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Life Lessons from Milkha Singh - The Flying Sikh

It was an honour and a pleasure to meet the legend a couple of years ago and spend some time with him. There is so much to learn from this venerable gentleman that it would fill a volume. I am not sure how many of you happened to watch the movie “Bhaag Milkha Bhaag”. It is a 2013 Indian biographical sports film based on the life of "The Flying Sikh" Milkha Singh, an Indian athlete who was a national champion and an Olympian.

The film starts with the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, where a coach says "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!", and the story is taken back to the haunting memories of childhood days of a young boy. The partition of India in 1947 caused chaos which resulted in war with the locals of Punjab in Pakistan, killing the parents of Milkha Singh (Farhan Akhtar). He reaches Delhi and later meets his sister there. Milkha soon makes friends and survives by stealing with his friends. Milkha finally finds himself in the army where he gets noticed by a Havaldar (Sergeant) after he wins a race in which top 10 runners will get milk, two eggs and excuse from exercise.

He gets selected for service commission where he gets miffed and also gets beaten up by senior players whom he had defeated earlier, on the day before selection of Indian team for Olympics. In spite of being injured he still participates in the race, overcomes his pain and wins the race. His coach tells him that he has broken the national record.

On the way back to India after the Melbourne Olympics he asks his coach to tell him what the world record for the 400m race is and the coach tells him that it was 45.90 seconds. He trains hard with a firm determination and wins in several places. He then breaks the world record for the 400m race with a speed of 45.80 seconds.

Then Jawaharlal Nehru, the Prime Minister of India at that time convinces him to lead the Indian team to Pakistan for friendly races. In Pakistan he misses the press conference and goes to his village where in a flashback it is shown how his parents were murdered and the last words of his father were "Bhaag Milkha Bhaag!" He starts crying and is comforted by a boy who turns out to be his childhood friend's son. In the games, initially the Pakistani favorite is winning, but Milkha takes the lead gradually overtaking opponents one by one, taking a convincing lead and winning the race and respect of both nations. The Pakistani commander then gives him the title "The Flying Sikh". Jawaharlal Nehru also declares a day in the name of Milkha Singh as "Bharat Bandh" as desired by Milkha himself.

“Bhaag Milkha Bhaag” a successful biopic film of the year has a lot to teach. I am sure several amongst you took the time and space to understand the inspirational and motivational messages. Here is a brief list of lessons, I am sure many of you can write back to me with several more :

Lesson 1: Be brutally honest with yourself and focus on your strengths.

Milkha works on his strengths while training regularly and also overcomes the weak areas. He doesn’t get involved in arguments with others but focuses on his goals and his work.

A fantastic book by Marcus Buckingham titled "Now Discover Your Strengths” highlights the need for individuals to begin to reverse the belief of having to focus their development around overcoming their weaknesses, spending valuable energy attempting to try and repair these flaws, while their strengths lie dormant and neglected. According to Buckingham our strengths are discovered by monitoring our spontaneous reactions (the behaviour we revert too when we are put under stress). It is not enough to be aware of your strengths, use them as catalysts for empowered action. This does not mean that we should all start ignoring our flaws, focusing on our strengths whilst making an attempt to insure that our weaknesses become manageable (my organisation issues for example) is a key feature in increasing productivity.

Lesson 2: “If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.” – William Ward

In the movie, Guruji (Milkha Singh’s coach) challenges him to defeat the current champion. Milkha Singh accepts the challenge with confidence and faith on his talents and abilities, no matter the odds were against him.

“Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe.” -Mark Victor Hansen. Yet the phrase “You can do it if you just believe” has become so watered down to the point that people just roll their eyes when they hear it. They’ve tried it and it just doesn’t work for them. It won’t work for us too unless we really really believe, which is the most difficult thing to do. Negative self-talk usually manages to rule this out in most cases.

Lesson 3: Don’t go all out to impress anyone.

Be yourself, helpful to others and humble to clients

Milkha Singh stays simple, humble and innocent to people he meets across the globe. People adored him across national boundaries as an individual no matter what their differences were or where their loyalties lay.

"It's hard to be humble," says an old country song, "when you're perfect in every way." Of course, few people actually think they're perfect in every way. But it can still be pretty hard to be humble, especially if you live in a society that encourages competition and individuality. Yet, even in such a culture, humility remains an important virtue. Humility can help you develop more fully and enjoy richer and longer relationships with others.

Lesson 4: Accept mistakes & overcome failures / defeats

Milkha Singh faced failure in his first competitive race (1956 Melbourne Olympics) on a global platform. He accepted the mistake that he was losing the focus in race due to spending time on personal pleasures which compromised on his practice time. Having realized that he needs to practice more diligently, he strives more than before only to win other upcoming races and to set new world record in 400m race.

We can only learn from a mistake after we admit we’ve made it. As soon as we start blaming other people (or the universe itself) or build up strong justifications for it, we distance ourself from any possible learning, not to mention perpetual arguments with others. But if we courageously stand up and honestly say “This is my mistake and I am responsible” the possibilities for learning will move towards us. Admission of a mistake, even if only privately to yourself, makes learning possible by moving the focus away from blame assignment and towards understanding.

But for many reasons admitting mistakes is difficult. An implied value in many cultures is that our work represents us: if you fail a test, then you are a failure. If you make a mistake then you are a mistake.

Repeating a mistake is stupidity.

Lesson 5: Champions train when others rest

Milkha Singh used to practice/train at nights when other people go to sleep / relaxing. He was practicing with determination and hard work to get selected in upcoming race. Not everyone is born lucky or with a golden spoon; the road to the top requires additional hours of effort which often becomes the key differentiator.

Wanting to be a champion, wanting to excel at anything, whether it is in the arts, in education, in business or in sports requires the same basic ingredients; an aptitude for the subject, a love for the subject, a strong work ethic, and a willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve excellence. “Excellence can be attained if you care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, dream more than others think is practical, and expect more than others think is possible.”

Sharpen the saw! Upgrade and develop yourself constantly.

Lesson 6: Milkha’s Formula for Success = Discipline + passion + sacrifice + 100% Focus + 0% Distraction

This is evident for all those who saw the movie – need I say more?

Bonus Lesson: When you are running… make sure you are running in the right direction!

The author, Rajesh Seshadri, is an internationally recognized Certified Leadership Coach, Certified Success Coach and Certified Life Coach. He is also a NLP Master Practitioner, facilitator and therapist. The basket of therapies is holistic and integrative adopting techniques from Psychotherapy, NLP, Silva, Gestalt, Hypnosis and Silva UltraMind. Additionally, he is a seasoned corporate professional who continues to serve as a whole-time Director and Board Member. You can contact him here.

#inspirational #milkhasingh #flyingsikh #lifelessons

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