In an interview with ETMarkets, Ramakrishnan who has more than 20 years of experience with leading global institutions, said: “If you really keep that in your mind and try to practice that, your effort, the mental focus will shift to your effort, with a reduced attachment to your outcome,” Edited excerpts:
With over 20 years of experience as an investment banker and private investor – how do you manage to remain calm, especially while making crucial decisions making?
That’s a great question, and all the more relevant to us in financial markets because markets are, by their very nature, volatile and unpredictable.
I started my career in investment banking, which was basically transactions. And transactions, as you know, are equally unpredictable. And when you throw the two together, transactions and financial markets, you’re basically waking up every day, not knowing what’s going to do that day.
I started my career as an analyst, in a global bank, and your emotions tend to go up and down with that every day, right? So, the day your deal closes, you’re elated.
The day you work really hard, but you’re not able to get to a negotiation, or your model is not looking like what it should — you’re deeply disappointed.
I think it takes quite some years of going through those cycles of sort of elation and disappointment before you realize that is part of the journey, which you can’t control, right?
When you realize there’s a vast number of uncontrollable factors such as a change in the client’s strategy, or the client doesn’t want to do business in X country anymore, or leadership change, and the new CEO now wants to focus on organic growth and doesn’t want to do M&A.
I sort of started isolating these controllable and non-controllable factors. And I picked up the non-controlled ones and said, “Let’s put them on a shelf”, nothing I can do about those, right? So don’t waste a minute worrying about them.
Most early investors, investment bankers, private equity, and people will share a similar story. But I think that mental work does bring in a certain amount of equilibrium.
Any specific type of meditation you practice?
I think meditation really starts sort of in many working professional lives because you feel the need to control that mind. It is a mental gym exercise. Like you go to the gym, and you lift weights so that you groove your strength, meditation is the same for the mind. It’s a workup, basically.
And fortunately, or unfortunately, it doesn’t receive enough attention and many of us end up going to the gym — I’m not sure how many us do that workout.
I’ve had a fair share of struggles myself. But I accidentally went to a few meditating sessions, and spiritual sessions, and I realized that this is really making a difference.
Even 5 or 10 minutes can make a difference. I follow some very simple rules.
Rule 1: Simple
The first is keep it extremely simple, the more you complicate your meditation routine, the more you’re going to want to run away from it. So not too many rules around it.
Rule 2: Short session
I keep the sessions short, 10 minutes of meditation is great, even five is great. I’d say regularity over depth or magnitude. You might try and do the routine for say 45 minutes every day, but then you end up doing zero.
Rule 3: Use a guide
I use a guide. It can be by way of an app for guided meditation which is very helpful especially when you are travelling.
Rule 4: Meditation space
If you can keep the physical space where you meditate a little separate from where you work – it is very effective. Keep a portion of your room, your house, your office as a segregated space — because the minute you’re in that space, the mind psychologically switches from its work mode into a slightly calm mode.
How do you manage to cut the noise and focus on the goal?
You might be able to cut the noise if you do a reasonable amount of spiritual reading. One could go through the teachings of the Gita or introduction to Vivekananda, especially his speeches.
One very simple lesson that I have taken away from spiritual reading is ‘Karmanye Vadikarasthye’, which is, that you have a right only to action, and you have no right to any fruit.
If you really keep that in your mind and try to practice that, your effort, and mental focus will shift to your effort, with a reduced attachment to your outcome.
It is very difficult to do that, because when you’re wanting to win that pitch, and you pour your heart and soul into it, and when you don’t win that you do feel disappointed.
It takes a lot of practice to be able to control the controllables. Do your duty, you don’t have a right to control outcomes, and this world doesn’t give you that right.
You are a global citizen – how different are mediation styles across countries?
I worked in a Japanese bank for seven years. I ran the investment bank for Mizuho here in India, and I used to be in Japan almost every quarter or every two months.
Japanese are into meditation, and mindfulness takes its roots in Mahayana Buddhism, what we know as Zen meditation. That meditation really focuses on the presence of the mind.
The Japanese incorporate spirituality and mindfulness into their day-to-day life. So, it’s not really about the 10 minutes or 15 minutes that they meditate but it’s really about bringing that into practice in modern life.
How important is meditation for a leader? What is your take on that?
Meditation is a mindful practice. It’s one way of achieving mindfulness, probably the most effective way. For a leader to have mindfulness and awareness are critical.
You can’t be a successful leader without being aware. And, when you say you are aware, it is being aware of yourself, aware of your emotions, your reactions, and also aware of your surroundings.
Mindfulness is all about focusing on your breath or focus on an object. It is trying to shut out everything else and becoming aware of your inner self.
When you’re able to do that, I think as a leader, you are much more productive. And secondly, you’re a lot more empathetic.
Empathy is underestimated as a skill, but I think it’s highly needed as a leader for your team, your colleagues, your clients, your counterparts, you really have to be able to deliver in a valuable fashion to all of them in order to be a successful leader.
Meditation clearly creates an extent of mindfulness and extended productivity and balance, which obviously add to the ability to be very empathetic.
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