The ‘Battery’ of the Team

Spanish La Liga: Real Madrid’s Galacticos

2002-03 Season, Spanish La Liga: O Fenomeno (The Phenomenon) Ronaldo joined the Los Blancos, Real Madrid Football Club, from Inter Milan for a staggering fee of 45 million euros. With his 23 league goals, Real Madrid won the Spanish La Liga for 29th time in its history. They were jubilant and ecstatic with the victory.

In order to further strengthen their team for their conquest next season, the club decided to bring in another star midfield player – David Beckham. In the subsequent 2003-04 season, Beckham arrived at the Santiago Bernabeu, the home of Real Madrid, from Manchester United for a whopping fee of 35 million euros. Addition of Beckham ensured Real Madrid added another star in their galaxy – alongside other star players like Iker Casillas, Roberto Carlos, Zinedine Zidane, Raul, Ronaldo, and Luis Figo. With such reinforcement, they were highly favored to win their 30th title.

The Real Madrid Galacticos: David Beckham, Luis Figo, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Raul [L-R]; Photo Source: Era Galactica, Real Madrid Fandom Wiki

In a shocking manner, Real Madrid finished fourth in the 2003-04 season, behind champions Valencia, FC Barcelona, and Deportivo La Coruna. To fight back from this embarrassment, Real Madrid bought another forward next season – Michael Owen – the golden boy from Liverpool. Despite the golden boy addition, the 2004-05 season saw FC Barcelona edge Real Madrid with four points. Real Madrid still couldn’t win their 30th title.

In 2005-06 season, Real Madrid splashed out a whopping 96 million euros for multiple players – defender Sergio Ramos and midfielder Baptista from Sevilla, and forward Robinho from FC Santos. Even with such reinforcements, Real Madrid still finished second behind FC Barcelona, this time with a gap of 12 points. For the second consecutive season, Real Madrid did not win any competitions.

Real Madrid finally wins their 30th League Title

In 2006-07 season, Real Madrid splashed huge with more than a hundred million euros. Only after signing the 2006 World Cup winning defender Fabio Cannavaro and his Juventus manager Fabio Capello, along with forwards Ruud van Nistelrooy from Manchester United, Gonzalo Higuain from River Plate, defender Marcelo from Fluminense, and defensive midfielder Emerson from Juventus, Real Madrid managed to win their 30th league title. However, shortly after winning the La Liga title, the club surprisingly sacked manager Capello after he refused to field David Beckham and Ronaldo, and his defensive tactics. This season saw Zidane’s retirement as well as Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid for AC Milan.

The Big Question

The question remains – why could Real Madrid, a team filled with such superstars and gifted players, not win the league for over three seasons, and remain trophy-less in two of them?

While there are multiple reasons for Madrid’s galacticos remaining trophy-less for consecutive seasons, one of them is a departure of an under appreciated genius – Claude Makelele.

Claude Makelele - The Battery of the Team
Claude Makelele – The Battery of the Team; Image Source:

Makelele arrived at Real Madrid from Celta Vigo in the 2000-01 season, when Real Madrid started operating with the goal of making it the most fashionable club in the world and was dubbed galacticos since they were aiming to recruit one expensive world famous player every summer. However, despite his value for the team, Makelele was one of its most relatively underpaid player, earning a fraction of that paid to teammates like Zidane, Figo, Raul, Ronaldo, Carlos, McManaman and Guti.

When Madrid’s 28th title winning manager Del Bosque was shockingly sacked, and after the arrival of David Beckham, Makelele decided to ask for an improved contract – especially after getting encouragements from team members Zidane, Raul, McManaman, and Morientes. The club management outright refused to even consider his request. Upset, Makelele handed in a transfer request, and was signed by English Premier League sides, Chelsea in 2003-04 season. Club president Fiorentino Perez infamously scorned on Makelele’s footballing abilities after his departure and proclaimed he would not be missed.

Rise of Chelsea: The Makelele Role

In Steve McManaman’s autobiography, he described Makelele as “the most important and yet least appreciated midfielder at Real Madrid.” The then captain of Real Madrid, Fernando Hierro, also criticized club president Perez for both Makelele’s departure and the manner of departure, and said, “The loss of Makelele was the beginning of the end for Los Galacticos, he was the base, the key and I think he is the same to Chelsea now.”

Makelele usually played in front of the team’s back-line, where he served as a defensive protection cover for the defenders. With his ability to read the game, break down plays, mark and anticipate opponents, and aggressive tackling, he was regarded as the best in the position. In his role, he was highly regarded throughout his career for his positional awareness, tactical discipline, intelligence, energy, and ball winning ability. With such abilities and playing a key role in redefining the defensive midfield role, that role is now colloquially known as “The Makelele Role ” in his homage.

With his arrival, Chelsea finished second in the league in 2003-04 season. In 2004-05 season, Makelele was a key player in Mourinho’s campaign, winning the league first time in 50 years and also the League Cup. As of now, this Chelsea side still holds the defensive record for most clean sheets and fewest goals conceded in English Premier League season, all thanks to the defensive cover from Makelele.

The Battery of the Team

When Claude Makelele signed for Chelsea in the summer of 2003, then manager Claudio Ranieri proclaimed Makelele as the ‘battery of the team.’

Now what does this term – ‘battery of the team’ – mean?

Take a moment to think about your decision making process while purchasing a new phone. The decision criteria mostly would include the brand, screen size, display types, processor speed, cameras, RAM, and storage. The battery of the phone rarely comes to the discussion on the decision criteria – not because it is not required, but is often overlooked. The battery powers all the functions – the display, processor, camera, and storage, but is not always considered the best part of any phone. Claudio Makelele was the battery of the team because he was the one to protect the defensive line and supply the ball to the strikers so that they can score.

Similarly, in our teams, we have people who connects and gels the team together – supplying power and energy to other team members. Covering someone’s late night shift, asking a colleague to take a break, protecting a teammate’s mistake – these all are hallmarks of someone who provides energy to the team. The battery of the team often gets under appreciated, and looks like an average performer. But beneath the average performer could be our teams’ battery – who is constantly charging the team, someone who is constantly energizing other team members.

It is essential as leaders and managers to recognize these average performing energizers – because they might be the reason that our star performers are performing their best. Removing them might cause the star performers’ productivity to dwindle down, as that happened with Real Madrid’s galacticos. To identify such ‘battery’ in the team, be in a constant connection with all members of the team – not just with your best performers. Get to know the ins and outs of all team members. Get to know them personally. Get to know which team member contributes in which areas apart from their own designated works.

Getting to know, understanding, and connecting with your team members – this will help you recognize the ‘battery’ in your team. Hold on to them, and sometimes charge them too. It is the battery that powers all other functions in the phone, but the battery needs to be charged too. Similarly, your team’s battery might need frequent charges too.

Why do we judge (and continue being judged)?

“You know me, not my story. So don’t judge me!”

“Before you judge me, why not take a good look at yourself?”

“Never judge someone. They’re fighting their own battles.”

These are some common statements we see and hear most of the times. As educated and rational beings, we know that we should not be judging others. But why do we still continue to judge people? We do not like being judged, yet we continue to judge people. Worse, we judge people for judging us. Oh, the irony!

Why should we not judge?

Yes, it is true that we should not judge others. That is true, because we do not know the entire story behind whatever is happening, and judgement of the object or a person would cloud our perception. Forming a narrative based on only half of the story does not really help in fostering and nurturing the relationships that are essential and close to us.

On contrary, judgement – most of the times – are the ones that creates a half-image of the whole, and prevent us from looking at the bigger picture. This myopic sight would trouble our interpersonal relationships – be it personal or professional.

There are a lot of arguments for why we should not judge anyone, or anything, because we probably have only seen it from our lens, and formed our own narratives based on our worldview. This is not necessarily right or wrong, but the bottom line is that it does not show the whole bigger macro-perspective.

But why do we judge?

We will at least in our lifetime remain judgmental of others because that is how our brains have evolved from the past.

Since the times when humans lived in caves, there was always a constant fear of wild animals, a conflicting tribe comprising of physically strong counterparts, natural disasters, and even unknown diseases. Therefore, this judgement of the unknown was an essential skill required not just for surviving, but for thriving too. The initial judgement of “friend or foe” kicked in to understand whether the “unknown” was a potential threat and danger to us or not. And if it indeed was a threat, our ancestors trained their brains to trigger the “fight or flight” response as a way of our survival mechanism.

This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations. The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety.
– Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School

This “fight or flight” mechanism was a medium for humans to evolve into social groups. As social beings, this practice of judgement was vital for cavemen to establish functioning tribes. Without judgement, the tribe would cease to exist.

Learn how the “fight or flight” mechanism works here.

The best we can do is understand how these judgements are formed and what the judgmental thoughts tell about us.

The way you measure yourself is how you measure others, and how you assume others measure you.

Mark Manson, author, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

As Mark says, “the yardstick we use for ourselves is the yardstick we use for the world.” This is why we judge others. Suppose we judge someone for being late, this probably means that we value punctuality. When we judge someone for their appearance, it tells us that we emphasize on the physical outlook. When we judge someone for being disrespectful, it tells us that our principle operates by being respectful towards others. When we judge someone based on their riches, it is just that we value those riches. Simple.

Judgement of others tells us more about ourselves than about them. If we only start noticing by what parameters we judge others, we can understand that those parameters are of importance to us. We can’t stop judging people, but we can surely know more about ourselves with this process. Thus, being mindful and thinking about your own judgements will open doors to understand your own self. This will, however, require a lot of patience as well as practice.

Coming back to the question – will we ever stop judging? Short answer – NO. This judgement is something that is developed with our brain during our evolution, so it is next to impossible for humans to stop judging. However, we can become mindful of our judgements, reflect back on those judgements, and use it as a key to self-awareness in understanding our own priorities, parameters, and principles.

So judge all you want, but be mindful about the narratives being formed, and what those narratives tell you about yourself.

Practice, practice, practice

The famous Spartan warriors had a credo for their war – “Sweat more in practice, bleed less in war“. Practice is probably the greatest thing humans can do, yet people ridicule it.

For every new thing or an idea that has been brought into the world, people have laughed at it, criticized it, and ridiculed it at the beginning. As the famous quote wrongly misattributed to Mahatma Gandhi goes, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.

This quote is a summary of Nichoas Klein, an American labor union advocate and attorney, who gave a speech to the Clothing Workers in May 1919, where he said the following:

[…] And my friends, in this story you have a history of this entire movement. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you. And that is what is going to happen to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America. And I say, courage to the strikers, and courage to the delegates, because great times are coming, stressful days are here, and I hope your hearts will be strong, and I hope you will be one hundred per cent union when it comes!

This ridiculing of new thoughts and ideas goes way back in our human civilization. Back when we humans didn’t know earth revolves around the sun, the accepted norm was a geocentric approach – which states that our Earth is at the center of the Universe. Even great philosopher and thinker like Aristotle was in favor of geocentric approach.

When Aristarchus of Samos presented the first known heliocentric approach that placed the Sun at the center of the known universe, with the Earth revolving around the Sun once a year and rotating about its axis once a day, it was met with rejections in favor of geocentric theories of Aristotle and Ptolemy.

In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus, a Polish mathematician and astronomer, formulated a model fo the Universe that placed the Sun rather than Earth at its center. However, he was not certain if he wanted to publish his book containing this fact because of his concerns about possible astronomical and philosophical objections and/or religious objections.

However, in the 17th century, Galileo Galilei presented supporting observations about Copernican heliocentrism (Earth rotating daily and revolving around the Sun) using a telescope. This was – again – met with opposition from within the Catholic Church. The Roman Inquisition concluded that heliocentrism was foolish, absurd, and heretical since it contradicted Holy Scripture. Later on, Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy” by the Inquisition, and thus had to spend the rest of his life under house arrest.

Long before the geocentric theories of Aristotle, the great philosopher Socrates was also executed by forced suicide by poisoning, because he was accused of corrupting the youth and failing to acknowledge the city’s official gods. In 399 BC, his trial lasted a day, and was sentenced to death for his radical thoughts and ideas.

In a world full of ridiculing, why should we practice?

Let us first go back to the time, when ancient humans discovered fire.

Although the direct evidence is scarce, claims for the earliest definitive evidence of control of fire by a member of Homo ranges from 1.7 to 2.0 million years ago. Evidence for the “microscopic traces of wood ash” as controlled use of fire by Homo-erectus, beginning some 1,000,000 years ago, has wide scholarly support [a].

A diorama depicting hominins igniting fire inside a cave from the National Museum of Mongolian History, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

In a review for the Royal Society Philosophical Transactions B, J.A.J. Gowlett hypothesizes that hominins took advantage of natural wildfires for foraging. It is difficult to follow the development of human control over fire because of what Gowlett calls its “disappearing act.” Fire isn’t as well preserved in the archeological record as, say, middens or flint tools. And progress was incremental, with fire control being learned in different places at different times. Certain archeological sites have proffered a bounty of stone tools, suggesting long-term quartering. Such occupancy could mean hominins learned to at least maintain fire as far back as 2.5 million years ago. But direct evidence is scarce [b].

So what happened after we discovered fire?

The cooking hypothesis, proposed by Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore, Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard, claims that fire allowed us to cook our food – making cooked meats easier to chew and digest; and as a result, our bodies could extract more nutrients form the same amount of meat. Wrangham argues that the ability to create cooked foods shaped the brains and bodies of our Homo ancestors. Larger brains allowed us to process more information, create more dynamic social groups, and adjust to unfamiliar habitats. All of which benefited us evolutionarily [b].

Cooking can be thought of as “pre-digesting.” Because we’ve already broken down much of the food by cooking, the calorie absorption process becomes more efficient than if the food had been raw, and requires that we put in a significant amount of energy to just digest. The use of fire to prepare food paved the way for the evolution of organisms that could support significantly larger brains [c].

The expansion of the brain, seen in fossils from different branches of our family tree, may have been aided by fire, first used at least a million years ago. NMNH, SI

Thus, we are where we are now because of practice.


Imagine a scenario – one of the ancient homo species discovered fire and showed it to his close group. He may have been ridiculed, laughed at, or may even have been accused of creating something dangerous and potentially destroying weapon! But had that one homo species given up, and left the practice to discover fire and educate more species, we would probably not have evolved so much as we have now.

Practice enabled humans to discover fire. With fire, humans were able to consume cooked foods. This allowed our body and brain to gain valuable nutrients required for our continuous development. Darwin himself considered language and fire as the two most significant achievements of humanity [d].

So how do you build habit of practice?

Step 1: Shut up and show up.

As James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, say – shut up and show up. Showing up is the first step towards practice and building long term habits. No matter what, show up. Take that first step.

Step 2: Know the environment.

Our environment also plays a vital role in building any habit of practice. If the people around us talk about football all the time, we are bound to watch football – because as humans, we are wired to comply with social groups. If people around us are appreciative and supportive enough, we tend to take the step we never thought we could take. The safety net from our environment really helps in taking new strides. If people around us aren’t supportive, maybe we need to change our environment around us.

Step 3: Use visual cues.

Small wins are massive motivators, but we rarely recognize them. Having a small win, and assigning a visual cue to it is important in any practice. Visual stimulus is important. It makes us stick with good habits. The visual cues act as a reward system for us to continue practicing. A small ‘tick’ on our calendar or marking done in our to-do list are all examples of visual cues working with our brain to reinforce our habit of practicing.

A constant reminder for myself to practice comes from my name itself – Prayas, meaning ‘try’. Let’s give it a try. Let’s take the first step.

And let’s keep practicing.

Also read: Awareness & Courage – And how to “Practice” it

Worries worth taking

Are any worries worth taking in life? Superficially, NO. Even Gaur Gopal Das, Indian lifestyle coach and motivational speaker, asks not to worry about any problems in life because we can either do something or not do something about it. However, on a deep and thorough perspective, maybe there are some worries that are worth scratching brains for.

After coming back home from a different-than-usual haircut, people around me had vivid perceptions – some appreciating the change, and some finding it harder to accept I spent my time and money for nothing. Some even asked why I was so worried about my appearance. I immediately wondered, “just because you are not interested in your appearance doesn’t mean I should not be worried about mine“. That’s when my mind hit this question – “Could there be worries worth taking?”

The Upside of Worrying

Kate Sweeny, a psychology professor at the University of California, Riverside, claims that not all worries are destructive despite its negative reputation. Sweeny and her team led to a research that concluded with surprise benefits of worrying – when done in right amount, it may motivate people to engage in behaviors that are potentially beneficial to their health. Sweeney further suggests that it seems both too much and too little worry can interfere with motivation, but the right amount of worry can motivate without paralyzing.

Worry has been defined in both negative and neutral terms. Edward Watkins, a clinical psychologist and mood disorder researcher at the University of Exeter points out, “By worrying about something, we are more likely to think of reasons to take action and be motivated to do something.” Furthermore, researchers argue that there is a “finite pool of worry“, so anxiety about one matter can inhibit concern about others.

Sweeny points out that alike any emotion, worry also serves a function. Sweeney adds, “It’s a signal. It’s essentially pointing us towards something that might be coming and it’s drawing our attention there. It’s motivating us to ideally prevent the bad thing from happening or at least prepare for it.

Sweeny says that flow has been especially useful for coping with the stresses of COVID-19. Flow is a state of absorption with moderate challenge and a means of tracking progress – “zoning in” rather than “zoning out”. In Sweeny’s and colleagues’ preliminary research on the mental wellbeing of Chinese people not yet quarantined, flow was associated with reduced loneliness and more health-promoting behaviours.

So could there really be worries worth taking?

Understanding the upside of worrying, we can conclude there could be worries worth taking – especially those worries that will help us to engage in behaviors helpful to us, but not at the cost of harming others.

When we worry about something, it might be telling us that it is important for us. When we start noticing about what makes us worry, or what worries usually surround our mind, we begin to understand how we prioritize and value that instance.

For example:

  • If one can observe how much they have sacrificed their late night sleep for the latest edition of Euro Cup to support either Italy or England in the finals, they would understand how much they value football and entertainment.
  • When someone works late night and worries about how their sales pitch in front of a big corporate client, it can be noticed that person really does care about performing their best and getting the deal.
  • When someone continuously talks about buying a new apartment and moving out of their parent’s house, it can be understood that freedom and independence is of importance to them.
  • If one can observe how many plans they’ve made to visit new places during the weekends, they can understand how much they value traveling and creating new experiences.

However, the important point here is while we would be worrying about these worries because they’re important to us, others might or might not be able to understand and relate it the same way. Hence they can easily discard our worries or find it difficult to contemplate why we are involved in it so much. It needs to be understood that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure .

For instance from the earlier evidences,

  • Someone who has no interest in football wouldn’t understand why one is sacrificing their sleep for a game between two countries that has no connection to them.
  • Someone who doesn’t really value their job wouldn’t understand why someone else is working late night and putting so much of effort to that sales pitch presentation.
  • Someone who is comfortable enough to live with their parents wouldn’t understand why someone else is so bothered about finding an apartment and spending hard earned money just on rents.
  • Someone who would rather stay indoors wouldn’t understand why someone else would like to go around new places and meet people they don’t know for the sake of just enjoyment.

This leaves us with a very important thought to reflect back:

What are we worrying often about? What does it tell us about ourselves as a person? And are we discarding others’ worries just because we are not invested in it? And the most important one – What are the worries worth taking?

Read Next: The Diagnosis Pitfall

Toxic Positivity – The Dark Side of Bright Side

Relax, bro! Why are you always so pessimistic? Don’t think all that negative stuff. Come on, be positive, man. It’s going to be alright, be happy!

This statement has undertones of a classic toxic positivity. I’ve heard this (or similar) phrase a lot whenever I shared about my problems, setbacks, and failures. In all honesty, this was my go-to phrase and an automated advice for anyone who shared their problems with me as well. This advice largely never worked for me, and I’m pretty sure it has not worked for others as well.

Given that we all hear these phrases every now and then, and given the internet world full of motivational instagram posts & pinterest images, the toxic positivity is not only futile in solving our problems, but also creates additional problems for us.


Those thoughts that pops up and makes us feel worried, guilty, and/or ashamed is termed as “intrusive thoughts”. All those thoughts of “What if I’m not as good as others think?“, “Why am I always a burden to others?“, “I’m the worst person in the world” are examples of intrusive thoughts which can cause distress, since its nature might be upsetting. Even if one is of a sound mind and free from mental health issues, it is possible to be struck by intrusive thoughts out of nowhere.

So why do we have intrusive thoughts? Turns out, these thoughts are what kept humans alive, with our brain’s flight or fight response. Our brains have evolved to keep us safe by continually scanning for dangers. These thoughts are the results from danger scans.

What keeps the thought going? Simple – we try to avoid it. That is what keeps the thought going. The more we try to push it away, more it sticks to us.

Learn about thoughts escalation here.


Simple exercise:

Whatever you do, do NOT think about GIANT RATS. Just don’t. DO NOT THINK ABOUT GIANT RATS. I repeat – DO NOT! Master Splinter? I said don’t!

How did it go?

This is a common brain paradox – If we are trying to avoid a thought, our brain focuses on it more. Scumbag brain!

This is exactly why the “don’t think about it” advice never works. If you suppress thinking about your ex, you’ll eventually think more about him/her. This study on paradoxical effects of thought suppression proves that when you’re asked not to think about something, it actually makes you more likely to think about it.

As Mark Manson, author of ‘The Subtle Art of not Giving a F*ck’ writes, “Everything worthwhile in life is won through surmounting the associated negative experience. Any attempt to escape the negative, to avoid it or quash it or silence it, only backfires. The avoidance of suffering is a form of suffering. The avoidance of struggle is a struggle. The denial of failure is a failure. Hiding what is shameful is itself a form of shame.


Toxic or forced positivity – Dr. Jaime Zuckerman, a clinical psychologist, explains this term as the assumption, either by one’s self or others, that despite a person’ emotional pain or difficult situation, they should only have a positive mindset or “positive vibes”.

Toxic positivity can take many forms: It can be a family member or a friend who chastises you for expressing frustration instead of listening to why you’re upset. It can be a suggestion to “look on the bright side” or “be grateful for what you have” by completely discarding the problems.

In this time of COVID-19 global pandemic, the situation is even more dire. This pandemic has intensified the already unprecedented and uncertain future, and our automated reflexes is most likely to be overly optimistic or positive to avoid accepting a dreaded reality. Let’s accept – our lives aren’t just roses, but with thorns as well. And as Susan David, PhD says, “We will find ourselves in situations where we will feel anger, sadness and grief and so on. Unless we can process, navigate and be comfortable with the full range of our emotions, we won’t learn to be resilient. We must have some practice dealing with those emotions or we will be caught off guard.


Several studies (Gross and Levenson, 1997) show that suppressing thoughts and hiding or denying feelings leads to more stress on the body and/or increased difficulty avoiding the distressing thoughts and feelings

In Gross and Levenson’s study, research participants were divided into two groups and shown disturbing medical procedure films while their stress responses were measured (e.g., heart rates, pupil dilation, sweat production). One group was asked to watch the videos while letting their emotions show whereas the second group of subjects were asked to watch the films and act as if nothing were bothering them.

The result? Those participants who suppressed their emotions (acted as if nothing bothered them) had significantly more physiological changes . The emotional suppressors may have appeared cool and calm but on the inside their stress was erupting!

Courtesy of The Psychology Group, you can find how to turn toxic positive advices to non-toxic acceptance and validation here.

Let’s understand – suppressing, denying, and avoiding does not work. Sometimes, we need to ACCEPT the negatives. Furthermore, as mentioned in this paper, the ability to regulate our emotions is associated with greater well-being, income, and socio-economic status. Accepting the negative, and navigating what our emotions are telling us is the step forward to overcome this spiral of intrusive thoughts & toxic positivity rumination. Also, tragic optimism can be the antidote to toxic positivity. I’ll explain more about this in my next post.

Remember: It’s okay not to be okay.


“I know, thanks” – The Earned Dogmatism Effect

Dogma, in the broad sense, is any belief held unquestioningly and with undefended certainty. It’s a point of view that people are expected to accept because it is put forth as authoritative without adequate grounds. This helps us understand more about the ‘Earned Dogmatism Effect‘ – which tells us that being labeled as an “expert” may contribute to us being close-minded.

In a study with six experiments, Victor Ottati, Erika D. Price, Chase Wilson from Loyola University Chicago and Nathanael Sumaktoyo from University of Notre Dame tested the Earned Dogmatism Hypothesis, and concluded that experts are entitled to adopt a relatively dogmatic, closed-minded orientation. As a consequence, situations that engender self-perceptions of high expertise elicit a more closed-minded cognitive style.

Inflated Scores

In one of the tests, participants were randomly assigned to the easy (successful) or difficult (failure) political test. Fifteen multiple choice questions were asked, with questions in the easy condition being, “Who is the current President of the United States?“, to equivalent question in the difficult condition being “Who was Nixon’s initial Vice-President?“.

Upon completing the test, participants were provided with false and inflated scores. Participants in the easy (successful) condition were told that they performed better than 86% of the other test takers; whereas participants in the difficult (failure) condition were told they performed worse than 86% of the test takers.

The participants in the difficult (failure) condition expressed greater political open mindedness than those in the easy (successful) condition. This went on the prove that even the higher self-perceived expertise created an effect of cognition blockade into themselves. Those people who had the impression that they were relatively expert on a certain topic (even when they were given inflated scores), led them to be less willing to consider others’ viewpoints – as stated by this earned dogmatism effect.

President Obama’s Policies

In another test conducted by Ottari and team, participants were asked to enlist either two (easy case) or ten (difficult case) policies implemented by the then US President, Barack Obama. Participants were randomly assigned to the easy or difficult case. In the easy case, participants were allowed to advance to next screen as long as they described one policy. In the difficult case, the participants were asked to write ten policies signed by Obama, or if they couldn’t name ten, they were instructed to write “I don’t know” in the remaining text boxes.

The result? All participants in the easy condition named at least one policy and more than half of the participants named two policies. In the difficult condition, participants named an average of four policies. As predicted by the Earned Dogmatism Effect, participants in the difficult condition reported greater openness to political open mindedness, while participants in the easy condition had less openness to other political opinions.

The Conundrum of Confidence & Competence

The top rated professor at Wharton for seven straight years, Adam Grant, says, “We need to stop mistaking confidence for competence.

The problem is that we equate confidence with competence. But they’re very different things. Unjustified confidence is a form of incompetence, and likewise, competence doesn’t really justify the confidence.

The Earned Dogmatism Effect - Confidence vs Competence

In Grant’s recently published book, “Think Again“, he describes two major syndromes – armchair quarterback syndrome and imposter syndrome – with the difference of these two things – competence and confidence.

When confidence is greater than competence, we fall victim of armchair quarterback syndrome, when we become blind to our own weakness. The opposite of armchair quarterback syndrome, imposter syndrome, is where competence exceeds confidence.

So where do we begin then?

In between the two syndromes, we have the sweet spot of confident humility zone. The right balance between competence as well as confidence brings out the best within us, allowing us to dodge the tricky earned dogmatism effect.

The Earned Dogmatism Effect - Confidence vs Competence
Confidence vs Competence, Adapted from Adam Grant’s book “Think Again”

No one likes an arrogant expert. Being definite, confident, and certain are all good things for conveying competence, but being dogmatic, narrow, and inflexible can limit the credibility and usefulness of the expert. 

To start with, we need to think deliberately how we can be wrong. Of course it is hard for our biased brain to scan our wrongness ourselves. To avoid such biases, we can reframe the question as, “How can others be right?“. Asking the question would not really prevent us from escaping our wrongness, but helps to understand a different perspective where two rights can exist.

Countless studies have shown that most of us overestimate our understanding of various topics, everything from how a vacuum cleaner works to the detail of political policies – a phenomenon explained by ‘the illusion of explanatory depth’. It is essential for us to understand and establish a realistic sense of our own knowledge. A simple way to address this intellectual overconfidence is to make the effort to explain a relevant issue or topic to yourself or someone else in detail, either out loud or in writing. This exercise makes us aware about the gaps in our knowledge, making it more apparent, thereby breaking this illusion of expertise.

To understand another way to combat our illusion of expertise, we need to explore one of the mental models given by Josh Waitzkin, a chess prodigy and an author of the book, “The Art of Learning“. Waitzkin tells:

It’s so easy to think that we were in the dark yesterday but we’re in the light today… but we’re in the dark today too.

Josh Waitzkin, author, “The Art of Learning

The same way we look back at five years younger ourselves and laugh about how stupid we were, we will definitely look back at today five years from now and laugh again. We commonly go on to say, “I didn’t know before, but I know today”. This only tells us that we don’t know something today as well, which we will know tomorrow. This realization will definitely help us to break the illusion, and come above the earned dogmatism effect.

In conclusion, the next time your back of the head tells you during a conversation, “I know, thanks”, tell the biased brain, “You don’t know everything, so let me listen.”

Also read: Where even experts can go wrong?

Towards Equanimity

Disclaimer: I am – by no means – an expert in equanimity, and this article only represents the tips I have been practicing on my own.

calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation.

Our life is full of problems, conflicts, and crises – be it at work, home, or in relationship. From forgetting an anniversary to homelocked in quarantine during a global pandemic, stress has surrounded our lives. In times like these, most of us – we panic. And we stress even more.

However, we see some people find it easy to navigate around stress. Some people deal with conflicts with some impressive calmness. We don’t even see a slight flinch in their responses. How do people gain such composure even in adversity? This question hit me hard. I decided to explore. I vowed to become one of such people. I’ll tell you what I’m doing so far, but let’s first understand the concept of equanimity.

What actually is Equanimity?

Equanimity – by its definition – might sound like mindfulness. But it’s not. It’s moving beyond mindfulness. This article from Mindfulness journal speaks more about what equanimity is, and has addressed it as follows:

In the Buddhist tradition, the term “equanimity” (upeksha in Sanskrit, upekkha in Pali) is a complex construct that has been given multiple definitions along the development of Buddhist thought. At its heart is the word for ‘eye’ and ‘see’, with a prefix suggesting ‘gazing upon’ or observing without interference. It is “a state of mind that cannot be swayed by biases and preferences”, an “even-mindedness in the face of every sort of experience, regardless of whether pleasure [or] pain are present or not”. This state of equanimity manifests as “a balanced reaction to joy and misery, which protects one from emotional agitation”.

Equanimity is the capacity to remain neutral, to observe from a distance and be at peace without getting caught up in what we observe. It’s the capacity to see the big picture with understanding. In essence, it is about taking nothing personally, refusing to get caught up in the drama – either our own or others’.

Equanimity is the foundation for wisdom and freedom and for compassion and love. It is not, as some have mistaken, a “dryness,” coolness, indifference or aloofness. It is not the suppression of feelings, apathy or inexpressiveness. Equanimity is not indifference.

Equanimity also involves a level of impartiality (i.e, being not partial or biased), such that one can experience unpleasant thoughts or emotions without repressing, denying, judging, or having aversion for them. Similarly, in a state of equanimity one can have pleasant or rewarding experiences without becoming over-excited (e.g., to the point of mania or hypomania), or trying to prolong these experiences, or becoming addicted to them.

Practicing Equanimity

To begin understanding about practicing equanimity, let us understand this verse from the Bhagavad Gita first:

योगस्थ: कुरु कर्माणि सङ्गं त्यक्त्वा धनञ्जय |
सिद्ध्यसिद्ध्यो: समो भूत्वा समत्वं योग उच्यते ||

yoga-sthaḥ kuru karmāṇi saṅgaṁ tyaktvā dhanañjaya
siddhy-asiddhyoḥ samo bhūtvā samatvaṁ yoga uchyate

Translation: Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjun, abandoning attachment to success and failure. Such equanimity is called Yog.

Equanimity Step 1: Our feelings aren’t us.

Practicing equanimity requires us to remain equipoised in the face of joy or sorrow, and such balanced reaction will protect us from emotional agitation. As Harvard Medical School’s psychologist Susan David, PhD says, “When we identify with an emotion too closely, we often describe it as if it defines us.” A space between us and our emotions is required for clarity. Dr. David further recommends us not to say “I am sad”, or “I am anxious”. Instead, we should try to notice the feeling for what it is – “I am feeling sad”, or “I am noticing that I’m feeling worried”.

Understanding this becomes crucial to avoid reacting emotionally. To get better at this, my good friends Sagar, AJ & team of My Emotions Matter (MEM) recommends separating facts from feelings. Here are some examples from team MEM on separating facts and feelings:

Feeling: You ignored me.
Fact: You haven’t replied to my message for 10 days.

Feeling: I’m worthless.
Fact: I didn’t pass my exam.

Separating facts and feelings allows us to refrain from labeling, judging, or diagnosing any person, object, or event. This allows us to objectively view the incident without falling prey to any cognitive biases. The Indian philosopher Krishnamurti accurately remarked, “The highest form of intelligence is the ability to observe without evaluating.

Equanimity Step 2: We need to manage our response to our feelings.

Meditator, writer, and speaker Yung Pueblo mentions, “It is not about managing your emotions, it is about managing your reaction to your emotions.”

“Reactions give us the clearest view of what our mind experienced in the past, they are the dense patterns that rise from the deep subconscious as a way to protect us. This form of defense is not based on wisdom, but on survival, when we start expanding our self-awareness, especially during moments of turbulence, we start to see that we have more effective options than just repeating blind behaviors, which produce limited results that generally wipe away our clarity and inner peace in the process.”
– Yung Pueblo

We manage our reactions not by controlling them but by bringing awareness into the process — it is hard to change if you cannot see yourself.

Equanimity Step 3: Developing stoic resiliency.

It’s not events that upset us but rather our opinions about them.

— Epictetus, Stoic philosopher

Equanimity is the central concept in Stoic ethics and psychology. The Greek stoics used the word “Apatheia” (from a- “without” and pathos “suffering” or “passion”), which referred to a state of mind in which one is not disturbed by the passions. Equanimity is closely related to multiple religions – in Hinduism as Samatvam, in Buddhism and Yoga as Upeksha, in Judaism as Menuhat ha-Nefesh or Yishuv ha-Da’at, in Islam as Aslama; and has been used as a core principle in multiple philosophies – in Pyrrhonism (as ataraxia), Taoism, Stoicism, and Epicureanism.

Stoic philosopher Epictetus mentioned that the chief task in life is simply to identify and separate matters so that one can clearly segregate which are externals not under their control, and which have to do with the choices one can actually control. Roman emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius also mentioned, “You have power over your mind-not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength“.

Holocaust survivor and prominent Viennese psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl’s most enduring insight has been derived from this philosophy of stoicism – “You cannot control what happens to you in life, but you can always control what you will feel and do about what happens to you”. Forces beyond our control can take away everything we possess except one thing, our freedom to choose how we will respond to the situation.

The ability to reason, take a perspective from outside of the situation, and hold ourselves accountable are ways that the Stoics would have laid the foundation on building resiliency in one’s’ life.

No person has the power to have everything they want, but it is in their power not to want what they don’t have, and to cheerfully put to good use what they do have.

— Seneca

To sum up the resiliency from the Stoics, focus on two principles – i) Events are neither good nor bad, but it’s our own interpretation of them that is good or bad, and ii) what lies within our sphere of control and what lies beyond it. The trifecta for change suggests being aware of these two principles as a foundation for building resilience, and practicing equanimity. The second stage is to accept that whatever we are doing, we take the full responsibility. No one else is responsible for what we think, feel, or act except us ourselves. And finally, the third stage is to act. During the act, it is essential we ask ourselves – “Is what I am doing helping or harming me?”

Again, let us be reminded that our actions are within our control, but the results are not. As organizational psychologist, Adam Grant once mentioned, “Satisfying work is about enjoying the process, not the product. Pride in the result is not a substitute for joy in creating it.”

This brings us back to the Bhagavad Gita verse mentioned above. When we can perform any act to the best of our ability, abandoning worries and attachment to results, and remain equipoised, then we can say we are in the path towards equanimity.

Read Next : Lazy Humans & Principle of Least Effort [Popular]

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How even experts can fall in it?

The Diagnosis Pitfall

A woman – visibly in panic and grief – runs into the emergency room with her two years old daughter, who was experiencing severe stomach pains.

Normally, the ER (Emergency Room) doctor & the team would have started running tests for diagnostics. However, in this particular case, the ER doctors shifted their attention from the two-year old daughter to the mother, because the mother appeared to be overly concerned and seemed like a parent who would overreact. The doctors sent the mother-daughter home, dismissing any signs of impending severe dangers.

The woman returned the next day. While the ER doctors know how vital it is to carefully listen to the parents while treating infants, the doctors were now even more justified that the woman was overreacting, and labeled her as “hypochondriac”. Once again, the ER doctors sent them home, without proper tests and diagnosis.

The third day – the woman is back at the hospital with her daughter. It was only when the toddler lost consciousness, the doctors realized something was terribly wrong; but by then, it was already too late to save the precious life of the two-year old.

The moment the ER doctors labeled the mother “hypochondriac”, they fell into this pitfall of “Diagnosis Pitfall”, or “Diagnosis Bias”.

(Story adapted from Ori & Rom Brafman’s “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior”)

How can skilled, educated, and experienced doctors & physicians make such a disturbing decision? They go through years of rigorous training and intense practises because they’re responsible of saving someone’s life. But is it possible that even these knowledgeable doctors & physicians fall into the diagnosis pitfall?

Turns out, they can.

They’re humans after all. And our reliance on our cognitive process is vulnerable to biases, which makes treatment and diagnosis errors more likely than we think.

The journal article from Jill G Klein (associate professor of Marketing at INSEAD) published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) explains about the five pitfalls in decision making about diagnosing and prescribing. The five common pitfalls are – i) Representative Heuristic, ii) Availability Heuristic, iii) Overconfidence, iv) Confirmation Bias, and v) Illusory Correlation.

Studies based on both simulated cases and questionnaires show that doctors are susceptible to decision making biases, including insensitivity to known probabilities, overconfidence, a failure to consider other options, the attraction effect, and the availability heuristic. The good news is that training in these dangers can reduce the probability of flawed medical decision making.

Caroline Wellbery, MD from Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, District of Columbia explains in her paper about the diagnostic bias and prevention strategies.

Diagnosis Pitfall

For a list and explanation about 50 various cognitive and affective biases in medicine, click here.

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How do you fall in?

In the above story, the doctors fell into the diagnosis pitfall in the moment they labeled the patient as “hypochondriac”.

When we label a person or situation, we put blinders to all evidence that contradicts our diagnosis. The “experts” at times are blinded by their past experiences, and could be fixated on the new event being the same as their past events. This happens to all of us. When we tend to selectively focus only on a part of the event that triggers our inner advice monster, we succumb into this trap of diagnosis pitfall. When we listen to someone sharing their story, and a part of it resembles our past event, we quickly prescribe them what had worked for us without realizing their situation might be completely new.

“When we tend to selectively focus only on a part of the event that triggers our inner advice monster, we succumb into this trap of diagnosis pitfall.”

There are usually three parts in falling prey to this biasness, viz. i) selective focus, ii) awakening inner advice monster, and iii) putting blinders to evidences that contradicts our diagnosis. Selective focus is when we tend to pick up only the selected event that resembles our past experiences and then zone-out the rest. Then, we subconsciously awaken our inner advice monster to prescribe what worked for us in the past, and finally, we do not look up enough evidences and factors that can contradict the advice we are about to prescribe.

The Diagnosis Pitfall : How do you get out?

To overcome this diagnosis, we need to understand how we get in first. Once we understand the “getting in” part, we can become aware of this dangerous pitfall, and the cost of this pitfall could be catastrophic. Being aware of our cognitive biases is the step one of overcoming any biases.

Second, understanding the three steps of falling prey to the diagnosis pitfall is essential. The answer to “getting out” of this pitfall is hidden in the route to “getting in” this pitfall. To overcome selective focus, we need conscious and empathic listening. When someone is sharing their situation, it’s not only the words that we should be paying attention to. Empathic listening is about letting the speaker know that we are genuinely interested in listening to them, we understand their problem as well as how they feel about it.

Taming the inner advice monster could be hard, but not impossible at all. To tame our advice monster, what we want to do is replace our advice-giving habit with a new habit: Staying curious. It’s as simple — and as difficult — as that.

Only when we have listened empathetically and not awakened our inner advice monster in between, we can then finally look for prescriptions. However, we should also be aware to look out for evidences that contradicts our prescriptions. In addition to vouching for “how this advice could work for you because it worked for me”, we should also seek to answer “how this advice could not work for you”.

Each person and each situation is different. Therefore, practicing a beginner’s mindset – or “shoshin” – could be crucial to overcome this pitfall. As Dr. Tracy Ochester (author of ‘Attitudes of Mindfulness: Beginner’s Mind’) puts it, “when we adopt the mind of a beginner, we endeavor to look at things as if for the first time, free from the influence of the past or speculation about the future. We open ourselves to what is here now, rather than constructing stories about what we think is here”.

Read Next: Don’t think outside the box

The Desire Continuum

The actions we take are the results of either conscious or sub-conscious desires deep-rooted within us. As Anthony Robbins says, “All communication is either a loving response or a cry for help“, our behaviors – including our communication – are guided by our needs and desires. Some desires are met, and some remains unmet. This stretching continuum shows us our own “Desire Continuum“, which could be a useful tool to build our self-awareness.

When our desires are continually met, we start desiring more. After all, human wants and needs are unlimited. When we’re not mindful about what we have in our possession, we tend to shift more to the ‘Greed‘ side of the desire continuum. We would simply want more – possessions, belonging, power, affiliation – just more of anything.

Contrary to it, when our desires are continually unmet, we tend to shift more to the ‘Anger‘ side of the desire continuum. When we don’t get what we desire for long, frustrations and anger starts kicking in, which would eventually cloud our judgement towards anything.

Desire Continuum

The Origin – Desire Continuum

काम एष क्रोध एष रजोगुणसमुद्भव: ।
महाशनो महापाप्मा विद्ध्येनमिह वैरिणम् ।।

Chapter 3, Verse 37 of the Bhagavad Gita translates into: The Supreme Lord said: It is lust alone, which is born of contact with the mode of passion, and later transformed into anger. Know this as the sinful, all-devouring enemy in the world.

While the Bhagavad Gita puts both greed and anger as our enemy, we could be more mindful of our own desires – and its swing to either left or right of the desire continuum.

Also Read: Don’t be yourself, consider adaptive authenticity

Self-Reflection questions to ask ourselves:

  1. What are our immediate desire(s)?
  2. What would be our long-term desire(s)?
  3. Are our desire(s) being unmet or intensified?
  4. If we get angry easily, what are our desire(s) that is unmet?
  5. What do we usually ‘greed‘ about?
  6. Do we notice any trend of intensified desire(s) in ourselves?
  7. What triggers do we notice in context to our desire(s) being met or unmet?

Answering these questions might not be the end, but it sure is a part of an enhanced self-aware journey.

Happy Dashain 2077, everyone!

Lazy Humans & Principle of Least Effort

Why do people just leave their partners in relationship rather than working and solving the differences? Why do people make excuses rather than taking accountability of their own works? Why do people assume things rather than communicating and comprehending? Turns out, the answer to all these human behaviors can be explained by one profound law – “The Principle of Least Effort“, among other possible factors.

What is Principle of Least Effort?

In 2004, Zao Liu and Zheng Ye (Lan) Yang conducted a study to understand the Texas A&M distance learning graduate students’ preference for seeking library resources, and the reason behind those preferences. The conclusion found that – no brainer – the Internet was the most used, while libraries were the next most used resource for conducting class research. The study found that the Principle of Least Effort was the primary behavior model of the most distance learning students, because of their strong preference towards easy and fast information retrieval.

This is what Principle of Least Effort is all about. In pursuit of reaching from point A to point B, humans will mostly choose the path where the least effort is required.

Principle of Least Effort

In this image, the desired path – the trail created on the grass – reflects best about this behavior of humans. Even though there doesn’t seem to be significant time saving while going by or around the pole stuck in the middle of the walking path, humans will evidently choose to go diagonal and walk forward and take a 90-degree turn (well, thanks to Pythagoras too!).

Human Behavior & Principle of Least Effort

So how does this Principle of Least Effort reflect in human behaviors?

Known as a “deterministic description of human behavior”, this principle applies largely on day to day human behaviors. As long as the work gets done or the result is achieved, humans will resort to using least of their efforts.

For instance, when we would need a certain clarification about our new diet plans, we would want to reach out and ask a dietician specialist. However, if we have someone generalist nutritionist nearby us, we would prefer to consult the generalist near to us than reaching out to the specialist three blocks away, as long as the generalist’s answers are within the threshold of acceptability.

Similarly, let’s say we want to listen to one of our favorite songs. Rather than reaching to our phone, unlocking it, opening the music app, searching for the song and then playing it, a lot easier work would be to summon Siri (or any other voice assistant) and ask it to play the song. The result is the same – the favorite song is played, but the steps and efforts to reach it is drastically different.

Ever wondered why the language has changed to chat vocabulary? “I’m rolling on the floor laughing” has become “ROFL“, “want to” has become “wanna“, “going to” has become “gonna“, “mathematics” has become “math“, “airplane” has become “plane“, and even “vocabulary” has become “vocab“. These language changes are also explained by the same principle, because speakers simplify their speech in various ways.

I’ve heard people claim they downloaded an app to turn off their TV while they were comfortably warm on their bed rather than getting up and looking for the TV’s actual remote. Genius! Result achieved with minimal effort – i.e. Principle of Least Effort.

Using Principle of Least Effort to our Advantage

Understanding this principle tells why people seem like they’re lazy, while they’re not actually lazy. They merely do things that are considered or labeled as lazy.

Let’s understand, our brains need energy to run. Computers are powered by either AC or DC current, while automobiles are powered by petrol, diesel, or electricity. Unlike these machines, our brains don’t have those sources of current to power on. Our brain is dependent on sugar as its main fuel. Glucose, a form of sugar, is the primary source of energy for every cell in the body. Because the brain is so rich in nerve cells, or neurons, it is the most energy-demanding organ, using one-half of all the sugar energy in the body.

Therefore, our brains need to conserve energy, and it does so by achieving results and getting work done with lowest possible efforts. If you remember why you felt drained and fatigue by focusing on those numbers and spreadsheets for one hour, this is because your brain used up a lot of energy.

Also Read: Rakhi Celebrations: From Behavioral Lens

This principle can be particularly used in change management, by making change easy for people to adopt to. By making changes easy to adopt to, we can expect less resistance and more acceptance. These changes could be anything – changing habits, changing organizational culture, or even changing design of a product.

Tania Luna and Jordan Cohen – in their HBR article – talk about this principle of least effort with the help of “The Banana Principle“, where by in an office meeting, bananas always are consumed first, and oranges at last. Although it’s not that bananas are objectively more delicious than oranges, the bananas nick their win with one simple feature – they’re easy to peel.

So, when you opt for any major or minor changes in your personal or professional life, keep the Principle of Least Effort in mind. Given several paths to the same destination, we pick the easiest. Consequentially, what we need to think more about is finding ways to make positive changes with least effort, and negative changes more effortful. Remove barriers of efforts for positive behavioral changes, and add more barriers of efforts for negative ones.