Notes to Self

Thoughts on psychology, spirituality and soft skill development for personal improvement


Changing Habits

"A habit can be considered as an intersection of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit, we have to have all three. - from "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People"

But how do we really go about changing a habit? The key out of the three - knowledge, skill and desire - is desire or motivation. Things to keep in mind:

  1. Action feeds motivation: Motivation is not a 'feeling' that comes out of the blue. Action is the fuel that feeds motivation. You need to start doing something to get motivated.

  2. The "21 day" theory: There is no scientific study to support the popular theory that if you do something regularly for '21 days' it'll become a habit. Yes, the more you do something regularly the more it is likely to become a habit. However, a lot of factors will influence its strength and the time it takes to become a habit.

  3. Basic Instincts: "Human beings will do anything to avoid pain, and move towards pleasure." This basic instinct governs all your behavior. To change any habit, first figure out its base - does it give you any pleasure, or does it help you avoid some pain? Here, pain / pleasure means physical and / or emotional. Eg. We avoid getting close to a fire to prevent getting burnt (physical pain). A person might have a fear of height because he / she saw someone close fall of and die (emotional pain). Similarly, physical / emotional pleasures also influence our behavior.

  4. Reinforcement: Based on the basic instinct, decide how you can create 'pain' for the old habit you want to change so that you avoid it. Figure out how you can feel and enjoy pleasure whenever you indulge in the new habit. (Asking for help and getting support from others provides a strong positive reinforcement.)

  5. Surrounding environment: Sometimes a change of environment is essential to change a habit. Eg: To quit smoking you might have to part ways with your friends who smoke (at least in the early stages).

  6. You will fail: Don't think in absolutes. Occasionally you might slip up and indulge in your old habit. That doesn't imply you have failed. It just means you are human too. Don't be harsh and berate yourself. Just accept it as human nature, and figure out why you chose to revive the old habit.

  7. Momentum: The first few days / weeks is the toughest. Once you cross the initial tough days, it only gets easier over time.

Remember, action feeds motivation. So get started now.

Balanced Perceptions

"Within the first three seconds of a new encounter, you are evaluated ... even if it is just a glance." - Michelle Sterling

And that's supposed to be human nature - to judge someone based on first impressions. Even though, rationally, most of us know that even a lifetime isn't enough to get to know someone really well. People will always surprise you because everyone changes.

So what should a person who doesn't care about fashion, hairstyle and looks do? Change - because people are judging you, even if you are not; because a healthy, happy life is all about balance and flexibility in everything you do, and believe.

"If you can't change facts, change your attitude." - unknown

You Can't Satisfy Everyone

If you want a surefire way to be boring with no personality, try to please everyone you meet.
"I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is to trying to please everybody." - Bill Cosby

Desmond Tutu

"When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land. " - Desmond Tutu

Born on October 7th 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa, archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu is the first black General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches. During the 80's, he began to use his position to highlight the injustices of the apartheid system in his country. As Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of post-apartheid South Africa, he helped his country to heal its wounds and choose forgiveness over revenge.

Desmond Tutu

He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. Following are some excerpts from his lectures and life:

"The World has Forgotten to Forgive"

Let South Africa Show the World How to Forgive:

"The daughter of one of four African National Congress activists, whom the police ambushed and then killed gruesomely -- their mutilated bodies were found in their burnt-out car -- came to tell her story. We asked if forgiveness was possible. You could hear a pin drop in hall that was jam-packed to the roof. She said quietly, 'Yes we want to forgive but we just want to know whom to forgive'. How fantastic to see this young girl, still human despite all efforts to dehumanise her.
... when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.
Retribution leads to a cycle of reprisal, leading to counter-reprisal in an inexorable movement, as in Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and in the former Yugoslavia. The only thing that can break that cycle, making possible a new beginning, is forgiveness. Without forgiveness there is no future."

"Evil is an aberration."

"Even in hard-nosed cynical cultures, it is amazing that those we admire, indeed revere, are not the macho, the aggressive, and the successful. The people we hold almost universally in high regard are such as Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. Why? Because they are good.
We have an internal antennae which home in on goodness because you see, we are created for goodness."

"We are Made for Goodness"

"Fly, Eagle, Fly" (Commencement speech at Brandeis University):

"... the norm is goodness. The norm is compassion. The norm is gentleness. Because that is what you and I are made for. Isn't that fantastic? That you and I are created for goodness. You know it. You know it. Who, of you, has never experienced when you have done something gratuitously good, when you have been nice to someone when you needn't have been. You have a wonderful glow inside of you. You really feel good.
The opposite is, I mean when you have done something lousy. Your body tells you. You, you feel it in your stomach. Anger, resentment affects you ... affects you. Your blood pressure goes up because our nature is in fact to be good. That is, that is, what we are created for.
That we are fundamentally good."

On Religion

Religion is Morally Neutral:

"... nothing has been more responsible for the majority of history's wars, death, destruction, and general misunderstanding than fervent attachment to exclusive religious ideology. So many acts of great hatred and evil are performed in the name of religion. But religion is like a knife. If it sits on the table it is neither good nor bad. If I take it and cut bread for sandwiches it is good. If I stick it in your gut it is bad. Religion in and of itself is not good or bad - it is what it makes you do ..."

"God's Own Image"

"When will we learn that human beings are of infinite value because they have been created in the image of God, and that it is a blasphemy to treat them as if they were less than this and to do so ultimately recoils on those who do this? In dehumanizing others, they are themselves dehumanized. Perhaps oppression dehumanizes the oppressor as much as, if not more than, the oppressed.
They need each other to become truly free, to become human. We can be human only in fellowship, in community, in koinonia, in peace."


Desmond Tutu's Recipe for Peace:

"Ubuntu is a concept that we have in our Bantu languages at home. Ubuntu is the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others. You are generous, compassionate.
If the world had more ubuntu, we would not have war. We would not have this huge gap between the rich and the poor. You are rich so that you can make up what is lacking for others. You are powerful so that you can help the weak, just as a mother or father helps their children. This is God's dream."

Books on / by Desmond Tutu »

Related » Vivekananda

On Perfectionism

Perfectionism: (noun) A disposition to feel that anything less than perfect is unacceptable

Perfectionism can be a crippling curse because everything can be improved. Always focus on completing a task rather than the process of doing it. If you focus on the process, you'll end up spending more time trying to do it 'right' than on completing the task in time. Also, completing a task is always more satisfying than doing it 'perfectly'.

Play to your Strengths

"You may have more to gain by developing your gifts and leveraging your natural skills than by trying to repair your weakness."
- Harvard Business Review (January 2005)