Learn to develop a crisis-ready mindset with Dr. Ramesh and mindfulness expert Subba, also known to friends as ‘wise teacher’. Subba has weathered multiple crises in life, from losing his father and sole breadwinner at the tender age of thirteen, to surviving meltdown as a high-profile banker in the global financial crisis. He is now a changemaker who helps others unlock new ways of thinking and escape from being trapped in a state of stress, insecurity and fear.
Host: Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra
Guest: Mr. Subba Vaidyanathan
Moderator: Ho Lai Yun
Lai Yun 00:02
Hello and welcome to Thriving in the Age of Disruption. Today we're going to explore the idea of crisis resilience. In a crisis, our mental state can often make the challenges we're facing worse. In fact, a negative mental state could become a major obstacle in itself. Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra is sitting down with mindfulness expert, Mr. Subba Vaidyanathan to understand how the human mind reacts to crisis, how we can effectively respond to and manage the crisis in our lives, and even better build resilience to help us to bounce back from failures and challenges better and faster. For those of us who are facing some challenges and looking to find some calm, Subba is generously offering his “Calm in Chaos Experience Kit” free to our first 100 listeners. You simply have to go to this episode description on your podcast player and click on the link provided to sign up for your free “Calm in Chaos Experience Kit”.
Lai Yun 01:07
My name is Ho Lai Yun and I'm the series moderator. Our guest speaker Subba is dedicated to helping people live their best lives. He is an engineer and business graduate by training and was a high-profile banker who left his executive position in a leadership role after 30 years in a corporate career that spanned Asia and the Middle East, to focus on his mission. He now works with people from all walks of life, but mostly with leaders in business and individuals navigating challenging personal transitions or periods of stress, to coach them on how to integrate mind and wisdom training into life and work practices. Subba will share how he's gone through both rewarding and challenging times, and how through it all, he's always been seeking for their wisdom and courage, and the shifting of the mindset to move away from being in a state of stress, insecurity, even fear to becoming a change maker who helps others unlock new ways of thinking and working.
Dr. Ramesh 02:15
Thank you Subba for agreeing to be a changemaker guest speaker in our podcast series Thriving in the Age of Disruption. We'd love to hear your story, tips, and thoughts on gaining the essential mindset and skills needed to survive and thrive in today's age of disruption. Today, we're actually going to explore several themes. They are mainly around crisis, resilience, spirituality, and living a simple life.
Subba V. 02:47
Thank you, Ramesh. Thank you very much for bringing me into your Changemaker Podcast series. Delighted to be here. From my early days in India, I came to Singapore, just after September 11 happened, the 911 incident that we all remember. I spent most of my time all over Asia, in the world of banking. I came here into an exciting world of banking, I've seen, rather been part of, multiple crisis in the industry itself, the global financial crisis being the biggest of them. I have pivoted so to speak into a different life - the life of a change maker. And that change happened in 2016, for me itself, it's been a completely different, and I would say, even more exciting journey.
Dr. Ramesh 03:51
Wonderful, now let me move on to crisis and how to develop a crisis-ready mindset. In fact, I'm really passionate about this topic, because I have a book which is going to be launched sometime at the end of this year. I think with the pandemic, everyone has seen the relevance of being able to deal with crisis effectively and one of the words that comes up regularly, with regards to crisis is - Resilience. Resilience is the capability or the capacity to recover quickly from some kind of adversity or failure. It's an innate kind of toughness. And through this process, we get the opportunity to grow and develop. Now, it doesn't mean that if you're a resilient person, you don't experience stress or emotional upheavals. It's just that you're better able to tap into your strengths and seek some kind of support. Now, another aspect of resilience is also the fact that we're empowered to accept and adapt to the situation and to move on. Because often, when we are in a situation that is a kind of like a failure or a setback, we sort of get stuck. We may be at some level, even denying the existence of that situation. It's going to show up in different ways for different people. Some people may develop symptoms of depression or anxiety, after trauma, whilst others might not necessarily show signs of obvious distress. So Subba, you've had to deal with many setbacks in your life from as early as 14 and throughout your career as well. Could you share with us a little bit more about those experiences as well as how you coped with it?
Subba V. 05:49
My earliest big crisis was when I was 14 years old, to have lost my dad. In fact, I was 13. And at that time, I've been only child, and my mom, not yet working at that point of time - life was complicated. There are many, many choices to be made. And there was a challenge in terms of financials, there's a challenge in terms of where we are going to live, how we're going to live, a number of choices get thrown out, and you have to make them in the moment as you go along. But you have to make them choicefully, mindfully, authentically. To me, that's when I would say my first brush with a big crisis happen. But since then, one of them of course, was when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, but I was overseas. And we had to make again a choice of, do we stay on and let her kind of heal herself, or whether we make the choice of moving and being there? We took the second choice. As a family we moved, no questions asked and we said, “Let's just do what is most important, and by the values, we stand, and then we move forward from there.” Then the question of having come to Singapore, I faced one crisis after another, one was dot.com crisis, then was the SARS, then was the global financial crisis. Series of those, all having significant impact on the banking industry. And then finally, now, I had thought I had seen it all, then it’s the whole pandemic. And all of them, their textures are different, their contexts are different. But the common theme is that there is a change forced upon you that you are forced upon to think differently, to act differently, and to make choices which are not the same old, same old. Because that same old, same old is not going to move you forward.
Subba V. 08:26
So fundamentally, I think in any crisis, we have to accept the fact that there is a big change that is being tested thrust upon me. But I still have the power to choose which way I go. Because every big crisis comes with a new set of choices and if we are mindful about those choices, he can thrive and come out of that crisis, taller and stronger. The second thing that I learned as a lesson is that as humans, we don't want to change, because change is also can take energy, too much of effort, all of these things have to happen, right? So, change happens only when there is a crisis. Big change happens only when there is a crisis.
Dr. Ramesh 09:27
That's right. I love your description of what happens in a crisis. Number one is a change to the status quo, and it's a big change. Number two, it presents us with choices. And number three, we have the power to choose although it may seem in that situation, we don't have any power. So, given that we as humans generally don't like changes to the status quo, I think a crisis is a great opportunity because it sort of forces us to change. What do you think about that?
Subba V. 10:00
Exactly, exactly. And if you look back on how you grew wiser, how you grew stronger, how you grew taller, it will all link back to a particular crisis in your life. So, sometimes it's also how you go healthier, it is also linked to a health crisis, because otherwise you continue to lead an unhealthy life. In any aspect, a crisis is a stimulus for change. And it has been forced upon you, so you have to have a mindset of not to say, “Why me?” The moment you say, “Why me?”, you're gone, you're finished. But you should say that, yes, it is here and now and this is an opportunity for change, and what opportunities is it showing up?
Dr. Ramesh 10:59
If we were to look now at some possible practices or tools that we can develop as part and parcel of our daily life, because when a crisis hits us, the hardest thing is actually to be able to think, and to be objective about what's happening without being sucked into the drama. And what is it that you would recommend in terms of tools and techniques?
Subba V. 11:28
First of all, I want to speak about the science of this. When we are in a crisis, our amygdala is hyperactive, and our adrenaline levels are very high. We are trying to fight our way out of the situation or run away from the situation so that we don't get hurt. But unfortunately, when the amygdala is so active, our cognitive part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, is not able to function at its best, or at least, it's not able to contribute to the situation. And you're not able to make decisions based on your cognitive self.
Subba V. 12:18
So the first most important thing I would recommend, and this is based on my life experience, and the people that I've worked with, what I share with everyone is, we have to find a way to moderate the adrenaline and calm the amygdala, so that there's an opportunity for us to engage our cognitive self. So, for this, there are a variety of things, it depends on each person, whether you like to do this through exercise, you like to do this through meditation or mindfulness practices, you like to do this through art or creative work so what all through self-service. In different ways, you take the anxiety energy out of you, the fear energy out of you, so that you're able to calm your mind first, this is the first thing that everyone has to do. Because otherwise, the choices you make will be based on anxiety, will be based on fear, will be based on frustration. The choices you make are most likely going to be erroneous. So, this is the first step, you have to find your own tool kit, to calm yourself. And towards this, of course, I teach a lot of mindfulness practices so that's what I encourage people to do. And combined with things like journaling and fasting and things like that, how they're able to find.
Dr. Ramesh 13:47
I so love that piece that you shared with us about fasting when I was attending your mindfulness sessions, you had something like five of them. And all these fasts are really valuable. We can practice it at different times in our lives and it's an opportunity to create space. But what would be perhaps useful for our listeners today is if you could share an example of how you facilitated for someone to create space in dealing with a crisis?
Subba V. 14:19
Yesterday, I was with someone who was making a life choice – A very senior executive and she has been given an executive position in a global company, by the same company that she works for. But she thinks, "Should I stay on? I'm over 60 or is this the time for me to retire and pivot to a different life?" So, the first thing I told her is, you need to spend a weekend in silence because she's speaking to tens and twenties and thirties of people, hundreds of people. Everyone is giving their input, she herself was like all over, "Should I quit this career, which I built on so many years of hard work?" So much of noise going on. First you have to cut the noise. Only then, will you be able to show yourself think, as I say, and then be able to make the right choices. Imagine making most important decisions of your life in a noisy place. Our life is noisy, we just have to first calm the noise. That's the first step.
Subba V. 15:31
The second is, I genuinely think we have to find what holds meaning for us. This time, it's important for us to have done the preparatory work on knowing what is meaningful for us and what values do we hold, because every choice has to be aligned with meaning and values. I call it heart and soul. It's not just enough for you to think logically, it has to be aligned with your heart and your soul. You have to have something which was meaning and something which is aligned with your values, that becomes your second kind of the second pillar and the second step that you're working on.
Subba V. 16:21
The third, and this is very important, and this is where most people fail, is the courage to make a choice and walk that path. These three, I would say, are the steps that you have to take every time a crisis hits you. Calm yourself, check in with what holds meaning, and what is aligned with your values, then find or construct that courage. It is what I teach how to construct courage to walk that path.
Lai Yun 16:54
Thank you, Subba, I find your three steps of thinking through a crisis really insightful and very easy to remember. They're the three C's of calming yourself, checking in with your heart, and aligning, and finally working up the courage to change. And Dr. Ramesh, in your new book, The Big Jump into Crisis-Ready Mindset, you will describe the four steps of a crisis-ready mindset, could you tell us what they are?
Dr. Ramesh 17:25
Step one is awareness. There is some reaction going on. We are experiencing some kind of emotion, it can be anxiety, it can be depression, it can be frustration, it can be anger, the most important piece at this point is to be able to connect to those emotions and understand that we are in a state of reaction. The kind of thinking that is required in this state is a thinking that I call as reflection and a thinking which requires us to introspect. The ability to connect to our inner state doesn't necessarily come naturally. It is something that we have to practice, so that we allow ourselves that thinking space to make that connection that what we experienced as negative emotions of feelings is actually indicating that we are in a reactive state, and that that reactive state is actually highlighting to us that there is a physical setback, or a physical crisis that we're dealing with.
Dr. Ramesh 18:43
In step two, which is all about acceptance, the thinking that we have to do here is very critical, because we have to move our inner state from that of reaction to reflection. And honestly, there are no two ways about it. It requires us to take personal responsibility for our role in that situation. And most people struggle with that, and I struggled with that as well. And the only way we can get over that is when we are able to a) reconcile that, "Okay, we had a different expectation or we were not clear" and b) then go to work in accepting that "Yes, we did that” or Yes, we didn't do that" and therefore now, we have this mess, and what can we do about that? The moment we are able to shift our thinking to taking it that we were responsible for this setback, we then have an opportunity to move forward. And that's when we've moved our state from a reactive state to a reflective state.
Dr. Ramesh 20:08
Step three is actually all about taking action. That's probably an easy step for some people, because you've already accepted, you're aware about what was happening, you've accepted your role in it, and taking action is natural. But for some people, it is a struggle, because they have lost their self-confidence. And it is like, “Should I do it?”, “Would I get into a worse off mess?”
Dr. Ramesh 20:39
So step four, is what I call is actualization. And it is actually a state whereby we have moved through the crisis from our own inner state being full of reactions to one where we are reflective, and where we have started to create and take actions. And now he's sort of looking back and we can see a new reality, we can now see that we have sort of overcome the setback, and we've moved on and life has moved on. And we are able to actually take different kinds of action now. And if we can develop the crisis-ready mindset, then we are able to deal with those moments when we have setbacks. And I also think that setbacks are a great opportunity for us to learn, because we have to pause, or we have to stop in that moment. And that causes us to reflect. Sometimes I've found that when I've had immediate success, I've moved on to the next goal. And I’ve not stopped, I have not paused, and therefore I've really not learned what was that secret sauce that allowed me to succeed in the first place.
Dr. Ramesh 22:04
So, I invite each and every one of you who's listening, to be open to looking at your crisis and your failures and your setbacks from a different mindset, from looking at it as an opportunity to learn so that you can have sustainable success.
Dr. Ramesh 22:23
Coming back to you Subba, I wanted to ask you a personal question. And it's about spirituality. Where are you in your spiritual journey?
Subba V. 22:32
I think it's an interesting phrase that you use, but I'm glad that you included the word journey in it. Because this is a lifelong journey. And it doesn't matter where we are, as long as we are on the journey, it is the most joyful journey to be on. What is spirituality? What is my spiritual journey? And keep staying on the journey and keep discovering that journey. And that's the joy, never to stop- and just to keep on walking the path or driving along the path. That's the beauty of this journey. Now coming to me and my personal journey on this, I have my biggest ups of this journey, my biggest practice, which helps me move on this journey is a five-day period of silence in solitude, that I've observed every year. I've observed it for 16 years now and this will be my 17th year. And I remember distinctly that the first time I observed it was the year of the Tsunami 2004. Somewhere between Christmas and New Year is when I observed this silence and solitude. And it is that which helps me find my next step on that spiritual journey.
Subba V. 23:54
For me, it is about first thing to get better at living true to myself. The second step is improving what is true to myself, stepping that up, raising the bar on that. And the third step, as I mentioned to you earlier, is finding the courage to step up to jump higher, and to walk taller and to climb higher. But in all this, I want to say that is mainly focused on self-work. As you will have noticed from everything that I said, is nothing about religion in this. It's more about connecting with my authentic self and staying true to my values.
Dr. Ramesh 24:45
Yes. So, I think a lot of people do have a question at some point in their life, in terms of who am I and what is this journey about? I think one of the most important shares that you have made here is that it is a personal journey for each one of us, there is no right or wrong. And I really loved it that you pointed out to me that given that it's a spiritual journey, there is no marker right now. And how you described it in the three steps, living through to yourself as the journey. And then the step two, which is then as and when your confidence arises to raise the bar, because we're all wanting to be the biggest possible self. And the third step is that we have to deal with digging deep in to find that courage to step up to grow taller, to jump higher, because it's not natural. As long as there's a gap, there's something that we have to push up with. So, I think what I present to right now in this conversation is that we really have to accept ourselves as the way we are, and the way we are not, and give that same grace to people around us, especially our loved ones, so that they too can embark on this journey without the added pressure of having to conform.
Subba V. 26:21
Yeah, conform to what becomes the question, then, when you have systems and frameworks, which are themselves being questioned; of whether they are the right way forward, whether it's to do with the environment, or whether it's to do with social constructs of things, political constructs, or economic constructs, or whether they are working for us in the way they should, forcing people to conform to something which is not perfect, is in itself something that we should question. But coming back to the point that you've made, it is my belief that every system, every technology, whether it has to do with social, political, economic, or environmental is only as good as the humans who create and run that. As humans in the centre of all of this are imbalanced, or are based on fear, based on insecurity, or based on something which is not authentic. So, the environment burns, the society burns, then we get into all kinds of issues. And perhaps this is why we are where we are as humanity collectively, with the largest number of refugees out there since World War One. We have so many refugees, even though there is no world war. We have so much environment being destroyed, even though we are all living comfortably. We have so much unhappiness in the world, so much depression and suicides, even though the material is most comfortable. It doesn't make sense.
Lai Yun 28:11
There's a lot of self-work, as you've mentioned, that we each need to do. You've done a lot of quiet self-work, a lot of introspection. Now, are there certain life lessons that you've learned the hard way? Would there be a key piece of advice that you want to share with our listeners on how to really do that self-work towards a better life.
Subba V. 28:40
If you look at our education systems today, they are all focused on delivering academic skills. They are focused on competitiveness, excelling- which are all relative. If you notice, even whether it's a school or university, it's the same and it's the same way in which organisations also perform. They compete with each other. Within the organisation, people compete with each other. It all seemed this way that to say differently, so the outcomes we're seeing are that way. But on the other hand, if we were to say, we want a world of cooperation, we want a world where people feel strong in who they are and work with each other, then we have to make people feel that being who they are, like what Ramesh said, is what is most important. Being authentic to who you are brings value to the society, not being someone else.
Subba V. 29:46
If you can let them be who they are, I believe every human will then collectively construct a new system, which is required, but as an individual, we have to find that confidence. As a parent, we should be able to give that strength to our child to respect them, and to allow them to make the choices from the time they are small, to let them choose the clothes they wear, choose the activities they want to go to kind of give them choices. Make them feel that they have the freedom to choose. And their choice which is made authentic to them is what is best for them and for the world. And then progress from there.
Dr. Ramesh 30:29
So moving forward a little bit more, do you think we can live a simple and meaningful life?
Subba V. 30:35
I think the words there are very powerful. If we know what is meaningful to us, then we live our life, which is true to that which becomes a simple life. If we did not know what is meaningful to us, because in our life there is so many things. That is no longer simple, either for us or for the world, because we are carrying so much baggage along. Does it make sense?
Dr. Ramesh 31:02
Absolutely. I think it's so beautifully put, and what is it for you?
Subba V. 31:09
For me, my life is all about inspiring and empowering people to live their best life, giving them the tools to do that, giving them the inspiration to do that, giving them the confidence to do that, and showing in different ways that that is their best life. And that is the best legacies that they can leave behind. That is what is the meaningful life. For me, that's what holds meaning for me. Therefore, everything I do, every moment of how I spend my time, who I hang out with is all focused on this.
Subba V. 31:56
As a result, my life is simple. Because I've cut all the other clutter out. And it's been beautiful, it has been absolutely wonderful. Today's life is all about growing, our technical and academic skills, financial skills, business skills. But we don't give enough attention to the pilot who's sitting in the plane or the driver who's sitting in the car, you have to be able to grow our own personal mind and life skills, and that ability to use all the tools that we have, in a manner which is authentic to us, in a manner which is meaningful to us, and in a manner which is impactful to the world.
Subba V. 32:51
In summary, the only legacy that we leave behind is the way we think, we speak, and we act, because that's the only thing which lasts after our life. Anything material we leave behind could be there or could just vanish after a while. Therefore, this is something that is important for us to remember that if we live our best life, that's the best legacy that we can leave behind for the world and for our children, and for the next generation, at life or at work. In terms of thriving, for me, every opportunity given to us- life opportunity, life event- is a new opportunity to discover who we are, discover what is authentic to us, discover what is meaningful to us, and to have the courage to step into that and live that. If you just follow these three steps, as you dutifully call them the three C's. That is all it is about.
Dr. Ramesh 34:12
Wonderful. Subba, thank you so much for your generous and open sharing.
Subba V. 34:19
Thank you, Ramesh. Thank you, Lai Yun, for getting the best out of me.
Lai Yun 34:27
Thank you, Dr. Ramesh and thank you, Subba for the three C's of overcoming crisis, to first calm ourselves, to check in with our heart and aligning and finally to look up the courage to change what we must. For those of us who are facing some challenges in life and are looking to find some calm, focus, creativity and emotional balance. Subba is generously sharing his deep knowledge of ancient wisdom and the contemporary signs of the mind by the Calming in Chaos Experience Kits, which he is offering free to our first 100 listeners. To get the Calming in Chaos Experience Kit free, you simply have to go to this episode description on your podcast player and click on the link provided to sign up for it.
Lai Yun 35:16
We're also interested to know what else you'd like to hear about in our podcast series. So do reach out to Dr. Ramesh at her personal email, Dr.Ramesh@talentleadershipcrucible.com.
Lai Yun 35:31
We'd love to hear from you. Thank you so much for joining us today. Till our next episode. Keep Calm and Thrive on!
Subba is an experienced mindfulness practitioner and corporate leader, who left his executive leadership role after three decades of corporate life to focus on preparing leaders and organisations for a fast-changing world.
He has a deep personal practice of yoga and meditation spanning 20 years. His fifteen years of annual practice of silence & solitude has been the source of many of the programs that he runs today.
He has worked extensively, as a corporate leader, in Asia and the Middle East and brings into the program his personal experience of integrating mindfulness practice into high pressured corporate life.