and the same need not necessarily be reflected in your degrees and qualifications. Instances of people who are working in a particular field but find their hearts somewhere else are not uncommon. Websites like careershifters.org, positionignition.com, passioncatalyst.com and vocationalcoach.com guide people and help them discover what they really want to do. These sites are replete with examples of people who have studied and are qualified in a certain field but went on to be much more successful in a totally different area. To identify one’s area rather than obsess over an exam may prove to be a better strategy in the long run.
The right way to deal with stress
To succeed in anything, techniques can work only when concepts are clear. One can get lots of stress management techniques from the internet as well but as long as the basic concept or idea is misleading, (in this case an unreasonable fear of exams) no technique can work consistently. When I was a student in high school, my grandfather tried to initiate me into yoga but I dismissed it as an old man’s thing. However when one starts working, one realises that the life of a manager is a lot like 20-20 cricket where on has to be on one’s toes all the time whereas student life is more like test cricket. In the workplace, one has to face deadlines, sometimes suffer an over bearing boss, deal with inter personal conflicts and group dynamics, travel constantly and keep a cool head under pressure from the external world over which one has no direct control. When one gets into these situations, one tends to learn stress and time management automatically. I learnt it first during the course of my Executive MBA program where we were to learn in nine months, all that a regular MBA student learns in two years. The sooner one knows all this, the better.
For a STress-Free CAT '11
Since all this is being said in the overall context of success, what comes to mind is this famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Concentration is the secret of success in politics, in war, in all management of human affairs.” Concentration is particularly relevant for students of the CAT as they are required to answer a number of questions quickly and accurately which requires a sharp and focused mind.
For CAT students in particular, I would recommend a brain gym called lumosity.com as both the CAT and the brain gym enhance one’s fluid or task base intelligence as against crystallised or knowledge based intelligence. It is not only very good for focusing the mind but also for developing fluid intelligence which will be very helpful in the CAT exam. When I joined the website in April 2010, it had 2 million members and today it had over 14 million members. The website works in close association with Stanford and Harvard
University group researchers, among others, to enhance productivity in the corporate world where most of the students are only interested in
climbing the corporate ladder.
The focused reader will recollect my previous example of the gentleman with six promotions. He was far sharper and smarter than the rest who may have been equally knowledgeable. The gym definitely makes the mind sharp and is also an excellent stress buster as the mind gets totally occupied in those intelligent games.
An extension of concentration is mindfulness. Recently, the Times of India featured an article titled ‘Test cricket and Mindfulness’ where former Australian opener Justin Langer explained how his success as an opening batsman was because of the concentration that he could develop by meditating everyday in the morning, everyday. Just a few days before this piece, Vijendra Singh, India’s handsome boxer had stated how he had started meditating regularly to improve his focus in the ring. Mindfulness is basically trying to be totally in the moment- for instance as I am typing this, I should feel the touch of the keyboard and the sound that it produces so that my attention is not diverted elsewhere.
Being ‘in the zone’
One should also be non-judgmental about people, ideas or anything else that one comes across so that one is totally involved and committed to the task at hand. Sachin Tendulkar once stated that even while facing a Bangladeshi bowler, he would focus only on the ball and not on the bowler, to prevent him from thinking that scoring off him was going to be easy. Being non-judgmental leads to greater objectivity and more consistent performance. In a book titled, The Inner book of Tennis, the same is described in the following words, “Judgment of labels with good or bad causes severe emotional reactions and then tightness. When we unlearn how to be judgmental, it is possible to achieve spontaneous, concentrated play.” The book advocates focusing on the bounce of the ball, the texture of the ball, the feel of the racquet etc. to avoid thinking of anything else when playing the sport. It is important to experience the moment without intellectualising it, as labeling can start a whole stream of thoughts which can take the attention away from the task at hand. In sports, this is called being ‘in the zone’ and the success of one of the all time greats, Pete Sampras, can be attributed to the same. For exams like CAT, the more the students train themselves to be in the zone, the better of they are.
Psychiatrists use mindfulness techniques to help patients who are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Some stress management consultants have also started using these techniques in companies. One can come across websites where there are articles on how mindfulness also applies to inter-personal family matters. Basically it is all about getting out of your head and into your senses. If you can train to withdraw your attention from your mind by being non-judgmental and totally focus that attention on your senses without cravings or aversions, you can not only be stress free but enhance your performance by better concentration as well. It can be done throughout the day and if made into a habit, can serve one well in different kinds of stress situations in different spheres of life. When one’s mind is focused and collected; planning, organising, problem solving, decision making, coordinating, managing time, managing stress etc. improve automatically. Another of the tennis all time greats, Bjorn Borg would play like a Zen monk but perhaps a better example would be the cool and unflappable temperament of our cricket captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Mindfulness helps in refining one’s temperament when one is not naturally like that.
Ways to manage stress
As far as general stress management is concerned, here are a few
• Exercise regularly, at least thrice a week
• Reduce caffeine, sugar and fast foods,
• Avoid alcohol, Cigarettes and drugs and get enough sleep.
• Breathe deeply and rhythmically as often as possible
• Take out some time for fun activities with your family and friends etc.
• Plan your time and prioritise your tasks to avoid doing good work at the cost of more important work,
• Make your desk free from clutter. Not only does this help during exams but is a good habit to inculcate even in your work life
• Strike the right balance between work and relaxation- take regular breaks lest you get tired.
• Have an emotional buffer and share your problem with someone who cares. Remember, a problem shared is a problem halved.
• Good hygiene, organisation and discipline are essential to managing stress and can prevent your preparations from ending up
in a mess.