On my way back from work last week, I paused my car at an T-shaped intersection. As I waited for the heavy traffic to thin out, another car drove around me from the right and aggressively attempted merge. Not having much space to maneuver, the driver’s turning radius got tighter and he merged only after scraping my front fender. I’d been stationary all this time and his move took me by surprise. After a short pursuit, I caught up with him, tried to make my case and he had the cheek to deny scraping me at all. Having failed to secure his insurance information, I left.
That incident didn’t leave my thoughts for some time after that. Thoughts perpetuating themselves have always been a common situation for me. I imagine more so than for others, as I still think of myself as obsessive by nature. Sure, I felt the injustice and lack of civility in the event, but it was over and I had no business furthering my agenda mentally. Something had to be done!
Much like the driver I’d had the bad fortune of meeting, some old habits give you little room to maneuver and work out different, better responses. They perpetuate mediocre, or even less desirable outcomes until the point where you’ll find yourself thinking in exasperation “How did this happen?” Our goal would then be to deny following the habit, get a better feel for what’s going on and respond differently.
To show you how difficult this can be, I was part of a small experiment where the speaker would call out a color. The idea of the experiment is to not think of the color called out. Most participants found it hard to not imagine the color popping up in their minds every time the speaker called out that color and its variants. I’d encourage you to try this out with someone else calling out the color.
Other tests with a similar principle are the selective attention test, and the attentional blink test. What these tests show is that on constructing a complete idea, the conscious mind loses its capacity to process new stimuli and reevaluate the evolving state of everything, including your own internal state from where intuition originates*. If habitual responses are really complete ideas stemming from the compression of the stimuli-response gap to negligible time, then what we need to do is grow that gap. We’ll need to cue ourselves. Put another way, we’ll need to devise a new habit to disrupt the old one.
This isn’t knowledge relegated to meditation practitioners. Digital marketers also employ cues to drive desirable behaviors and develop habits at the subliminal level**. So, if you want to break an old habit, start with a self-cue. A face with an attention-grabbing expression, say a lovely smile will work well. You might want to experiment with this a bit, think face-piles if you must. Now all you need to do is practice raising that image when faced with the trigger situation.
There’s no lengths to which you can take this. I’ve experienced it work well with starting something new and dealing with procrastination. I’ve been seeking professional opportunities in my industry and I’ve known myself to be tempted by the first opportunity that comes my way without paying enough attention to first determining if it meets the objectives I want to uphold. This usually leads onto hesitation when making hearty commitments and much disappointment at having let myself down. To help grasp the bigger picture, I push myself to ask- is the opportunity *the* blue sky I’ve always imagined? If not, then what would make it so? This is a process that takes time to perfect, and the inquiry can take days. On the flip side, it has helped me make firm commitments when I know they’re closer to where I’m headed.
* These ideas are explained in depth in Search Inside Yourself by Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers and personal growth pioneer. Meng uses a happiness, science-driven stance and offers methods for enhancing mindfulness and emotional intelligence in everything you do. You can get the book with Flipkart, India, or from Amazon on your kindle.
** Skinner Marketing- We’re the Rats and Facebook Likes are the Reward. Our internet handlers are using operant conditioning to modify our behavior.
I’ve picked up the unofficial biography of Narendra Modi by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. It’s been a great read so far- his early years, backdrop of his upbringing and his teenage years. Without giving too much away, even if you believe you know Modi’s work, his persona is a certain surprise. For instance, young Narendra had a strong spiritual bend growing up in Vadnagar and later as he embarked in the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda.
An excerpt from the book when a 21 year old Narendra returned from his spiritual quest,
I asked him (Narendra Modi) when did he return to the material world after his wanderings and he said: ‘Actually, even now I have not completely returned to the material world. But at a later point (of his wanderings) I felt that if I have to do something then I have to become part of some system, some structure. So that is when I met Vakil Sahab (Lakshmanrao Imandar) in 1971. I consulted him and told him what I had done. I told him that I now felt that the time had come for me to tie myself down to something — do something from one place — in one position and I requested him to guide me.’
Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay. “Narendra Modi : The Man. The Times”.
I guess the least one can do is get to know their leaders better.
My wife and I were glad to be able to spend a Sunday together with my Mom and Dad. The day began innocuously enough discussing that it was Father’s day. My Dad had turned 60 a little while ago and it’s been a mixed bag to watch him change over the last few years. More time with his grandson, new patterns of work. So many other little things. The personal uniqueness of being both a Father and a Son puts experiences into a wider perspective. I would not claim to be the best son out there and I wish I try harder to be.
We’re always encouraged to learn to be good parents. When do we start learning to be better sons and daughters?
Was it necessary for the Indian media to publish the complete transcript of Jiah Khans’ suicide note?*
Was it necessary to publish Sreesanth’s diary and his thoughts on anger management issues when it has no bearing on the spot-fixing case against him?**
Our respect for the truth and what is private only seems to be diminishing. What on earth justified that this information be revealed? Why should someone’s troubled thoughts about a close one be made public before a court of law has made it’s decision?
Trial by media in India is the new mob ‘lynching‘. Information is the hangman’s noose. It’s troubling to recognize that greed has a greater say in shaping our opinions, over careful thought and respect for the private struggles of an individual. Times of India may have completed 175 years of journalism, but in this respect progress is clearly in the wrong direction.
Ethics and integrity don’t bend at will, but *we* do. We’re all geared to intuitively know when the line has been crossed.
* Times of India, Economic Times, other newspapers – 11th June.
** “Sreesanth the hothead, resolved to keep it cool” – Times of India, 19th May.
My son will be joining his playgroup in another ten days. We’ve never left Megh by himself before. For all of us here at home, this is certainly going to be an interesting turn of events. The folks at the playgroup have designed the first two weeks to be short play sessions. The first couple of days are thirty minute sessions, followed by sessions of forty-five minutes going all the way up to two hours. For the first few days, I’ll be playing the role of parent on duty waiting in ‘hiding’ while Megh settles in with the others.
If you’ve never watched kids getting settled into a playgroup, it can be a harrowing the first time. I’ve watched two little boys of about two, or two and a half wail away for their mothers. At one point, I almost felt as if they were attempting to outdo each other in the intensity of their cries. The mothers were nearby and hiding behind the classrooms with instructions to not get involved. One of the toddlers spotted me, or I guess he spotted the fact that I had car keys on me. He latched on to me and asked me to take him to his mother. Toddlers don’t need to learn, or to socialize. They simply need the love of their parents, family and near ones. Everything else that you think is happening, is really just a byproduct. Once they settle in to the playgroup, they learn because they have the attention of their teachers.
The one sure way to mess things up is to make a big deal of what are really little things. I think Megh will fare well and adapt to his new environment. I’ve watched him play with other children and work with teachers before this. His behavioral response in an unfamiliar environment, like many other boys, is always a notch above his usual self.
For my wife and I, I hope we will take time off to celebrate this milestone.
Most of these investors-cum-inventors are motivated by personal passion to create companies. Under this model, entrepreneurs often tap their own networks and wallets to finance their ideas.
“I don’t have any hobbies,” said Max Levchin, a co-founder and former chief technology officer of PayPal. “This is what I do.” …
Read the rest of the article – Entrepreneurs help build startups by the batch – NY Times.
Being single minded is one way that things get done. It can also become the reason why everything else starts to lose it’s color. Hang in there. Life will always be bigger. I guess that it is this need to transform what we work on, what we produce, what we’re affected by, to become all of life that keeps things greased.
From what I’ve read – Pixar is great at keeping this thought at the center of it’s creative processes. They know that they can get the best out of their teams if they allow them to seed and work on their own ideas. This is not to say that Pixar does not play a role, they play a huge role in refining these ideas, leveraging what they’ve learned as an institution in order to make these ideas work.
Emotional ownership at Pixar was significant enough for John Lasseter and Steve Jobs, Pixar’s boss at one time, to balk repeatedly at activating a clause that would transfer Toy Story’s characters over to Disney. They made the same call when even when they were nearing broke. When the sale did happen, it appeared almost as if Pixar would be buying Disney, retaining creative control.