A bookish formula for Maximum Human Achievement

Aside from a relaxing break from work, the other cool part about Non-Technical courses is the high level of abstraction they sometimes reach. In a lecture for one such course during my Masters, the prof. began with the question- “What is time?” and ensured he twisted everyone’s mind by asking folks individually about their thoughts on the matter, before concluding in the last 10 minutes that the question itself was moot and pointless. I had the pleasure of attending another such mind-bending course recently. The class started with the facilitator (yeah, that’s what the hip teachers are called these days), asking us to jot down the formula for “Maximum Human Achievement” as we perceived it. After racing my mind through everything from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to Stars Wars to Gita to Matrix to Inception and the latest episodes of Fringe and How I Met Your Mother (don’t know how it got in there), I somehow ended up doodling a smaller zero inside a bigger zero on my doodle-sheet, before the facilitator collected it from me as if it contained the The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything (technically, I was only off by 42)!

After that, the facilitator pulled up a slide with the right answer on the projector, that seriously cracked me up & out of my seat. Embarrassingly for me, as is usually the case, I was the only one in the batch of fifty who found it funny. After pretending to have laughed at a crazy cat video on my laptop screen, I finally looked up again to try and focus on the glorious description of this life-altering formula based on 5 New York Times bestsellers . Here is a rough depiction of the slide for you:

DNA   Everyone has their own unique gifts that they are born with. Instead of trying to work on your weaknesses which are also inborn, focus on your strengths.Your strengths are like the main metal of your alloy, don’t try to highlight/focus on the lesser (weaknesses) metals too much.
Motivation   Once our basic necessities are met, we are driven/motivated by Autonomy, Mastery & Purpose. Find those suckers and you’ll be motivated for life.
Dedication   There are no shortcuts to success. Focus on your goals and work hard with dedication, determination and devotion to achieve excellence in something you love to do.
Fortune   Even after you’ve all the right DNA, Dedication and Motivation, the stars have to fall in the right places for you to reach higher levels of achievement. It’s not all under your control baby. Sorry!
Balanced Ego   Confidence, Curiosity and Candor – balance these and your Ego would be balanced. With a balanced Ego (and the other 5 things above), you’ll conquer the world!

As much as I found the idea of defining a formula for Maximum Human Achievement that uses 5 Self-Help books as component variables, funny at that time, the work of the course-creators does merit some respect. For one, they did summarize the state-of-the-art in self-help literature in a constrained 2 day workshop. Being guilty of having read two of these five books even before the course, I can’t complain on the quality of the selection. Also, a lot of it maps surprisingly well to the Vedanta lectures that I’ve been watching recently most of which make a lot of sense to me.

Even the Gita states that each of us is born with a distinct set of gunas (DNA) that make us uniquely qualified to achieve excellence. It also emphasizes that there are multiple ways(Yogas – Karma / Gyaan / Bhakti) to attain realization, and we should choose the one that most directly conducive to our DNA. Being motivated (Drive) not by basic material pleasures & results of our actions (Karma-phala), but by a higher Purpose we should act with Autonomy and grow Mastery in our vocation to achieve higher levels of experience in our field. The whole section on Karma Yoga is about dedication of the body, devotion of the mind and determination of the intellect to our chosen path, in achieving realization. Finally the Gita also claims that the physical world is all predetermined and deterministic (Fortune), so any attachment with results is pointless – instead attachment to the enjoyment of experiences (the journey not the destination) should be the key goal of any action. And I’ve already shared my views on how the Gita’s understanding of Ego is very-different and yet in some ways similar to that of the authors of Egonomics.

I could find a strong correlation between concepts in these bestsellers and the concepts in the Gita. Besides, the Gita often provides a more insightful and arguably a more thorough analysis on at least some of these topics (case in point being the Egonomics analysis). If nothing else, trying to identify these mappings solidified my opinion that Gita is perhaps the best self-help book ever written (wow! I’m already sounding like an Egotistical Religious Fanatic!), with an interestingly rational answer to life, the universe and everything (google it for yourself!).


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