Episode 11 – Design and #lifegoals

Manoj Chenthamarakshan, a designer turned life-coach, talks about how our state of mind can affect our work.

Listen in:


We talk about old-school self-help books – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey and The Chicken Soup for the Soul series.

Sushi talks about Design the Life You Love by Ayse Birsel

We talk about Asana, a very useful and free task-management app.

Learn all about being a multipotentialite in this eye-opening Ted Talk by Emily Wapnick

Manoj recommends reading:

Think and grow rich by Napolean Hill

Power of your subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy

Amaze your customers by Daniel Zanertti

How to influence people and make friends by  Dale Carnegie

Who moved my cheese by Dr Spencer Johnson

Manoj recommends listening to Youtube videos by:

Gary Vaynerchuk , Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn and Les Brown

Hush Coaching page on Facebook



Angie: Hi this is Design Lota

Sushi: The podcast where we talk about life as Indian designers

Angie: I’m Angie

Sushi: And I’m Sushi.

Angie: In our previous episode, we talked about how the spaces we live and work in can have an impact on our work. Today we’re moving more into the space between our ears!

Sushi: So this is our zen episode?

Angie: Yup! Or whatever kind of technique or process we use to stay motivated and keep growing as designers and as people.

Sushi: Yes we all need that push regularly, maybe even on a daily basis.

Angie: When it comes to motivation, I remember a self-help book phase I had as a teenager. I’m from the ‘seven habits’ days where there were chicken soup books, and all kinds of self-help books addressing management, money, positive thinking and more.

Sushi: We still see those around, right?

Angie: Yes, but I think this space is a lot more interactive now thanks to the internet and social media. So we have life coaching, life hacking, DIYs and more practical tips for day to day work.Personally, I feel like I’ve moved on from the self-help books phase to just listening to stories and experiences of people and learning from those rather than a set technique. What about you, sushi?

Sushi: Stories and experiences, definitely. But now having started a freelance business and all, I think I’ve become more of a self-help-seeker. And like you said we have the internet at are fingertips, so I can search for more specific help, or follow blogs that feed into my life as a designer.

Angie: That’s interesting – this whole intersection of design and life!

Sushi: I recently purchased this book by the designer Ayse Birsel, which is a guide to designing your life.

Angie: Oh wow…How’s that working out for you?

Sushi: I think I’m about halfway there…it’s sort of like a puzzle..but you kind of have to be in the right mood to work on designing your life! And you can’t hurry up the process.

I caught up with my friend Manoj who is a designer turned life-coach.

Angie: Wow, an interesting shift from designing for others to helping others design their lives!


Interview with Manoj

Sushi: Hey Manoj and welcome to design Lota! Why don’t you tell our listeners here, a little about yourself?

Manoj: Hey, I’m Manoj. I am a life coach, designer, and a photographer. I am currently working on creating a course called Personal mastery. It is filled with powerful questions which would help one to self-reflect and gain clarity.

I am also helping a friend create another online course which is an A-Z guide for pregnancy. So doing a bit of media and graphic design here.

Sushi: You initially started off as a visual designer. Was that a conscious decision?

Manoj: I did my BSc computer science in GRD college, Coimbatore. I still have no idea why! In college days I was the one who used to edit pictures for Orkut and other stuff like event posters and that got me interested in design.

I didn’t initially have a clear focus on the field that I wanted to pursue. So I just explored all the software – Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects and even 3d modelling. I ended up working for 8 months as a 3d modeller. Later when I changed jobs to work at a company that was doing 3D printing. That company later evolved into MyCopie, a stationery brand. This was when I started to dabble in graphic design.

Mycopie’s notebooks were specially known for their funky and ‘badass’ designs which appealed to college kids and young people. So working here among other designers, gave me a wider perspective about design and minimalism. Since it was a start up, we were small in team, we had a good bond with marketing and sales team. Which gave us the knowledge about consumer’s viewpoint. We have also got chance to meet students individually in colleges to get feedback.

Sushi: So how did this diversion happen, from design to life coaching?

Manoj: After working as a graphic designer for 3 years I felt like I could do more. I didn’t want to constrain myself into a title as a graphic designer. I had an interest in psychology since my school days. After work hours, I would continue to read books and explore this field. That’s when i started a page named success notes in instagram, where I would design motivational posters. So that was like a gateway to enter into life coaching.

And then one fine day i was reading an article in forbes where there were 4 points. In which the very 1st point was, If you feel like you were not feeling fulfilled in the job that you currently are, then quit. The moment I read that statement, I sent a resignation letter to my boss. Infact I didn’t read the other 3 points.

Sushi: So does that mean you’re officially an ex-designer now?

Manoj: NO! Not at all, illustrator is the one software I literally open each day without fail. I am working as a life coach and also as a marketing person in the NLP coaching academy. I also help other trainers out with branding and graphic design.

Sushi: You also have a Facebook page called Hush, right?

Manoj: Yeah..the success notes project that I had initially started evolved into Hush coaching. Hush is a platform which I used on facebook and Instagram to express my views and motivate people. I’m currently creating some online courses too under the same umbrella.

Sushi: So your design skills have had a direct impact on how you do things as a coach

Manoj: Designing gave an opportunity to inspire people in an elegant way. At NLP, I combine photography and videos to create short videos on the overall experience that people go through in the 6 days transformational workshops. I think this is something that plays a big role in getting people excited and drawing them to the workshops.  

I also think my experience as a designer has taught me to think laterally, and not conventionally. Thanks to this, I am also able to help my clients to do the same, I can help them see from perspectives they may not see otherwise.

Sushi: And designers also do better by understanding psychology, right?

Manoj: Sure they do, I view designing from a psychology perspective. Social media requires a lot of psychological aspects. For example, in posters i use visual hierarchy.

I use a  catchy phrase at the top to gain attention. “Don’t be mediocre”

And later comes self-reflecting questions which would make people nod such as

“Do you feel like you are stuck?” or “Do you wish to follow your dream?”

And later on, i give a statement which affirms the overall poster like

“This certified NLP Practitioner would unlock the potential which is been locked within you for years ”

I see it as a necessity. Designers should know psychology. Both to gain the attention of the customer and  also understand what the customer really wants! It is like you don’t use a sandwich as a bait to catch the fish. Even though you love sandwiches, you got to understand what fish really needs.

Sushi: How would you coach a designer or a creative person, as someone who has been in that field before?

Manoj: Well I don’t like to categorise people based on their specific field. Since we believe each one of us is different no matter what our background is.

But the common issue that i see in most of the Creative people is self-doubt. The positive quality of a designer is his/her free flowing imagination. But when they are about to work for someone else. This free flowing stream is being blocked by self doubt.

If I am to coach a designer with this issue. I would ask them to  repeat these three words which would help any people with Self doubt. “I AM ENOUGH”. These 3 words have created wonders in people’s life.

Sushi: We’ve spoken about the imposter syndrome in our previous episodes, where sometimes, we don’t feel authentic, even though we deserve credit for the work we do.

Manoj:  I think most designers do have imposter syndrome! I think the real reason for this is that we are trying to satisfy or impress someone else. We need to be satisfied with the work we are doing. If you try to satisfy yourself with what you’re doing, you’ll do amazing work. 

Sushi: How about not meeting deadlines and the client’s brief, in our so-called quest for perfection and ?

Manoj: Deadlines are definitely important and I think it pushes us designers to complete tasks, without which we might slack off. But sometimes the timeline is too short and we end up putting together a pretty mediocre result. I feel we shouldn’t beat ourselves up about it, but give it our best.

Sushi: But sometimes that attitude comes across as arrogant, right?

Manoj: Yes, totally! And we ARE arrogant sometimes. When the client gives illogical  corrections or comes up with short deadlines. We designers think, “what does he know about colors or alignment?!”

But I think if we are able to convince the client with the research we’ve done, or convey  the reason behind those small details and color combination we have used; if we could make the client realize that each elements are put in place for a reason, they would realize the importance.

Sushi: How about entire teams of people with varied skillsets? Do you think it’s possible to coach an entire team?

Manoj: Its certainly possible to coach an entire team, since we’re all human beings and process information in a similar way. We use something called the GROW model here.

G – Goal

R- Reality

O – Options

W- Will

So if the team knows exactly where they are heading, that is, the goal, and if they understand the reality that they are in, if they can see the opportunities in front of them, they’ll know what they’re supposed to do, that is, the will.

The online course I’m currently designing is also based on this GROW model. Through these years of coaching, I’ve seen a pattern in which people act. So I’ve added questions in there for people to get clarity, find their belief and then develop success habits. 

Sushi: So how did you come up with this idea for an online course?

Manoj: I decided to do an online course because, it helps me reach a wider audience. In my one-on-one coaching sessions I saw a pattern in which people got stuck. Either they lacked clarity, or their beliefs were holding them back, or their habits were not relevant to the goal they wanted to reach. So I decided to put all these findings and strategies together and deliver it as an online course.

Sushi: So in essence, your course is an elegantly designed solution to a problem, right! With tools like online courses at their fingertips, do you see a trend where people are leaning towards self-improvement or ‘hacking their lives’?

Manoj: I do see it as a fashion nowadays. But the real question is if they follow what they preach. For years I made the same mistake. Later when I found I wasn’t getting any results, that’s when I realised the need for some action!

Knowledge is a treasure but practice is the key to unlock it. Action brings result not merely hoping or showing off to people.

Sushi: But supposedly “showing it off” on social media can also keep people motivated?

Manoj: Well on a surface level, yeah they are inspired when they share it with their fellow friends. But I’m worried that they may be posting these pictures just to show off, and not really doing the work out, which is what is actually necessary.


Sushi: So what do you feel are some indicators that show real progress?

Manoj: In coaching, we use something called track sheet. The client usually gets overwhelmed when they look at the big picture. So what we usually do is, we break down their big goals into small chunks. The client sets their own target for each month.

70% of the people do achieve their monthly goals which they have set for themselves. But rest 30% fail due to the unavoidable ecology that they are surrounded by. Yet we plan accordingly to keep the wheel running.

Sushi: The people you coach often need to be receptive to feedback. Giving feedback in a way it can be processed is also a challenge. Do you have any tips on giving feedback?

Manoj: Giving feedback is a very good action for the individual to progress. Yet it has to be done in a very delicate manner. Typically I would start with positive, positive, then the critical statement I want to convey, and end it again on a positive note.

For example:

“Wow, thats a great work my friend, i am totally amused by the product that you have made. I see some glitches here and there. If i were you i would try fixing those small errors to give an overall amazing product. What do you say?”

Sushi: So in the process, you are packaging the negative comments between the positives when you deliver the message.

Manoj: Exactly. And also use the worlds “If i were you” which would not hurt their feelings and also “What do you say?” to get their perspective.

Sushi: Today there are many apps which have been created to quantify goals and productivity, giving people constant feedback on how to improve their lives. Do you think this actually helps?

Manoj: The human mind is like a monkey, which gets distracted very easily in this consumerism era. So instead of downloading a million apps, I prefer to be old school. I use these 3 mediums to make sure I stay on track.

To do list I usually make this list at the starting of the day.  This to-do list includes all my activities from work out, drinking water to replying to emails.

Alarm –i generally use 3 alarms in a day. I set alarm at 8 am, 1 pm and 9 pm. These alarms are for visualizing. I get into the dream land of visualizing my end goal. I usually stay in that trance for about 15 mins. Its a dreamland were i build my house, car and etc.. Like Inception. There is a lot psychology behind this activity

Poster I have a poster in my bedroom. Each day I wake up, I look into that poster saying “I AM ENOUGH”. This gives me a sense of drive to get the day going.

Sushi: Also, in this current age, there seems to be a hunger for contentment especially in the professional arena…where people talk about career fulfilment and ‘making a dent in the universe’ much more than people did a decade ago. Why do you think this is?

Manoj: Many say this is a ‘kali yug’ filled with negative minds. But if you look throughout the history there is no match to the possibilities and progress of this current era where we are living. I am delighted to see people fight for their own freedom and are expressing their views without any constraints. I feel proud to be born in this era.

Talking about career fulfilment, did you know that 70% of your working house are spent on your career? So it has a huge impact on what you are becoming. So it is really important to follow your passion. 

Money is a by-product of the service that you provide. Bring more value to the people by your unique gift. The world is filled with opportunities. Pick up one problem and solve them for the people.

I would ask people to follow their intuition. There is a little voice at the back of your head which asks you to take certain steps. You would be able to listen to this voice when you are in harmony. Try meditation take those steps even if it is scary.

Sushi: Do you also think a lot of people are unfulfilled because they don’t go out of their comfort zone enough?

Manoj: Comfort zone is a very devastating place, Where nothing grows. Tony Robbins Who is known as a CEO Whisperer is an outstanding life coach, He has coached a lot of celebrities from presidents to hollywood actors. His philosophy is that you need to progress on a daily basis to be happy. 

You can relate it to whatever field that you would like to. It may be designing, fitness, cooking or even communication. When we grow on a consistent basis, we tend to be happy.

After I quit my previous job, I took my last month’s salary, and went for a solo trip to north India. It was total of 15 days, I had planned 6 days for trekking in brahmatal. Rest of the 9 days i had no idea were i would be or what i would be doing. It was totally random decisions. I ended up in Kasol on New Year’s eve.  Later after running out of money, i decided to return back to my home town.

I urge every one to take a solo trip once in a while, to get lost with yourself. This gives you an opportunity to be with yourself and study the areas that need progress. 

Sushi: A growing number of people are realising that their skill and interests lie not in a single area, but in multiple arenas, and are slowly beginning to embrace their multipotentiality. A lot of designers, including myself, are facing this phenomenon today, where they can’t stick to being just a UI designer or just a spatial designer. How would you coach someone with a multiple skillset?

Manoj: I myself have multiple interests from graphic designing, photography, video editing, coaching, riding, trekking etc..People who tend to use their creative side more are not meant to be stuck in a single Field. The best example is Leonardo da Vinci who is known for invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, maths and hella lot of other stuff. It is ok to wander and do what you like. But  don’t wander around to seek comfort. Wander to find meaning and purpose in your life. Find greatness within you.

Sush: Wow. Sounds pretty grand! Can you recommend some books and resources to follow that talk about design and life together?

Manoj: My favourites are Amaze your customers by Daniel Zanertti and Who moved my cheese by Dr. Spencer Johnson. I also would recommend motivational videos available in Youtube to kickstart your day. I listen to Gary vaynerchuk – The guru of new age marketing, Tony Robbins, Jim Rohn and Les Brown. These are some of my favourite speakers whom i listen to when i feel low or get out out of track

Sushi: Sweet! We’ll include these links in our blog for our listeners. Thank you Manoj for doing this! Where can our listeners find and follow you?

Manoj: On facebook and Instagram. I also provide coaching services on the Hush page.



Angie: Wow a lot of things are starting to make sense now. As designers we’re always trying to understand people and their psychology to design for them better. But rarely do we assess our own state of mind while doing the work.

Sushi:  Yeah! Reminds me of what Ayse Birsel said about life being our biggest design project.

Angie: Sure, there have been times when we’re all faced by the imposter syndrome. I guess this is where Manoj’s practice of looking at a poster that says ‘I am enough’ comes in. But I’m not entirely convinced that might help.

Sushi: I’m definitely going to try that. But I also think that we sometimes need affirmation and encouragement from people close to us.

Angie: But don’t you think that constant affirmation and telling yourself that you are enough, can make you reluctant to progress?

Sushi: I think the point here is that ‘we are enough’ as humans, and not necessarily enough as designers. So as humans we have the potential to keep growing into better designers. I think believing we have it in us to begin with can enable us to visualise and dream big.

Angie: Yes, I guess what matters here is making that distinction between who we are and what we do, which can often be a blurry line for designers.

Sushi: I’ve found it important to remind myself of this, especially when I have an unusual project at hand, and I have zero experience in that arena, and the client is already doubtful, because their stakes are high, I tend to freak out too, when they grill me about my experience. But with our design education behind us and our process game up, We are enough. In fact, our job is all about doing something new every time.

Angie: Yes Sushi! That’s the beauty of being a designer. We are experts at that working with zero experience…no need to feel like an imposter! But we need to keep reminding ourselves of that!

Sushi: What do you think about designer arrogance? After this episode it seems like not a big deal after fact, I would replace the word “arrogance” with “expertise”. After all, no one tells a doctor, or a lawyer how to do their job!

Angie: Well…but that’s where we are completely different! Empathy is kind of the backbone of what we do, so Manoj made a valid point that we need to be clear in getting across why we did something the way we did. So while we do need to believe we are the expert, we also need to hear the client out, put them at ease…I think doctors and lawyers too would benefit from having that attitude!

Sushi: I also feel we come across as arrogant, when we are not organised. We may have it together in the back of our head but to the client we might look a mess, like we don’t care. I think it’s super important to have your work in some order, because that gives an impression.

Angie: I like the technique of “chunking the targets”  to keep us on tracks. Clients like to see some action, or at least a plan.

Sushi: Yeah, a time-line of sorts. I know that some people aren’t a big fan of apps, but personally, Asana (which is a project management app) has really helped me in terms of this. You can have a timeline, have specific tasks, subtasks, communicate with your team-mates. I tend to keep making lists. And when you check a task you’ve completed, Asana does this rainbow thing and has this animated unicorn fly across a page. There’s a sort of adrenaline rush in seeing that!

Now it’s suddenly struck me- why not add the clients into the app as well, so that they can see it too!

Angie: I’ve been on a couple of projects where we pulled the client into our project on apps like Asana. I think this kind of app also makes sense when we have multiple projects from multiple clients to handle, right? Seeing as we designers all seem to have multiple interests. So instead of looking like we’re lost, it’s all curated in one place!

Sushi: Curating our multipotentiality. I like that!

Angie: Hey listeners! Are you a polymath too? What do you do stay motivated and keep moving forward as a designer? Tweet to us @designlota and tell us all about it.

Sushi: We’re also on facebook and instagram so you can catch us there as well.

Angie: Our season finale episode is coming up. So look out for that.

Sushi: Until then, bye!


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